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A Chet Baker diatonic approach to jazz improvisation.

Updated: May 19

A Chet Baker diatonic approach to jazz improvisation!

In many of Chet's jazz solos, you will find that often he hardly plays any chromatic notes.

He often just sticks to notes within the key centre of wherever he is during the progression.

For instance -

Here is a page from my Chet Baker - 10 ii v i major licks (in C major but it comes in all 12 keys). It also comes in a minor version too!

Chet Baker ii v i licks
Chet Baker ii v i licks

Check out how little chromaticism Chet uses, all of these phrases are from Chet's great solos.

It is certainly worth pursuing ways to get this approach into our own playing I think.

In this blog post, I will share with you a step by step process you could employ to gradually learn to improvise melodically, within a key centre!

The tune we will use for this blog post is Sonny Rollins' 'Pent up house'.

Here is Chet's great version form 'Chet Baker in Milan'.

Here is Chet's solo that I transcribed some time ago!

Chet Baker transcription Pent up house
Chet Baker transcription Pent up house
Chet Baker transcription Pent up house
Chet Baker transcription Pent up house

Whilst there is some chromatic notes in Chet's solo, we can also clearly see that there are many phrases that contain little or no notes that are not within the key centre!

So, here we go with the lesson.


First of all, let's just look at the key centres for Pent up house (in Bb pitch).

Bars 1 - 4 are in the key of A major. Bm7 = chord ii (2) in A. E7 = chord v (5) in A major.

Bars 5 - 8 are the same.

Bars 9 - 10 are in the key of D major. Em7 = chord ii (2) in D major. A7 = chord v (5) in D major.

Bars 11 - 12 are in C major. Dm7 = chord ii (2) in C major. G7 = chord v (5) in C major.

Bars 13 - 16 are the same as 1 -4 & 5 - 8.

Pent up house activity 1
Pent up house activity 1

Just by play the scale of A major up or down will help you sound fluent in playing over the changes to Pent up house. FOr this exercise, I try to make sure I stay on the root, to make sure I know it. However, it is important to also start the scales on the 3rd, 5th & 7th degrees too!

Here is a sample of the exercise -

Once you are familiar with the key centre scales for Pent up house, we can then move on to the bebop scale. In this case we add a chromatic passing note to keep us on a chord note on beats 1 & 3.

Again, be sure to practice the bebop scale on different degrees of the scale. The 3rd, 5th and 7th too!

Pent up house activity 2
Pent up house activity 2

Here's how it sounds!

For the next exercise I like to make sure I am fluent with the chord tones, sometimes, I will do this as the first activity, it depends on how well I do or don't know the changes already!

Again, with this activity, you could practice starting on different degrees of the chord!

Pent up house activity 3
Pent up house activity 3

Here's how it sounds -

It is an absolute MUST that you know the chord tones fluently and scales also before moving onto the next exercises! Otherwise you will become SUPER frustrated, trust me, I have been there!

I got the idea for this type of exercise for Mark Levine's 'running the scale' exercise. Just simply experimenting with simple scale runs or patterns (vocabulary) I have practiced.

Pent up house activity 4
Pent up house activity 4

Here's how it might sound -

Notice I am not always starting on the root, this is the reason for being fluent with the scales and chord notes, starting on the 3rd, 5th and 7th!

In exercise 5, I get a little more daring and start to use other vocabulary I have stolen from my favourite players. But really, again, I am pretty much running the scale and just sticking to notes within the key centres as I play the progression. Remember the key centres are A major, D major and C major!

Some often neglected in jazz education is the importance of rhythm!

In this example, I show you how you might practice rhythms from your favourite jazz standards but apply them to the chord tones within the key centres of Pent up house!

Pent up house activity 5
Pent up house activity 5

This way of approaching improvisation offers a beautiful melodic approach I think!

Again, here's how it sounds.

Practice one rhythm over and over until you have in internalised and you don't even need to think about it!

Once you have practiced and practiced this material, start to add even more vocabulary to your schedule and try to incorporate it into your solos! Here is an etude where I have tried to do that, again using NO chromatic notes, only notes in the key centres!

Pent up house Etude 1
Pent up house Etude 1

Here's how the etude might sound.

And yet another chorus for you to try -

Pent up house Etude 2
Pent up house Etude 2

Here's how the etude sounds

SO, I hope you can see by practicing in a structured way (and being very patient) you can expect to make amazing progress with this type of approach.

It has been what I use and also what I teach to my students in my coaching program!

Check out the testimonials here - TESTIMONIALS

Also, check out a recent jazz solo I played at a jazz club in Manchester. I use a host of different approaches in the solo but I am certainly using all of the tips I share in the blog post!

If you are interested in more jazz lessons and resources, be sure to subscribe to my newsletter at jazz etudes.

Here's the link -

By the way, if you do subscribe, I will send you the resources to everything in this blog post for free in an email on day 6!

Here is what I else I will send you in emails 1 through to 5!

Email 6 - This resource!

Hopefully see you on the inside!

Regards, Darren.

Please give the blog post a like and maybe a share with someone you feel might benefit from it. Thanks.

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