The Jazz Theory Book, by Mark Levine, Sher Music Co., $35
By David Gross
Many of my students ask me to recommend a theory text that is both practical and easy to understand, and for the last year and a half I always suggest "The Jazz Theory Book," written by Mark Levine (who also wrote "The Jazz Piano Book," which is also an excellent treatise). "The Jazz Theory Book" is the perfect reference for anyone wanting to learn the key ingredients to becoming a Jazz player.
The book is broken up into 5 parts: Chords & Scales, Playin' the Changes, Reharmonization, Tunes, and a chapter on getting it together. The chapters on theory of chords and scales focuses on Major, Melodic Minor, Diminished, and Whole Tone Harmony and suggests a method of practicing these scales. The chapters on Improvisation explains how these scales can be used in a musical way, how to play the blues, "rhythm changes," how to play "outside" the changes, and how to increase your musical vocabulary with BeBop and Pentatonic scales . Reharmonization focuses on chord substitutions, the Coltrane matrix, and Mark illustrates reharmonization with 3 tunes. How to read a lead sheet, tune memorization, song form and composition, and necessary tunes of the Jazz repertoire are included in the Tunes section. Lastly Mark introduces Latin and Salsa concepts and he has an excellent chapter on what to listen to with a fairly compete discography.
I feel this is one of the only books you will need particularly if you take your time and absorb as much as possible. Oddly enough, as I was going through this book I told one of my students that this book along with "Thinking in Jazz" by Paul Berliner (University of Chicago Press, and a good record collection is a great start to learning about jazz. As I was finishing up this book on page 486 Mr. Levine suggests the Berliner book as well!
Order info: Sher Music
Bassist David C Gross is the author of 6 books, "Teach Yourself Rock Bass," "Teach Yourself Fretless Bass," "Heavy Metal Riffs for Bass," and "Improvising Rock Bass," all published by Music Sales Corp. His most recent releases are entitled "The Harmonic Colours for Bass," published by Warner Bros., and "Mastering the 6 String Bass," published by Hal Leonard. He also writes for Bassics, Bass Frontiers, Downbeat, and Musician magazines.
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