Blues For Alice: A Jazz Bass Guide & Tips

Introduction:

Welcome to my Blues For Alice bass guide. With this post, we will explore how to play ‘Blues For Alice’ on bass. This Charlie Parker masterpiece is more than just a 12-bar blues. It’s a deep dive into jazz blues composition and improvisation. The song uses the cycle of fourths and sophisticated chromatic II-V progressions. These elements offer bass players an invaluable opportunity to expand their skills in bebop harmony and melody.

Objectives:

– Prepare to play Blues For Alice by listen to the original recording.

– Understand the concepts involved in playing this jazz blues, compare different chord Progressions found in different books.

– Explore melody, solo and variations strategies.

Lesson Plan:

We start by listening to Parker’s original recording and analysing the progression. We should compare different versions, such as the Real Book and the bass clef transcription from Jamey Aebersold’s Charlie Parker Omnibook.

Detailed Analysis: 

Harmony Analysis: The song starts on an F major 7, then back cycles diatonically. The progression includes E minor seven flat five, A seven, D minor seven, G7, and eventually landing on the four chord.

The composition heavily uses the II V I chord progression in various keys. For example, the second bar features a minor II V in the key of D (E-7b5 to A7), followed by a II V in the key of C (D-7 to G7) in the third bar, and then a II V in the key of Bb in the fourth bar (C-7 to F7), leading to a strong V-I resolution to the Bb7 chord in the fifth bar.

After the Bb7 chord in bar 5, Parker uses non resolving II V chord progressions, descending chromatically. This sequence includes a II V in the key of Ab in bar 6, a II V in the key of G in bar 7, followed by a II V in the key of Gb in bar 8, featuring a Db7 chord acting as a tritone substitute for G7. This leads to a G-7 to C7 (II-7 V7) progression in bars 9 and 10, returning to the tonic key of F major.

The song concludes with a classic III VI II V jazz turnaround in the last two bars, remaining in the key of F major

Melody Insights: Charlie Parker’s melody for “Blues For Alice” is a study in itself, offering a deep dive into bebop. Learning the melody can significantly enhance your understanding of jazz. Also think this way, classical musicians practice important compositions on their instrument to gain technique and agility, we should have the same approach for important artists like Charlie Parker. Taking the Head and the solo will go a long way for different aspects of your playing.

The melody is set to a fast tempo of 165 BPM, posing a challenge to outline chord changes quickly. The melody makes extensive use of chord tones, with Parker skillfully navigating through the progression, providing a memorable melody predominantly using chord tones.

Learning from Parker’s Techniques: Musicians can lift licks from each bar of this piece and practice them. Techniques such as using chord tones for navigation, employing interesting chord tones as target notes and voice leading through semitone movements between chord changes are highly beneficial​​. These aspects are not only used by jazz musicians and can also be adapted to other music styles.

Solo Strategies: The tune allows for various solo approaches, staying diatonic but with thoughtful chromatic touches. The strategy involves thinking F major over the initial chords, transitioning to mixolydian on the four chord and using B flat Dorian for the B flat minor 7.

Chord Tones Lines: Chord tones play a crucial role in solo improvisation over “Blues for Alice”. Knowledge of chord tones and their corresponding scales is essential, but using guide tone lines (3rd and 7th) adds a structural component to soloing. These lines can be used in both ascending and descending forms, mixed with various approaches like voice leading triads, 7th chords and upper extensions. This approach helps in creating solo phrases with a more logical flow and structure.

Assignment:

Learn the structure and various approaches for playing ‘Blues For Alice’ on bass. Pay special attention to the chord changes, melody and potential solo ideas.

Practical Application:

The practical application of this guide involves taking the insights from the analysis and applying them directly to playing your playing, not only when playing blues and jazz but also in other styles. By studying this tune you will gain not just technical skills, but also a deeper appreciation for the art of bebop.

Discography Recommendation:

Listen to Charlie Parker’s 1999 album “Confirmation: Best Of The Verve Years” to immerse yourself in the style and feel of his music.

Head

Specific Examples from the Melody:

  • In the first bar, Parker uses an F major arpeggio over the F6 chord, followed by an A minor arpeggio, implying an Fmaj7 chord​​.
  • Bar 2 features an E-7b5 chord, over which Parker plays notes that imply an E minor 7, followed by an A7b9 chord, creating tension and voice leading​​.
  • Bar 3 sees the Dm7 chord being outlined with the notes D, F and A. Then, over the G7 chord, Parker uses the 9th and 6th to add harmonic interest​​.
  • Bar 5 is interesting as Parker begins with the 9th of the Bb7 chord, demonstrating the concept of targeting non chord tones like 9ths, 11ths and 13ths​​.
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