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Jazz Harmony & Improvisation by Herbert Silverstein, MD and Richard Drexler

In the endless quest to gain the tools to inspire and educate one to fluently speak the jazz language, Herbert Silverstein, MD and Richard Drexler have teamed up to add a real gem to the canon of Jazz "how to" books. Jazz Harmony & Improvisation is the title of the one hundred and twenty five paged book and an accompanying CD, containing the tunes discussed in the book. The purpose of the book is described as: "to help the student of jazz piano learn techniques of improvisation and chord voicing using Richard Drexler's scale system. " However, I have found that the book goes far beyond this modest description, in not only conveying Richard Drexler's scale system, but also providing clear compositional techniques, and a true inspirational vehicle to stimulate one's own exploration into the notes of jazz.

Richard Drexler's scale system is meant to allow the student to develop the confidence of knowing all the "correct" notes to play through every chord sound that passes by in a song form. Drexler emphasizes that the student must practice major, minor, the ascending form of the melodic minor, and the diminished (alternate half and whole steps) scales in all twelve keys. Drexler uses several helpful charts to show the scale and chord relationships, applied to C as the root of each chord. Drexler clearly defines how to use the chosen scale to form both melodic and harmonic figures. There is a complete chapter that focuses on the dominant chord and the various scales that can be applied to that chord sound. Here is a little teaser, can you play through a ii-7-V7-I maj7 progression four times in a row and use a deferent scale for the V7 chord?

This book provides a great example for students to start writing "Contrafacts" over their favorite tunes. Many of the tunes contained in the Lead sheet section of the book are "Contrafacts" to famous standards. The accompanying CD will aid in letting the student hear how writing strong "new" melodies through these forms and sonorities is an invaluable exercise, and can lead to some beautiful results, as is the case with many of Silverstein's compositions. This can be an obvious or more subtle approach. It might be the form of a song that is inspiring; "In Your Own Sweet Way" has a form of A-A-B-A-C, which is echoed in "Si Senorita." The harmonic pattern of a song can also serve as an inspiring seed, as with "High Heeled Lady" being based on the Kenny Barron's "Twilight." Anything can be used: forms, harmonic patterns, melodies, bass line figures, shapes, and various feels. Of particular interest is the songs provided by Drexler, his harmonic sense is straight from the David Liebman's (whom Drexler has extensively worked with) book, A Chromatic Approach To Jazz Harmony and Melody.

The book contains several sections that will inspire the student and encourage exploration. The discussion of the scale system between Drexler and Silverstein is very enjoyable and gives insight into not only the scale system, but other musical topics as well. Two transcriptions are provided in the book: Bob Berg's solo on "Mitzvah Waltz" and Christian Jacob's solo on "You Don't Know What Love Is," which has some amazing reharms. Both solos are analyzed and are inspiring examples of the beauty of the language discussed throughout the book. Also, Drexler shares some of his rich experiences and stories with the reader. Do you know where Coltrane might of first heard the harmonic progression he used on his famous tune "Giant Steps?"

The purpose of any "how to" book dealing with the language of jazz is keep the student motivated to keep searching, investigating, and trying to improve the art of self expression through music. To that extent, Jazz Harmony & Improvisation will certainly deliver, this rich text is appropriate for all instrumentalist and all skill levels.

The book contains: 37 original tunes by Silverstein and 13 original tune by Frexler.

Performers on the included companion CD: Bob Berg, Peter Erskine, David Friesen, Danny Gotlieb, David Hardman, Tom Harrell, Christian Jacob, Jim Langlois, Steve LaSpina, Dave Liebman, the Lobster String Quartet, Bob Lunergan, Steve Moretti, George Neidorf, Larue Nickelson, John Patitucci, Dann Reno, Paul Richardson, Courtney Smith III, Joel Spencer, John Stowell, Jack Wilkins.

Additional Info

  • Book Title: Jazz Harmony & Improvisation
  • Author: Herbert Silverstein, MD and Richard Drexler
  • Publisher: Trafford Publishing
  • Year Published: 2008
  • Book Type:: Musical Instruction
  • ISBN: 1425136087
  • Rating: Four Stars
  • Number of Pages: 125
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