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Published on March 14th, 2013 | by Sam


Turnaround Licks with Sonny Rollins

Turnaround Licks

Turnaround licks are often the last thing many jazz guitarists (and guitarists in any style) learn.  Usually, after spending so much time on the other ii-Vs and chords you’re ready to get to the next chorus.  Well at least I have been like that in the past.

Well, no more!  The turnaround is one of the places that separates the proverbial men from the boys.  I’ve talked about it before with the blues, and sounding good on the turnaround section of any tune can help to make you sound more legit.

Sonny Rollins is one of the greatest jazz improvisors of all time.  Much has been written about his rhythmic creativity, and deservedly so.  His harmonic sense is also very creative and inspiring.  He’s particularly great at voice leading and resolving his lines in interesting ways.

Sonny’s landmark ablum, Saxophone Colossus, has a track called Moritat that features a number of great turnaround licks.  We’re going to look at 6 of them.  The song is in the key of Bb, so the turnaround section chords would be:

|Bbmaj7    G7  |Cmi7    F7   |Bbmaj7    |

Hit the Turnaround Changes

One way to ensure a good sound on the turnaround is to highlight the differences between the chords, especially when there are half step differences between chord tones.  When going from I -VI (Bb to G7 in this tune), the G7 contains a B natural, while the Bb contains a Bb.  This note is a key note to ‘hit the change’ when going to the G7 chord.

Moving to the Cmi7 chord has 3 chromatic note differences – B-C, B-Bb, and D-Eb.  These are all great areas to again, hit the change.  The idea is that you want to highlight these note changes in your lines, and we’ll see the Sonny hits these frequently.

Altered Sounds

The VI and V chords have a lot of room for alterations because they are acting as V chords and resolving to the next chord.  The bebop era and much of the straight ahead jazz that followed used two primary altered sounds: the diminished dominant and the ‘altered scale’/melodic minor.  Those two scales will get a deeper look in future posts.  Sonny uses both of these sounds in each of these licks.

Moritat Turnaround Lick 1

mortiat turnaround lick 1Our first lick has Sonny playing a G7b9 arpeggio on the VI chord and an F7#5 on the V chord.  It’s interesting that the final resolution happens on the 6th note of the Bb chord.  Check out how simple he plays on the Cmi7 chord.

Moritat Turnaround Lick 2

mortiat turnaround lick 2The second turnaround lick does not have quite as many altered notes.  The V chord does have a classic #9/b9 move that resolves to the 5th of the Bb chord.

Moritat Turnaround Lick 3

mortiat turnaround lick 3Sonny’s third turnaround lick uses the same sounds as the first; G7b9 and F7#5.  This one actually does not resolve! As you listen to the recording though, it doesn’t sound ‘unresolved’ in a bigger sense.  It’s almost as if the band does the resolving instead of the soloist, which could be a really interesting approach to add to your palate of sounds.

Moritat Turnaround Lick 4

mortiat turnaround lick 4Sonny again uses a G7b9 sound on the VI chord.  This time on the V7 chord he plays an F7alt-with #9, b9, and #5.  (Those notes are written all as flats in order to avoid mixing sharps and flats.)

Moritat Turnaround Lick 5

mortiat turnaround lick 5Sonny gets to his famous rhythmic sense here.  The sounds are more altered than the other licks.  He plays an altered sound on the VI chord, then uses a b5 on the Cmi7.  This is an interesting choice when just looking at the notes, but the b5 note resolves on beat three to the root of the F7 chord.  He plays an F7b9, then chromatically leads into the 3rd on the Bb to resolve.  Very cool turnaround lick here!

Moritat Turnaround Lick 6

mortiat turnaround lick 6This turnaround lick starts with a pickup leading into the 5 of the I chord.  The rest of this lick is pretty vanilla, but really effective because it is very melodic.



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3 Responses to Turnaround Licks with Sonny Rollins

  1. Pingback: Sonny Rollins - Tenor Saxophonist Biography - The Saxophone

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