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Ray Brown’s Bass line from Surrey with the Fringe on Top

by Alex Wilkerson –

This month’s transcription is Ray Brown’s Bass line from “Surrey with the Fringe on Top” (Download: Surrey – Ray Brown – Transcription), off Barney Kessel’s album The Poll Winners Ride Again! This is a trio, and as such, makes an agreed upon harmony difficult.  There are standard changes that a tune can abide by, but there are so many common variations that are widely accepted, it makes it hard to know when chord changes are altered or if one person is just implying an alteration.  In a trio, this can be very difficult.  For instance, the musicians might be thinking of the song as having four measures on the one chord.  In this situation however, there are a dizzying amount of alterations that can and will be applied.  One such example as found in this piece is to play the one chord on measures one and three, and the five chord on measures two and four.  Another common approach for this tune is to play one measure on the one chord, the next on the two chord, the next on three, and back to the two chord.  Sliding in a “two-five” to your target chord is an extremely common technique that bass players can use at any time, even if no one else strictly observes these new alterations.  In a trio, when there are only two harmonic instruments, and one of them is taking a solo, it makes it impossible to tell whether alterations were intended to be hinted at, or if they are thought of as firm deviations.  What’s the difference?  The difference is in knowing when to use the idea.  If Ray Brown was implying a chord on top of a different chord, then that is how you would use the idea in your own playing.  In this transcription, I did my best to notate the chord changes that would be the most likely agreed upon by the musicians, and the most helpful to us to learn from Ray Brown’s lines.

There are two main points that we can take from this recording.  One is to take licks from Brown’s solo, analyze them against the written chord symbols, memorize the idea, and add it to your bag of tricks.  The other is to listen to the recording, make note of certain measures where you like the walking line, analyze by the numbers what the idea is and apply to your own walking lines.  For instance, if you particularly liked measure 70, you would take the notes A, G, F#, D, and apply those notes to their chord symbols.  This would give you 1, b7, 3, 8 (same as 1).  Now take this idea, memorize it, and try to use it on all the 2-5’s that are a measure long during your practice time.  It’s important to apply them to walking through a real song.  Taking the idea through all 12 keys is good, but it must be applied to a real tune before you will find it easy available to use in a real situation.

One interesting idea is that instead of thinking chord scales for a solo, you can use color notes.  For instance, in the key of F major, the D chord is a minor seven chord.  If you see a 3-6-2-5 chord progression where the six chord is a dominant chord, such as D7 in the key of F major, this chord is only different from the F major scale by one note.  Instead of thinking mixolydian flat 13, you could just keep soloing in F major, but be sure to play an F# in the place of all F notes.  This will spell out the major third of your D7 without requiring you to think of an entirely new chord scale.  This can be particularly handy if the D7 lasts for only two beats and you are playing over 250 bpm.  Try this idea out..  Now for any jazz guys who are reading this and thinking that the 9 and 13 are also different, this is sometimes true, but only if you want to imply a temporary minor key center. If the changes are fast enough, it might be more prudent to stick to a generally major key center for the entire 3-6-2-5-1.

That’s it for this month.  Hope you enjoyed the tune, see you next time.

Download: Surrey – Ray Brown

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