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Applying Bert Ligon's Linear Harmony Concept to a Charlie Parker Phrase

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Bert Ligon's book Connecting Chords With Linear Harmony comes up here on the forum from time-to-time. I think it's very useful and recommend it to anyone who hasn't read it, especially people who know their scales and chords and wonder what's next. For those who might be unfamiliar with the concept, here's a brief example applied to a Charlie Parker phrase (the excerpt is from a transcription of Bird's early 40s Cherokee recording in another great book, Charlie Parker Omnibook Vol. 2 by Doc Stewart). I'm considering the last two measures of the first line.

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Ligon's concept is to build variations off simple "outlines" over basic chord progressions, starting with ii-V-I. Applied to Dm7-G7-CMaj7, Ligon's Outline 1 is a descending scalar phrase F-E-D-C-B-A-G-F-E, with the C to B resolving the Dm7-G7 chord change and the final F to E resolving the G7 to CMaj7 chord change. A version of Ligon's second outline is a simple variant of the first, with the initial F-E-D replaced by a downward triad A-F-D.

Consider the Dm7 bar with pickup. One can look at this as being a variant of outline one or two, or maybe a combination of them. The first five notes of the first outline (F-E-D-C-B) can be found on the downbeats of beats 2 and 3 and the last two eighth notes of the first measure and downbeat of the second measure. The first D is a diatonic approach to E, then there's a chromatic passing tone Eb between the E and D. (Alternatively, you can look at this as shifting the pattern to thirds, F-D-E-C with Eb-D passing notes between the E and C). Looking at it from the perspective of Outline 2, there's a two-note chromatic approach G-G# landing on A, somewhat unusually on the upbeat of 1 of the Dm7 measure, with the following two notes and the final note of the measure spelling out the first four notes A-F-D-C of the outline and a little chromatic fill E-Eb-D between the initial D and final C of the measure.

The second measure cleverly varies the downward B-A-G-F sequence. First, the sequence is broken into thirds B-G-A-F, with a chromatic passing G# between the G and A rhythmically displacing the A-F from downbeat-upbeat to upbeat-downbeat. Then, a lower chromatic approach note D# resolves to the E on beat four, anticipating the resolution to the third of CMaj7 a beat early. The final four notes of the measure are a typical bop upward triad with chromatic pick-up leading up to the E on the downbeat of the next measure.

Of course, Bird's musical creativity (and that of many others) was the impetus for Ligon's analysis, not vice-versa. Bird's harmonic, melodic, and rhythmic gift guided him to a phrase that fit the basic underlying chord sequence like a glove while adding clever ornaments that make the phrase sing and swing. If you have a similar musical gift, Ligon's work will probably prove to be pretty superfluous. If you don't, Ligon provides a tool for beginning to understand and construct melodies that sound like something other than random noodling, which, in my humble opinion, is a big improvement over the common "play this scale over this chord" approach to introductory jazz pedagogy.

Ligon has some materials on his USC website, though the site is poorly organized. There's this, for example: . There used to be a lot more stuff on linear harmony and it's probably still there but you may have to dig to find it, starting with this page: . Or buy the book. He's got some additional books which are great too: Jazz Theory Resources Vol. 1 & 2 and Comprehensive Technique for Jazz Musicians. He's also got a fairly new (I think) personal website:
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