“Satin Doll” is a jazz standard written by Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn with lyrics by Johnny Mercer. Written in 1953, the song has been recorded countless times, by such artists as Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra.
PDF for Chord Melody – Satin Doll Shapes
Next step is looking at the soloing techniques, and who better to start with than Wes Montgomery.
Satin Doll – Wes Montgomerys Solo
Satin Doll – Playalong Track
When noted producer/record executive, Orrin Keepnews wrote his liner notes for Wes Montgomery’s debut LP, “WES MONTGOMERY TRIO: A DYNAMIC NEW SOUND”(Riverside) sometime late in 1959, he recounted the story of how “Cannonball” Adderley had recommended Wes to him in such glowing terms that, just 5 days after Cannon’s insistence, Orrin was in Indianapolis to hear Montgomery for the first time. During those years Wes was playing two gigs per night. The first, during regular bar/night club hours at the Turf Bar, and the second, after hours, at the Missile Room. At that time, Wes’ regular trio-mates were organist Mel Rhyneand drummer Paul Parker. During his time on the roster at Riverside Records, Wes Montgomery would record with his organ trio three more times. This first recording contains only two Montgomery originals alongside standards by Jerome Kern; Lerner & Lane as well as Jazz standards by Thelonious Monk; Benny Golson; Horace Silver and here we are presenting to you Wes’ solo on Duke Ellington’s chestnut, “Satin Doll.”
Like most of the material Wes played and recorded with his organ trio, the arrangements all represented a great deal of care, detail, and the familiarity between the three musicians. Where melody and harmony are concerned, it is obvious that Wes and Mel Rhyne spent a goodly amount of time together crafting just how the organ would blend with Montgomery’s chordal or linear interpretations of the standards. On “Satin Doll” the [A] sections are stated together by Rhyne’s organ and Wes’ block chords. Letter [B], while Wes continues on with the melody in chords, Rhyne pares down to only the walking bass line. On this particular tune, Rhyne solos first and Montgomery comps in a 4/4 Freddie Green-like style. Wes’ solo consists of a full [A]-[A]-[B]-[A] chorus in single-note lines, which is then followed by a chord solo over the first three sections of the tune with Mel Rhyne only walking the bassline. For the last [A], they state it just as they did during the opening with a little [Tag] added for an ending, and a very Jazzy sounding last chord of B/C with an F# on top. Now let’s take a look at Wes’ one chorus of single-note lines.
The first [A] section is characterized by Wes’ arpeggios in triplet groupings and, what I might describe as, a “call and response” style of phrasing. By the latter I mean that a phrase in one bar is answered in a similar fashion in the following bar. If you look closely at the arpeggios in bars 1-3, they all place an emphasis on the 9th degree of the m7 chords. So, over the Dm7-G7, you find E-natural as an important note. And over the Em7-A7, F# is the note that he vaults to. School or not, formally trained or not, Wes certainly must have spent time grasping just how the basic triads function within chordal sounds, and how they create the ‘extensions’ about the basic chord tones. So, you will see F/D or F/G during bars 1-2 and then G/E or G/A for bars 3-4. In bar 5, over the Am7-D7, in 2nd-half of the bar you find a B-triad over the D7 which produces these tones: B(13th); F#(3rd); and D#/Eb(b9).
As [A2] begins, we find Wes walking up what is the D Dorian mode from D-E-F and G and eventually C and D, an octave higher. Of course, what goes up, must come down. And the responding phrase in bars 11-12 do just that with the last note being his low-G, which is the lowest note played during the solo. In bars 13-14, over the non-resolving ii-Vs, Wes plays a series of ascending triplet arpeggios which again begin with a major triad built from the m3rd of each chord. That would be C-natural for Am7-D7, and Cb for Abm7-Db7. After the cadence to Cmaj7 in bar 15, Wes plays a wonderful transition to [B] by alluding to Abm7-Db7 with his line, even though Mel Rhyne does not play those chords there. It is like inserting the harmony of the chord, 1/2-step above where you are headed. So, as [B] will begin with Gm7, this makes perfect sense. And, above all, it sounds great!!!
The solo changes that Wes and Mel Rhyne came-up with for [B] show a great deal of harmonic creativity and the desire to put their own stamp of this Ellington classic, which had already been played and recorded on countless occasions. What makes these changes so terrific and a much greater challenge for soloing is the insertion of a b5 substitute ii-V. Just take a look at bar 2 as it leads into bar 3. And, as I pointed out before, the device of anticipating the coming chord by playing the related chord 1/2-step above. Examples of this can be found in bar 4 heading into 5, and bar 6 heading into bar 7. Whether or not Wes would have explained it in this manner, looking at the lines, it is clear that each of these minor areas was thought of in the related Dorian mode. The only chromaticism within this section appears in bar 4 over the Bbm7-Eb7.
|| Gm7 / C7 / | Dbm7(9) / Gb7(13) / | Fmaj7 / / / | Bbm7 / Eb7 / |
| Am7 / D7 / | Ebm7 / Ab7(13) / | Dm7 / G7 / | Em7b5 / A7(alt.) / ||
For the final [A], Wes returns to the arpeggios in triplet groupings that he first revealed as the solo began. Again, the arpeggios vault to the 9th of the m7 chords in bars 1-4 of this section. Obviously, he found that note to be very expressive. It’s a nice touch that, at the end of bar 4, he throws a b9(Bb) into the arpeggio as well. Often times, it is the perception of some that Jazz musicians don’t practice the same forms of exercises that a Classical musician might have been exposed to, but this is, of course, completely false. Again, trained or not, Wes could hear the usefulness in studying the basic of line construction. Notice, in bar 7 of this section, how each of the notes in a basic C major triad(C-E-G) are preceded by its chromatic lower neighbor: B-C; F#-G; and D#-E. Where arpeggios are concerned, this is one of the most fundamental approaches one can learn.
When everything has been assessed, and put in its proper place, Wes Montgomery’s solo over Ellington’s “Satin Doll” is really much more about improvising via arpeggios than the usual sense of endless running single-note lines. Although, if you just view the transcription, it can appear as though Wes never takes a single breath. There is not a half-note rest to be found, and the only quarter-note rests appear within the first 12 bars. That’s not a lot! Yet, when listening, it never feels that way.
Analysis of “Satin Doll” with ORIGINAL CHANGES
Satin Doll is a great jazz standard that is an excellent example of a song that contains many II – V and II – V – I progressions. You can improvise over the chord progression using mainly only five major scales.
Analysis of “Satin Doll” – Structure of the Form
The song is an A A B A form. The A sections are mainly in C concert and the B section is in F and G concert. This is a good example of a song that begins on the II chord of the key rather than
the I chord.
Analysis of “Satin Doll” – The A sections
The first A section (the first eight measures of the tune) is comprised of the following progression:
//Dmi7 G7 /Dmi7 G7 /Emi7 A7 /Emi7 A7 /Ami7 D7 /Abmi7 Db7 /Cma7 F7 /Emi7 A7//
The first two measures can be analyzed as IImi7 – V7 – IImi7 – V7 in C Major. The second two measures are IImi7 – V7 – IImi7 – V7 in D Major. Measure 5 is a IImi7 – V7 in G Major and measure 6 is a IImi7 – V7 in Gb Major.The easiest way to improvise over the IImi7 – V7 progression is to use the Major scale of the key which is found a perfect 4th above or a perfect 5th below the V chord. The Major scale of the key is used with both the IImi7 and the V7 chords. So the scales needed would be:
Dmi7 – G7: C Major Scale
Emi7 – A7: D Major Scale
Ami7 – D7: G Major Scale
Abmi7 – Db7: Gb Major Scale
Of course, you must give emphasis to the chord tones to identify each chord but you can more or less just move around in the key and you will be getting the general sound. Even better, try to use some digital patterns to get good melodic motion over the progression! You can find some ideas about digital patterns in my blog about the II – V – I progression.
Measures 7 and 8 can be analyzed as Ima7 – IV7 – IIImi7 – VI7. This is a turnaround progression that leads back to the IImi7 that begins the A section. The Ima7 uses the Major scale of the key and only one note has to change when you move to the IV7. The 3rd of the Ima7 needs to be lowered a half step to become the 7th of the IV7 chord. This creates a Lydian, b7 scale on the IV7. The last measure is a IImi7 – V7 in D Major.
The last two measures of the second A section simply stay on the Ima7 and use the major scale of the key. The first A and last A sections are identical.
Analysis of “Satin Doll” – The B section
The chord progression of the bridge (B section) is:
//Gmi7 C7 /Gmi7 C7 /Fma7 /Fma7 /Ami7 D7 /Ami7 D7 /G7 /G7 //
The first four measures are II – V – II – V – I in F Major and the second four measures are a II – V – II – V in G Major leading to a V7 in C Major. So use an F Major Scale on the first four measures and a G Major Scale on the next two. The G7 in the last two bars can be played using C Major (G Mixolydian).
Analysis of “Satin Doll” – A more complex treatment
Up to this point, I have been recommending “bracketing” chords with a single scale to simplify the process because there are less different scale colors to navigate. In a song like Satin Doll that changes key frequently, just playing diatonically in the keys may be the best treatment. There is enough harmonic interest in the key changes themselves without using any alterations. And V7 chords that don’t resolve generally sound better if they are not altered! However, chromatic embellishment may be used to create more melodic interest. Passing tones and single or double approach tones can add a lot of color and harmonic interest!
The two dominant 7th chords in the bridge do resolve up a 4th (down a 5th) so they present a good opportunity to try some different dominant 7th scales like Lydian, b7, Whole Tone, Diminished or Super Locrian.
When embarking on this more complex treatment, be sure to start at a slower tempo and try to emphasize the 3rds and 7ths of chords. These are the most important chord tones in any chord and bring out the quality of the chords (ma7, mi7, dom7,half-diminished, etc.). Listen to recordings by great artists, copy ideas that you like and incorporate them into your solo!