Sonny Rollins Solos (Part 1)

Sideman recordings offer substantial insight into the key elements of a player’s style. Submissive to the leader, the sideman has less space to solo and, with that restricted space, must ensure their own contributions deliver the goods: if the leader has delivered their magnum opus, a weak offering on your part will probably remain committed to the master tape for prosperity. See Tommy Flanagan on “Giant Steps”*

The shorter space of time and the pressure to nail it allow us to hear a concentrated distillation of a players style. I have done this before by transcribing all of Kenny Burrell’s solos on Paul Chamber’s Bass On Top record. I am now doing the same for Sonny Rollins and have transcribed 4 of his 7 solos on Max Roach and Clifford Brown’s At Basin Street and offer some analysis at a later date. For now, please feel free to have a look and play through what has been done so far:

Gertude’s Bounce (1956)
Powell’s Prances (1956)
I’ll Remember April (1956)
What Is This Thing Called Love? (1956)

*It’s important to remember that Flanagan was an outstanding pianist of the Detroit school and under no circumstances should his legacy be his weak offering during his second or third pass on one of the most demanding works in the jazz canon.  

Kenny Burrell’s Solo on “Dear Old Stockholm”


This article presents an analysis of guitarist Kenny Burrell’s solo on “Dear Old Stockholm” from Paul Chamber’s 1957 recording Bass On Top. Beginning with a biography of Burrell up to the year of the recording session, I then explore his guitar sound and technique before examining the solo.

All solos have been transcribed by the author. Please note these are notated at guitar pitch, one octave higher than it sounds.


Burrell was born in Detroit on July 31st 1931 into a musical family. His brother Billy, a professional bass player who stayed in Detroit to raise a family (Harris, 1978, pg6) was his primary influence but guitarists Charlie Christian, Oscar Moore and T-Bone Walker are also cited as impactful players. (Burrell, 1993)

Detroit housed a vibrant jazz scene of which Burrell was a key player. (Brit, 1984, pg27) He was a founding member and president of The New World Music Society (Harris, 2014). Alongside his city mates, he was diligent in assimilating the latest developments in jazz (including bebop, which will be discussed later) through transcription and analysis, making Detroit players capable of sharing the bandstand with New York based players such as Charlie Parker and Miles Davis. (Burrell, 2014)

Burrell studied theory and composition at Wayne State University and while a student there recorded with Dizzy Gillespie (1951) and released a single as a leader (“Rose of Tangier” with “Ground Round” released through Fortune, a Detroit label.) Upon graduating, he replaced Herb Ellis in The Oscar Peterson Trio which led him to New York City, where he settled permanently and worked as a studio and Broadway musician, while pursuing his jazz career.

Burrell has never, as far I am aware, discussed the content of his studies or its effect on
his musicianship in an interview. While over a decade later, Philip Hanson noted that “the Theory course uses Hindemith’s Elements as a text.” (Hanson, pg10, 1968). There is no Elements by Paul Hindemith, therefore I assume this refers to Elementary Training for Musicians (1946), an exhaustive textbook with an emphasis on rhythm and an entire section devoted to dictation and this could reasonably have been the textbook during Burrell’s tenure. Perhaps this influenced Burrell’s assertion that “[An] instrumentalist should try to do as a good typist does. If a typist hears a word, he can type it; if any instrumentalist hears a phrase, he should be able to play it.” (Berle, pg66, 1981)

After Alfred Lyons heard him play, Burrell was signed to Blue Note where he released Introducing Kenny Burrell (1956) with Paul Chambers on bass. A year later, he was a side-man on the album from which this solo on “Dear Old Stockholm” appears. Between 1956 and 1958 Chambers and Burrell recorded together 6 times (Cook & Morton, pg184, 1992) including on both their respective Blue Note debuts: Introducing Kenny Burrell (1956) and Whims of Chambers (1957). As they were both involved the Detroit jazz scene, and around the same age (Chambers was born in 1935), we can assume they had played together before these sessions.

Bass On Top

Bass On Top was recorded on July 14, 1957 at the renowned Van Gelder Studio in New Jersey, preceding release in October that year. Four of the album’s tracks (“Yesterdays”; “Chasing’ The Bird”; “The Theme” and “You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To”) were recorded in single takes, with “Confessin’” and “Chamber Mates” and our featured “Dear Old Stockholm” requiring second takes. The tune selection and arrangements bear the prominent influence of Chamber’s then employer Miles Davis. “Dear Old Stockholm” features the exact Stan Getz arrangement as heard on Davis’ ‘Round About Midnight, recorded in June 1956, where it serves as a showcase for Chambers, who is the opening soloist for two choruses, as he is here. (Interestingly, Chambers also plays an essentially identical line in his 2nd solo chorus break in both his Davis and solo version, although it is notably smoother and more swinging in the later version. Chamber is also far better recorded in the Bass On Top take.)


Any analysis of a Kenny Burrell solo must take into account his unique and beautiful guitar tone, as evidenced in this solo. Commentators on Burrell always place emphasis on his this quality, as in this representative example from Will Matthews:

The thing that captivated me was the sound of [Burrell’s] guitar. It is such a beautiful sound tone.” (Barth, pg300, 2006)

The Jazz Book praises his “tasty, earthy sound” (Berendt, 2009, pg422) and even Pat Metheny, often critical of guitarists, has praised Burrell’s “incredible sound and touch” and believes “the listener is treated to the pleasures of hearing a sound that is detailed, precise and eloquent.” (Metheny, 2000)

Alongside the beauty of this tone, and despite significant developments in recording techniques/guitar amplification and the various fashions regarding the electronic manipulation of guitar tone, Burrell’s electric tone has been markedly consistent since his debut recording. (Alexander, pg74, 1999) This may appear a modest feat, yet compare the startling discrepancies in Wes Montgomery’s recorded tone on Montgomeryland (1958), The Wes Montgomery Trio (1959) and The Incredible Jazz Guitar of West Montgomery (1960) (the latter two recorded at the same studio with the same producer) to Burrell’s Blue Lights (1958), A Night At The Village Vanguard (1959) and Weaver of Dreams (1961), where his tone is fundamentally the same and, while notably earlier, Gunther Schuller considered guitar amplification and guitar recording methods of the time (1939-1942) as “not always entirely controllable” enough to decree any objective discussion of Charlie Christian’s tone void. (Schuller, pg567, 1989)

Indeed, Burrell has even, as far as I am aware, only one recorded example, at least as a solo artist, where he employs electronic effects (excluding generic effects such as reverb and compression, added during the recording process). When asked whenever he makes use of effects pedals, Burrell replies: “I once did a Christmas album where I used a phase shifter for one tune, but it didn’t really work the way I wanted it to.” (Berle, 1985. pg61) This is “Silent Night” from Have Yourself A Soulful Little Christmas (1964) although Burrell is in fact using a “tremolo” (minute, continuous changes in amplitude) effect rather than a phase shifter.

While there is no definitive information, Burrell’s active schedule as a studio player beginning around 1956 (Berle, pg59, 1981) – the same year as his first session as a leader – may have versed, or required him to become versed, in recording technique, equipping him to ensure the fidelity of his recorded sound.


Tuck Andress suggests a technical reason for Burrell’s unique tone in an article on plectrum technique where he describes Burrell’s deployment of “circle picking”, a:

fascinating, bizarre variation on the standard [picking] style…movement is accomplished by flexing the first joint of the thumb (nearest the tip), with the index finger extending at its second joint…[a]t the moment of crossing the string, the pick is moving in its own plane, which creates a sound different from all the other styles…” (Andress, 1992)

Concurrent with the resulting timbre, Andress believes this technique “explains some of Kenny Burrell’s unusual, trademark phrasing”, and it may also influence his relaxed, swinging rhythmic feel as evidenced throughout this solo and as a noted hallmark of his style. (Tesser, 2000, pg647).

Observing video footage on Youtube, we see this picking technique is coupled with a long-fingered fretting hand which frets lightly and makes abundant use of hammer-ons, pull-offs and slides. Burrell privately studied classical guitar (Morgenstern, pg27, 1966) during university, playing well enough to perform recitals, and this is reflected in his fluent use of all four fretting hand fingers and his low thumb position, which was not standard practise among jazz guitarists of the era. Compare this with Wes Montgomery’s – equally musically valid – technique of using mostly fingers one, two and three with a high thumb when playing single lines. (When playing chords and octaves Montgomery’s thumb position would move lower and all four fingers would be employed, however.)

Interestingly, Burrell tends to “empty” (release the pressure on a fretted note) his fingers to a substantial distance above the fretboard, which is discouraged in classical guitar technique. (Tennat, pg11, 1995).

Despite citing T-Bone Walker as an influence, string bending is absent from this solo and generally, from Burrell’s entire recorded output as a leader. Bending did feature in his studio session work, however, where he used a guitar fitted with light strings when this technique was required but, even with this set up, he found the technique taxing on his hands, where may account for its absent in his leader sessions (Berle, pg61, 1981).


No single tool can be employed in jazz analysis, and there exists no agreed-upon aesthetic by which to grade jazz performances (Gioia, pg70, 1988). The following analysis makes use of the model popularised, but not invented, by Gunther Schuller (Schuller, pg86, 1986) whereby jazz is analysed through the lens of Western European art music. Schuller has received criticism for this model, which can often be in danger of reducing an improvised, communally created, fundamentally aural experience down to dots on a page (Waters, pgX, 2011).

The vocabulary and methods utilised by Schuller have, however, been assimilated by modern jazz musicians. Observe, for example, the multiple references to the “developing of ideas” in Ben Ratliff’s “The Jazz Ears” (2008) where jazz musicians are interviewed whilst listening to music. As jazz musicians are now primarily trained in the classroom as opposed to the bandstand (Ake, 2010, pg102-120) the methods by which they practise, listen to and discuss music has changed. In 1958, Schuller’s jazz analysis was cutting edge enough (Hentoff, McCarthy, pV, 1959) that Sonny Rollins was rendered self-conscious by reading Schuller’s dissection of one of his solos, as he had been unaware of what he was doing. (Gioia, pg283, 2011), Now, however, a jazz student will be introduced to the idea of thematic development as a theoretical concept early in their studies and will be conscious of employing it, at least when practising. Burrell (himself a holder of a degree in music theory) has discussed transcribing and analysing recordings (Burrell, 2016), therefore viewing this performance through such a lens is appropriate. Space does not permit a more detailed discussion of these issues.

Transcribed examples, of course, serve as no substitute for listening to the performance and should be used in tandem with the recording.

Dear Old Stockholm”

Following Chamber two chorus solo, Burrell tastefully, and seemingly effortlessly, improvises a single chorus solo employing extensive motivic development and making use of bebop and pentatonic-scale vocabulary. The solo ends with Burrell double-timing and here shows some signs of technical strain, with some inarticulate and rushed notes. The full transcription is presented in the Appendix (pg. 13).

Based on a traditional Swedish folk song, “Dear Old Stockholm” is essentially four harmonic areas: a minor II-V-I in D and a major II-V-I in F and two vamps, one over a C dominant tonality and another over a Dm(maj7) chord:

Example 1

To simplify discussion, I am treating Kenny’s performance of the head as the “definitive” melody, even though it differs from both the traditional Swedish folk song and the leadsheet found in The Real Book (2004, pg102). It should also be noted that while Hank Jones comps the minor II-V in Bar 4 and 16 of the solo, Chambers does not and continues to outline a Dm chord. Similarly, Chambers outlines a short II-V in Bar 35 and a Dm in Bar 36, but as Burrell’s line indicates a long II-V, I have notated the chords as such. Although featuring improvisation, the content of the melody is generally consistent.

Before the solos, Burrell states the melody three times:

Example 2

Chambers alludes to and develops the melody throughout his solo and, perhaps inspired by this, Burrell does the same. (Following Burrell, Hank Jones make thematic use of the melody in his solo also. This serves to unite the solos and the melody, creating a thematically consistent piece of work of which Gunther Schuller would applaud. (Schuller, pg86, 1986)).

During the solo, whenever an F chord or the preceding II-V appears, Burrell plays a 5-3-2-1 (in the key of F), this motive clearly derived from the 5-3-2 sequence in the 4th bar of each melody statement above. While here it appears on the I, and does so again in Bar 29 of the solo, it is used over the preceding II-V during the solo and once in Bar 26, where Burrell anticipates the chord change to F.

The example in Bar 16, which occurs in the same place in the form, is the same thing transposed up a tone and makes use of the ♮6 sound over the Dm. Bar 33 misses 2.

Further thematic continuity is achieved through repetition. Notice his repeated use and development of the following motive (3-♭9-♭7-♮7-R), always used over the V chord, (In Bar 14 this is played over Dm(maj7) but here the chord is treated as a A/D moving to Dm to imply a V-I cadence.)

Example 3

The example in Bar 10 is an incomplete iteration of the phrase, which creates tension heading into the Im(maj7) vamp in Bar 11. The line is a bebop cliché and can be heard in Bar 13 Charlie Parker’s solo in “The Yardbird Suite” (1946), amongst others, but Burrell’s repeated use of the phrase binds the solo together. The addition of the 4th before the 3rd again echoes the melody. Bars 39 and 41 feature the line with the 3rd displaced by an octave. These bars also feature dual use of the ♭7 and 7 via the bebop scale:

Example 4

The example in Bar 30 above connects to the example in Bar 33 above via a development of the melody:

Example 5

During the Dm(maj7) vamps, Burrell employs the melodic minor scale with emphasis on the♮13:

Example 6

A surprising moment comes in Bar 21 & 22 when Burrell begins a descending D Harmonic Minor line before employing a blues lick over A7 ending on the 13th of the chord or M3 of the key. This note choice is striking given that the progression is heading Dm. While there is an F in the melody, what we hear here is the employment of a classic blues lick rather than thematic development.

Example 7

Burrell reveals more of his blues influence by using the minor pentatonic scale whenever the chord is on I:

Example 8

The 9th (in brackets) features here as a passing note in an otherwise exclusively minor pentatonic line. Richard Barret has stated: “Even hardened “jazz” players like Kenny Burrell…use modified pentatonic scales as the basis for much of their soloing…” (Barret, pg14, 2017.) While Burrell does employ the minor pentatonic this is by no means the basis of his soloing strategy, as this analysis has shown This assessment is perhaps based on listening to Burrell’s most popular album Midnight Blue (1963) where a number of solos are based around the minor pentatonic.


Interestingly, given he is both a university lecturer and the holder of a degree in music theory, Burrell avoids discussion of either his mechanical approach to the guitar or his theoretically conception of improvisation in interviews. For example, when asked about scales:

[One has] to reach a level where the methods – and we’re talking about scales as being kind of a method to do something – are only means to ends. They shouldn’t control you. Be aware of them so that if they, or some part of them, makes musical sense at the right artistic time, then you use them. But this isn’t something you calculate; it’s something that either happens artistically at the proper time, or it doesn’t…if you become preoccupied with them and think that you’re going to throw this scale in there because you know it will work, to me that’s not the high level of artistry we all strive for.” (Berle, pg64, 1981)

While examining specific devices applied by Burrell and noting the thematic cohesion of his solo I have made no assessment on whether Burrell has consciously employed any of these devices but, given the above quotation, we can assume his process is now unconscious, nourished through years of study and practise. This does not invalidate our analysis. As we have noted, Burrell himself transcribed and analysed recordings and a student of jazz today may perform similar dissections to better understand Burrell’s approach and guide their own practise. Ultimately, such analysis can only empower a listener in deepening their immersion in this masterful improvisation, in the process gaining insight into the unique artistry of Kenny Burrell. As Metheny notes:

He is a player that I can zoom in and study in detail and find a million things to love, or I can just sit back and enjoy the overall positive effect…” (Pat Metheny, 2000)

Complete Solo Transcription

Example 9

Example 91


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Andress T. “Pick & Fingerstyle Technique” (1992) Located at:

Barret R. “Pentatonic Variations” contained in Guitar Techniques #265 (Feburary 2017). London. Future Publishing

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Burrell K. “Piano Jazz” (1993) Interviewed by Marian McPartland.

Located at:

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Interviewed by David Schroede. Located at:

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Hanson P. “The Detroit Jazz Scene” contained in Jazz Monthly #163 (September 1968)

Harris B. “Barry Harris Speech In Almeria” (2014) Located at:

Harris K. “Rediscovering Kenny Burrell” contained in Jazz Journal Volume 31 No.11 (November 1978) Billboard Group

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Metheny P. “Kenny Burrell” (2000) Located at:

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Play With Me [Solo Transciption]

Photo by Craig Yule

Dunkan Robertson and Fraser De Banzie

As I recollected in an earlier blog, I found myself late one winters night in 2014 recording with buddies Dunkan and Fraser in Napier’s Studio A. The final recording was to be included as part of a portfolio assignment in my final year at Edinburgh Napier University.
Having played with both of these musicians for years now there is a natural dialogue and chemistry that unfolds whenever we play together. I was keen to capture this performance entirely live in a single complete take without a click track. I always feel incredibly comfortable playing with these guys, which shows in how “loose” and uninhibited I play in the solo section:

Shortly afterwards I transcribed this solo with the intention of presenting it with some commentary here. As is apparent from the frequency of my posts, however, this blog fell by the wayside.
For me, it’s always a little uncomfortable listening back to something you’ve played, especially in an analytical manner like this. As said above, this was recorded in my final year at Edinburgh Napier University where I feel I was playing good, but not great. In the year since my graduation in July ’14 – free of the distractions of coursework, performance diaries, PRS essays and undergraduate politics – I’ve been able to make composing, playing and listening to music my singular focus. The result is substantial gains in my musicianship and guitar playing, which makes analysis of my former, “lesser” self a touch awkward. That’s a very good thing though and I hope that in July ’16 I’ll be able to look back and cringe at how I’m playing right now!

On a side note, this reminds me of the words of the great Ron Carter when he said (and I’m paraphrasing) that his greatest difficulty in listening to his old recordings is hearing all the paths he could have taken with a line, then hearing himself not take them.

With this solo I hear that I went for muscle and grit with perhaps not enough melodic intent, but there’s a lot of swagger there with some really clean chops (a by-product of having been preparing for my final performance exams around this time, I remember my fingertips were shredded for months) on display. Do I like what I played? Sure. Would I have played the same thing again? I doubt it.

Play With Me – Guitar Solo – click here for the free PDF transcription of the solo.

Without getting too much into it – and without pretending that I’m in any position to hand out advice – some things to look out for are the use of different minor sounds over a dominant seventh chord (for example, C minor pentatonic in Bars 1-2, Dm pentatonic in Bars 3, G minor on bears 1 and 2 of Bar 5); sidestepping (Bar 13 and 16) the Dorian mode (Bar 8-9). Of course – hopefully! – I wasn’t “thinking” any of this when I was playing. That’s for the practise room. Always aim to play what you hear and feel.

Anyway, I hope this is all of interest to someone and I’ll see you all soon.

Play With Me [Jeff Beck Cover]

A week ago I found myself in the studio recording with the infallible rhythm section of Dunkan Robertson [bass] and Fraser De Banzie [drums] (both of Kung Fu Academy fame) recording an old Jeff Beck track called “Play With Me“. This track will be part of my professional portfolio that I am compiling for a university submission.

Having played with both of these musicians for years now there is a natural dialogue and chemistry that unfolds whenever we play together. I was keen to capture this performance entirely live in a single complete take without a click track. (Keyboards were overdubbed by FDB at a second session.) While we did cover this song quite literally, I feel the lack of imagination in arrangement is made up for by the personality of the performance.

One unusual twist of the sessions was finding myself plugging into the rig of my KFA comrade Laurence Murray: a Fulltone Full-Drive 2 straight into a floored (2nd channel on 12) Fender Blues Deluxe which – as is always the case – ended up sounded exactly like my usual rig in the final mix.

I particularly enjoy improvising over this track as the solo section, which is actually alternating between F7 and C7, can simply be treated as a vamp over F7 which offers a plethora of exciting harmonic possibilities for the improviser. For those interested (form a cue, please!) I’ll be posting a transcription and analysis of my solo at some point in the near future.

As a brief postscript to the evening: adding an element of tension to the recording session was our self-inflicted race against the clock. I had to be back home in Falkirk the following morning so I was planning to catch the last train (which leaves at 11.30) which was a challenge given that we had  booked the studio from 10-midnight. After the usual prolonged set up, we managed to track the master at around 11.10pm. Leaving most of my equipment in the studio I ran for the train, making it to the station within ten minutes. Awaiting me was the news that someone had been struck by a train. The result? Last train had been cancelled and a rather expensive taxi home had been ordered for me…