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:
- Both licks apply the same blues-scale over chords in an a way that’s not usually covered in the text books.
- 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).
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.
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.
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:
- D-Minor Pentatonic: D, F, G, A, C
- E-Minor Pentatonic: E, G, A, B, D
- 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.
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:
- 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.
- 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).