Oleo – Comping Etude, Single-Note Solo & Chord Shapes

Composed by Sonny Rollins

Tune’s History

Oleo is a classic standard and it is essential to any jazz musician’s repertoire. It is a Sonny Rollins composition from 1954, and it fits right into the “hard bop” sound of the time.

This tune first appeared on the Miles Davis album, “Bag’s Groove”. The chord progression is taken from the classic Gershwin tune, “I’ve Got Rhythm,” which is actually the basis for many other tunes. For this reason, this progression is affectionately known as “Rhythm Changes.”

The Nuts and Bolts

Because of the nature of this tune, we will approach this lesson a bit differently. It is simply not practical to go come up with a chord melody to a tune like this, but if you’re feeling extra adventurous, you can try it! Here, we will give you a comping etude and a single-note solo.

Download your “Oleo – Chord Melody, Solo, and More” PDF here.

Oleo: Thumbnail


The tune is a standard AABA 32-bar form and the progression cycles through a I vi ii V progression in Bb before going to the IV (Eb), then it cycles back to the I chord.

The B section is simply cycling dominants starting from the III.

D7 – G7 – C7 – F7

Finally, it returns to the A section to close the tune.

Oleo: Comping Ideas

Here are some basic chord shapes you can use to comp over Oleo. I suggest taking this at a slower tempo than usual and really getting the hang of these chord shapes.

Oleo: Comping Ideas

Oleo: Comping Etude

In this lesson, I decided to take a different approach. Instead of a chord melody, we’re going to give you a comping etude with walking bass. This is great for duo situations where you are playing with a horn or another non-harmonic instrument.

Note If you’ve looked at different rhythm changes tunes, you’ve probably noticed slight variations in the harmony. The main focus is to get to your target chords one way or another.

Oleo: Single-Note Solo

Here’s another single-note solo with plenty of useful language. It’s important to be able to play rhythm changes comfortably as you run into a lot of similar progressions throughout much of the standard jazz repertoire.

Oleo: Backing Track

If you’d like to download the backing track, you can do so here.

Oleo: Chord Reference Sheet

In addition to all of this, we provide you with some more extended shapes that you can use in comping over this tune.

Download your “Oleo – Chord Melody, Solo, and More” PDF here.

Oleo: Thumbnail

Rhythm Changes Tunes

Check out a few of the other well-known rhythm changes tunes so you can see how different players have added their own melodies to this classic progression.

Suggested Listening

-Pat Martino’s Live at Yoshi’s album released in 2001. Lines for days! Pat absolutely kills it here with the great Joey DeFrancesco and Billy Hart.

Live At Yoshi's

-Miles Davis’ Bag’s Groove RVG Remaster album released in 2008. I love all of these Rudy Van Gelder remasters and you’ve got to hear the original version of any tune if you can.

Bags' Groove (RVG Remaster)

-George Benson’s The Best of George Benson collection released in 2010. Benson takes this tune at an absolutely blazing tempo in this one.

The Best of George Benson

-Eric Dolphy’s Eric Dolphy, A Night in Copenhagen album. The details of this particular recording are a bit ambiguous, but it’s still a great take.

Eric Dolphy, a Night in Copenhagen


Marc-Andre Seguin is the webmaster, “brains behind” and teacher on JazzGuitarLessons.net, the #1 online resource for learning how to play jazz guitar. He draws from his experience both as a professional jazz guitarist and professional jazz teacher to help thousands of people from all around the world learn the craft of jazz guitar.

9 thoughts on “Oleo – Comping Etude, Single-Note Solo & Chord Shapes

  1. Hi Marc,

    Great lesson, thank you!
    One question, though. In which position do you play the Oleo-theme?
    I learned the different positons, like 6V2, 6V4, 5V2 and 5V4, and also the horizontal position from your ‘better phrasing’ lesson, but I can’t see to relate one of those positions to the way you play this theme. Or is there “position” here?

    Thank you.
    Best regards from Belgium,

    • Hey Christophe. Well … yeah … It’s probably not possible to stick to one position to play the entire theme to Oleo (and it’s probably better this way!) Nevertheless, I keep my fretting hand aligned around fret 3 most of the time.

    • Yes and no. Yes: you are right when you don’t worry about positions when learning a theme. And no: positions are not necessarily more helpful for improvisations. Scale positions are a tool meant to help guitarist “see” the fretboard better. It is like creating small compartments on the guitar to avoid the “same-note-available-in-many-locations” issue. 🙂

  2. Well, the head as written never reads correctly (to me). In the head on Miles Davis’ “Bags Groove” version, on the 4th beat of the 6th bar it should be an “A”, not, B♭. Think about it, that mere half step changes the vibe of the tune somewhat, meaning, it may be a little hipper than the transcriptionists (transcribers) understood.

    • Hey, you’re right! I was just practicing on this tune recently (along with a student on Skype), and realized that every single lead sheet I found is wrong. I was amazed. It’s just that little chromatic pass that makes sense on paper, but that is actually NOT what Miles is doing. Good catch. 🙂

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