Adam Rogers – ‘Without A Song’
Known for his rich tone, flexible harmonic sensibility and mastery of technically advanced economy picking, Adam Rogers’ singular playing style represents essential listening for any student of contemporary jazz guitar.
This post identifies 20 example phrases from Rogers’ solo on jazz standard ‘Without A Song’ (‘Time And The Infinite’, 2007) that can be heard to characterise aspects of his unique improvisational approach.
All examples include a time reference to the original recording and my suggested fingering but leave picking and articulation to individual preference. Chord symbols indicate the standard song form throughout.
For those who wish to investigate the context in which each line was performed and/or explore the many excellent ideas I didn’t have the opportunity to include here, a complete 17-page transcription of the melody and solo from this recording is available for FREE download here!
Finally, I’m opening this website to submissions for publication, so if you’d like a platform to share your work in the area of jazz performance research get in touch – all instruments welcome!
Ex 1 – 3:14 / Bar 139
Although most widely noted for his extreme technical command, Adam Rogers possesses powerful melodic instincts, as showcased by this simple yet effective II-V-I line.
An initial scalar ascent across the D – high E strings targets the key’s 5th, Bb (grey), before descending through a 6th-based sequence (blue) focused around chord tones of the tonic, Eb major.
Rogers’ distinctly ‘behind the beat’ time feel here underlines the importance of reference to related audio in combination with any transcribed example.
Ex 2 – 1:41 / Bar 72
As previously seen in relation to Jonathan Kreisberg, Gilad Hekselman and Ben Eunson, variation upon the themes of a core vocabulary is fundamental to the exhibition of clear identity as an improviser. It should, therefore, come as no surprise that Rogers’ playing also features numerous recurring rhythmic and melodic concepts.
With this in mind, notice how the line below subtly reinterprets the content of Example 1, creating interest whilst retaining an overall sense of stylistic consistency.
Ex 3 – 4:00 / Bar 172
Rogers displays an affinity for more traditional aspects of the jazz guitar idiom with this chord solo.
Note recurring semitone slides to the drop 2 voicing highlighted grey and use of diminished chords to imply 7b9 harmony a la Wes Montgomery (blue).
Pay attention to the voicing highlighted green, which features heavily in examples to follow.
Ex 4 – 2:29 / Bar 106
Continuing with the theme of chord-based vocabulary, this example introduces Rogers’ tendency to transition between block, 4-note chord shapes across the D – high E string set and single note statements. Notice a preference for voicings composed primarily (but not always exclusively) of stacked 4ths.
Harmonically, the phrase implies F# minor at the outset (grey), resolving chromatically to F minor at bar 2 (blue) before continuing to modulate through both E and Eb minors and closing with a stylistically significant single note pattern we’ll see reflected in later examples (red).
Ex 5 – 3:26 / Bar 148
Opening with further Wes-style diminished chords (grey), Example 5 takes the use of chromatic/constant structure chord movement to the extreme (blue).
Additionally, compare the similarity of closing melodic statements here (green) to those seen at the conclusion of Example 4.
Ex 6 – 2:19 / Bar 99
The use of ascending scalar lines spanning D – high E (grey) draws further attention to a vocabulary item first identified during Examples 1 and 2. In this case, however, the scale figure is followed by a melodic phrase based upon chromatically descending major triads (blue), the first of which implies Ab minor9 or Db7sus4, the second Eb Lydian.
Such use of chromaticism/constant structure, having previously been noted in a harmonic setting during Examples 4 and 5, will be seen to form an important part of Rogers’ melodic arsenal.
Ex 7 – 3:49 / Bar 164
Here Rogers demonstrates his ability to weave harmonically and rhythmically engaging melodies from chromatically related major and minor arpeggios. Pay close attention to the manner which he transitions from shape to shape and his clever implication of groupings in 4 (grey), 2 (blue), 7 (green) and 6 (red).
Finally, don’t overlook the fact that the harmonic ambiguity of this line is made viable in a ‘straight-ahead’ context by strong tonality at the outset, smooth voice-leading throughout and clear resolution at its conclusion.
Ex 8 – 2:23 / Bar 101
Combining an ascending scalar figure of the type noted during Examples 1, 2 and 6 (grey) with what will prove to be a recurring ‘altered’ motif highlighting the b13 over a perfectly resolving dominant (blue), this example offers the first in a series of readily applicable V-I ideas.
Ex 9 – 2:39 / Bar 113
Example 9 elaborates on the previous phrase, subtly varying its content (grey/blue) before restating the ascending scalar passage as a harmonically and rhythmically displaced arpeggio (green).
The line subsequently transitions through a spiralling sequential pattern (red) before ending with a melodic statement reminiscent of similar fragments seen at the conclusions of Examples 4 and 5 (purple).
Ex 10 – 2:02 / Bar 87
A clear variation on the V-I theme established at Examples 8 and 9, here we see the introductory scalar ascent replaced by a Db major9 arpeggio, in this case functioning as a Bb minor11 (grey).
The phrase draws to a close with consistent targeting of the b13 (blue).
Ex 11 – 3:20 / Bar 143
Examples 11 and 12 treat the content of Example 10 with rhythmic and melodic variation, reinforcing the importance of such development to Rogers’ stylistic identity.
Ex 12 – 4:39 / Bar 200
Here core melodic and harmonic attributes are maintained despite the phrase being contracted to approximately half the previous example’s duration.
Ex 13 – 1:50 / Bar 78
Placing a chromatic approach pattern (grey) prior to the rising Db major9 arpeggio (blue), this line continues with a descending series major triads (green), a technique first identified at Examples 6 and 7.
The importance of strong resolution to the tonic is once again clear as the line draws to a close, approaching and stating the tonic triad Eb major (red).
Ex 14 – 3:09 / Bar 135
Anticipating Db7, Rogers begins a related Cb major9 (or Ab minor11) arpeggio during beat 3 of the first bar (grey).
The final 3 notes of this ascending pattern, which form a Gb major triad, are then isolated (blue) before being transformed through some clever voice-leading to F major (green) and C augmented (red) triads, the latter acting as a V chord and resolving neatly to F minor at beat 1 of the final bar.
Ex 15 – 4:23 / Bar 188
The chromatic approach and ascending arpeggio of Example 13 are reiterated here (grey) transposed down by 1 tone and including some tasteful melodic variation at beats 3 and 4 of the first bar.
Bb at beat 1 of the second bar acts as a pivot note, common to both the Db Mixolydian of bar 1 and Eb Lydian, to which Rogers modulates (blue).
The final 2 notes of this bar link chromatically to an Fb diminished arpeggio, used to imply Eb7b9, which Rogers resolves to an Ab tonic midway through the final bar (green).
Ex 16 – 2:53 / Bar 124
An excellent example of chromatic modulation between implied harmonies.
Setting out with a D minor7b5 arpeggio (grey) to imply Bb9, this line transforms to G major (blue) implying Bb13b9 and G minor (green), the mediant of Eb major, before moving chromatically through F# minor (red) to F minor (purple), which, at the very least, resolves to the general key area of Eb major.
Ex 17 – 2:26 / Bar 104
The first of 4 Adam Rogers double time lines…adopt the brace position.
Although the standard harmony expected here is Db7, Rogers substitutes Bb7, engaging a Bb7(b9,b13) bebop scale (grey) before transitioning Eb major (blue) and resolving with to a double chromatic approach pattern enclosing the tonic.
Observe the use of a perfect interval, in this case a 5th, adding definition at the conclusion of this statement.
Ex 18 – 2:59 / Bar 128
The initial ascending scalar passage (grey) correlates with similar vocabulary identified during Examples 1, 2, 6 and 8.
As with the majority of Rogers’ double-time lines, there is a degree of harmonic ambiguity here. In these cases, as an alternative to the exhaustive tonal justification of each pitch, it may be helpful to consider language as ‘shape guided’. This is to say that, whilst there are certainly defined points of departure and resolution, such lines may consist mainly of physically related note ‘cells’ combined without an overriding regard for their individual harmonic implications. Certainly, I find this explanation makes absolute sense in practice.
The descending figure (blue), which itself concludes using a melodic fragment similar to others identified during Examples 4, 5 and 9, is a significant cell shape we’ll see referenced as part of the next phrase.
Again, note the final perfect interval, this time a 4th.
Ex 19 – 4:45 / Bar 204
This line demonstrates a more tonally justifiable application of the note cell referenced at the close of Example 18.
Showing clear use of the D altered scale (grey), the phrase transitions to D minor7 (implying G minor11) by way of a 4-note chromatic bridge (blue), once more concluding with a 4th leap.
Ex 20 – 4:47 / Bar 205
A more extended example of cell-based double-time, this passage begins and ends with some sense of harmonic clarity but, in my experience, is otherwise best considered from the perspective of shape relationships described at Example 18. Alternate grey and blue highlights outline suggested cell boundaries.
Remember not to become overly concerned with the harmonic implication of any given note, whilst maintaining an awareness of the overall movement from and back to Eb major.