Top positive review
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An Amazing feat of scholarship, meant for all musicians.
on January 28, 2002
When I was younger I used to read about how playing with various famous jazz musicians like Monk or Dizzy was like going to school. I just thought it was for general inspiration. Now I can see that there is a mass of musical harmonic theory that has built up over the years, and mostly passed on from player to player. This book presents all the basic harmonic innovations that Jazz came up with between the 1940's and 1980's, and it's a lot. You'd have to know this stuff in order to play with the musicians of those times.
I think the best audience for this work consists of players who have mastered the "basics of their horn" and are ready to move into the "real world" of jazz improvisation and writing. However, even beginners can get into the book and I'd bet there are some masters out there who could learn a trick or two from it.
Many of the ideas presented here may have been printed before, but I've never seen them all together like this, never seen them related to each other like this, and there's lots and lots that this musician at least had never conceived of before. Reading it was like opening my eyes for the first time in the morning. So much of what I had listened to for years suddenly became explicable.
Do you want to know what to do with that B-flat alt chord in the "Real Book?" Want to know how pentatonic scales can build over various chords? Want to know why it somehow sounded right when that V chord resolved down a major third instead of a fifth? Read this book.
Other topics: Coltrane's changes -- modal scale theory -- a whole section on using melodic minor scales to basically reharmonize every which way but loose --- be-bop scale theory and great gobs of four-bar examples (properly notated in case you can beg borrow or steal the original record) -- playing "outside". There are also complete treatments of some key tunes such as Giant Steps, I Hear a Rhapsody, etc. I think there's enough in this book to keep any musician busy for a decade practicing and working out.
One nice touch is how Mark Levine points out practicioners of the art, not only Coltrane for his famous reharmonizations, but people like Woody Shaw for his pentatonic harmonies and Joe Henderson, Herbie Hancock etc. etc. There are some nice pictures of all these people, which to me exhibits one of the best qualities of jazz culture -- that of giving proper and humble credit and tribute to the many great musicians that have formed and furthered the music.
One thing this book is not -- It's not just a book of licks written out and transposed in various keys for you to practice over particular chords. Examples of licks are there, of course, but the focus is on giving you enough of an understanding so that you can make your own practicing agenda.