by Sonny Rollins
This is a a true classic “Rhythm Changes” tune from the golden era of small groups in jazz. Composed and recorded in 1954 on the Miles Davis album “Bag’s Groove”, Oleo has a catchy melody and is fun to improvise over.
The lesson material provided here differs a little bit from all other tunes on JazzGuitarLessons.net: there’s no guitar-oriented chord melody arrangement of this one. It’s simply not practical because it’s usually played too fast for chord-melody stuff. (-:
What I’m providing, though, are accurate rhythms and suggested fingerings in this PDF to help you learn the tune well and in a short amount of time. On top of it all, I made this video so you can play along with me at a range of tempos, from med-slow to very fast…
Rhyhtm Changes ?
Improvising on Oleo, or other songs with this basic form is essential to any serious jazz player. It’s based on Gershwin’s “I Got Rhythm”, like many tunes from the swing and bebop era. We use the slang “Rhythm Changes” to describe a 32-bar song of AABA form.
Such AABA “Rhythm Changes” are typically played in the key of Bb. Yup! Keep in mind, jazz really is horn music after all. The A section evolve around the I chord and the IV chord (with obvious turnarounds) while the B section (or bridge) is usually a cycle of dominants from III. Or we can say that the bridge is in fact back cycling toward the tonic, the I chord.
It is challenging (and necessary!) for jazz improvisers to create meaningful melodies on tunes like Oleo. Playing well on “Rhythm Change” helps all other areas of playing. Trust me. 😉
Countless variations (and composition) on “Rhyhtm Changes” exist and I strongly encourage you to check them out! Some of my favorites Rhythm Change tunes:
- Oleo (obviously!)
- I Got Rhythm (G. Gershwin)
- Moose the Mooche (Charlie Parker)
- Anthropology (Charlie Parker)
- Cotton Tail (Duke Ellington)
- Rhythm-A-Ning (T. Monk)
- Meet the Flinstones (H. Curtin)
If you want to sink your teeth into a good reference on Rhyhtm Changes, I highly recommend Aebersold’s Volume 47 This book will provide you with all necessary info to get started (progressions, scales, licks) and to understand how variations are created on the basic form. It even comes with a play along CD (in all keys). I believe it’s a must if you serious about playing jazz, period.