The Charlie Parker Opera Lick

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Check out the audio podcast version of this post on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

Did you know that Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie were opera fans?

It’s well known that Charlie Parker was very much into classical music and that Dizzy Gillespie predicted that their music would become the classical music of the future.

They also would quote well known classical melodies during their improvised solos.

This month in the BetterSax Studio we are working on the Cole Porter jazz standard What is This Thing Called Love, and if you listen to Bird and Dizzy play this tune, you will often hear them quote an aria from George Bizet’s Carmen called Habanera.

 

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Hot House

What is this thing called love has become a jazz jam session staple but there is also a great contrafact composed by Tadd Dameron called Hot House. A contrafact is when you compose a new melody over an existing chord progression.

This was one of Bird and Dizzy’s favorite tunes to play and they would often quote this Operatic theme during their solos on Hot House as well.

 

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So let’s learn this quote, and how it fits over the chords, and then you’ll have a great bit of vocabulary to use in your own solos.

I guarantee you that you will elicit some woos from the audience and musicians when you do this.

Like Sean Jones did here at an Emmet’s Place jam session.

 

YouTube video

 

The Carmen Lick

We’re going to call this the Carmen Lick although I suppose we could also call it the Habanera lick. And it may be one of the easiest quotes to use since it is simply the chromatic scale descending from the root.

All we have to work out is the rhythm and which notes get repeated. Notice that the third note gets played 3 times, and all the others get played once.

Sometimes they would play this quote with a pick up note a fourth below, and sometimes they would play the rest of the phrase as well.

This works over a minor i chord, but you can also use it on the V chord like Dizzy does here.

 

YouTube video

 

Create an Etude

Now when I learn a bit of vocabulary like this, I like to take it through all 12 keys, but another way to get something like this to become part of my vocabulary that I actually use is to make an etude out of it.

I basically want to plug this lick in everywhere I can on an existing chord progression. Watch the video to check out the etude that I came up with. This etude is written over the chord changes of What is This Thing Called Love.

I plug the Carmen lick in over the 5 chords and the 1 chords like Dizzy played in that one example. I end the the 8 bar phrases with the original melody of What is this thing called love. This lick also works  over major ii V i like on the bridge and it  sounds really cool on the second half of the  bridge when you sequence it down half a step.

BetterSax Studio

This is just one part of what the BetterSax studio members get assigned to work on every month with pdf downloads, mp3s and video lessons. So if you would are interested in joining us, click this link to learn more and see if we have any spots available.

Now go watch this video next for another improvisation lesson you’re gonna love.

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