Jay Graydon's original solo on the studio album is one that's become a classic and now is inexorably linked to the song. (Imagine a different solo at the end of "Stairway to Heaven." Same kind of thing.)
Interestingly, if you've seen the documentary on the making of "Aja," you'll know that Jay's was one of a few different solos that were competing for the final mix on the studio album.
Among these live solos on the YouTube video, three caught my ear.
Admittedly, I'm biased towards two of them: Wayne Krantz' for his brave take off and total disregard for the original (disclaimer, I'm friends with Wayne and took a few lessons with him when I first arrived in New York), and Jon Herington's model of how-to-improve-on-a-classic (second disclaimer, I'm friendly with Jon on a professional level).
But, Drew Zingg's drew (har) my attention for a couple of reasons. First, it was easy to hear what he was doing due to the clarity of his phrasing (and the recording for that matter) and second, he does a really nice job of working in some chromatic, and extended harmonic lines over the original harmony while employing some classic blues figures. Good reason for a transcription to figure out what he's doing!
Have a listen (Drew's is the second solo in at about :25):
Nice job Drew. OK, here's the transcription with my quick analysis (written in blue below each staff line). A PDF of the solo with TAB is at the bottom of the article:
So what's going on here?
Drew is using a general G tonality for his "base" and extends his lines from there, mostly returning to it for harmonic stability.
He begins with G blues lines for the first four bars and then begins opening it up. For me, the most interesting section is measures 5-8, specifically measure 5. Notice he begins measure 5 with a G triad over the CM7 chord (making CM9), pushes up a tritone to a Db major line, then back to a G triad (with a #11 passing tone) then back up a tritone, this time using a Db minor sound. This is all within the space of 1 bar.
Cool right? Make no mistake, this is planned out and practiced. I doubt he played this solo the same way every night, but his ideas are very sharp and phrased clearly which tells me he's not just blowing-- he's thinking about what he's doing here.
Here's a good chance to get this into your playing.
Practice switching between two tonalities using a metronome or, to really hear the harmonic superimposition, over a sequencer playing these chord changes (two beats of CM7, two beats of Gsus2). The idea is to do a consonant tonality over beat 1, an "out" tonality over beat 2 for tension, back to a consonant one for beat 3 and so on.
So, for beat 1 (the CM7 chord), play a G triad or G major type line, beat 2 switch to a Db major triad or Db major type line, beat 3 back to G major, beat 4 back to Db major.
You'll notice if all you employ is triads, the lines won't necessarily be as melodic, that's why Drew is mixing up playing triadic based lines with scale based ones. There's nothing wrong with doing just triads, it's its own sound -- you'll see what I mean.
What will happen after practice is you'll start to see the G major triad/lines as your home base and a comfort zone and you'll be able to look ahead to your next leap to a more out tonality like Db major. When you get to that point, you'll know your starting to nail it.
Experiment with other triads or scales as your out target as well. This is a great way to introduce harmonic complexity into your playing while still keeping some logic and melodic things happening.
Coming soon, a transcription of Herington's solo...
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Edit: July 8, 2010 -- edited for clarity. Alert reader and guitar player Mark Schuh caught a couple accidental accidentals in the wrong place. I blame Finale.
A .pdf of the solo with TAB is available here.