Lee Morgan Month: Lee Morganisms (Part 2/3)- Altered Scale Language for Jazz Trumpet

When I was transcribing Lee Morgan’s I’m Old Fashioned, I found my ear drawn to a particular ii V line that he plays in bar 24.

This is the line. It’s made up of notes from the altered scale.

Lee Morgan Altered Scale Language 1

If we reduce the lick down to its most basic form, by removing the decoration at the start and extra chord tones at the end, we get this:

Lee Morgan Altered Scale Language 2

It still looks a bit funny written down, but if you play it, you should immediately recognise it. This set of intervals is often used on m7 chords and has become a bit of a cliché. A typical line might go like this:

Lee Morgan Altered Scale Language 3

Doubtless you will have heard it at some time or another. Changing the function of the notes to use the lick on the altered scale results in hipper sound and it’s also a good way to get into playing altered scale language if you don’t use it a lot already. If you learn to access it in every key, you will be able to add tension to any of your ii Vs by throwing it every once in a while.
Last month, I discussed how to practice language in all 12 keys to expand your vocabulary. For this bit of language, practicing using descending semi tones would be perfect as it will allow you to think of each key very quickly.

Altered Scale Language Semi Tones.png
N.B: These are written enharmonically so they’re easier to read. Writing them enharmonically correctly to the key signature makes them look very strange.

There is a problem with doing it this way, however: since the intervals are so common, without any harmony to relate the notes to, you won’t necessarily be learning to hear the sounds as part of the altered scale. If possible, it’s best to play skeleton harmony (3rd and 7th of each dominant chord) on the piano at the same time to train your ears. It can also be useful to play in each key and improvise in and out of the lick, i.e. play it as part of a ii V I progression etc.

The more I’ve listened to Lee Morgan, the more I spotted this lick showing up in other places. Here are a couple of examples (as usual, the videos will play exactly at the start of each extract):

  1. Along Came Betty (Bar 17 in the transcription)https://youtu.be/CTzRHq_cH5E?t=1m48s

    Along Came Betty Altered Scale Language

    2. Lover Man

    Lee Morgan Lover Man Altered Language.png

View more Lee Morganisms:
Part 1
Part 3

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