improvisation Jazz Music Transcriptions

Sonny Rollins’ St. Thomas

I have to come clean: I might be biased when I say this, but I think this is one of the greatest jazz solos of all time. Beautiful melodies, simple motifs taken to a whole other level, perfect use of the classic bebop vocabulary and just perfect timing in every aspect. If you´re looking to improve your time feel, this is the solo to play. If you´re looking to get better at motivic development, you should be playing this. Honestly: if you overall just want to be better at jazz, then this is it chief. As always, the full transcription is at the end of the post!

Enough talk, just take a look at this.

See those two silly notes? That´s the main motif for the first two choruses. Wanna see how many times Sonny used it in the first 20 measures?

This many times. Rollins is clearly changing the notes a lot of the time, but the intent of the phrase remains through the articulation and rythm. If that´s not telling a story through improvisation, then I don’t know what is. Don’t take my word for it, go check it out if you haven’t!

Even if you completely forget about that, just check out the way he moves around the chords.

In this section, he lands on a chord tone every first beat of a measure. The way he encircles his target notes is simply elegant, and I do mean «simply». There´s no double chromatic encirclement to the #11 or anything like that, it´s literally just chord tones and it sounds perfect.

Look, I get it: you want to be a cool cat and sound «interesting» and «out». Not to sound like a boomer, but if chord tones are good enoug for Rollins, they’re good enough for us. Sometimes, the coolest thing you can do is to play simple.

Anyways, without further ado, here´s the full transcription.

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