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Why Post-Bop is the BEST Era of Jazz Improvisation

Jazz has many eras and sub-genres, but bebop marked a pretty big departure from the Trad-Jazz Great American Songbook stylings. Deconstructing and reorganizing Bebop elements led to post-bop, which brought with it plenty of new tunes that helped shape the golden era of jazz we know and love today.

We’re going to dive into post-bop a bit, but before we do, make sure to check out Cecil’s new resource with JLV—23 post-bop etudes here at

Now let’s get playing!


Introduction to post-bop jazz

Serenity etude

Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum etude

Giant Steps etude

Introduction to post bop

Post-bop is one of Cecil’s favorite jazz sub-genres, and it’s generally considered lasting from late 1950 to early 1960.

Post-bop is characterized by the following:

Non-functional harmony, especially in compositions by Wayne Shorter, John Coltrane, and Herbie Hancock. So you’re going to see a lot of dominant chords that don’t resolve up a fourth or down a half step, like you might expect from most Great American Songbook standards.

These chords will be moving in a lot of unintuitive ways and may be more interesting qualitities, like #11 chords, maj7#5 chords, and more.

Another characteristic would be bebop and blues undertones. Even though a lot of the tunes may be complex and strange harmonically, they can still be navigated with common jazz vocabulary borrowed from bebop, blues, and even pre-bop sub-genres.

Post-bop also features harmonically adventurous soloing, particularly on tunes that have more predictable progressions. Post-bop is where we started to see a lot more pentatonic scales, substitutions, triad pairs, and soloing techniques that we associated commonly with more modern sub-genres of jazz.

Serenity etude

We’re going to check out one of Cecil’s etudes on the tune “Serenity” by Joe Henderson, from the 23 Post-Bop Etudes PDF package. This tune has a lot of non-functional harmony, uses various maj7#11 chords, and has a few ii-V progressions that don’t resolve predictably.

Serenity Joe Henderson etude for jazz musicians

In our first measure, we’re basically going down a D locrian scale, starting from the fourth, up to the flat fifth, back down to the fourth, with a passing tone through to the flat third. Then we come to a B natural, which is going to fall on beat one of G7, which is going to be our V/vi in this tune. We’ll go up a diminished major seventh arpeggio—which sounds really interesting and stark. These arpeggios are really common in post-bop, and the major seventh interval gives it some extra color.

After that, we land on G, the root of G7 and go down the scale until we get to Eb, which is the fifth of Abmaj7, our IVmaj7 in this tune. Then we’ll target the Db, the fifth of Gbmaj7, which will be our bIIImaj7, a modal interchange chord in the key of Eb.

Then we get something interesting—a ii-V of Em7 to A7, where we go down a basic sort of bebop cliche that’s targeting the b7 of Em7 and the 13 to the 5 of A7. This ii-V a half step below or above the parent key is called a contiguous ii-V, and it helps give a little bit more forward motion.

Jazz musician etude for serenity jazz standard

Then with the Fm7 to Bb7, we’re going to use a chromatic approach into the root of Fm7, which also gives us a bit of rhythmic variation. We’ll go up the Bb whole-half diminished scale, which is targeting b7, b9, and #9. We’re going to resolve to Ebmaj7, which is going to be our I chord, going down the scale skipping the fourth degree. Then we’ll grab B natural, which is part of our V/vi, G7, which is going to move to Cm7. Then we have this line targeting the fifth of the Cm7. Then we’re going to lead down, tritone to C#, part of the chromatic approach into the b3. Just hearing the resolution from G7 to Cm7, which is really common in bebop—you have a lot of different targets within a line, which are targeted through the use of different chromatic enclosures.

Then our Abm7 to Db7, which will be our ivm7 to bVII in the key—we have a sort of AbmM7 arpeggio, with a chromatic approach note before the first note, up to the ninth. You could also think of this as a Bmaj7#5 arpeggio, targeting the 9 of Abm7—b3, 5, natural 7. For that Bb that’s going to be the 13 of Db7. Then we have our resolution at the end of that eighth measure, except into G7.

If you want to hear this etude played slowly and up to speed, be sure to check out Cecil in our accompanying YouTube video here, Why Post-Bop is the BEST Era of Jazz Improvisation.

You can see in this etude that we had a few post-bop devices, like the contiguous ii-Vs and modal interchange, but we’re still navigating with common bebop vocabulary, with the exception of a few lines where we’re using the half-whole diminished sound.

Fee-fi-fo-fum etude

Our second etude is going to be based on Wayne Shorter’s tune “Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum.” This one is sort of similar to “Serenity” in that it dances around the key center. In this case, it’s going to be Bb/Gm, but we have all sorts of non-functional harmony happening to disguise the sounds of those keys.

Jazz standard Wayne Shorter Fee Fi Fo Fum

We’re going to start on our Eb7, which in the key of Gm is like our sub V/V, leading down a half step to D7. And to navigate those changes, we’re going to use an Eb lydian dominant sound on Eb7, which is great for dominant chords that don’t resolve up the fourth. We’ll decorate that #11 with the 13 and go down to the third, followed by the third of the D7.

On the D7, we’ll pull out a Phrygian dominant sound, going down to the 3, b9, b7, resolving to the b3 of Gm7. Again, this is another really common bebop phrase ending, and to resolve it to a minor chord, leaping down to the vi, playing the b3 and 5. We’ll pop back up for the Bb, which is the 9 of Ab7, with a chromatic approach into the F#, which is going to be the 5 of Bmaj7.

Breaking down those few chords again—Eb7 is our sub V/V, D7 our V7, Gm7 our vi or i depending on how you think of it. Then we’re on to our Ab7 like a sub V/i. Then we’re getting even more non-functional as we add in the Bmaj7, which is totally outside of the key, on to D7, which is maybe like Wayne’s quote of the first two chords of “Giant Steps.”

Wayne Shorter Fee Fi Fo Fum jazz standard

Through those changes, we’re grabbing the fifth of F#, up to the ninth of Bmaj7, then a chromatic approach into A, which will be the fifth of Dm7. And then just a kind of common bebop way of decorating 5, 3, 2, 1 melodic cell. So just adding a chromatic approach in there and rhythmic variation, we’re going to target the D, the 5 of G7 then go up the scale to A, which is going to be the #11 of Eb7, again thinking of the Lydian dominant sound. Resolve that down into the 5 of Eb7. Then on D7 we get a bit more harmonically adventurous, using this Ab triad over D7. So that will be the b9, b5, b7, and then the b9 again up the octave and a sort of melodic ending leading into Gm.

So that measure has Eb7, D7, into G. Then we let that Bb ring out against the next change, which is an Ab7. We go to the Gb7 to F7 into Bb7. In some versions you’ll see the Gb7 is replaced with a C7#9, but they kind of create the same sort of voice leading over that change.

Thinking with a pentatonic mindset, we can suggest B7 should be like a big sub V leading into that Bb7 which will be our I7.

This Dbm pentatonic kind of lines up with that B7 sound. It’s a lot of tension and release there, and you resolve into the root of Bb7 at the end of four. And then a little bit more harmonically outside sounding stuff, like an E7#11 over that Bb7, which is going to create this Bb half-whole diminished sound.

Like last time, if you want to hear this etude played slowly and up to speed, be sure to check out Cecil in our accompanying YouTube video here, Why Post-Bop is the BEST Era of Jazz Improvisation, and if you want to see more of these etudes, you can check out Cecil’s PDF package 23 post-bop etudes here.

Again, this etude has a great balance of harmonically outside sounding ideas, especially over the areas where the changes move a little bit more predictably, as well as some more common bebop vocabulary to outline the parts where the changes move a bit more unpredictably.

Giant steps etude

On to our last etude! This time, we’re going to look at one of Coltrane’s legendary tunes—“Giant Steps.”

Giant Steps John Coltrane etude post-bop

This tune is generally characterized by its three tonal centers. We have the keys of B, Eb, and G major, which are all connected by an augmented triad. Basically Coltrane takes those three key centers and targets them using ii-V-I and V-ii-I in the different keys.

Giant Steps John Coltrane etude for post-bop jazz musicians

We’ll start off with a B major triad that has a passing tone before the root, so a sort of Bmaj7 sound. And with rhythmic variation by adding this eighth note triplet, kind of adding a bit more forward motion to the line down to E, which is going to the 9 of our D7. We’re then going to go down a 5, 3, 2, 1 melodic cell, again, a really common bebop device used to outline these sorts of changes. We grabbed Ab, which against Gmaj7 is the b9, but we’re using it as part of an enclosure so Ab, F#, into G, the root, then we go back up into Bb which is going to be the root of Bb7. We have this really common sort of melodic cell with chromaticism, something Coltrane would use a lot to outline these dominant chords in this progression particularly, just because it gives you that dominant sound. After that little melodic cell, we slide down into the third of Ebmaj7, giving us the contour of a pivot arpeggio, which should be like Gm7. But we decorated it a little more and once we jumped to that Bb, then we grab a Bb 1, 2, 3, 5 cell with that rhythmic variation to give us 5, 6, 7, 9 against Ebmaj7. Similar to the previous measure, we land on the b9, which is part of the chromatic enclosure into the root, keeping that idea going with the stair step chromatic into D, which will be the 4 of Am7, down to the b3 chromatically. Then again we have a 5, 3, 2, 1 melodic cell.

Jazz musician etude for post-bop jazz giant steps john coltrane etude

So with the D7 in the first measure, we go down into G, which is the root for our Gmaj7 chord, where we go for a 1, 2, 3, 5 cell. Then we land on Eb, which is a dissonant note against Bb7, but again, part of the enclosure of the third. And then 13 to 9 on that Ebmaj7, on F#7 we do an altered scale line, or you could think of this as F# half-whole diminished, and that’s going to be targeting the b9, as well as the #9 of F#7. From there, we’ll just resolve to Bmaj7 and create this kind of motif that will move through the next two measures. So we are resolving into the fifth of Ebmaj7, just a scalar sequence.

For this one, you’ll definitely want to hear how Cecil plays it—be sure to check out our accompanying YouTube video here, Why Post-Bop is the BEST Era of Jazz Improvisation.

Post bop etude recap of post bop jazz for jazz musicians

And as you can see that etude has some unpredictable changes that we’re able to navigate with mostly bebop vocabulary, as well as the 1, 2, 3, 5 cell, which is a favorite of Coltrane. We also saw some harmonically adventurous soloing techniques, the use of substitutions, as well as some alternate scale choices, particularly on some of the more predictable chord changes.

If you liked these etudes and want to take your playing to the next level, be sure to check out Cecil’s new PDF package 23 post-bop etudes here on

See you next time!

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