174 of 183 people found the following review helpful
on June 14, 2011
This book does only one small thing, but it does it extremely well: It will teach you how to play melodically over quick-change bebop ii-V-I progressions. For players who are frustrated by the "play this mode over this chord" approach, this book is a refreshing antidote that focuses instead on functional harmony and good voice leading to help you find the target notes that will smoothly connect the chords while outlining the harmony. For players who understand the theory but are lost as to how to get this stuff under their fingers, the brilliance of this book is that it boils everything down to just three very simple patterns, so you can immediately focus your practicing on internalizing these patterns, and later work on embellishing them into a constellation of jazz ideas.
Although the outlines appear very restrictive at first glance, Ligon makes a good case that these basic patterns can be varied and embellished without end, limited only by the creativity of the player. At his disposal are hundreds of examples of the outlines, transcribed from recorded solos.
However, this book has some troubling theoretical inconsistencies, and one very big flaw: The numerous examples cited in the book are completely removed from their musical context, which often complicates their analysis. Bafflingly, for each example, Ligon cites the name of the soloist but not the recording from which he transcribed the solo or even the name of the tune! This is a problem because nearly all the examples are only 2 - 4 measures long and end immediately on the beat after the I chord is reached, as if Ligon is not concerned in the slightest with what jazz musicians play over I chords. And because he often fails to include a key signature, it is sometimes impossible to analyze the example in the context of the key of the song.
All these problems come to light almost immediately, when on page 18 he runs into murky waters. A one-bar musical example is given showing two beats of Am7b5 and two beats of D7. Because the name of the tune is not given, nor a key signature, we have no way of knowing what the context of these chords are in the structure of the tune.
Describing this short example, Ligon writes, "Tom Harrell uses this pattern on a iii - V7/ii progression in the key of F." Ah, ok - so now we understand that the full progression is most likely Am7b5, D7, Gm7, C7, F. Ligon continues, "The Am7 chord is not the ii chord of the key of G major, rather the iii of the key of F major." First of all, *what* Am7 chord? The example shows an Am7b5, not Am7. They may be functionally similar but they imply different modalities, as Ligon has explained previously. Nothing in the melody indicates Eb, and again, we don't know the tune, so we can't investigate further. Second, I'm confused why he felt the need to clarify that the A chord is not the ii of G major, except for the fact that it is presented completely out of context, requiring explanation in the text that it is actually iii of F. Except of course that Am7b5, the actual chord in the example, is *not* the iii of F!
Moving on: "Because of the key signature of one flat, the second note is B-flat." Where to begin? There is no key signature at all in the example! And the second note is not flatted, it is shown as a B-natural! Is this a copy error, and Ligon meant to write Am7 and Bb? Or did Tom Harrell actually play a B natural over an Am7b5 chord, a very plausible possibility? We don't know anything about the tune or the recording, so we can't check for ourselves.
Next: "The D7 chord is the secondary dominant to G minor, the ii chord of F major." Ok, that explains why Ligon calls it a V7/ii instead of a VI7, but what about the preceding Am7b5 chord? That chord also borrows an Eb from G minor, so wouldn't it make more sense to call it ii/ii ? Isn't it also participating in the tonicization of G minor?
Finally: "To get to G minor [Tom Harrell] needed to add one flat (Eb) and add the leading tone to G minor (F#). In doing so he spelled out a D7 with a flat nine. Both chromatic tones pointing to the new key are included in the line." This is actually a great explanation of how modal borrowing and temporary tonicization work, and it explains why 7b9 chords often occur before minor chords, especially on V7/ii, not just because someone wrote 7b9 on a lead sheet (as Mark Levine would have you believe) but because it describes the voice leading that is happening in the melody. But the explanation is incomplete. What is not mentioned is that the note Eb (b9 of D7) sounds good in this case because it voice leads down a half step to D, the fifth of G minor. Ligon explains very well in Chapter 1 how the seventh of one chord voice leads down a half step to the third of the next, and the third of a dominant chord leads up to the root of the tonic, but his discussion of voice leading ends there. He mentions only in passing that ninths may also resolve to fifths, which is why the borrowing of a b9 on a dominant chord leads to more effective resolution on the following minor chord.
This incomplete discussion of voice leading is reflected in his outlines. The vast majority of his examples show the seventh leading down to the third, leaving unexplored the other possibilities for connecting chords with good voice leading using other chords tones. This restriction might be useful for a beginning player, so as not to get overwhelmed by the possibilities inherent in soloing, but using only this device in a real solo will sound boring. Now, it might seem that I'm picking an awful lot on just one tiny example, but this example is emblematic of other examples throughout the book.
Another issue is that Ligon's outlines are directly applicable only in a rather limited context: ii-V7-I and secondary dominant progressions with a fast harmonic rhythm. When the harmonic rhythm is fast - two beats per chord, as in almost all the examples given, the outlines can be used with little or no embellishment. But players will struggle to use these concepts over many tunes where the harmonic rhythm is slower, and much embellishment is required to expand the patterns to fill more time. There is some discussion of embellishment techniques, but Ligon never demonstrates how a player might expand the outlines using (for example) sequences. And although he makes some attempts to show how the outlines can be used over other types of chord progressions, I find his examples unconvincing - he's trying a little too hard to force these examples into his outline theory, rather than letting the theory follow from the examples.
Finally, as I've mentioned before, there is no discussion of what to play over a I chord or how to connect it to whatever follows - indeed, so many examples simply stop at the end of a dominant 7 chord, leaving the reader wondering what the I chord is supposed to be - is it major? is it minor? is it even a I chord at all or something else? are we looking at a ii - V7 or a iii - V7/ii progression? How are we supposed to analyze the solo, completely devoid of its context in the tune?
This problem presents itself in the Am7b5 - D7 example above, and this illustrates a problem with the whole 'temporary tonicization' explanation. After Ligon has explained that the melody on the D7 chord is borrowing from G harmonic minor, we never actually get to see what Tom Harrell plays on the Gm7 chord itself! The melody is left hanging on an Eb note in the D7 bar, leaving us to wonder if it will resolve down to D, the fifth of G minor, or perhaps up to F, the seventh. But a player might wonder, if the Gm is being tonicized as a minor i chord by D7, and Harrell is borrowing F# and Eb from G harmonic minor, what should she play over the Gm7 itself? Should we in fact treat it as if it were a minor i? Ligon has stated earlier that we should play notes from the harmonic minor scale over a minor i. Well, that might be a good choice to spice things up, but the more conventional choice is to treat the Gm7 as what it really is, a ii chord that implies dorian harmony, with an F natural seventh. Playing F# in this context will sound exotic but will not give the smooth voice leading to E that Ligon desires when the C7 finally comes around.
On the other hand, if we're looking at an Am7b5 - D7 preceding a bridge that modulates into the key of G minor, we might very well want to play notes chosen from the G harmonic or even melodic minor scale over the following Gm chord, and we're going to choose different notes to play over the A and D chords as well. If it were an Am7 - D7 as part of vi - V/V - V - I progression in the key of C, we would make still different choices and alterations. Context matters, and that it what gets lost in this book. It is an especially serious flaw in a book that emphasizes functional harmony and voice leading instead of viewing chords as isolated verticalizations of modes.
All this said, despite the serious problem of lack of context in the examples, Ligon's book is still an excellent gateway into ii-V-I playing, and a player who sits down with this book and Aebersold's ii-V-I tracks will be playing satisfying solos almost immediately, with plenty of room to grow and inject one's own creativity over time.
36 of 37 people found the following review helpful
on December 21, 2009
This is a very important book for me.
I've started reading and practicing it since some months, and found quickly how worthy it is.
The basic ideas are fundamentally two:
1. There are different types of improvisations (generic, specific, out...) focusing on melodical/rhythmical aspects
2. A typical jazz improv contains three outstanding forms, that can be altered and decorated according to will and taste of the performer.
This work of abstraction is very, very powerful!!! It's ways too easier to improvise this way, just controlling and varying 3 basic forms!!!
As to the second part (Outline analysis and examples from Great Masters) what I would have liked additionally is:
1. an accompanying CD
2. some more detailed explanations (mainly on more complex phrases)
3. some examples tying it all together, mixing outlines
4. suggestions about any proper voicings to be used while playing some phrases.
Maybe these requests could sound too naive to the expert performer, but I still think that, as the main purpose of this great book is to flatten the learning difficulty (and time) to learn how to improvise, all of the items I've pointed out would contribute to this goal, futherly reducing the duration of this complex, intriguing and amazing mental process.
18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on October 15, 2011
The BEST resource on how to improvise I have EVER found. The word "best" isn't even correct; this is the ONLY resource (book or DVD or private teacher) I have ever found that actually got me to improvise my own melodies that actually feel and sound great.
A little over a decade ago, I heard a guy in a guitar shop playing jazz guitar and I fell in love the sound instantly and I knew that's what I wanted to do. I started taking guitar and piano lessons, and had a natural talent for the technique side of playing, and it didn't take me long to learn a lot of theory, but when I tried to improvise, nothing sounded good at all.
So the point is, It took me a few years to get to a decent level of playing, but then I just plateaued, and over the next seven or eight years of lessons, books, and DVDs I felt like I didn't improve much from there.
Just about a month ago I bought this book and I'm finally getting it! Things finally MAKE SENSE! If you've struggled with improvising, I can't recommend this book enough. I guess I can understand why other teachers don't explain it in such detail the way Ligon does because in just the few weeks I've been working with his book, the things I've picked up from him seem so obvious and self-explanatory, but I just COULD NOT get it without his explanations. I wish I had learned from him (or someone like him) from the very start.
Most teachers show you the chords, and then show you all the notes to play over the chords and then say "Ok go for it! Have fun and LISTEN!" and you can either try to make something up with those notes that probably won't sound very cool or jazzy, or you can copy cool licks from others that will sound cool, but won't really feel like YOU are improvising and you won't really understand it anyway.
Ligon shows you the notes that "work," and then also gives you RULES to follow, which is restricting and boring at first, but as you go further in the book, the more and more you start adding variations to the rules, and breaking the rules, and then great music just starts to flow! And it is so much fun and feels really good. I used to watch/listen to artists improvising and it seemed like so much fun, but when I would try, it felt like a language that I just wasn't quite fluent or articulate enough to express myself. But I am getting there faster every day now than in years of practice.
(This is probably one of my top 5 best purchases of all time. That's how great it is).
[Sidenote: In full disclosure, there is one other thing besides this book I have started doing over the past year that has also helped a lot, so my rapid progress recently is not SOLELY because of this book. My teacher always told me to SING the scales and arpeggios, and sing the notes before/while playing, but I ignored him until now. I finally started SINGING notes from songs I liked or from my own head and hearing/figuring out how they fit into the major scale before/while playing them and this has helped exponentially my ability to HEAR what is going on in pop/rock music and improvise pop/rock sounding solos, but still JAZZ seemed beyond me until about a month ago when I bought Ligon's book, which was like the final step].
UPDATE: I wrote the review about a year ago and I'd just like to update and say this book really unlocked something for me, I highly recommend it, and I also just wanted to add that after studying with this one for a while, the Charlie Parker Omnibook made a lot more sense and was a lot more fun to practice with.