Bach and the Intervallic Sequences of Paul Desmond Part 2

I’d like to continue looking at some of Paul Desmond’s recorded output today, expanding on the ideas in the last article. We discussed Paul’s use of sequential phrases over sometimes extended stretches of a tune, superimposing a Bach-like structure over standard chord changes. Here is another from early on, in 1954, live with the Brubeck quartet, this is “Stardust.”


I love the relaxed, listening feeling on this track. Particularly relevant to our discussion is this spot at about 45 seconds in, where Desmond uses this descending pattern, but adapts it to some really interesting scales and harmonic content before resolving to the top of the second half of the tune, then Brubeck provides a new motif, that Paul takes and moves through the tune.


Paul Desmond Stardust Example 1


If we were to simplify this pattern, or put it in one key, we would end up with this:

A nice pattern! Maybe I will have to put together a book of Desmond Shapes. Paul has taken this basic structure, and adapted to a C7#11, lydian dominant type sound in the second and third measures, but note how he keeps the F natural to E resolution on the 3rd beat of the second measure, as it is simply better melodicism than using the F# there. He then returns to the #11 sound until the F7, where he returns to the tonic scale, before slipping down to an Ab in the last measure, catching the flatted fifth of the Dm7b5, and then a strong C harmonic minor scale to resolve beautifully on the first beat of the next section. The solo continues after this early theme, with Desmond constantly reworking small fragments in creative ways.

These are the types of patterns in my book, so I’d like to reverse engineer an example from one of the Bach Shapes in the book. Let’s take Shape Number 5, which I took from the Second Violin Partita:



Then let’s try and put this over the opening 8 bars to “Ladybird.”



Note how I altered the placement of the phrase, especially since it is a 3-beat pattern originally. The main point is that you must do whatever you have to to make the phrase work in a musical way through the tune. They will not work as is, in most cases anyway. But for me, this method has provided a whole new way to play through tunes, besides of course doing similar variations on the original melody, and becoming familiar with the original harmony as much as possible before trying this.

This reminds me of my good friend, bassist Putter Smith, another master of this type of playing. We were lucky to have him in town these past few days, and I can only marvel at his ability to take a small motif through a tune in so many unexpected ways.

I would like to do one more post on this next week, in Part 3. In later years Paul Desmond still used this type of material, but in more subtle ways. We will look at his solos on”Tangerine,” and “Winter Song.”




Bach Shapes Book(PRINT): Diatonic Sequences from the Music of JS Bach

(1 customer review)


Diatonic Sequences derived from the music of J. S. Bach, for saxophone. Includes 4 jazz etudes, an explanatory introduction and the Shapes transposed into all keys. More information at

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The first Bach Shapes book of sequences derived from J.S. Bach, for saxophone and all treble clef instruments.

“Jazz musicians have naturally gravitated towards the music of JS Bach for years, so a book like this one has been a long time coming. Jon has done a wonderful job capturing various snapshots of Bach’s seemingly infinite musical language, organizing these shapes in a setting that could be very useful to improvisers. A truly interesting and enjoyable book that will hopefully lead to more volumes in the future.”

Miguel Zenon, International Touring Artist

A unique approach to scale/interval practice, Bach Shapes is the music of J.S. Bach distilled to its basic elements: beautiful melodic shapes. These can be studied as technical exercises, or used as building blocks for jazz improvisation. Suitable for any instrument and currently being used by guitarists, oboists, clarinetists and more. The studies are drawn from Bach’s violin, cello, flute and keyboard music and ordered by difficulty, transposed into all keys. Learn to stretch your range and play intervals more evenly with these musical studies. At the end are four etudes based on jazz standards. The cover and interior has been beautifully designed by Chrissy Kurpeski.

“I really dig this book, there are so many musical ideas that one can find in Bach’s music. It’s about time someone like Jon comes along to organize it to be practiced by jazz musicians. It’s good both for the chops, vocabulary and knowledge of harmony. You really have to know what you’re doing when you utilize his devices.”
Dmitry Baevsky, NYC Saxophonist

“This book is great for practicing and learning really nice sounding passages from Bach in a more focused manner. All passages are transposed as well so you can focus on a particular key that needs work. The engraving is very clear and spacing very well done, its been on my music stand for a while now and has really been fun!”
–Andrew Hadro, NYC Freelance Saxophonist


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Weight .8 lbs
Dimensions 9 × 12 × 2 in

1 review for Bach Shapes Book(PRINT): Diatonic Sequences from the Music of JS Bach

  1. Everette Macy Colquette

    LOVE this book. I actually use it for flute. I start every practice by turning on a drone of whatever note I’ll start with, then I run through the exercises. For fun, I practice different modes with the exercises 🙂 Great book for a beginner like me that has significantly improved my expression, my tone, and my speed.

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