Yesterday I completed the final degree requirement for my Master of Music in jazz studies at San Diego State University. I submitted myself to a one-hour oral exam with the three jazz professors. The atmosphere was more like an exit interview than an exam. We discussed my experiences, the program, and a few items I was asked to prepare ahead of time:

  1. a transcription and analysis of one of my improvised solos from my recital
  2. analysis of one of my original compositions
  3. repertoire and text selections for various levels of high school and college jazz performance groups and classes

In this post, I'll focus on the solo transcription. I chose "The Kármán Line" because it was my most confident solo, both in my mind when I played it and in its sound when I listen back to the recording. (And it fits nicely within the length restrictions without cutting it short.) I was weaving through overlapping pentatonic scales for this entire solo. The composition lends itself nicely to that technique with both inside and outside playing. (See my original post on "The Kármán Line" with the full lead sheet.)

Here's the video from the recital itself:

Here's the solo transcription.

Before looking through my annotated transcription, take note of the following analysis terms used by Prof. Rick Helzer. DP1 through DP4 are digital patterns, specific collections of notes within a perfect fifth. They are, in order, 1 2 3 5, 1 2 4 5, 1 2 b3 5, and 1 b3 4 5. Each digital pattern can be played in any order over any rhythm. LM is "Lydian Mode" and is identified whenever the soloist unambiguously employs Lydian. MDH is "Melodic Delay of Harmony", when the soloist continues to imply the previous bar's harmony for the first bit of the current bar. MA is "Melodic Arpeggio" and denotes any use of a full 7th chord arpeggio in any inversion.

Here's the annotated solo transcription.

Pentatonics in Motion

My default scales for the entire piece were minor pentatonic on every m7 chord and minor pentatonic built on the 3rd of every maj7 chord. Each of these has a backup scale for a less rudimentary sound, found by moving the scale root down a perfect 4th. Over a m7, 1 b3 4 5 b7 becomes 1 2 4 5 b7. Over a maj7, 2 3 5 6 7 becomes 2 3 b5 6 7. Particularly over the maj7 chords, weirder sonorities can be achieved by successively dropping the scale root by perfect 4ths. I used the next two levels in composing the tune and in my solo: b2 3 b5 6 7, b2 3 b5 b6 7. Prof. Helzer's approach to this concept names the latter two sounds "Double Lydian" and "Triple Lydian". See my SDSU Jazz Seminar Periodic Journal 1 for further discussion.

Noteworthy Moments

  • m1: offset melody reference
  • mm3-4: nice little development
  • m5: MDH unintentional (oops!)
  • m12: DPs everywhere, but none crossed my mind in the moment, all result from pentatonics
  • mm15-16: Double Lydian tension
  • m17: straight melody reference
  • m20: Triple Lydian with melody reference
  • mm22-25: nice development
  • mm27-28: simplify for tension
  • m32: Triple Lydian
  • mm31-36: nice development, progressing in mm37-40
  • mm34-36: Double Lydian
  • mm47-48: Triple Lydian
  • wind down to clear ending at top of form

Strengths and Weaknesses

In addition to the accidental MDH in measure 5, there were a few moments when my note choices lacked the conviction shown in the rest of the solo. I also could have expanded my range, exploring higher and lower registers than those I used. More double-stops and chords would have been nice to build intensity.

The strongest element of this solo was my development of little ideas. I love what I came up with in measures 31-40. Combined with subtle references to the melody, I felt like I crafted a very intelligible path through the tune. I also enjoyed the tension moments, usually coinciding with similar moments in the head, in which I used the "Double Lydian" concept to pull farther away from the Lydian sound before snapping back to consonance on the next chord.