Milt Jackson S.K.J. Licks

I’ve been working on Milt Jackson’s Blues “S.K.J.” from the recording “Sunflower (CTI Records 40th Anniversary Edition)“.
In this post, I’m going to talk about two licks that caught my ear. Milt Jackson plays both of them during his solo. This pair of licks is interesting for two reasons:

  1. Both licks apply the same blues-scale over chords in an a way that’s not usually covered in the text books.
  2. Both licks introduce altered 9s and 5s using simple arpeggios creating a jazzy sound.

S.K.J. is a blues in D-Flat. The first lick happens in bar 4 of the form. The changes outlined by the lick are a ii-V (Ab-7 Db7/b9) to the IV chord of the blues in bar 5 (Gb7).

Here’s the first lick:

The second lick happens in bar 8 of the blues form (during the second solo chorus). The changes are a minor ii-V (F-7/b5 Bb7alt) to Eb-7.

Here’s Bag’s lick outlining those changes:

D-Flat is a tough key with lots of accidentals. Analyzing and thinking in this key is hard (see that double-flat in lick 1!!). To simplify matters let’s transpose the licks into the key of C-Major and A-Minor respectively. That way the accidentals are reduced to a minimum.

Lick 1

The first noteworthy thing about Lick 1 is the use of the A-Blues scale over a D-7 chord. I’m not aware of theory books promoting this particular use of the blues scale. Why does this work in practice? My personal theory goes like this: The Blues Scale is essentially a minor pentatonic (R, b3, 4, 5, 7) with an added chromatic passing tone (b5). Each major scale contains three minor pentatonics. E.g. the C-Major scale (C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C) contains the following minor pentatonics:

  1. D-Minor Pentatonic: D, F, G, A, C
  2. E-Minor Pentatonic: E, G, A, B, D
  3. A-Minor Pentatonic: A, C, D, E, G

Adding the b5 as the chromatic passing tone does not fundamentally change the “sonic compatibility” of the resulting blues scales with the underlying harmony.

So Milt Jackson playing the A-Blues Scale over D-7 is OK because

  • A-Minor Pentatonic is compatible with C-Major and
  • D-7 is the ii-Chord in C-Major.

The second part of the lick over the G7/b9 chord is based on the G-Half-Whole-Diminished Scale. More important than the scale is the fact that the first four notes of that part of the lick are simply a B-diminished arpeggio. This arpeggio interpreted over G7 spells the following notes: 3, 5, 7, b9. A perfect outline of the G7/b9 tonality. The remaining notes connect the b9 to the E on beat one of the following bar, the third of C7. These notes all come from the aforementioned diminished scale.

Lick 2

Again, the first half of the lick is based on the A-Blues Scale. Using the theory from Lick one: B-7/b5 is a chord from the C-Major tonality and A-Blues is one of the compatible blues scales.

The second half of the lick is clearly based on an augmented triad descending from its #5 (C) to its root (E). Commonly one would expect this second chord of Minor-Two-Five to be altered (implying altered scale) or b9 (implying half-whole diminished). Neither of those scales provide all four of the notes of this lick:

  • The E-Altered Scale could provide the #5, 3, and root, but not the first note (B), the natural fifth of E7.
  • The E-Half-Whole diminished scale could provide the natural five, but not the augmented fifth (C).

There is indeed a scale that contains all four of those notes, the E7/b13 scale. This scale is one of the modes of melodic minor and contains the following notes: E, F#, G#, A, B, C, D, E. It is the same as E-Mixolydian but with a minor sixth (b13). There is little theoretical reason for this scale to be used in this situation. I believe  the best and simplest explanation is that the lick is constructed around the descending augmented triad and the first note (C) is merely a chromatic approach note to the #5.

I have written in a previous post about how Milt Jackson uses augmented triads to create altered dominant sounds.


I think the licks show two principles at work:

  1. The blues scale is so strong and recognizable that it can be applied over any chords as long as the chosen blues scale is compatible with the underlying diatonic harmony. I.e. any diatonic chord will work with any of the three compatible blues scales.
  2. Altered 9s and 5s can be introduced over 7th chords by way of diminished or augmented arpeggios, rather than full-blown scales (altered scale, half-whole diminished or whole-tone scale).


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Arpeggio Warmups

So far all Arpeggio Warmups have been based on:

  1. Dominant 7th chords
  2. Minor 7th chords
  3. Major 7th chords

The diatonic major scale “generates” one more type of 7th chord. It is formed by starting on the 7th degree of the major scale. In C-Major the 7th degree is B and the B-Half-Diminished chord is spelled: B, D, F, A. The chord is called half-diminished because it is made up of a diminished triad: B, D, F; but unlike a fully diminished 7th chord the seventh is not diminished but a regular minor seventh. Common chord symbols are

  • C-7|b5

The half-diminished chord plays an important role in Jazz: It is the ii-chord of the Minor-ii-V-I progression.

This weeks warmup is based on the half-diminished chord starting on its root. I’m also including a free play-along MP3 matching the exercises. (Link at the end of the post.)

Here is the ascending form:

And this is the descending form:

Here is a play-along:

Half-Diminished Chords Descending in Fifths


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Arpeggio Warmups

This week concludes the basic Major 7th chord arpeggios with exercises starting on the seventh of the chords.

Here is the ascending form:

And this is the descending form:

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Arpeggio Warmups

This weeks warmups use Major 7th arpeggios starting of the fifth of the chord. Here is the ascending exercise:

And this is its descending companion:

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Arpeggio Warmups

All right, after a long Christmas break, the arpeggio warmup series continues. The last post before the brake introduced the new Major 7 chord and also a play-along for practicing these arpeggios in all keys.

This week looks at playing Major 7 arpeggios starting on the 3rd of the chord. Here’s the ascending form:

And this is the matching descending form:

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Arpeggio Warmups

Last week’s warmup post completed the minor arpeggio warmups and we’re now moving on to the major-seventh arpeggio. As always, we start out by playing the arpeggio from the root.


The following play-along MP3 will work for the exercises as written:

Major Chords Descending in Fifths

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Arpeggio Warmups

This week’s warmups complete the minor arpeggio exercises by starting on the seventh of the chord.


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Ahmad Jamal: Night Mist Blues

Wikifonia has been down for a day now and I’ve been wanting to post this free lead sheet for Ahmad Jamal’s tune “Night Mist Blues”. I’m  making it available for download via this post and upload it to Wikifonia once it’s up and running again.

I’m providing a PDF version of the lead sheet and a MusicXML version which I created using MuseScore. This should allow anybody to easily transpose the lead sheet if they want.

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Arpeggio Warmups

As expected, this week’s warmups are minor arpeggios starting on the fifth. The ascending exercise goes like this:

And its descending counterpart is:


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Altered Dominant Licks from Chet Baker: “I’m Old Fashioned”

I recently transcribed Chet Baker’s solo on the Mercer/Kern standard “I’m Old Fashioned” that he played on his 1979 album “Someday My Prince Will Come”.

What particularly caught my ear was a lick that appears twice during this single chorus solo. The line is noticeable because it consists of three arpeggios: the first ascending, the second descending, and the last again ascending. The middle arpeggio is dissonant creating tension.

Here is the first variant:

Lick 1

Ignoring the last four notes of the lick one can easily see the three arpeggios that make this melody so easily recognizable. The arpeggios are not simply based on the chord symbols. Let’s analyze where the notes in those arpeggios come from.

Starting at the end of the lick with the E, G, B, D sequence over the CΔ chord. This is essentially an E-7 arpeggio. E-7 is a basic substitution for a major (tonic) chord. It  creates a CΔ9 sound.

Moving backwards from the CΔ to G7. With the exception of F, none of the notes in the arpeggio stem from the G-Mixolydian scale, which would be the default scale for the G7 chord. Indeed the sound created is that of the G-Altered scale (also known as G-Diminished-Wholetone or G-Superlocrian) and the G7alt chord. Why does Chet Baker pick this particular arpeggio over the other options from G-Altered scale?

The arpeggio played is based on an FØ (half-diminished) chord. Half-diminished chords are a basic substitution for dominant chords using a similar logic to what we just saw with the CΔ and CΔ9 chord. In this particular example, FØ is a substitution for Db7, creating a Db9 sound: F, Ab, Cb, Eb being the 3, 5, 7 and 9 of the Db9 chord. The Db7 chord itself if a tritone substitution for G7. I think there is a good chance that Chet Baker came to this particular arpeggio by way of tritone substitution.

The first chord is D-7 over which we hear an A-7 arpeggio. These notes stem from the underlying Dorian scale and represent the 5, 7, 9 and 11 of the D-7 chord. Melodically this choice makes a lot of sense when looked at in the context of the lick: The minor triad formed by A, C and E in the ascending line is repeated a half-step down in the descending line over G7. To my ears this plays a major part in making this lick stand out.

In the last A section of the solo, Chet Baker plays a variation of the lick:

Lick 2

This second variation uses broken Dm9 chord during the first two beats, a more straight forward substitution than the Dm11 in Lick 1. As a result each change is marked by a chromatic guide-tone descend making for smooth transitions between the harmonies.

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