Like Lester: Lester Young Backs Me Up

If only I could be as hip as Lester Young. Probably not going to happen but at least he's got my back on the whole chord-tone soloing thing.

Not that it's controversial. I got a great response to my chord-tone soloing post and video but that was with Mike Stern. It was interesting just a few days after I posted that to stumble across an example of a real world chord-tone solo. It made me realize that a lot of the stuff that we practice and are told to practice are not abstract. They come from musicians having checked out early players and then saying to themselves, "how the hell are they doing that?" then devising a way to practice whatever the technique is to get it into their playing.

I was recently listening to a new (to me) Count Basie record and a song came on I didn't know with a sax solo that blew me away, mostly because it was swinging so hard. But there was also some nice harmonic things here and there that were going on as well. Perfect for a transcription.

The solo starts at about 1:20 in on the video.

So I took an afternoon and transcribed it and lo and behold, it's pretty much a chord-tone solo with small exceptions.

I probably should have known that. Most of the early jazz improvisers did exactly that. Harmony in popular songs and jazz was relatively simple. There wasn't the tremendous amount of resources available like now for learning chord scales, substitutions and playing out hadn't even been invented yet. There were no jazz schools. People learned this stuff from other musicians they played with. It was about making a melody on top of the harmony and what fits better than the chord tones already there? This was 1939.

With that said, it's not a square chord-tone solo either. But it sure as hell is instructive on how to take that chord-tone base and build on it. Lester's got some nice blues-influenced lines in here and he even messes with a bit of Augmented ideas and of course some great approach note examples. And again, listen to how hard he swings. It's unbelievable.

So check it out. If you're not a sax player, learn it! It's fun to play another instrument's solo as you'll probably end up playing things you'd never have considered before.

Now if only I could hold my guitar out to the side while I play.

You can download a PDF of the transcription here.


  1. Really digging these chord tone lessons. Thanks!

  2. Sean, love your blog, great transcriptions...

    like your lessons on chord tone soloing