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Five Charlie Parker Solos To Learn By Ear And Transcribe

Updated: Nov 28, 2023

Charlie “Yardbird” Parker, often referred to as “Bird”, revolutionized the saxophone solo and arguably invented the Be Bop musical language. Saxophone students searching for a way into jazz improvisation should start with these 5 Charlie Parker solos. Learn them from the recording by ear first, then after playing them daily for a month or more, write them out. These are fairly simple and short, yet they will provide the student with basic vocabulary to begin improvising in an authentic and informed manner. These seminal solos are the seeds of the modern style of jazz saxophone, and their influence can be heard in such players as Sonny Rollins, Cannonball Adderley, Sonny Stitt, Sonny Criss, Phil Woods, Gary Bartz, Kenny Garrett and many more players too numerous to mention. There are dozens if not over a hundred Bird solos that can be explored once you develop the skills and tools to do transcription work. LEARN THE SOLOS BY EAR FIRST HOWEVER.

1. Relaxin’ At Camarillo

This solo was the first one that Joe Henderson presented to me in my initial lessons at his house in San Francisco in 1987. He had me work on the melody, learn the solo, and then he taught me several choruses of blues that he improvised on his funky old electric piano in his basement. I remember him talking about how to avoid playing cliched blues licks and that he considered all twelve chromatic notes to be equal. Joe often threw in odd combinations of notes to contrast typical inside harmonic choices. In this solo Bird keeps it fairly simple. I can’t think of a better starting point to begin to digest the phrasing and note choices that Bird displays in this short solo.

2. Cool Blues

This blues melody illustrates the often used device of repeating a phrase while lowering the third, in this key the C natural, to fit the second four bars of the blues, here the D7. The first phrase, over an A7 chord, emphasizes the C#. You can see how the phrase is repeated with only the lowered third changed over the next chord. This is a typical and useful way to adapt simple melodic ideas to blues chord changes. This short solo is easy to learn and should be played often; use it as a warm up and transpose the melody to different keys. Extract as much information from these solos as you can think of, and try using those phrases in your solos.

3 Billie’s Bounce

Warne Marsh and Lee Konitz used to play this solo together, often with Warne adding slight harmonies to the solo line to produce some of their characteristic sinewy harmony duo lines. Warne loved this solo and considered it an essential etude, he and I talked about this solo many times and we played it frequently in my early lessons with him. This solo has some classic Bird licks in it, the sixteenth note phrase in bars 33-34 is one that you hear often in other players solos, usually with some variation or alteration.

4. Au Privave #1

This one has always been a favorite of mine. Notice in bars 45-46 that the phrase from the Billie's Bounce solo is repeated in nearly identical fashion. Bird was a blues and ballads player foremost, and it is his genius in expanding the blues progression and adapting bluesy phrases to Be Bop that are among his greatest contributions to jazz. There is a lot of terrific melodic material to be digested in this solo, take your time and learn it thoroughly.

5. Yardbird Suite

Yardbird Suite is a classic Bird solo that Warne often played; we discussed at length how this short solo was constructed and developed. Warne knew Bird's music better than anyone I've ever met, and he used Bird as his primary touchpoint with his students once they were developed enough to absorb his solos. In addition to the blues Bird played many classic solos over 32 bar tunes with chord changes that vary from very simple to extremely complex. This Yardbird Suite solo is a great example of this. Compare his note choices to the chord changes and study his rhythmic sense. You will hear for yourself how the modern jazz language developed, and you will also hear how this language was later developed by more modern alto saxophonists up to the present day.

Studying Charlie "Yardbird" Parker is an essential journey in your development as a jazz saxophonist. The sooner you start listening and transcribing this master improviser the better. By doing so you will begin to absorb the true essence of modern jazz.

As always, thanks for stopping by my blog...Markos

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