Song: Cheek To Cheek (Berlin)

Album: Swing Zing

Frank Vignola (lead guitar) Vinny Raniolo (rhythm guitar)

I’ve met Frank twice at masterclasses in London and on both occasions he’s been very keen to stress the importance of strong, musical phrasing when improvising.  Upon listening to any of his works, it becomes very clear that he practices what he preaches. This has got me thinking about simplifying my approaches in the hope of achieving a more “musical” outcome.  Taking this short solo as an example I thought it’d be interesting to see what sort of themes are evident in Vignola’s approach.   The solo is only 16 bars long, so I’m just going to offer a commentary on each group four bars and highlight some of the rhythmic and harmonic features that I think are worth considering.

Fig 1:  bars 1-4

The opening phrases feature some fairly standard blues vocabulary, and are based largely around chord tones.  There’s a rhythmic figure of five notes in bar 2 (red) which is reapplied to a C major arpeggio in bar 3  (blue): this idea of repeating the rhythmic shape of a phrase but changing the melodic composition really helps build in some strong rhythmic interest.

Fig 2:  bars 5-8

In bars 5 and 6 (Fig 2) Vignola takes a more scalar approach placing chord tones on the beats and diatonic passing notes between, a standard tactic in jazz improv. The Bb in the middle of bar 6 helps to retain the bluesy sound by implying C mixolydian and simultaneously providing a b9 tension over the A7.  Instead of spelling out the ii-V in bar 7, Vignola opts for a straight forward blues scale run.  This is a great example of how one doesn’t have to follow the changes: there is tension, melodic shape, and resolution but it’s clear he’s not thinking about outlining the harmony in any specific way.

Note: The 16th note rest in bar 7 has been put there to illustrate that the note is played fractionally late. It’s not to be taken literally but I wanted to include it because it does have an effect on the phrasing by breaking up what would otherwise be continuous 8th notes (albeit in a subtle way).

Fig 3:  bars 9-12

Bar 9 is another example of the statement (red) and reiteration (blue) of a strong rhythmic motif. This time with an ascending and then descending arpeggio pattern.  In fact, these four bars are largely arpeggio based and as a result there is a wave-like contour to the phrase.  Vignola clearly spells out the ii-V-I in bars 11-12 with a straight Dm7 arpeggio followed by a chromatic line running from the 3rd to the b9 of the G7 (yellow).  Although this is a different approach to the ii-V (compared to what we’ve seen in bar 7) it’s similar in that the strength of the line lies in the uncomplicated nature of the rhythm and pitches used.

Fig 4: bars 13-16

Bars 13-14 feature a repeated rhythmic motif (similar to those already discussed).  Vignola recalls a grouping of specific notes that he has already used in bar 6 (fig 2) – shown in here in the red, this is the Bb, and G# creating tensions against the A7.  He finishes the solo with another C blues lick (yellow) in much the same way as he does in bar 7-8. This time anticipating the resolution by placing the C on the last 8th of bar 7th instead of the first beat of bar 8.

There are things that haven’t been dicussed here, though. For example, to what degree the solo may or may not be related to the melody; and I haven’t atempted any detailed anaysis of note choice. These things are for another post. What I hope I have done is identify a few useful devices that Vignola has employed in this solo that might be worth considering in the journey to stronger phrasing:

1: Use of rhythmic motifs, changing pitches on repetition to provide melodic shape/interest.

2: Use of confidently placed blues scale to “ignore” changes but still create tension and shape over a resolving ii-V (see fig 2, 4).

3: Use of chord tones and arpeggios to create robust lines that are strongly anchored to the underlying harmony (see fig 1, 2).

I hope you’ve found this useful and enjoyable. You can download the the full transcription here: Cheek to Cheek .

Thanks for reading!