Jazz Piano Transcription: Lesson on Sonny Clark’s Blue Minor Solo

jazz-piano-transcriptionDo you like free jazz piano transcriptions? One of the most powerful ways to learn jazz piano is to transcribe and study the playing of your favorite jazz musicians.

It is for this reason that I have included a number of jazz piano transcriptions on this site so you guys can learn too.

So, in today’s lesson we’re going to check out one of my favorite solos by Sonny Clark. We’ll be taking a look at a transcription of the first chorus Sonny’s plays on his tune Blue Minor.

You can learn a ton from this solo Let’s explore it now!

Sonny Clark Is A Great Player To Learn Jazz From

In my opinion Sonny is extremely underrated as a jazz piano player and as a composer. I don’t think I’ve ever heard him take a bad solo.

His ideas are clear, unbelievably musical, and always swinging.

The solo we study in this transcription lesson is no exception!

He plays some really beautiful minor jazz vocab, some awesome II-V-I licks in both major and minor, and a whole bunch of other really cool ideas.

I’ll put the notation for this jazz piano transcription right below the lesson. Be sure to also read all the extra tips as well. That’s where the heart of the lesson will be.

I’ll also include some links to other lessons on this site that will help you grow as a jazz musician.

Here’s the recording of Sonny Clark playing Blue Minor. He starts soloing at 5 minutes 28 seconds. 

Sonny’s Jazz Piano Transcription

Here’s the transcription of Sonny’s first chorus. Scroll down as we explore several of the concepts and a bunch of extra tips on Sonny’s jazz piano solo.

jazz piano transcription

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5 Things To Learn From This Jazz Piano Solo

1. A Lesson In Harmonic Minor

Inside this jazz piano transcription, Sonny plays a lot of licks and ideas using the harmonic minor scale over minor ii-V-i chord progressions. ( 2 -5 -1).

  • For example, he does this in bars 1-4 and bars 31-32.

If you want to learn more about an advanced version of harmonic minor called the harmonic minor bebop scale, you can check out this jazz scales lesson.

2. Lydian Dominant Is Totally Awesome

Over many of the dominant chords Sonny often times uses one of my favorite scales, the lydian dominant scale.

  • You can check out this sound in bars 5, 13, 18, and 29.

This scale is built with scale degrees 1, 2, 3 , #11, 5, 6, and b7. (If you’re wondering why I wrote #11 and not #4 just remember they are the same thing. The #11 is the #4 but up an octave.)

Practice Tip: If you don’t already know this scale, I recommend you practice playing this scale in several keys and practice playing some ideas over a dominant chord vamp.

This will get you familiar with the sound and feeling of this scale.

3.  Approach Patterns Are An Essential Component

Sonny uses some classic jazz patterns and bebop licks throughout this chorus as well. One of his favorite devices is the approach pattern.

  • Approach patterns are a way to chromatically decorate and circle your jazz lines and keep them moving in a forward motion.
  • They are a super important ingredient in jazz improvisation.

For example, he leads into the 3rd of the Bbmin7 on beat 1 in bar 17 by playing 2 chromatic notes before hand (Eb and D resolving to Db) in the last few beats of bars 16.

If you want to learn more about approach patterns we explore them very deeply in My Jazz Improvisation DVD The Jazz Masters Method.

4. Never Forget The Blues!

As sophisticated of a player as Sonny Clark was, he did a great job mixing more advanced bebop ideas with just simple and soulful blues licks as well.

  • For example of this sound, take a listen to bars 11 and 12.

If you want to learn more about how to use the blues scale you can check out this lesson on blues scale for piano or this lesson on mixing bebop and blues scale.

I love this sound and being from Chicago I tend to use a lot of blues sounds in my playing too. 🙂

If you want to learn more about how to play blues piano you can check out my Learning Blues Piano DVD.

5. Great Phrasing Makes You Sound Super Musical

Sonny’s phrases are all very clear from a phrasing standpoint. He either plays short 2 bar ideas or slightly longer 4 bar ideas.

Music is usually in 4 bar phrases in Western music. So, Sonny’s phrasing fits perfectly in this concept.

When he’s soloing it feels like a great speaker is giving a speech. When a great speaker speaks there isn’t a single word wasted. Everything has meaning!

I feel that Sonny achieved that with this solo as well. There isn’t a single note wasted either. It’s construction is really at a high level.

There are a lot of guys who can play faster and have more chops than Sonny but from a phrasing and a musical standpoint he is truly a master. 🙂

To be able to improvise on this level takes an incredible amount of skill! I feel the same way about the playing of Miles Davis as well.

More Jazz Transcriptions To Learn From

If you enjoy these type of lessons and want to check out some more jazz piano transcriptions you can check out this Barry Harris jazz transcription or this Wes Montgomery jazz guitar transcription.

Your Assignment

If you’re the type who likes an assignment I challenge you to grab 1 concept or lick from this jazz piano transcription and put it into your playing this week. 🙂

Your success is all about action. It’s a very simple formula that will lead you to major results in your playing.

Have fun practicing and learning from this Sonny Clark jazz piano transcription. Learning from the masters will change your life!

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Did you enjoy learning from Sonny Clark? What did you learn from this lesson? Are there any other jazz piano transcriptions you like to learn from? What are you favorite parts of this solo?  Please leave a comment below and discuss with your fellow musicians.

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  • Seth

    Sonny uses space in such a neat way. Thanks for sharing this transcription and lesson Steve.

  • micrope

    thank you steve… once again…so helpful… take care…

  • Andy

    Steve, do you have the rest of this transcription? I can pay you for it. thanks

    • Hey Andy,
      That’s the only chorus I’ve transcribed of this particular solo. I do plan on going back and grabbing a few more though in the next few months. It’s on the list.