There Will Always Be Another Scale: Bitonality in Woody Shaw’s Improvisation

“If it sounds good, it is good.” – Duke Ellington Amongst the numerous goals of a jazz improviser, perhaps the most vital is to challenge people’s preconceived expectations of what sounds good.  Any trained musician can play a blues scale over a blues progression, but it takes a true innovator to create something fresh over the same basic chord progressions that have been used for decades.  Because so many of the same songs have been used throughout generations of jazz musicians, innovation in jazz improvisation has, by necessity, undergone significant evolution. The main evidence for this evolution occurs in the process by which players choose notes over a given chord progression.  A chord is nothing more than a collection of pitches designed to achieve a particular sound.  Most chords used in jazz will utilize 4 of the 12 possible pitches, though some chords have more.  In a jazz combo, the rhythm section will use these chords to lay a harmonic foundation off which an improvised solo may be built, but the soloist will also use them to determine what notes he/she will emphasize.  Improvised solos are not limited to chord tones, and most improvisers will borrow liberally from the scale more »