I recently received Walt Weiskopf’s latest book, Understanding the Diminished Scale. I learned my C, C#, and D diminished scales in the past (between those three you have the notes for all twelve diminished scales, the book can explain further), but I never knew how to apply the scale effectively in my improvisation work. I have never seen Walt play live, but have listened to many of his tenor saxophone solos in the Village Vanguard big band. If you have not heard of Walt, here is a short biography.
Walt was born in Augusta, Georgia and grew up outside Syracuse, New York. He took up his first instrument, the clarinet at age 10 and began his saxophone studies four years later. After graduating from Rochester’s Eastman School of Music in three years, he moved to New York City in 1980.Walt began his New York career performing with the Buddy Rich Big Band in 1981 at the age of 21. Since then, he has made an impressive mark as both a leader and sideman with 12 critically-acclaimed CDs and countless sideman credits. His five books on advanced topics in improvisation are among the most respected in the field. In 1983, Walt began a fourteen-year association with jazz pianist and arranger Toshiko Akiyoshi, making seven recordings and touring the United States, Japan and Europe several times with her orchestra.’
In regards to Walt’s books, he co-authored Coltrane: A Player’s Guide To His Harmony and The Augmented Scale in Jazz (both pub. Jamey Aebersold) with his saxophone teacher at Eastman, Ramon Ricker. Downbeat’s Trent Kynaston called Coltrane “the best treatise I have seen on the study of Coltrane substitutions.” In 1994 Walt completed Intervalic Improvisation (pub. Aebersold), a 136-page player’s guide used and recommended by saxophone greats James Moody and the late Michael Brecker for broadening the horizons of modern jazz improvisation. Walt’s fourth book, Around The Horn, was released in 2001 and he recently completed Beyond The Horn, a sequel, with his former student Ed RosenBerg.
Walt lays out a great foundation in the beginning of the book by describing the diminished scale; how it is used and how it is formed. Walt continues on by demonstrating the different diminished scales and which diminished scales are associated with which chords. Weiskopf lists examples from Sonny Stitt, John Coltrane, Hank Mobley, and George Coleman solos and how they incorporated the diminished scale.
This was very helpful for me because it allowed me to analyze some difficult phrases and see how understanding the diminished scales will help me play these phrases in time and accurately. I also enjoyed how Walt summarizes the importance of the diminished scale and how it will take time and practice to incorporate it into your playing, and that this is not a topic that you will master overnight.
One of the things I really enjoyed about Walt’s book was the order in which he laid out the exercises. The first exercise offers the player all 12 diminished scales and then the 2nd exercise shows all 12 inverted diminished scales (which I never knew much about until now). This is a great way to gain a better understanding of how each diminished scale sounds as well as comparing the difference in sounds and tonal colors of the diminished scale and inverted diminished scale.
The exercises continue on with various inversions of the diminished and inverted diminished in all 12 keys. I found it really helpful to work on one exercise and see if I could play it slowly in all 12 keys from memory. I understand that many educators advise that the player learn it in one key and transpose by ear the other 11 keys. Having the lick written out in all twelve keys (at least for me) helps me double check to make sure I am on the right path and I see it as more of a reference compared to a cheat sheet.
In addition to the exercises, there are patterns as well as great ii-V-I licks. What is great about the ii-V-I material is that if you own the Jamey Aebersold Volume 3 book, you can play these licks over various tracks to see how they sound as well as lay on the horn.
Walt’s book contains 12 etudes that incorporate the diminished scales from a blues, latin, rhythm changes, and other standard jazz chord progressions. I found these etudes to have phrases that I would incorporate into my own playing while also effectively demonstrating various diminished scales and how to use them.
I found Walt’s diminished scale book to be a clear demonstration of his ability to play as well as educate. I am hoping on checking out more of Walt’s books and will continue to play through this book to gain a better understanding of how I can incorporate these phrases as well as internalize the sound of the diminished scale.
My only recommendation was although the licks over the ii-V7-I track could be played with the Jamey Aebersold’s Volume 3 book (sold separately), I would recommend including a play-along CD with this book, because without the background tracks, you do not gain the full benefit of how phrases sound over the chords.