Notes of Departure ...and Arrival
The Desired Dissonance of the Diminished Chord, Part I
The Desired Dissonance of the Diminished Chord, Part II
A Bridge To Be Crossed
(an in-depth look at the bridge of Cherokee)
Elements of Jazz by Greg Fishman
A Bridge To Be Crossed
An in-depth look at the bridge of Cherokee
Some songs and chord progressions are more than mere tunes in our repertoire. They're rites of passage" for all aspiring jazz musicians. One of the classic tests of any jazz musicians skill is to hear how well they can improvise over the bridge of the 1938 Ray Noble classic, "Cherokee."
Divide and Conquer
Lets de-mystify this bridge by dealing with it in purely theoretical terms. Its 16 bars long, which can be divided into four separate 4- bar phrases.
The first three phrases are all ii-7 / V7 / I Maj7 chord progressions. The final phrase is a sequence of ii-7 / V7 chords which lead back to the songs original key of Bb Major.
Using traditional Roman numeral analysis, the bridge of Cherokee looks like this:
(Measure numbers are in parentheses)
Key of B: ii-7 (1) V7 (2) I Maj7 (3) I Maj7 (4)
Key of A: ii-7 (5) V7 (6) I Maj7 (7) I Maj7 (8)
Key of G: ii-7 (9) V7 (10) I Maj7 (11) I Maj7 (12)
Key of F: ii-7 (13) V7 (14) Bb: ii-7 (15) V7 (16)
Why Its Difficult
As simple as the bridge may look when spelled out above, the fact remains that its really a challenge. Why is that?
There are two main items that make this bridge a challenge. Item number one: Unfamiliar key signatures. Youre now playing in B Major! To make matters even more difficult, you have to go from the comfortable key of Bb Major into key of B Major with no dominant chord to set up the first chord of the bridge, the C# min7 chord.
I think of this as the musical equivalent of taking a nice hot shower and then suddenly turning the water dial all the way to cold! Exhilarating, yes, but a shock, nonetheless. You need to condition your ear to anticipate this change. A good way to do this is to practice the last four bars of the second A section through the first four bars of the bridge. Use this eight-measure section of the tune as its own improvisatory exercise. Spend some time working on these eight bars, and youll no longer be shocked by the drastic change in harmonic temperature.
The second item making this bridge a challenge is the way that it moves from key center to key center. Rather than the familiar circle of 5ths type of movement (such as the key of C to the key of F to the key of Bb, etc.) it moves down in whole steps. Over the course of just 16 bars, you go through four different keys. Thats a lot of harmonic territory to cover in a short time. Consequently, it is essential that you are able to hear clear voice-leading through this entire progression. The examples below will help train your ear to hear through the changes in this manner.
Probably the best and most well-known improvisation on the chords of Cherokee is the classic 1945 Charlie Parker recording on the Savoy label, entitled Ko-Ko. This is one of the most frequently quoted solos in history, and I often hear great players quoting phrases of Parkers solo over the bridge, not as a crutch, but as a sort of tip of the hat to Parkers genius. This solo has become part of the jazz lexicon. If you havent had the pleasure of hearing it, I suggest do so as soon as possible.
Although many jazz musicians have recorded Cherokee, the following recordings stand out in my mind as must haves for any serious listener:
* Charlie Barnets 1939 big-band recording of Cherokee, on the Bluebird label. A commercial instrumental hit, this recording sounds dated, but hearing it will help you to understand what a shock it must have been when Charlie Parker recorded his interpretation of the song only six years later. Conceptually, Parker sounds more like sixty years ahead!
* Stan Getzs take on Cherokee, a Jimmy Raney tune based on the same chord progression, called Parker 51, on the 1951 album called LIVE AT STORYVILLE, on the Roost label.
* Clifford Browns version of Cherokee, from the 1955 album, STUDY IN BROWN, on the Emarcy label.
* George Colemans original tune based on the same chord progression, called Apache Dance, on the 1978 album, AMSTERDAM AFTER DARK, on the Timeless label.
Ive included four examples to get you on a successful path to playing effectively over the bridge of Cherokee. Examples number one through three require two parts played at once.
I suggest practicing these with a friend, or having a tape recorder available so that you can record one part and play the second part along with the taped playback of the first part. If you choose to play these on piano, raise the top line by an octave to avoid doubled notes.
Play the top line by itself and notice how it never moves by more than a whole step. This example starts the voice-leading on the 7th of the ii-7 chord and drops by a half-step to the 3rd of the V7 chord, followed by Major 7th of the I Maj7 chord.
In bar four, the voice-leading drops to the 6th of the I Maj7 chord. While we could have stayed on the A# for both measures 3 and 4 of the bridge, the G# in measure 4 keeps things moving harmonically, and is a nice set up to the A in bar 5. That raise in the voice-leading by a half-step helps to clarify the delineation of the four bar phrases.
Next, play the second line by itself. Notice how Ive used all of the voice-leading notes on beat one, and filled in the rest of the chord beneath these notes. Example 1 is designed to let your ear hear melodic movement in the odd bars of the bridge, with the even bars of the bridge as melodic resting places. I think of these as melodic points of arrival, and I refer to them as melodic points. These melodic points represent a chance to musically catch your breath and prepare the listener for the next phrase of the solo.
Once youve played each line in Example 1 separately, you need to hear both lines together. Your goal is to hear both of these lines simultaneously, even though you can only play one note at a time if playing these on a horn.
Once again, play the top line first. Notice that this time, the voice-leading starts on the 3rd of the ii-7 chord, keeps that same note as a common tone to the 7th of the V7 chord, and then drops down a half-step to the 3rd of the I Maj7 chord.
Next, play the second line by itself. Notice that although the voice-leading notes are used on beat one, Example 2 is designed to let your ear hear melodic movement in the even bars of the bridge, while still hearing the odd bars of the bridge as melodic points.
In the 4th, 8th, and 12th measure, Ive abandoned the tied-over whole note in order to employ I device I call the set up. The set up functions like a pickup note, but its really a pickup phrase. Its used to smoothly connect groups of four bar phrases. The set up gives the solo a fluent quality by generating a forward flow of melodic energy into each new phrase.
Now, play both lines at the same time and notice how they fit together. In addition to playing with a recording of the top line, try to play one line while simultaneously singing the other line in your head.
Example 3 combines the second lines of Examples 1 and 2. When played together, they form a duet that brings out the sound of the chord progression. Notice how while one line is at a melodic point, the other line is always moving, and vice-versa. This is to train your ear to hear different possibilities for starting points in your own improvisations.
Notice the symmetrical nature of Examples 1-3. This symmetry is good in one way, and bad in another. Its good in that it makes the piece sound like a composed melody. However, a spontaneously conceived improvised line would sound as if it were worked out if it were this symmetrical. An improvised line needs some symmetry, to be sure, but it calls for more variety than Examples 1-3 provide.
Example 4 takes the lessons learned in examples 1-3 and combines them into a single line. The line is based on voice-leading, but it has a wide variety of staring points, a few surprising twists and turns, and greater and more varied melodic development than Examples 1-3. I think of Example 4 as a type of finished product. Its an improvised line I came up with after working with the concepts in examples 1-3.
I suggest playing though all 4 examples for about a week to get the sound in your ear, and then writing out your own voice-leading lines starting from the root, 5th, 9th, 11th and 13th of the first chord of the bridge. However, dont be stuck on the written page! The only way to learn to be a good improviser is to actually improvise every day. So, play these examples, but dont just memorize them note for note. Try to use the concepts described above to raise the level of your own improvisations and youll be surprised at just how inventive you can be.
This article is © 2004 by Greg Fishman. All rights reserved.
Saxophonist Greg Fishman holds a Masters Degree in Jazz Pedagogy from Northwestern University, and is a teacher of jazz saxophone, flute and improvisation. His writing credits include three Stan Getz transcription books, published by Hal Leonard, and liner notes for the Verve record label. He has played with a variety of jazz ensembles, among them, The Woody Herman Band, Louie Bellson, and Slide Hampton. He currently performs and records with guitarist/singer Paulinho Garcia, his partner in TWO FOR BRAZIL, and with pianist Judy Roberts. Visit Greg at: www.gregfishman.com. For information on private jazz lessons with Greg Fishman, please send e-mail to: email@example.com or call (847)334-3634.