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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

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