Scotty Barnhart’s solo on Giant Steps

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As I have been learning and studying the tune Giant Steps I have learned several things about how improvisers approach the tune. Although our aural memory is not as strong when confronting a harmonic progression like this a more in-depth analysis brings some striking truths to what is actually done.

1. Repetition of licks over certain ii-V-I patterns. This has become obvious as I analyzed both Claudio Roditi and Scotty Barnhart playing over the changes on this tune. When you are moving this fast you don’t have time to constantly innovate new ideas so referring back to previously used melodies allow you to be quick on your fingers. This doesn’t mean the same lick is always used, but variations upon it can help to get you through those less-traveled chords.

2. Bigger harmonic ideas beyond the current chord. Occasionally while analyzing a phrase passing tones lining up on the downbeat of the measure clash with the chord tone. This is OK when the song is travelling so fast! The listener hears chromatic passing in the ear but since the lines always move past those clashing notes they don’t linger and resolve. Also, overarching phrases that superimpose ideas and paint over existing structures can make for an interesting suspension to free up the harmonic rhythm of a tune.

3. Variety of rhythm. It’s easy to get buried in eighth note lines when playing bop, but freeing up the rhythmic ideas now and then with sustained tones, rests, or even triplet rhythm helps to break up the monotony that ails many be-bop players. I even have tried practicing this idea intentionally when shedding tunes to free myself. Listening to music can give you some of this, but I think the real value in transcribing is physically seeing on paper the pacing that improvisers take in a multiple chorus solo.

With all that being said I really enjoyed Scotty’s take on this chart. The Second Line groove digs hard and really fits well with this tune. His solo is dead on, and all the concepts I talked about above are illustrated. Truly a great solo for not only trumpet players but those of all instruments to study. The relentlessness of his playing is clearly evident in this solo, and I enjoy the fullness of his phrasing as he blows through these hard changes.

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