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“What Is This Thing Called Love?” solo by Gary Burton

Introduction to Improvisation
Lesson 1 Analysis: “What Is This Thing Called Love?”

The presented improvisation on “What Is This Thing Called Love?” is a 32-bar improvisation in jazz style performed on a piano. The piece is in the key of C major, in 4/4 time at a rapid tempo, approximately 190 beats/minute. As a jazz piece, all eighth notes are swing eighths (played similar to a dotted eighth and sixteenth rather than two straight eighth notes).

The first eight bars are the exposition of the theme of this solo. The chord progression underlying the theme is v(mi7b5)- I7b9- IVmi- ii7b5-V7-I. The last three chords in the progression (ii-V-I) is a common progression used to resolve to the tonic chord at the end of a phrase. Melodically, the melody consists primarily of chromatic scales- downward in the first bar from the flat five of the v chord, then turning upward in the second bar (with accidental sharp 4 of the scale- which could also be expressed enharmonically as flat 5- flat 6, and flat 7), then down again in the third bar (with an accidental flat 5 and flat 4). In bar 5 we begin the turn toward resolving the phrase with another mostly-chromatic scale going upward(with accidental flat 5, flat 6, and sharp 7- C#, from the harmonic minor scale). Bar 6 begins with a quarter note 5 of the V7 chord, followed by a triplet figure that clearly sets us up for the final chromatic run downward to resolution with the tonic chord in bar 7.

The second eight bars are a variation on the theme presented in the first eight bars. We see two distinct variations in the first four bars of this improvisation. First, the dominant rhythm has changed from swung eighth notes to triplets alternating with eighth notes, with the second eighth tied to the first triplet eighth in the next measure, adding syncopation to the rhythm. The melody still remains primarily chromatic, but the eighth note features downward intervals of a diminished fifth or tritone (Bb to E, G to Db) in the first bar. The eighth notes in the second bar jump upward a perfect fifth (D natural to G), then down a whole step (Bb to Ab). In the third bar we drop a perfect fifth (C to G), then down a whole step- the same figure as the previous measure (Bb to Ab). The four bar phrase ends with a quarter note F, the tonic of the chord in that measure but the subdominant of the key of the piece (thus leading us into the next four bars). The final four bars of this section return us to scalar patterns rhythmically similar to the last four bars in the exposition, though the scales use more whole-steps than half-steps and are thus less chromatic, aside from the prominent Ab and Eb accidentals and the accidental D# and F# (sharp 2 and sharp 4) in Bar 7. Bar 8 ends the phrase with a quarter note tonic and three beats of rest.

The third eight bars (the bridge) changes the local tonality to C minor (the relative minor of the key of the piece). No key change is indicated, but the chord selections and the consistent accidentals of Eb and Ab are consistent with this change. The progression here is i(mi7), IV7b9, VII, VI, V7, the final chord being the relative major of the chord that begins the final four bars, facilitating the transition. Rhythmically we now have syncopation via eighth notes paired with quarter notes (bars 1 and 3) with intervals of a tritone (Eb to G) in bar 1 and a perfect sixth (D to F, C to Eb, Bb to D) in bar 3. The phrase ends with a whole note (tied to an eighth). The second four measures begin with the same syncopated eighth-quarter rhythm with intervals of a major sixth (Ab to F, Gb to Eb) in bar 5, then a chromatic eighth pattern in bar 6 reminiscent of the rhythm of the main theme. In bar 7 we recapitulate the end of the phrase in bars 3-4 of the bridge, then end with a syncopated eighth-dotted quarter figure that jumps a perfect fifth to the G (the root of the chord), thus resolving the bridge.

The final eight bars are a recapitulation of the the main theme, with chromatic scales similar to the exposition, with the subtle addition of a syncopated eighth-quarter figure in bar 2 that reminds the listener of the bridge. The piece resolves in bars 7-8 with a simple C major scale to end on the tonic.


Here is my improvisation on the same piece on bass guitar.