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An study of Chris Potters approach to jazz standards

By Jordi Ballarn

Master of Music program.
Main subject: Jazz saxophone
Main subject teacher: Simon Rigter

Artistic Research Question

How can I acquire a contemporary improvisation vocabulary

and improve my jazz phrasing through studying Chris Potters
playing, focusing on his approach to jazz standards?

Table of Contents

INTRODUCTION .................................................................................................................... 5
WHO IS CHRIS POTTER? .................................................................................................... 6
BIOGRAPHY .................................................................................................................................... 6
ARTISTIC PERSONALITY AND MAIN INFLUENCES ............................................................. 7
TRANSCRIPTIONS ................................................................................................................ 9
PHRASING ............................................................................................................................ 40
PRELIMINARY CONCEPTS ........................................................................................................ 40
ANALYZING CHRIS POTTER PHRASING ............................................................................... 40
PRACTICING THE PHRASING .................................................................................................. 47
RHYTHM .............................................................................................................................. 51
TIME AWARENESS ...................................................................................................................... 51
TRAINING TIME AWARENESS ................................................................................................. 54
THE MIXED METER .................................................................................................................... 66
CREATING LINES ......................................................................................................................... 70
RHYTHM VARIETY ..................................................................................................................... 72
SOME TIPS FOR WORKING ON RHYTHMIC VARIETY ...................................................... 74
MELODYC DEVICES ........................................................................................................... 75
DIVIDING THE OCTAVE ............................................................................................................. 75
INTRODUCING VARIATIONS ................................................................................................... 79
HOW TO USE THIS OVER TUNES? .......................................................................................... 81
MORE ABOUT MOTIVIC DEVELOPMENT ............................................................................. 84
CREATING LINES 2 ...................................................................................................................... 86
MORE HARMONY ............................................................................................................... 87
TRITONE SUBSTITUTION ......................................................................................................... 87
OTHER REHARMONIZATIONS ................................................................................................ 90
THE Vb9, 13 CHORD .................................................................................................................. 92
PENTATONICS AND CONSTRUCTIONS IN PERFECT 4THS ............................................. 92
REFLECTION IN THE PLAYING ...................................................................................... 96
REFLECTIONS IN COMPOSING .................................................................................... 104
RHYTHMIC DEVICES. .............................................................................................................. 111
COMMENTS ............................................................................................................................................. 116

CONCLUSION ..................................................................................................................... 118

AUDIO AND VIDEO MATERIAL TRACK LIST. .......................................................... 120
MEDIA REVIEW ................................................................................................................ 121
LITERATURE ............................................................................................................................. 121
CDs ................................................................................................................................................ 121
INTERNET .................................................................................................................................. 122


There is something I found out about people I really respect

how they make music and how they look at things, and it is that they
are opened. They are curious and keep on checking stuff out. This how
they got there in the first place, because they were curious and they
wanted to learn. That is what I want to do and if I am a traditionalist
in any way is that I want to try to follow the same process that seemed
to get my heroes to be able to play something beautiful.

Chris Potter.

Why to choose Chris Potter as a subject for an Artistic Research? It comes

from me listening to his playing and thinking: I want to be able to do that. To do
what? To transmit the impression of being free when improvising. Playing pretty
much inside the changes when I want and being able to go somewhere else if I feel
like that is what the music needs, and all that in a fluent and coherent way.

Of course, the goal of the research is not playing like Chris Potter. This is
not going to happen, and that is not a bad thing. The goal is to check out his
playing, try to figure out for which processes he went through to play the way he
does, and see how can I apply it myself, finding my own ways through. Probably
some things that worked for him will not work for me, or will work in a different
way, or will bring me somewhere else, and that is fine.

What I hear when listening Chris Potter play over jazz standards is a
player with a deep knowledge of bebop with a very open-minded attitude that
makes him look for new sonorities, new rhythms, new concepts to expand his
playing. In this report I will put special attention on those elements that expand
his playing from bebop into somewhere else. Anyway, I will always come back to
jazz tradition, there is a whole world of things to learn for me there.



Chris Potter was born on the first of January of 1971 in Chicago, and
moved to Columbia, South Carolina, at a very early age. His parents were not
musicians but they had a fairly good and heterogenic record collection. He
remembers some Western Classical music records from Bach, Stravinsky or
Bartok; some blues records, The Beatles, Bob Dylan. And also some jazz records
from Dave Brubeck, Charles Lloyd, Miles Davis or Eddie Harris.

The first music that grabbed me was the blues. My parents had
some blues compilations from musicians from Chicago. Then went deep
into The Beatles and was some years later that I discovered the jazz
records and decided that I wanted to play the saxophone and I just kind
of bugged my parents until they bought me a horn. So it was the
saxophone that drove me deeper and deeper into this particular style of
music but I think I always carried with me that idea that I just liked
music. But of course was trying to learn to play the saxophone that I went
deep into all the greats.1

He started playing piano by him own at the age of 7 and saxophone at 10,
first inspired by saxophone players like Johnny Hodges, Lester Young or Coleman
Hawkins. It took a while, he says, until he understood Charlie Parker. But when he
got it he went deep into figuring out how to play like him for some years.

At the age of 15 he was playing regularly in his hometown. He remembers
having two weekly gigs in the same place. One with a very traditional jazz band
with which he remembers as a very good opportunity of learning how to play jazz
in a traditional way; and other with a more experimental people with whom he
played a more eclectic repertoire: maybe a standard and then playing free for a
while and after that a Rollin Stone song. A prologue of the musician to come: a
very opened minded player with a very deep knowledge of bebop.

In 1989, at the age of 18 years old, he moved to New York and spent one
year studying in the New School and two years in The Manhattan School of Music,
graduating in 1993. During these years he joined the band of Red Rodney, the
trumpet player that played in Charlie Parkers band. He spent four years playing
and learning at the side of the the guy on the Charlie Parker record.

After graduation from Manhattan School of Music, Potter started a long
series of sideman activities with many artists such as Ray Brown, Jim Hall, Dave
Douglas, Mike Manieri, Dave Holland, Steely Dan or Paul Motian. Although he
recognizes the influence of all the good musicians he worked with, through
different interviews he emphasizes his admiration for Paul Motian, especially

1 Transcription from a Master class in the Filmmuseum, Amsterdam, 2008.

because of his approach to music to not wanting to have a plan of what is going to
happen. Being as un-analytical as possible.

Chris Potter released his firs record as a leader in 1994: Presenting Chris
Potter (Criss Cross). And there had been 14 in total including his last release on
2009: Ultrahang (Artistshare), recorded with his band called Underground, with
Adam Rogers on guitar, Craig Taiborn on Rhodes and Nate Smith on drums.
Through all this records we can recognize a very unquiet and curios musician in a
constant search of new ways of self expression and enjoying challenging himself
one way or another.


It is maybe a bit dangerous to describe somebodys personality without

knowing him, so maybe is smarter to write down what Chris Potters says about
his musical identity:

My aesthetic is based in Bird and Lester Young and Sonny
[Rollins]. I want my music to have that emotional impact. What I
learned from them in terms of phrasing, sound, approach to rhythm will
never be outdated. I would like to basically use the same aesthetic
sensibility with more contemporary harmonic and rhythmic concepts,
being influenced by classical, world music, funk, rock, rap, country,
whatever...digesting new ideas, new influences to keep the freshness

I think this defines quite well what I hear when listening Chris Potter
(CP) play. Is quite obvious that his main musical background is traditional jazz,
especially bebop, and at the same time is a person that likes music, no matter
what style. If there is something that grabs his attention he wants to check it out.

Style is important, but it is more important to see things in
common, things that speak to people in different styles.2

In this sense, CP is a musician that wants to be influenced by a lot of
different musical expressions. But the things that grabbed him at an early age
seem to be the thread that connects all this influences.

Charlie Parker is probably his biggest influence as a saxophone player,
his main source of bebop vocabulary:

I always try to find a feeling of forward motion. Obviously bird found a
tremendous way () it feels like it just has to keep going. Learning how

2 Chris Potter Master Class DVD, Robertos Winds, New York, 2009.

to play bebop is how I became able to create this feeling of constant


With Sonny Rollins I really hear a connection in terms of phrasing,

especially in the strong articulation that they both use quite often. Also some
harmonic solutions make me hear a thread in between CP and Rollins or Steve
Grossman type of playing.

CP often expresses his admiration for Lester Young and his ability of
making beautiful music with very simple ideas and little material. Connecting
with that idea, he often explains how much he learned from the works of Western
Classical composers as Bach, Bartok or Stravinsky, mainly in terms of what level
of complexity are you able to reach working out very simple ideas. Complex
things are just a bunch of simple things putted together, he says.

In the documentation process I did not listen or read from CP a
reference to Michael Brecker as an important influence. Maybe it wasnt for him,
but I hear clear things in common in their playing. Similar ways of timing, with a
big articulation variety and similar ways of dealing with material that connects
them both with Coltrane and his experimentations with the harmonic and
melodic possibilities of the different subdivisions of the octave.

Being aware of all this musical and personal background of CP is very
important because gives a perspective and a context to his artistic expressions
that we will go through in this work and also makes me see CP playing as a very
interesting subject of study by itself, but at the same time as a door by which I can
connect myself with other beautiful musical expressions.

1 Chris Potter Master Class DVD, Robertos Winds, New York, 2009.


Playing standards is a big thing on how do I approach
everything. I dont do it so much anymore, but that is so much in my
background. And it is very often the framework that I will work
whatever thing I want to work on.5

Transcribed material from:

Woody n You
Red Rodney (1992), Then and now, Chesky Records.

Chris Potter (1993), Sundiata, Criss Cross.

Amsterdam Blues
Al foster (1997), Brandyn, Laika records.

Tom Cohen (1999), Digging in, digging out, Double time jazz.

Stella by Starlight
Jim Hall (1999), the jazzpar quartet, Storyville.

Star Eyes
Chris Potter (2001), Gratitude, Verve.

Blues Nouveau
Jim Rotondi (2003), New Vistas, Criss Cross.

All the things you are

Giant Steps
Bootleg recording in Denmark

5 Transcription from Chris Potter Online Lessons,

































A lot of times I am just working on sound and articulation. I

think I spent a lot on time on this, because this is the first thing people
hear, and it is a life long thing. As much there is to learn about
harmony and rhythm and form there is at least as much to learn in
just sound and how to get from one note to the next.6

Normally when talking about somebodys sound on the horn we are

not talking just about tone quality but of a whole picture: tone quality, timing,
articulation Sound and phrasing make as able to recognize Parker, Coltrane or
whatever player we know after hearing a few notes coming out of their horns. It
is a substantial part of the voice of each player. Nobody gets the same tone out
of the horn, and there are not two players that phrase exactly the same way.

We are going to categorize this concept of phrasing in 3 different

Timing: Placement of the notes in the context of a pulse.

Articulation: Attacks and releases of the notes.

Dynamics: The use of sound volumes.

It is worth to say that all this aspects are not absolute things in any
player. They might change depending on the specific situation: The mood of the
player on that moment, which piece is being played, the tempo, relation and
reaction to the other players, etc.


CP phrasing is, to my ears, directly connected with Sonny Rollins and

Charlie Parker, who actually was Rollins main influence as well, and developed it
further on probably as a consequence or other rhythmical devices he
implemented in his playing and that we well study with more details in the next

6 Chris Potter Master Class DVD, Robertos Winds, New York, 2009.


Talking about the eighth-note feel7, we could say that CP is very aware, in
a conscious or unconscious way, of the relation of his playing with the pulse given
by the rhythm section. As most of the great players, he is able to play on top of the
beat, of push it forward, or lay it back depending on the moment, listening to what
the phrase needs. And the same thing happens with his swing feel, normally
played on a quite straight way, and in concrete spots with an emphasized triplet

The following example shows what looks like a constant in CP playing:
Playing on top of the beat and laying back the ends of the phrases.

Example 1: Fragment of Chris Potter solo on Woody n You.

This feeling of laying back the end of the phrases is often mixed up with
a more accented swinging intention:

Example 2: Fragment of Chris Potter Solo on Woody n You.

7 Eighth note feel: this expression makes a reference to the placement of
consecutive eighth notes in the context of a pulse and groove, and in this
particular case we are talking about swing grooves.


The so called swing feel tends to appear in a more clear way when CP goes
into more simple lines, where he deals with few notes, creating a sensation of
going with the groove.

Example 3: Fragment of Chris Potter solo on Stella by Starlight

In the next example we can hear very clearly how he is playing in the
backside of the beat for a whole blues chorus and immediately changing the time
feel from the beginning of the next chorus.

Example 4: Fragment of Chris Potter solo on Amsterdam Blues.

In the context of saxophone playing, articulation has mainly to do with the
decisions made on how and when to put your tongue on the reed, what is know
as tonguing. Articulation is very tight up with the timing, or better to say, with
the time feel. The choices the player does on how to articulate the line will
influence the time feel.

Traditionally, the basic articulation when playing jazz, talking about
consecutive eighth notes, would be like this:


Consequently with the articulation there will we an accent on every

upbeat eighth note, which would be more or less obvious depending on the
player. This type of articulation creates a kind of swing feel, even if the timing of
the eighth notes goes more on the straight side.

Example 5: Fragment of Chris Potter solo on Blues Nouveau

In CP playing, at least in the material analyzed in this research, that is all
playing over swing grooves, this is also the main articulation technique. But we
find very often eighth notes lines where all the notes are articulated, in a way
that reminds me a bit to Harold Lands phrasing.

Example 6: Fragment of Chris Potter solo on Stella by Starlight

This kind of articulation emphasizes a lot the straight feel of the eighth notes. It
is less common in higher tempos, where is harder to play and maybe not that

Of course there are many places in the middle of these two described
articulation techniques and CP came out to be a very flexible player in this issue,
as we can see in the following transcription of a chorus over Star Eyes.


Example 7: Fragment of Chris Potter solo over Star Eyes.

Dynamics related to music blocks is something normally underused in
straight ahead jazz, unless we are talk of ballads. We dont hear very often
crescendos or diminuendos in this music, or a whole phrase played forte and the
next one pianissimo. There are always exceptions, but this is the most common

In the other hand, there is and important roll of dynamics inside the
traditional bebop line: the creation of accents in certain notes. This part of


dynamics is again closely related with the articulation, because most of the times
this accents are created not only by playing louder, but also by attacking the note
(tonguing). The combination of these two elements will create a stronger accent,
a very ruff one, or one very subtle.

If we focus again in CP playing we listen a quite aggressive way of
attacking the notes and very pronounced accents, that connects him again with
players such as Sonny Rollins or Steve Grossman. This connection is even more
clear to my ears when listening a way of phrasing some lines that I think is like a
sort of trademark of this kind of playing. Putting it in to words, I am talking about
arpeggios played in eighth notes or eighth note triples were the target note has a
strong accent and the eighth note just before that is played staccato, in a more or
less exaggerated way depending on the particular case. Described like this
sounds very confusing, maybe is better just to listen to some examples.

Example 8: Fragment of Chris Potter solo on Blues Nouveau.

It is also very common to listen one staccato eighth note as a kind of pick
up for the note on the beat.

Example 9: Fragment of Chris Potter solo on Airegin.


Phrasing as rhythm creator

The basic of bebop language is build up from eighth note lines, combined
with eighth note triplets. To emphasize target notes of the line, normally the top
notes, an accent is played.

Example 10: Fragment of Charlie Parker solo over Bloomdido

This implies a certain rhythm. These rhythms are created basically by

putting an accent either on a note on the beat or on a note on the upbeat,
creating combinations of groups of two, three or four eighth notes. As I already
said, bebop is CPs main musical background, and this motion implied in the
phrasing is a very important characteristic of his playing. Actually he has
developed this because of implementing different rhythmic devices, as groups of
5, 6 or 7 eighth notes, into his playing. These groupings also create sequences of
two, three or four notes, but somehow they generate different sequences that
create rhythmic progressions over the bar line.

Example 11: Fragment of Chris Potter solo on Blues Nouveau


Example 11: Fragment of Chris Potter solo over Giant Steps

As you can see in the examples, this rhythms are implied in the line, but
actually the choices of where to put the accent and how strong would this accent
be can change completely the meaning of the phrase and suggest another rhythm
implied on the phrase.

One of the constants that appear when listening to CP talking about his
approach to music is the will of creating contrast and a feeling of what he calls
forward motion. The variety on the phrasing described on this chapter is a huge
tool for generating contrast: Playing on the bit, and pushing it forward or laying
it back depending on the moment, emphasizing the swing feel on a certain spot
an after that playing some very straight articulated eighth note line, etc. To be
able to combine all this elements in an organic way makes the musical speech
way more interesting.


I listen and try to copy a lot of different people. I play along

with records of Bird, Lester Young, Miles, Louis Armstrong, Stan Getz,
Coltrane, Sonny, Wayne And just feel how that time feel feels like.
Sometimes is surprising.8

This is the hard part when talking about time feel. I can think to play more
in front or more laid back but at the end of the day you just have to feel it; it is
not something that you can grab from words. I am not discovering nothing new
if I say that a great way of doing that is to play the solo transcription with the

8 Transcription from Chris Potters Master Class in Humber College, Toronto,
Canada, 2009.


record and try to play as close as possible, being even more important to play
with the same type of phrasing that playing all the correct notes. Or just play
along with the record, and try to put the feel of the phrasing into your own

In this particular case, playing through CP solo transcriptions has been a
very challenging thing to do. CP is a player that really masters the instrument on
a technical level and I found walls I decided not to try to climb during this one
and a half year research. Playing fluently as he does in the altissimo register has
been the highest wall, and I decided to not deal with that in this research.

Another thing that was quite new for me was the level of activity of the
tongue. Not only in the intensity of the articulation but mainly in its flexibility.
My playing was based in the standard jazz articulations and I found extremely
enriching to practice CP solos for this issue.

I also wrote down some articulation sequences for consecutive eighth
note lines that I incorporated in my practicing routines, that I found very useful
to improve my flexibility on this subject:


This can look like a pretty basic thing for a classically trained player. They
are more used to train articulation flexibility, but it is something generally left
apart by jazz musicians.

I did not try to practice all the lines or all the scales with all the different
articulations given. But I found it an interesting thing to experiment while
practicing, to listen how they change the meaning of a specific line, or a concrete
scale pattern. Sometimes some of them will work very nicely and others just
wouldnt fit the concrete line. I like to thing about this also as a way of ear
training, understanding it like hearing a specific sound, with all the
implications that word has.

Also found interesting to try out articulation sequences that imply an
uneven when the line doesnt suggest it.


Example 12: Line with a 7 eighth note grouping.

Example 13: Same articulation in a scale

This would be a clear example of how phrasing can emphasize a certain
rhythmic structure, either implied on the line or not. For seeing further
experimentations with phrasing go to the chapter Reflections on composition.



Rhythm is probably the central issue in CPs playing. He really developed a

very rich and complex rhythmical concept that came out of trying to implement
in his bebop playing different kind of influences from other music styles.

First I was just thinking this down the middle bebop thing,
and then gradually bringing some other things in there: how tabla
players would play some groups of sevens, put the triplets in a slightly
different spot in the bar, how some Cuban musicians play over the bar
line () I started to think how can I still be playing confirmation or
whatever, but start to use those things. And I think started first by
singing this rhythms and trying to figure out what notes could work.9

He also names western classical composers as Bartok or Stravinsky as
very important influences to develop his rhythmic concept:

They used this groupings of notes, maybe 7 notes over a 4/4,
creating all this complicated polyrhythms. This was very new for
western classical music but not in other cultures like African music. But
not used in this kind of odd meter, it was usually related to some kind
of 4 and 6. And as far as I know this music was an important influence
for Stravinsky to write The Rite of Spring.10

Listening to CPs discography is quite obvious that he also developed a
very fluent speech improvising in uneven measures. In this research I will not
go through that, I will focus on figuring out how applies the mentioned
influences in a 4/4 context. We well go through that developing two concepts:
Time awareness and rhythmic variety.


I use this concept referring to everything that implies over imposing a

certain rhythm, either melodically or harmonically, which suggests a different
division of time than the one implied in the given time signature. Normally these
are called cross rhythms.

In CPs playing we can listen this happen constantly. I organized the
rhythms he plays attending to the length of the whole patter, distinguishing
three different categories:

Cross rhythms with the length of 5 eighth notes.
Cross rhythms with the length of 6 eighth notes.
Cross rhythms with the length of 7 eighth notes.

9 Chris Potter Master Class DVD, Robertos Winds, New York, 2009.
10 Chris Potter Master Class DVD, Robertos Winds, New York, 2009.


Lets see some examples:

Example 1: Chris Potter playing rhythm in 5 over the first four bars of Airegins B

Example 2: Chris Potter playing rhythm in 6 over Giant Steps

Example 3: Chris Potter playing rhythm in 6 over All the things you are.

Example 4: Chris Potter playing a rhythm in 7 over Giant Steps

This last one is just happening for two bars and actually sounds more
like a variation of one idea. But I am pretty sure he started to hear this kind of
things by moving a rhythm like that for longer periods over the bar line.

The three examples shown above demonstrate how to play this cross
rhythms keeping the harmonic rhythm. I also noticed that CP is able to
anticipate or delay harmonic changes without loosing track of where is the one.
I do not know if he developed this ability from this approach but for me it is
definitely related.


Example 5: Fragment of Chris Potter Solo over Blues Nouveau.

In this example we can observe how the target notes are a bit displaced
from where we normally would expect them to be. The note B in the G7b9 is in
the forth beat, and the resolution in the third of Cm7 (note Eb) is delayed till the
third beat of the bar. And because of the context we can notice that it is not an
accident. He is perfectly aware of where he is. This is even clearer in the
following example.

Example 6: Fragment of Chris Potter solo over Amsterdam Blues.

Starting from the 7th bar of the form, we could say that he is playing
some different changes. Instead of F7, D7b9, Gm7, C7, he is playing A major, Ab
major, G major, C7. But at the same time he is outlining these alternate changes
on groups of 6 consecutive eighth notes starting on the upbeat of the third beat
of F7, creating a harmonic rhythm in that lands on the first beat of the C7. Of
course he is not thinking all these things on that moment, but for sure he spend
some time in the practice room figuring out how to do that till reaching the
point of just hearing that kind of lines during the playing.



The first difficulty presented when dealing with cross rhythms is to be

able to feel the two different layers going on at the same time. This means to be
able being able to play the 5, 6 or 7 without loosing the one of the 4/4 bar.

For these I found very useful to work out some exercises without the

This would be the basic schema for a 6 eighth note cross rhythm over a
4/4. The idea is to play both rhythmic layers being able to feel them
independently, so we know in which beat of which bar are we in any moment.
Once we are able to do it as it is written we can try to change one rhythm from
one hand to another, or play the bottom line with the feet and clap the upper
one, or whatever other combination that comes to our mind. And then try to
switch from one set put to the other without stop. All this kind of games will
keep our brain active and will help internalize the relation in between the two

The same approach should be done with the basic outline of fives and


The next thing I did is try to figure out different rhythmic patterns that
imply this kind of over the bar line divisions. I tried to go from the very simplest
ones to the busiest ones.





We got here a lot of different possibilities of outlining cross rhythms in
five, six and seven. The next step would be to be able to play these patterns over
a tune without loosing track of the harmonic rhythm. For that I found very
useful as a first step and exercise I got from Steve Coleman. The idea is to play
the same patter over the tune, and first play only the bass notes of the changes.
Once you are able to do that you can start to go to different layers, outline a
certain voice leading and slowly get into improvising melodies.





On the last chorus of the last demonstration I tried to outline a complete

voice leading over the changes. By doing that combined with this cross rhythm
concept I started to get some melodic structures that remind me somehow to CP
playing. I guess when he says that some harmonic things from his playing came
out of developing these rhythmic concepts one of the things he is talking about
is this. In the following example we can see a line with sort of the same
approach, combining a clear outline of chord changes with a cross rhythm in 6.

Example 7: Fragment of Chris Potter solo over All the things you are
Track and time


The following demonstration over a rhythm changes takes the same

kind of approach, but the rhythmic patter is changing in every section by adding
an extra eighth note.



This is a nice way of practicing for me. Putting obligations in order to

force myself to do thing I cannot do. Hopefully by doing that a lot it starts to get
into my playing in a natural way. I also notice that being able to play these
rhythms in a fluent and organic way creates a kind of motivic type of playing,
because actually is just about moving a rhythmic sequence and displace it over
the bar line.

The image showed in the following page is a fragment of an exercise
written by Chris Potter himself. I downloaded it from It
shows pretty clearly that he went in this direction to work on this cross rhythm
thing. Again he emphasizes that the purpose of this exercises is not to play them
exactly. They should be considered as a blueprint from where start building up
our own solutions to find a way through the changes and the rhythmic patter at
the same time.


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Till now we just talked about playing a cross rhythm melodically, but
respecting the harmonic rhythm. Another possible thing to do is to play a cross
rhythm in a harmonic sense.

The following exercises are based on this concept that I learned from
Simon Rigter. The starting idea is to impose a harmonic rhythm in over the
normal 4/4 structure of a song. Is possible to keep this two layers going on for
as long as you want. At the beginning I started doing it during three 4/4 bars,
that is the length that this game needs in order to make the match again the first
beat of the two time signatures. Like this sounds very complicated, lets see a
practical example.

This is the harmonic structure of the B part of Airegin, by Sonny Rollins:

So if we change the harmonic rhythm of the first three bars of the first
and second pentagram we would get the following harmonic rhythm:


Having this schema in mind we will come with lines like this one:


Looking at it can seem to be very awkward thing to do. But it actually
sounds pretty normal outlined this way. In fact the only thing that is happening
is that some chords are being anticipated and some resolutions are being
delayed. Charlie Parker was already doing that without maybe thinking of it.

Depending on which form we want to do this mixed meter, we will not
have enough chords to fill in the , so we will have to add some, like we can
observe in this line Simon Rigter made up over All the things you are during a
lesson I had with him:



For now what we this is make an alternate harmonic rhythm in 3 over
the 4/4. But it has not to be necessarily like that. We can think about other
harmonic rhythms, and we can make them also in a not regular way.
This is an example of that over Giant Steps:



Also dealing with groupings of 5 and 7 consecutive eighth notes can be

approached with a harmonic implication. Basically it works more or less the
same way, creating a delay in the harmonic rhythm. But is very hard to keep it
for long periods, so I just worked it out in little environments like a II V I


Example 7: Fragment of Chris Potter solo over Anthropology.


This kind of lines I found transcribing CP made me try to figure out how can I do
it myself. Normally all the shapes we practice over the scales or all the lines we
try to be able in every key through the horn are based on structures in two or
four, and sometimes in three. And consequently these are the things that, at
least in my case, come to my ear and to my fingers while improvising. So I
started to look for lines and shapes in five and seven, first just adapting material
I already know.

For example, a II V I line like this one:

Can become a five-note groupings line just by changing all that seventh chords
into ninth chords:

As I said before, lines like that imply again a delay in the harmonic rhythm. In
this case the line resolves to the first degree in the third beat of the third bar.

I also found quite handy to adapt some octatonic shapes in similar



All this kind of shapes, applied to whatever scale can be isolated and
worked out as technical exercises. I am writing them on the context of changes
because at the end this was the tricky part for me. In the example written above
the octatonic sequence is repeated five times being the last note of the last
group in the first beat of the fourth bar. Notice also that harmonically, the lines
implies a dominant sound that actually doesnt resolve to the one, goes over it
till reaching the next dominant chord. Lines with this kind of approach can be
founded in CP playing:

Example 8: Fragment of Chris Potter solo over Airegin

Going back to where I was, talking about creating lines in fives and
sevens, I came up with some kind of rules to be able to make a smooth
transition to the real pulse. Not in a very systematic way like trying to figure out
all the possibilities, just realizing some constants that made the lines work for

So I know that if play five eighth notes three times I need an extra
passing tone to reach the one of the third bar:

Or, like we already saw, playing five eighth notes four times we get to
the third beat of the third bar, or five times and the last note of the last grouping
is in the first beat of the forth bar.

Or playing two times seven eighth notes, starting in the second beat and
finishing on the first beat of the third bar.


Playing three times seven and the last note of the last group is the third
beat of the third bar.

Starting in the upbeat before the one, playing three times seven we land
on the third beat of the third bar.

Through these mental games I create lines over II V I progressions or

turn arounds. Lines to play through the twelve keys in order to build up a bit of
vocabulary based on this concept.

I think working on all this things we talked about till now in this
chapter are very helpful. First, because it causes a huge enrichment of your
playing in a rhythmical sense; and second, because they contribute in training
the ear in a rhythmical and time perception aspect. This helps to be aware of
which moment of the bar you are in every moment without needing to rely in
the rhythm section for that.


Closely related to this search we just saw in the previous section, CP has
developed a very rich pallet of rhythms that he uses in a very surprising way,
looking for the creation of contrast in his playing.

Example 9: Fragment of Chris Potter solo over All the things you are.

The use of quarter note triples, mixed up with eighth note triplets is a
trademark of CP playing. Also the use of sixteenth notes combined with triplets
is very common, giving a feeling of tension.

Example 10: Fragment of Chris Potter solo over Anthropology.


He also likes to play with rhythmic patterns that are on the limit in between the
binary subdivision and the ternary subdivision. Sometimes this is just
insinuated by the timing, and sometimes is very clear.

Example 11: Fragment of Chris Potter solo over Giant Steps

In this last example we can hear the effect of a syncopated pattern

turning on a quarter note triplet. This connects again with the concept of
rhythm as a tool to develop a single idea. This happens very clearly in the
following examples.

Example 12: Fragment of Chris Potter solo over Blues Nouveau.


Example 13: Fragment of Chris Potter solo over All the things you are.


The tips I received from different people in my network about how to
develop rhythmic variety have a lot to do with practice improvisation with
obligations. In lessons with Jasper Blom we established the following possible

Play phrases starting only on the first beat, and after that in the upbeat of
the first beat, in the second beat, and so on.
Use the same approach but applied to the endings of the phrases
Be aware of the different rhythmic figures (half note, dotted quarter
note, quarter note, quarter note triplet, eighth note, eighth note triplet,
sixteenth note, sixteenth note triplet) and improvise trying to use them
Play only in eighth note triplets, or in quarter note triplets.

Seamus Blake proposed me also to think as a drummer when
improvising, and as a kind of exercise limit myself to three or four pitches as if
they where the tombs of the drum kit, to focus in the rhythmical phrasing.

CD2/TRACK 6: Example of improvising using different rhythmic
figures over an F blues.



It is quite artificial to separate rhythm from melody, and both from

harmony. Decisions made in one or another of this categories affect unavoidably
the others.

In this chapter we will focus very specifically on how CP develops melodic
devices from very simple ideas, because I think this is one of the main aspect that
made his playing develop from the bebop language to other kind of melodic
shapes. These constructions built up from little cells have interdependent with
harmonic and rhythmic choices, but I think the process I will describe in this
chapter has the melody as a starting point.


In Equalin Parts
This is a concept
CP The
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about repeatedly
different workshops and
master classes. The idea of the division of the octave in equal parts is a concept
that became very popular in jazz music after the research made in this field by
Dividing The Octave In Equal Parts
John Coltrane. He first applied this principle harmonically, creating chord
progressions related to dividing the octave in three equal parts, obtaining three
the other. Compositions like Giant
& cdistance one from
Tonics in a major third

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Coltrane did not need to
have this progressions
in the rhythm sections to be

able to hear similar relations in his improvised melodies. Coltrane is one of the

Probably the first step one can make, if he or she wishes to depart from the use of traditional tonal and modal
most influential saxophonist of the XX century, and many other great musicians,
progressions and melodic structures, is to delve into material derived from the division of the octave into intervals
like for example Michael Brecker, got inspired by his playing and developed his
of equal value.
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The main source of inspiration for Coltrane relating this subject was the
of equal value.
work Thesaurus of scale and melodic patterns, by Nicolas Slonimsky, a
The intervals that divide the octave into equal parts are the following...
compilation of material based on symmetric relations. The first part of this work
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Cadences, "Musical Gravity", Tonal Centers (Not always), Functions and all other aspects that define music as a
modal but
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Cadences, "Musical Gravity", Tonal Centers
language, are needless to say still present, but with a very different character.

related to the division in major thirds11. Three octaves can be divided in four
major sixth intervals, what actually is an unfolded diminished chord.

The perfect fifth is one-twelfth part of seven octaves, and the perfect forth
is a twelfth part of five octaves. So by these divisions we get again the twelve
notes in the octave. Also with the major sevenths, which actually are the
inversions of the minor seconds, and represent the division of eleven octaves.
The minor seventh is the division of seven octaves into six parts.

These divisions of the octave are directly related to scales and harmonic
progressions. We just saw that the whole tone scale and the chromatic scale are
the division of the octave in six and twelve parts respectively. Some other scales,
if not coming from this idea, they are unavoidably related to it, like the hexatonic
scale and the octatonic scale outlined here, that in fact come out of over imposing
on a minor second distance two augmented triads and two diminished seventh
chords respectively:

There are also harmonic relations related to this idea of dividing the
octave. The famous circle of 4rths or fifths is a good example of how tonal music
is related to this. I already mentioned the progression known as Coltrane
changes, but actually all the progressions based on parallel movements can be
also related to this concept.

I do not want to go deep into this. It would take too long. I just wanted to
show the idea because in spite that I will develop this idea from a melodic point
of view, it is impossible to ignore the harmonic connotations of these melodic
sequences that, depending on how we apply them, are more obvious or less.

So, going back to CPs practicing tips. The idea is very simple. We choose
a simple motive and we transpose it symmetrically through the horn in different
intervals: Minor seconds, major seconds, minor thirds, major thirds, perfect
fourths and tritones. Eventually also in fifths, sixths and sevenths, but actually
this ones are inversions of the others.

Lets do it with a very simple cell: a perfect 4th

11 Starting from the tritone, all the intervals have a mirror. So the perfect forth is
the inversion of the perfect fifth, the major third is the inversion of the minor
sixth, minor third major sixth, major second minor seventh, minor second
major seventh. Because of these relations we get the same amount of intervals
till we reach again the starting tone.


Notice I skipped the perfect forth division, just because it meant repeating
a note in this concrete case. But it could be done of course. Also we can do that in
sixth and seventh intervals if we want to.

Also notice that in this specific case we get some lines that fit certain
scales. A perfect forth moved in minor thirds fits the diminished scale and moved
in major thirds fits the hexatonic scale written before in this chapter (half step


To go through all the possibilities we should do it also starting from C#

when doing it in whole steps, and from C# and D when doing it in minor thirds;
C#, D and Eb for the major thirds; and C#, D, Eb, E and F for the tritone.

Of course there is a technical aspect in being able to play fluently this
ideas through the register of the instrument, but the main thing of this is to train
your brain and your ear to be able to move whatever idea to the layer you want
in a fluent way.

This is another example with a bigger cell:


This would also be a clear example of harmonic connotations of this

process. Even if we just think that as a melodic cell constructed by a major
second, a minor third and a major third, we are actually outlining a minor
seventh chord on a third inversion, or a major six chord in the second inversion.
So actually moving this cell implies creating this harmonic movement very


We can modify whatever cell in a melodic level in the following ways:

Given cell:



Retrogradation of the inversion:

Changing the order of the notes:

This way we find multiple variations from one idea that we can again
transpose in different intervals in the same way we did with the original cell, or
we can try to mix them up:


These variation processes and the possibility of mixing them up create a
crazy amount of combinations. There is no sense in trying to practice all of them,
but is good to be aware of the endless possibilities of a little idea like this. It is a
good way to find material that maybe I wouldn't find relying only on my
intuition. Through this system I find things that I like and then I go with them.
Other things just don't work for me and I leave them.

It is maybe nice also to try to mix these variations randomly while
improvising, or jumping form one to the other not always in the same interval
but in whatever interval comes to your ear.

CD2/TRACK 7: Improvising with a three note cell over an F blues.

Another thing I tried to do while practicing these things is to combine it
with the rhythmical material we talked about in the previous chapter. Four note
patterns would fit the line in different cross rhythms like this:

Also is possible to use rhythmic patters that imply more notes, crossing
on the cell as well, what can make the structure less comprehensible, if maybe
that is what you want:

Something I found out also while checking out CPs solos is the possibility
of generating a cell from this logic and then transpose it in minor seconds, major
seconds, etc. Making a kind of division of the divided octave.


We would continue this in minor thirds, major thirds and so on. Also
could figure out variations of this.

Again we could see these lines like something by themselves or just as

another step in this game to train transposing and modifying little melodies.


We are going back to CPs solos to figure out how he uses this material in
his playing.

Sometimes these sequences are very nice just by themselves, and they
have an enough strong statement in order to sound good even if they have


wrong notes that do not fit the harmony. If the idea is clear and it is played with
intention works.

Simply moving something chromatically can be a very handy tool to
create some tension.

Example 1: Fragment of Chris Potter solo over Airegin

Here and example of playing with a perfect forth in different layers and
directions, on a sort of Eb modal context.

Example 2: Fragment of Chris Potter solo over Star Eyes.

In the following example we can see again a perfect forth being moved
chromatically combined with a cross rhythm in six.

Example 3: Fragment of Chris Potter solo over Blues Nouveau.


The structures generated with these sequences can be played completely
unrelated to the harmony, or also in a way that keeps somehow a relation with it.

Example 4: Fragment of Chris Potter solo on Anthropology

The following example is the fragment from where I took the example to
show the division of the divided octave.

Example 4: Fragment of Chris Potter solo on Amsterdam blues

Another way of using this material is sneaking them into a more

harmonically clear line, creating a kind of spicy moment in the line.

Example 5: Fragment of Chris Potter solo over Giant Steps

In the example above we can observe, in the third bar of the second
pentagram, a symmetric idea that doesnt fit the harmony. It is just a tiny
moment of outside playing inside a line where the harmony is very clearly
outlined. This is maybe more clear in the next example.


Example 6: Fragment of Chris Potter solo over Blues Nouveau

As I said when explaining the way of practicing these ideas, one of the
main goals is to gain fluency in transposing and introducing variations in a
simple motive, what actually helps a lot in developing a motivic concept in your

Example 7: Fragment of Chris Potter solo over Airegin

Of course when talking about motivic development fitting the harmony,

the symmetries suffer some corrections in order to fit the chords, and also
other motivic variation tools have to be considered.


In a jazz solo there is enough material to write ten

symphonies if you use this material as a thematic thing. So maybe
sometimes we are just working too hard. The problem is not that I am
not generating enough material, the problem is that I am not working
with the material that I have in an intelligent enough way that I can do
something with it. What I specially like about this way of thinking is
that you are creating areas of certain continuity and an area of

12 Chris Potter Master Class DVD, Robertos Winds, New York, 2009.


We already talk a bit about motivic development. We saw how playing
cross rhythms have a motivic connotation and we also so some possibilities of
melodic variations of a motive in the previous section: Transposition,
retrogradation, inversion and inversion of the retrogradation. The combination
of these melodic and rhythmic concepts gives already a lot of possible material,
but there are some more elements to consider, like changing the rhythms of the
phrase, repeating notes, condense or amplify the phrase by adding or quitting
notes, make the intervals bigger or smaller, etc.

Example 8: Fragment of Chris Potter solo over Stella by Starlight

This is a clear example where some of the mentioned things are being
used. Improvising is composing in the moment, so all the studies about how to
develop and connect motives can be related to improvisation. I did not go deep
into that because it could be a single research by itself. I particularly like to work
this kind of playing based on intuition, and practice it by improvising. This is
something I did in lessons with Jasper Blom, and it is also something that Chris
Potters says he does a lot: Just take a very simple idea, two or three notes, and
try to develop it in an organic way through a form or even just freely.

CD 2/TRACK 8: Developing a motive over Stella by Starlight

I want to insist also in how all the material we are talking about refers to
the concept of creating contrast in the improvisation. Creating a certain image
with your playing and then introducing something new that changes this image,
and in fact this new element acquires a different relevance because its relation


with the previous image. It is about having a palette with a lot of colors and being
able to combine them in a smart way to obtain a more interesting painting.


Following the routine described in the previous chapter, I also tried to

figure out some lines based in the symmetric movement of lines. Besides the
possible applications described, when looking for lines I was trying to keep a
kind of relation with the harmony, looking for ways of outlining the chords with
this kind of structures. Actually works very well to combine these symmetric
lines with the groupings of five, six and seven notes.

This line is built from playing something around Gm7 and then moving it
in minor thirds to Bbm7 (that is the same than Gm7b5) and then to Dbm7, that is
kind of C7alt. The line continues with Em7 over Fmaj7, where only the F# is a
wrong note.

The following line is based on the same idea but in groups of five.

Other ideas:



We already saw that the development of the rhythmic concept described

and the octave division have consequences in the harmony. But there are more
things to talk about.


This is something used very often in jazz improvisation, and definitively

something that appear many times in CPs playing. For those who are not
familiar with the concept, the tritone substitution consists in replacing a given
dominant chord for another one on a tritone distance. These chords have in
common the tritone interval created in between the third and the seventh, that is
what actually gives the dominant sound that needs to resolve.

Based on this relation, is very common to play a II V line of the tritone

instead of the normal one.

Example 1: Fragment of Chris Potter solo over Star Eyes

In the third bard of the example, the line clearly outlines a C#m7 F#7,
resolving to Fmaj7. There some spots in some tunes where this kind of
substitutions became a sort of standard reharmonization. For example, in All the
things you are, playing a D7 to go to Dbmaj7, instead of the original Abmaj7.

Example 2: Fragment of Chris Potter solo over All the things you are.


Sometimes not the whole II V is substituted, and the both layers are
combined. In the following example, CP plays B7 (tritone V), to Cm7 to F7.

Example 3: Fragment of Chris Potter solo over Stella by Starlight.

The original chords and their substitutions can be combined and

connected in different ways. In the next example the tritone V is played after the
normal V, getting into next bar.

Example 4: Fragment of Chris Potter solo over Blues Nouveau.

We also can find tritone substitutions played on different beats of the bar,
creating again a certain delay in resolving to the one.

Example 5: Fragment of Chris Potter solo over Stella by Starlight

Starting on the third beat of the second bar, CP plays an E7 chord that
connects with a Dmaj7 that resolves to Ebmaj7 on the third beat of the third bar.
The Dmaj7 is just an extension of E7, attending to Barry Harris explanations
about chord outline:

Attending to this explanation Dm7b5 (VII), Fm7 (II), and Abmaj7 (VI) are
extensions of Bb7 (V). And the same logic can be applied to its tritone substitute,


Actually, many times we listen lines like this one:

Example 6: Fragment of Chris Potter solo over Stella by Starlight

The Ab7 is expanded till the third beat of the third bar, resolving to A
major triad that resolves to Bbmaj7. This A triad could be considered as the
upper structure of B7 going to Bbmaj7. It also could be understood as A7 going
to Dm7, which is an upper structure of Bbmaj7. But because the dominant sound
is not there (no minor seventh or flat ninth), I rather think that these types of
line are coming from tritone substitutions.

Example 7: Fragment of Chris Potter solo over Anthropology

This example is much more clear. As an extension of Bb7, CP plays Dmaj7

(upper structure of E7) and then plays C#m7, that would be third degree of A
major, the original tonality where this E7 belongs.

This extension of the dominant sound played over the I chord happens
very often in CP. Sometimes it happens for one or two beats, and sometimes it
takes much more space.

Example 8: Fragment of Chris Potter solo over Airegin



In certain forms we found CP playing different changes than the standard

ones and adding chords that are not played by the rhythm section

Example 9: Fragment of Chris Potter solo over Amsterdam blues.

A form schema we could deduct from this chorus would be something like that:

Actually these changes are pretty much based on tritone substitutions: E7

is the tritone substitute of Bb7, F#7 of C7 (commonly played in the third bar of a
blues), B7 of F7 and Ab7 from D7.


Following example shows some alternate changes also over the A sections of
rhythm changes:

Example 10: Fragment of Chris Potter solo over Anthropology

The chord schema CP is playing here is:

Example 11: Fragment of Chris Potter solo over Anthropology

A form schema we could deduct from this chorus would be something like that:



This is a very common chord, with a very characteristic sonority,

associated to the fifth degree of the major harmonic scale and also to the
octatonic sound. The normal choice is to use this kind of sonority when resolving
to a major chord, but CP uses it very often when resolving to a minor chord.

Example 12: Fragment of Chris Potter solo over Anthropology

Or also likes to play with both 13 and b13 sound at the same time.

Example 13: Fragment of Chris Potter solo over Airegin


Pentatonic scales appear sometimes in CPs solos as a tool to emphasize a

certain color of a chord.

Example 14: Fragment of Chris Potter solo over Stella by Starlight.

I saw different opinions on how to name different pentatonic scales. The

line in the forth bar is, for me, an Eb minor pentatonic scale (Eb, F, Gb, Bb, C). It
creates the color of an F7susb9 chord.

Example 15: Fragment of Chris Potter solo over Amsterdam Blues


Here CP is playing a E major pentatonic scale over the four bars, giving a
sound of C7alt, or F#7 (tritone substitute), that is expanded over the whole four

Related to this idea I got a practice tip from Rich Perry in a lesson during
my visit to New York. The concept is to play very simple ideas based on an
altered sound created by the use of pentatonics and play them on top of almost
every chord.

We did this over a minor blues.


Little pentatonic ideas over minor blues creating

altered sound.

His trick doing that was to play the idea as late as possible in the bar and
getting into the next bar, so playing the altered sound on top or the chord in
which the line resolves. The idea is pretty simple and this use of pentatonic
scales to create altered sounds or other colors over specific chords can be found
in many improvisation methods. But I found this creating a sound very close to
what I hear sometimes in CPs solos, first because of the idea of expanding the
altered sound into the target chord, and second because of the relation of
pentatonic scales with melodic constructions based in perfect 4ths, interval that
appears very often in CPs solos.

For example, a C major pentatonic scale can be outlined using only perfect
fourths, starting from note E (the third).


This outline in fourths can be broken up:

This kind of shapes can be found in CPs solos as a way of outlining chords.

Example 16: Fragment of Chris Potter solo over All the things you are.

We can see how the Abmaj7 chord is outlined in perfect fourths, playing
the notes of Ab major pentatonic. The following examples shows also chord
outlines based on breaking up the line in fourths

Example17: Fragment of Chris Potter solo over Star Eyes

Going back to previous chapter, when talking about dividing the octave,
motives coming from pentatonic shapes are normally very strong and useful to
apply in that idea of transposing the motive in different intervals. And normally
it is pretty easy to play lines related to the harmony, if that is what the player

It is easy to relate it to harmony because there are different pentatonic

scales you can play on every chord, what makes easier to find symmetrical

Am7: C pentatonic, G pentatonic, D pentatonic.
D7 (playing a tritone II V: Ebm7 Ab7): Gb pentatonic, Db pentatonic, Ab
Gmaj7: G pentatonic, D pentatonic, A pentatonic.


Example 18: Fragment of Chris Potter solo over Amsterdam Blues

In this last example CP plays again with a C7 altered sound over the last
four bars of a blues. He plays an idea over E pentatonic and repeats it over F#



With this report there is attached a DVD with different recordings of me
playing in different situations. The recordings are in chronological order.

First track is a version of Stella by Starlight recorded in the very
beginning of this research process and that I show as a reference of my playing
before this work had been done.

Second track is a version of Woody n You, by Dizzy Gillespie, from my
first master recital. There we play the arrangement of this song from the record
Then and Now from Red Rodney, song were I transcribed Chris Potter solo. In
this first stage of the research process I can notice some intention from myself
in developing certain aspects.

For example in this passage I can hear more rhythmic variety than I used to have.

Or in this other passage there is a phrase with groupings of three and two notes
that, without going over the bar line yet, was something not so common to hear
in my playing.

I also start looking for structures in fourths for now fitting with the harmony.


The third track is a version of Amsterdam blues, a major blues in F
composed by Chris Potter that I transcribed the solo as well. From that
transcription I took some ideas that appear in my solo.

In this example I played the same alternate changes I found transcribing

CPs solo over that piece. Also in the second four bars there is a line moved in
minor thirds.

The following passage shows also the use of E major pentatonic over C7
to create the altered sound, sound that is expanded over the last four bars of the
form. Also in the beginning of the next for there is a three note motive played
over F7, then transposed to Bb7 in the next bar, and then played backwards and
moved two times in minor thirds and one time on a tritone distance.

The following line shows a three notes motive based on a perfect fourth
moved in whole steps, creating a line that doesnt fit the harmony.


Fourth track is a recording of a concert with Morfitis Quintet. We are

playing a song composed by Gergios Morfitis named Purple. In this solo there
are some lines based on moving a motive in different intervals and with uneven
groupings. The following example shows, from the third bar, a five note motive
(four notes plus the eighth note rest), moved down and up in whole steps,
starting on the third bar of the example.

The next example is a line based on perfect fourths, mostly in groupings

of seven eighth notes, without an specific relation with the harmony.

I also used the idea of using a pentatonic to create an altered sound. In

this specific case, the key center is Eb, so the dominant would be Bb7. Even if this
chord is not played, playing a D major pentatonic works fine to create this
altered sound when looking for creating some tension in the solo.

The fifth track is a recording or Rotterdam blues, a song composed by

me, starting from the idea of making a minor version of Chris Potters
Amsterdam Blues.


This is a transcription from a part of the solo.

I can see in this solo the consequences of working in the time awareness.
One of the ideas of working in the mixed meter is to get more freedom in
outlining the chords, anticipating chords or delaying resolutions in the harmony
without loosing track. Like here:


Or in this chorus:

In the first line we can see a phrase going over the bar line, resolving to
Gm7 in the third beat of the fifth bar by reaching the note Bb. In the seventh bar
the line outlines an A7b9 on top of a Dm7.

The idea of playing pentatonic scales to create an altered sound that I
explained on the chapter dedicated to harmony is very clear in the following

The sixth track is a studio recording of Tan lejos y tan cera, composed
by Jose Atero. I show here a transcription of my solo on that track.



In this solo some of the things worked out through this research are
coming out. First line of the part shows a motive (an ascendant sixth) moved
through the changes and rhythmically modified by playing a cross rhythm in
seven (starting in the fourth beat of the second bar).

There are also many lines based on groupings of five eighth notes like this one:

Or this one:

Or this other one:


There is also a line based on three perfect fourths played then backwards and a
minor third down, played in a way that sound almost inside the harmony.

There is also a passage based on mixed meter.

This line is actually outlining this harmonic rhythm:

This following example is a very simple triton substitution I copied from CPs
solo over Stella by Starlight.

Over the G#7b9, I play D7 down from the fifth and Cmaj7 up resolving to C#m7.



Writing has been one of the best ways for me to practice. I
feel like composing has helped my improvising a lot, just because I am
thinking how to organize everything and I have enough time to go
back and change my decision.13



This is a line I did based on the chord changes of It could happen to you.
The construction of the melody did not come from material related with this
research but more from trying to use chromatic passing notes in the scales. But
once the melody was done I tried to figure out ways of phrasing it in a different
way that how I would do it without thinking about it.

The first thing I experimented with was about which notes to accent and
which note in order to emphasize the rhythmic structures created by the lines or
to create new ones only by the distribution of those accents. What we talked
about when describing phrasing as rhythm creator.

The possibilities I thought about were:

Putting an accent in the top notes of the line

Putting an accent in the low notes of the line

Putting an accent every three eighth notes

Putting an accent in the first, second, third or forth note of every

group of four eighth notes

The second thing I did was experimenting with a wider range of
articulation combinations and time feel.

DVD 3/TRACK 7: Experimenting with phrasing: Standard phrasing

DVD3/TRACK 8: Experimenting with phrasing: Phrasing as rhythm

DVD3/TRACK 9: Experimenting with phrasing: Articulation variety
DVD3/TRACK 10: Arrangement based on phrasing as rhythm creator

13 Chris Potter Master Class DVD, Robertos Winds, New York, 2009.







Later on I did this arrangement based on the version of the melody
focused on phrasing as rhythm creator. The accents played on the melody on that
version are converted into kicks for the rhythm section.







The idea of this tune came by transcribing the theme of Amsterdam blues.
This is an F blues composed by Chris Potter.

The melody in the first four bars is pretty much constructed by

symmetrical relations of intervals, mainly fourths. What I did is to take the line in
the first bar and try to make a melody over a minor blues in the relative key
having the focus in:

Making a line based on symmetric shapes, with the forth as main interval.
Look for lines that do not fit the bar line, by the use of uneven groupings
of eighth notes and cross rhythms.
The logic of the line is more important than playing notes that fit the








The melody is mainly based on constructions moved in different intervals.

This first line of the melody could be analyzed as a construction by two

different motives.

Motive one and its development

Motive two and its development

Motive one is based on fourths moved symmetrically and in different

groupings. Second motive is inverted and suffers a little variation in the second
bar. The ideas in second and third bar constitute a cross rhythm in five.

The following line is also a cross rhythm, but this time in six.

The head finishes again with constructions in perfect fourths but this time fitting
more the harmony.

Also the Coda is based in this kind of symmetries.

The arrangement of the rhythm section in the intro and the first eight
bars of the head is based on moving an idea to different layers.


This idea is repeated transposed to different layers with some little variations.



In the beginning of this research process I thought that the subject of

study was concrete enough in order to get a convenient amount of material to
work on. Well, it definitively was not. It became a much more bigger thing than I
expected. This selection of solos that became the central source of information
for this research became a link to how Chris Potter has developed his musical
concept as a player; and this, talking of a player that has reach such levels of
technical virtuosity and musical complexity, is a really extensive subject. My
feeling now is that I opened a lot of doors and passed through some of them, and
with others I just took a look to check what was inside.

Anyhow, I am a different musician now than the one that started this
research. With strong and week points, but for sure with a different perception
of where am I as a musician and with a more clear vision of where I want to go. I
cannot overvalue the things I learn from recording myself on a regular basis, and
how much it affected to further choices during the playing. It is still very tuff to
listen to myself playing, but I am learning to learn from it, to listen in a
constructive way.

About this research the thing that grabbed me the most was the
development of a rich rhythmic concept and its tight up relation with the
phrasing and the timing. Rhythm is the most primitive aspect of music and is the
thing that grabs you more in an irrational level. Many students, especially
saxophone players, are mainly busy with what notes to play, looking for hip
chord substitutions and all this kind of things. I am a pretty good example of that,
I declare myself completely guilty. But now I really understand from a deep level
that all this notes do not mean anything without the intention.

Of course the more you know about harmony, melody and rhythm, and
the better technique you have in your instrument, the more free you are to
express yourself as an improviser or as a composer. Paraphrasing Chris Potter,
the more colors you have in your pallet, the more interesting painting you can
make. But, as Ben van den Dungen says, if you put all the colors at the same time
what you get is just a big brown, and in the other hand, a picture in black and
white can be extremely expressive. This research was about adding colors to my
pallet, but more important than that is to know how to use them in a smart way
to create an interesting dialogue, with tensions and resolutions, contrasting
parts and also to be able to react one way or another to what the rest of the
band is playing.

In this research I really when through material that was new for me, I
probably I do not master it the way I would like to. But some things are slowly
coming out in a natural way, and this is definitively a sign of having done part of
the trip. It means they became somehow part of my sound. This concept, what
Chris Potter calls the sound in your head, is also something I am trying to be
more and more aware. This sound is a product of choices I make: my musical and


personal background, what music I listen, the music I play, what and how do I
practice but actually I cannot choose the final result, it is just there, and should
not fight it. Probably it does not fulfill the expectations I have, or the expectations
I think the others have from me. This thoughts are just interferences. At the end
of the day, in the moment of playing, after investing so many time and energy in
looking for new things to play, you just have to be honest, shut down your mind,
and listen to what you have to say. It is not an easy thing to do, at least for me,
but is the only way to really find your place in the music.

If you try to force your own voice is not going to come from a
deep level, I think you just have to let it happen. There is a lot of
copying before you reach this level of proficiency where you are able to
let it go and say to yourself: I dont know if this is good or not, I dont
know if anyone is going to like it or if I like it, but this is what feels to
me like the most natural way of doing it.
Chris Potter.



Track list

CD 1: Transcribed solos


Woody n You
Amsterdam Blues
Stella by Starlight
Star Eyes
Blues Nouveau
All The Things You Are
Giant Steps

CD2: Demonstrations


Playing cross rhythm in seven over All the Things You Are
Playing cross rhythm in five over rhythm changes
Playing mixed meter over Airegins B and C part
Mixed meter line over All The Things You Are
Mixed meter line over Giant steps
Example of working in rhythmic variety over F blues
Improvisation by moving a three note motive over F blues
Developing a motive over Stella by Starlight
Pentatonics over minor blues

DVD 3: Reflections on my playing and composing


The before the research: Stella by Starlight

Work in progress 1: Woody n You
Work in progress 2: Amsterdam Blues
Work in progress 3: Purple
Work in progress 4 (and composition number 2): Rotterdam blues
Work in progress 5: Tan lejos y tan cerca
Experimenting with phrasing 1: But it did not happen. Standard phrasing.
Experimenting with phrasing 2: But it did not happen. Phrasing as rhythm
9. Experimenting with phrasing 3: But it did not happen. Articulation
10. Composition number 1: But it did not happen.




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Advance Music.
Bergonzi, Jerry (1994) Inside improvisation Vol 2. Pentatonics, Advance
Liebman, David (1991) A Chromatic approach to jazz harmony and
melody, Advance Music.
Crook, Hal(2002) How to improvise, Advance Music.
Harris, Barry (1994) The Barry Harris Workshop, Bop City Productions.
Schoenberg, Arnold (1967) Fundamentals of Musical Composition. London:
Faber and Faber Limited.
Slonimsky, Nicolas (1975)Thesaurus of scale and melodic patterns, Music
Sales America.
Geyn, Hein van de (2007) Comprehensive bass method for bass players,
Ricker, Raimon (1983) Pentatonic scales for jazz improvisation, Alfred
Ricker, Raimon (1983) Technique Development in Fourths for Jazz
Improvisation, Alfred Publishing.


Red Rodney (1992), Then and now, Chesky Records.

Chris Potter (1993), Sundiata, Criss Cross.
Al foster (1997), Brandyn, Laika records
Tom Cohen (1999), Digging in, digging out, Double time jazz
Jim Hall (1999), the jazzpar quartet, Storyville.
Chris Potter (2001), Gratitude, Verve.
Jim Rotondi (2003), New Vistas, Criss Cross.
Chris Potter (2006), Underground, Sunny Side Records.
Chris Potter (2007), Follow the red line, Sunny Side Records.
(2009) Chris Potter Master Class DVD, Robertos Winds.