How to play jazz lines like Chet Baker.

Updated: Feb 2

In my very humble opinion, Chet plays the most beautiful jazz lines, as well as everything else he plays too!


In this blog post I will try and break down how I have taken some of the concepts Chet uses when playing his beautiful, flowing and melodic jazz lines!


The main concepts I will cover are


Chord tones - Approach tones - Chromatic enclosures


I have practiced these on their own in a methodical way (as I will show you) and have found it to be extremely beneficial to my own improvisation!


Once you know and can hear the chord tones, then practice approaching the different chord tones, from below and above. I like to use Hal Galper's method that he suggests in his fantastic book 'Forward motion'. First, try and approach by one 8th note.


When you can do this, approach by two 8th notes. Then try and approach by three 8th notes, remember, from below and above.


Because there are usually 4 notes in a standard chord. 1st, 3rd, 5th & 7th I mainly practice approaching the third! For me, it is the most melodic note to play, and so, I focus on that (whilst practicing).



How to play jazz lines like Chet Bake
How to play jazz lines like Chet Baker

The above image shows a part of a solo by Chet in his solo on the tune 'Pent up house'. As you can see, he is playing a long flowing line. If we break it down, we can see that Bar 2, features an enclosure to beat 3, the 3rd, which then approaches the 3rd of the Amaj7 chord. Chet then approaches the 7th before playing a chromatic enclosure to the tonic. Chet then performs a three 8th note pick up to the 3rd of the Emin7, running down to the 6th (I personally think Chet has already reached the 3rd of the next bar, Amaj7 though) then goes up through the chord notes (another enclosure) and resolves to the tonic. Chet then performs another enclosure to the 6th and then approaches the 7th of the Dmin7 chord. He then plays an enclosures to the tonic and runs up to the 9th of the G7 chord before running down to the flatten5th and then playing another enclosure which leads to a C#, the 9th of Bmin7 (not in image).

What can we take just from these 8 bars?

Chet loves to use approach notes. Chet loves to use enclosures Chet loves to use pick ups (Miles used to say 'It's all in the pick up')



How to play jazz lines like Chet Bake
How to play jazz lines like Chet Baker

The above image has been taken from an etude that I created for an etude over the changes to 'On green dolphin street'. As you can see there are some flowing lines in the solo. I try and use the same concepts as Chet and use chord tones, approach tones and enclosures. The etude book is full of them! If you subscribe to the jazz etudes news letter, you receive a link to try the 3 etudes I created on 'There will never be another you'.


So, you can see, the first line is the tonic, followed by an enclosure back to the tonic, approach the 5th in bar 2. I then approach the 5th again from above, landing on the A on beat 3 before enclosing the 3rd of the Dmin7 chord. I then play an enclosure to the tonic and run up to the A before playing an enclosure to the 3rd. Bars 37 and 38 is a descending type motif. Bar 39 starts with a chromatic enclosure to the tonic, then a chromatic enclosure to the 7th of B7, running down to the 3rd. I then approach the 3rd of bar 41, playing a descending pattern to the 3rd of the A7 chord. I then play a triplet incorporating the 5th, 7th and flattened 9th before running down the bebop scale where I use the chromatic passing note before resolving to the major 3rd in the Dmaj7 chord.


So, as per Chet, I have tried to incorporate the same type of vocabulary.


The jazz etudes I have published over the past 18 months are full of this type of vocabulary. Practicing the vocabulary in the following prescribed manner will help you develop ear/finger coordination, chord knowledge, and build your jazz vocabulary.


The following exercises will help you to develop finger/ear coordination, learn the chords to whatever tune you are working on and also, play great sounding jazz lines like Chet Baker!



How to play jazz lines like Chet Baker

This image shows the chord changes to a very basic version of the jazz song 'When the Saints go marching in'. I have simply picked chord notes and tried to move in a linear type way, this will give your lines a more flowing type feel! You can of course change the notes to any you wish but the whole idea is to get used to playing a chordal note on beats 1 & 3! The above image is in Bb. I teach this way in my Patreon (tier 2) there, the exercises come in concert pitch, Bb pitch, Eb pitch as well as bass clef! Check out the testimonials here!


Once you have gotten pretty good at playing the above exercise (with or without the sheet music) move onto the exercise shown below!


How to play jazz lines like Chet Baker

In this exercise, we are approach a chord note on beat one of every bar by three approach notes. If this is too much too quick, you could firstly practice just one 8th note (from above and below) and then two 8th notes!



How to play jazz lines like Chet Baker

As you can see, in exercise 3, we are approaching both beats one and three by an 8th note. Either from above or below. Again, if it is too much for you, you could try and do this activity just from above or just from below! This really helps you to get that flowing feeling and also encourages you to hear the note you are approaching!



How to play jazz lines like Chet Baker

In exercise 4, we are approaching the target notes by two 8th notes, again from either above or below.



How to play jazz lines like Chet Baker

Feel free to take a breath where ever you need to in this exercise. We are now approaching beats one and three by three approach notes. If you are sticking with these exercises, you should really be getting that flowing feel now! Remember to also use great sound jazz articulation too!


This is of course, just a means to an end and only one part of what we are trying to achieve!



How to play jazz lines like Chet Baker

To give our solo more of a bebop type feel, we will now add some chromatic enclosures! Take your time learning these and repeat over and over again, internalising them over the C, F & G7 chord.


Below is a way for you to practice chromatic enclosures, not the only way, but a way none the less!



How to play jazz lines like Chet Baker

There is quite a lot of work in getting these under your fingers and internalised but if you do and can hear the target notes you are approaching, you can transform your solos into being great and authentic sounding!



How to play jazz lines like Chet Baker

So, in exercise seven, as you can see, we are approaching every chord note on beats one and three with a chromatic enclosure. Breathe where you can! These are only practice suggestions, ideally, you'll be wanting to create your own solos/improvisations.


By now, we have covered


  1. Chord notes - Learn the chord notes to any standard you are working on. Try to make sure you can really hear the changes and the target notes you are going for (exercise 1).

  2. Approach notes - by approaching out target notes on beats one and three, we can give our solos a much more authentic feel. Check out any transcription by you favourite players and you won't see lot's of scales but fragments of scales, or, approach notes. This is how I think about them anyway!

  3. Chromatic enclosures - try and get these internalised and under your fingers. Mixing them up with approach notes, chord notes and a little space, you will hear a massive difference in your solos!


Below are two examples/etudes that I have created using the concepts of chord notes, approach notes and chromatic enclosures.

How to play jazz lines like Chet Baker

How to play jazz lines like Chet Baker

As you can see and hear, if you play through them, you are playing a chord note on every beat 1 and 3 (unless there is a rest) to make is sound as though you are really playing the changes!


There is a huge amount of work in this post if you are a beginner or intermediate

student of jazz. I have and continue to practice this way and am constantly developing my ear/finger coordination, my ability to know and hear the changes, my technique, my jazz vocabulary and language skills! Check out any solos of your favourite players and I'm sure you will find examples of the sort of vocabulary I have tried to show you in this blog post!


I hope you have learn something from this post and enjoyed it.


If you have, feel free to share it with your friends.


Please subscribe to the blog and the jazz etudes news letter, I will be creating lots more helpful blogs aimed at helping intermediate jazz students develop their improvisation skills with a focus on the melodic side!



Check out the YouTube video above and follow the links in the description for all the free resources that come with the lesson.


If you like the etudes or the way that I teach, here are some links for you to check out.


Jazz etudes news letter


Jazz lessons on Patreon (tier 2)


Jazz etudes on Patreon


10 progressive jazz etudes (amazing offer)


65 jazz etudes (amazing offer)


Check out my FREE STUFF on the jazz etudes website


Warm regards and thank you for reading the blog.


Darren, Jazz Etudes.

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