Greetings JazzPianoSkills Fam!
I'm a little late with this Blog Post considering that the Chet Baker, Autumn Leaves episode was released on August 24th but as the old saying goes, "better late than never!"
To begin, if you are wanting the lines you play when improvising to sound more melodic, then there is no one better to listen to and study than Chet Baker. In fact, I believe the reason Chet Baker's trumpet playing is so melodious is a result of his singing; he's a vocalist (and a very good one!). I tell students all of the time that you must be singing in your head when playing (especially when improvising) if you want to play with a relaxed articulation and sound that is common in jazz.
In addition to internally "singing" when playing we should focus on thinking linearly while improvising. In other words, vertical thinking focuses on playing each individual chord while a horizontal (linear) mindset stresses chord/scale relationships; one scale stretched over as many chords as possible. Again, no one does this better than Chet Baker and it is on full display throughout his solo over Autumn Leaves. A casual glance at Chet Baker's Autumn Leaves solo quickly reveals the musical purity laced throughout his playing. Chet Baker handles the Major II-V-I Progression (Bb-7, Eb7, AbMaj7) with the Ionian Mode (Ab Major Scale played over all three chords - Ab, Bb, C, Db, Eb, F, G). Likewise, he treats the Minor II-V-I (G-7b5, C7b9b13, F-) with the same sensitivity by using the F Harmonic Minor Scale played over the entire progression (F, G, Ab, Bb, C, Db, E). Not only does Chet Baker use traditional chord/scale relationships when improvising over the Major and Minor II-V-I Progressions he stays loyal to the scale 99% of the time; in other words, he does not play notes "outside" of the harmony.
Finally, it is vitally important to closely examine the Rhythmic Vocabulary Chet Baker uses to support his melodic lines. Again, a casual glance at the Autumn Leaves solo reveals a very traditional approach to jazz improvisation. Chet Baker's Autumn Leaves solo overwhelmingly uses various quarter/8th note combinations. In fact, many of the rhythms he uses throughout the solo are the very same rhythms we set out to discover, learn, and play in the previous three JazzPianoSkills Podcast Episodes (August 3rd, August 10th, August 17th) which I encourage you to spend time studying and practicing.
So many lessons Chet Baker teaches through his Autumn Leaves solo but maybe the most important lesson of all is to keep it simple, do not overthink (which always leads to overplaying!). Chet Baker approaches all three aspects of music (melody, harmony, and rhythm) with great simplicity and musical purity; we would do well to follow in his footsteps!
If you have not listened to my Chet Baker, Autumn Leaves Episode then I would encourage you to do so. If you are a JazzPianoSkills Member be sure to use the Podcast Packets (Illustrations, Lead Sheets, and Play Alongs) for this episode to help you maximize your musical growth.
Thanks for being a JazzPianoSkills Member. It is my pleasure to help you discover, learn, and play jazz piano!
Dr. Bob Lawrence