by Russ Nolan
Jazz Composition and Improvisation:
Melodic Development of Sonny Rollins’ Oleo
Let’s take Sonny Rollins’ classic, ‘Oleo’ as a musical example. I picked Oleo for two reasons: 1) It is an example of melodic development in itself, and 2) It’s common to just ‘run changes’ over rhythm changes instead of developing a melodic idea. So, let’s resist the temptation of rushing into super-impositions of the Cycle of 4ths or Coltrane Changes, and see what we can create off of the melody, using a technique commonly known as Theme and Variations. Sonny is a master of this, crafting his solo with much thought, compressing and expanding melodies at will. It is also interesting to note how he could return to a phrase or theme that he played ten choruses ago as if it were a recapitulation (in classical terms).
More examples in Part 3