Practicing “Autumn Leaves” and the DIY, Micro Jazz Studies Degree
Confession: When I started Nanoversity of Jazz, I only had a rough idea of what I wanted to do. I knew I wanted to set up a small-scale, higher-education-like digital platform, but my life was too chaotic to get more specific than that. Now that I have a full-time job, I empathize with a lot of my students. We want our often brief practice to have the same focus of a college or university study. I realized what I wanted was a “DIY, Micro Jazz Studies Degree.” I wanted to review the material I learned as an undergraduate and acquire knowledge I missed out on by not doing my master’s work in jazz studies.
As with My Clinical Research Day Job, I’ll be assigning four monthly modules. You can do one module per week or do all four in one week and repeat (or substitute other tunes). Each module should take approximately one hour. Each month, the assignments will get progressively harder. In keeping with the season, this month’s tune is “Autumn Leaves.”
- Jazz History | There are two approaches you can take to learning jazz history. First, you can track down several classic recordings of the tune you’re learning (this article has several great suggestions). Second, you can listen to the full album of a definitive recording of the tune. I’m going with the second approach using Cannonball Adderley’s Somethin’ Else recording of “Autumn Leave” (see YouTube video below). While you’re listening, check out the Wikipedia page for the album and do a deep-dive into the biographies of all the musicians and producers.
- Theory | There are tons of online articles out there analyzing this tune (see above and this one), but for now I want to focus on analyzing and playing scales. Setting aside the tri-tone substitutions in the C Section, you play all the modes of the Bb Major scale (with one alteration). See below for analysis. Practice playing one- or two-octave scales for each mode (or simplify things and just play the first five notes of each). Set your metronome to 100-135 BPM and play quarter-notes or swung eighth-notes.
- Composing/Arranging | Each month, try to write some sort of original musical idea for a given tune. For this month, try composing a bassline. Be sure to include technical notes and harmonic analysis (see image above). If you’re not sure how to compose a bassline, use this as a guide.
- Repertoire | For this month, focus on learning three things on your instrument: 1) your written bassline (see above), the tune’s melody, and a solo based on the tune’s scales (see below). If you’re a drummer, voice the melody on your instrument and try to learn all three things on piano, vibes, or voice.
- Cmin7: C Dorian (2nd Mode of Bb Major) | C-D-Eb-F-G-A-Bb (1-2-b3-4-5-6-b7)
- F7: F Mixolydian (5th Mode of Bb Major) | F-G-A-Bb-C-D-Eb (1-2-3-4-5-6-b7)
- BbMaj7: Bb Ionian (1st Mode of Bb Major) | Bb-C-D-Eb-F-G-A (1-2-3-4-5-6-7)
- EbMaj7(#11): Eb Lydian (4th Mode of Bb Major) | Eb-F-G-A-Bb-C-D (1-2-3-#4-5-6-7)
- Amin7(b5): A Locrian (7th Mode of Bb Major) | A-Bb-C-D-Eb-F-G (1-b2-b3-4-b5-b6-b7)
- D7(b9): D Phrygian Dominant (3rd Mode of Bb Major with a raised third) | D-Eb-F#-G-A-Bb-C (1-b2-#3-4-5-b6-b7)
- Gmin7: G Aeolian (6th Mode/Relative Minor of Bb Major) | G-A-Bb-C-D-Eb-F (1-2-b3-4-5-b6-b7)