Jazz Clave, Part 2

In Part One of this lesson I introduced six one bar “clave” grooves that are based on a set of rhythmic accent patterns that make up what I call “Jazz Clave”. I started developing the idea of Jazz Clave while listening to Red Garland and Philly Joe Jones on Miles Davis’ records Cookin’, Steamin’, Workin’ and Relaxin’. As I listened more I noticed that these “claves” outlined rhythmic patterns that both he and Red Garland were weaving together in different sequences allowing them to “link up” their improvisations. These patterns all reminded me of the Afro-Cuban Clave, just little bits and pieces of it at a time.

Afro-Cuban Clave is a two bar ostinato pattern that serves as the foundational rhythm of afro-cuban music. What I am calling Jazz Clave is a set of rhythmic clave like patterns that can be used as a sort of guideline to improvise a rhythmic foundation. The Jazz Clave is comprised of three elements; emphasis of “weak” beats in the measure, “passing tones” and resolution or cadence points. The jazz clave evolved directly from Afro-Cuban Clave sometime in the late 1800s. European style marches were being played alongside Caribbean folk music by Creole musicians in New Orleans, the result is what Stanton Moore calls The Second Line Clave. All three elements of the Jazz Clave can also be found in the Second Line Clave.


Every group of measured notes has a pattern of stressed and unstressed beats, often referred to as “strong” or “weak” beats. This pattern of strong and weak beats is what gives music a “feel”. Jazz and later R&B, funk and rock & roll all get their feel by emphasizing the unstressed beats (two and four) in a measure of 4/4. The Second Line Clave emphasizes both weak beats, starting on beat two and ending on beat four.

Passing tones and resolution points are terms we typically use to define melodic or harmonic events. In this case I’m referring to the use of “passing tones” – dotted eighth notes – and resolutions – emphasis of beat four or beat one – to create rhythmic tension and release. The dotted eighth note is the rhythmic key to this whole idea. The dotted eighth note played consecutively in 4/4 will give you a “three over four” feel. Starting on beat two in The Second Line Clave each note is a dotted eighth from the next giving you the rhythmic tension of playing “three over four” followed by the resolution and release of that tension on the weakest point in the measure, beat four.

In a moment I’ll present a full table of rhythms that I’ve derived from the possible combinations of dotted eighth notes with the three emphasized beats in The Second Line Clave along with two ideas derived from displacing these rhythms. This will provide another two resolution points, the “and” of four, and the “and” of three leading to beat one. In general resolution points are used sparingly, to mark sections or the top of the form. I think it’s worth noting that you’ll hear Red Garland play a down beat, or beat one, more frequently than Philly Joe. The piano has a dual purpose in the rhythm section, there’s the harmonic outline and then the rhythmic outline. The downbeats you hear from the piano are often serving more of a harmonic purpose while the downbeats you hear from the drums serve more of a bigger picture “road map” purpose.

The following table shows the patterns that Philly Joe and Red Garland seem to use most often. This is obviously not an exhaustive analysis of their rhythmic language, rather, I hope to provide some insight into how a rhythm section uses common language to really link up and “play a tune together” instead of merely “playing a tune at the same time.” This first line shows the “weak” beats that are emphasized in the Jazz Clave, two and four, both as-is and displaced by an eighth note. The second and third lines contain the possible combinations of one emphasized “weak” beat with one dotted eighth before or after and the final line contains the three cadences built off of beat four (which is taken directly from the second line clave), the + of beat four (the first idea displaced) and finally beat one, again taken directly from the second line clave.

full table

By practicing and eventually utilizing these patterns in your playing I believe you’ll find a greater ability to “link up” with the rhythm section while also rhythmically “pushing” the soloist. You can work through and internalize this information in two ways, the first is to listen to the four Prestige Records…a lot. Try transcribing a chorus here and there. The second is to use phrasing exercises to work towards total improvisation. I’ve presented this kind of idea in part one of this lesson as well as earlier lessons. Pick a pattern A and a pattern B, work through different “song form” combinations on the snare while playing time on the ride cymbal; AAAB, ABAB, AABA, etc. Alternate between two, four or eight bars of a planned pattern and an improvised pattern of the same length and so on. Finally, these ideas are not meant to be confined to their one or two measure cells, for instance, if you play the two “beat 4” ideas in reverse order you get this two bar phrase:

final clave idea

All of these patterns are meant to be woven together to create that clave-like rhythmic foundation that Red Garland and Philly Joe Jones played so well.






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