Jazz Heads vs. Solo Sections

Question by Dave

Great lessons. My question is about the Solo improv section of Jazz tunes in relation to the Verse or ‘head’ of the tune.

I’ll sometimes hear Jazz musicians mention playing the “head” of a tune, which I assume means the whole of an AABA 32-bar tune structure. But for the Solo section with some tunes, it appears they re-wrote that AABA structure to something different, sometimes lessened the progression, and other times expanded the initial AABA chord structure.

Is that what’s happening? A choice is made to almost completely do a different arrangement for the Solo section, and then repeat the “head” again to end the tune, or add a tag, etc. ?

M-A’s Answers:

Hello Dave,

Thank you for your question and sorry for the delayed answer.

This is very much case-by-case, as I would have to hear specifically which track (concert?) you are talking about.

Nevertheless, it is almost guaranteed that musicians playing on a standard or well-known jazz tune will use the form as is. I mean, if you are walking into a jam session and the musicians on stage are playing “April In Paris”, then rest assured, the form for the solo is going to be the same in the head and solos (assuming they did not rehearse of course!)

Thing is, sometimes the little tricks the accompanists play can fool us into thinking that the form/chords are changed. Then, it is best to count bars from the top and really “see” (hear) what is happening. A few slight shifts in the harmony and/or the beat(s) and our ears can tell us that everything is different, while it is not necessarily the case. (-:

What happens that can be different for standards is the addition of a tag, as you mentioned, or a opened vamp between soloist (or for a drum solo). It all depends …

On the flip side: yes, I have heard people using a completely (and drastically) different solo section NOT resembling the head. This is mostly on original compositions or, say, re-arranged or re-harmonized jazz tunes.

I hope this helps,

Marc-Andre Seguin
“Improve Your Jazz Guitar Playing with a REAL Teacher”

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