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Jim Grantham Jazzmaster Cookbook, a review and study guide

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The Jazzmaster Cookbook by Jim Grantham is a very comprehensive and ambitious book on jazz theory and improvisation. In this review I explain why I recommend reading and studying it, but also what are the limitations that can render even relatively simple concepts complicated and lead a beginner student to be even more confused than before.

The Jazzmaster Cookbook combines general advice, theory and notation, harmony, specific aspects of the jazz repertoire, analysis of form, and composition suggestions. Unfortunately, the desire to stretch the boundaries to very different terrains of musical study compromises its clarity.

Sometimes the different ingredients are mixed in a somewhat haphazard way, and especially for a beginner it can be difficult to find his way around.

Pros and cons of Jim Grantham’s Jazzmaster Cookbook

The biggest limitation of the Jazzmaster Cookbook is in the typical American approach to tonality and modal scales. All American teaching, from Aebersold to the Berkeley method, tends to confuse modal and tonal. The aim of this approach is to simplify the whole subject, but this actually makes the student less likely to really understand what is going on in a tonal piece.

Jim Grantham also deals with the minor mode in a confusing and misleading way, offering an overly simplistic approach that does not allow the full nuances of the minor keys to be understood.

Is it therefore a bad book not worth studying? Absolutely not! Once you have become aware of the more controversial points, and if you study it critically, the Jazzmaster Cookbook offers many useful insights. Some parts of this work are actually exceptional.

Let’s see what the pros and cons of this method are. This review of the Jazzmaster Cookbook is therefore also intended as a sort of step-by-step study guide to help the student make the most of it, overcoming the difficulties generated by the more obscure or partial parts.

Let us now analyse the most interesting parts, chapter by chapter.

Chapter 4, the difference between tonal and modal

In Chapter 4 the confusion between modes and scale degrees, so typical of American teaching, is affirmed. From the Aebersold to the Berkeley methods to Mark Levine’s Jazz Piano Book, the American approach mixes two distinct worlds, tonal and modal, with the aim of simplifying things but with the opposite effect.

For example, according to this approach, the progression II V I, e.g. Dm7 G7, C uses three scales: D Doric, G Mixedolydian, C Ionic. In reality, this is a simple C major scale, and even on the chords of Dm and G7, the reference scale is always C. Thinking modally the different scale degrees within a tonal piece is a completely useless and even harmful operation.

Grantham Jazzmaster Cookbook example 01

We see above two different ways of interpreting the II V I progression. In the first case, each chord has its own scale. In the second case, we are always on the C major scale, even when we start from the second or fifth degree.

Grantham himself states that ‘the relationship between tonality and modality is often ambiguous‘, in fact he is consolidating this ambiguity, now crystallised in decades of American teaching.

Chapter 5, Jim Grantham’s Chord- Scale and the Jazzmaster Cookbook

Developing what was said in the previous chapter, the Jazzmaster Cookbook goes on to offer ten basic chord-scales.

1) Lydian
2) Ionian
3) Mysolidian
4) Dorian
5) Aeolian
6) Phrygian
7) Locrian
8) Diminished
9) Hexatonic
10) Melodic minor

This scale/chord system is very ineffective and goes hand in hand with the theory of avoid notes, i.e. notes that should be avoided when improvising on certain chords. In reality avoid notes are not allowed as tensions in a given chord but melodically they can be used without any problem.

Why making everything modal doesn’t work

Further evidence of the fragility of the scale/chord system emerges when Grantham speaks of modal vamps. For example, for the lydian vamp the Jazzmaster Cookbook suggests the progression Imaj7 Vmai7. This means that to express a C lydian mode, one must play the chords Cmaj7 and Gmaj7, as in the example below.

Grantham Jazzmaster Cookbook esempio 02 modo lidio

In reality, if we play these two scales in sequence, our ear recognises Cmaj7 as the fourth degree of Gmaj7, and everything immediately sounds like an IV I in the key of G major, and certainly not like a C lydian mode. It is therefore easier, from all points of view, to think of these two scales as belonging to the key of G major, as in the example below.

Grantham Jazzmaster Cookbook esempio 03

Another dangerous imprecision is found when Grantham mixes 6 and b7 on minor chords, without specifying that this variation changes the function of the chord. In the tonal context, an m7 chord has the function of II, III or VI degree, while an m6 chord has the function of I or IV degree.

The Jazzmaster Cookbook and the Fifteen Reference Scales. But do they all really matter?

In addition to the 10 major scales/chords, the Jazzmaster Cookbook offers a richer system based on 15 scales. Seven modal scales are derived from the major scale, to which are added:

  • Tone/Semitone diminished scale
  • Hexatonic scale
  • Melodic minor scale
  • Mixedolydian scale b9b13, V of the harmonic minor scale
  • Misolydian scale b13, to be used on V7/II
  • Misolydian scale #11, or lydian dominant
  • Altered scale
  • Dominant diminished scale, i.e. semitone/tone diminished scale

Where is the harmonic minor scale? Well, the harmonic minor scale is totally absent from Jim Grantham’s Jazzmaster Cookbook! The 5th degree is used (chord 7b9b13) but it is not addressed in itself.

Chapter 5 of the Jazzmaster Cookbook should therefore be approached with great care and awareness. All points of view are valid and useful if we understand their consequences and scope. For a beginner, however, Jim Grantham’s point of view is a risky one; in trying to simplify things it actually creates more problems than it solves. The harmonic minor scale is in fact the starting point for understanding minor keys.

Moreover, almost all the scales mentioned by Grantham can be derived from either the harmonic or melodic minor scale, so multiplying the number of scales to be learnt by heart is confusing and pointless.

Discover the jazz harmony course

If these concepts are too advanced for you, you may be interested in the Functional Harmony Video Course, to learn the most common chords, cadences and harmonic progressions.

Chapter 7. Notes on composition

Chapter 7 is devoted to harmonic progressions and seems to be taken more from a composition textbook than a harmony textbook. The topics covered are interesting, although a little disconnected from the rest.

Jim Grantham talks about harmonic rhythm, derived from the position of chords in relation to strong and weak beats, and introduces the concept of primary or secondary tonic movement.

The primary tonic movement has an active quality and suggests a forward movement. Here are some examples.

  • Ascending fourths Cmaj7 Fmaj7 Bm7(b5) Em7 etc.
  • Ascending joint degree Cmaj7 Dm7 Em7 etc.
  • Descending thirds Cmaj7 Am7 Fmaj7 etc.

The movement of secondary tonics creates a sense of uncertainty and backward movement. This is how:

  • Counter-cycle or ascending fifths Cmaj7 G7 Dm7 etc.
  • Descending step motion Cmaj7 Bm7(b5) Am7 etc.
  • Ascending thirds Cmaj7 Em7 G7 etc.

Grantham also notes that dissonant chords on even-numbered measures contribute to the forward movement, while on odd-numbered measures they tend to slow down the progression.

Chapter 11. One more insidious subject, the minor mode

This chapter should also be approached with caution. It is dedicated to minor keys, but the absence of the harmonic minor scale from the Jazzmaster Cookbook produces inevitable misunderstandings. Jim Grantham chooses the natural minor scale as the reference scale, claiming that the harmonic minor is rarely used to construct pieces in the minor mode, an incomprehensible statement, contradicted by numerous jazz pieces as well as a great deal of classical music.

The misunderstanding continues when Grantham speaks of the first degree, which he recommends harmonizing with an m7 chord. In reality, in a tonal context an m7 chord has the function of a second, third or sixth degree. On the first degree of a minor piece, it is more advisable to use one of these chords: minor triad, m6 chord, m(maj7) chord.

Grantham insists that in general minor harmony is derived from the eolio mode (natural minor scale), but in the tonal system this has not been the case for some centuries!

Chapter 12, secondary dominants

Grantham refers to secondary dominants and tritone substitution as chromatic harmony. While he approaches the subject in a fairly conventional way, he uses a slightly different numbering system. For secondary dominants he uses the degree of origin on the scale, instead of writing them as “fifth of”.

A practical example. Normally the progression C D7 G7 C is analysed as: I V7/V V/I I, Grantham proposes instead I II7 V7 I. The difference is formal rather than in substance, but it is worth noting.

Chapter 14, modal interchange

Modal interchanges usually indicate chords borrowed from other parallel scales. Grantham uses a particular terminology, and in particular he classifies chords in this way.

  • Minor subdominant chords are chords containing b6. In C major: Fm7, Abmaj7, Dm7(b5),Bb7, Dbmaj7.
  • The others are simply called modal interchanges, also in C major are: Cm7, Cm6, Ebmaj7, Gm7, Bbmaj7.
  • Minor subdominant cadences are : Fm7 Bb7 C, Dm7(b5) G7(b9) C, Abmaj7 Dbmaj7 C
  • Lastly, the II V minor resolving to major is called a hybrid cadence: e.g. Dm7(b5) G7 C

In classical harmony these movements are already known as plagal cadence, Neapolitan sixth chord and Picardy third. Again, the difference is in the name, not the substance.

Chapter 16. The best part of the Jazzmaster Cookbook, diminished harmony

The most interesting chapter of the entire work is dedicated to diminished harmony. Grantham proposes five passing diminished chords.

  • #Idim7 IIm7, e.g. C#dim7 Dm7. Or C#dim G/D, with resolution on the second inversion of V. This movement can be considered a variation of V7/II II, e.g. A7 Dm7 (in the key of C major).
  • bIIIdim7 IIm7, e.g. Ebdim7 Dm7 (in the key of C major).
  • #IIdim7 IIIm7, e.g. D#dim7 Em7. Or D#dim7 C/E , with resolution on the first inversion of I. This sequence can be considered a variation of V7/III III, e.g. B7 Em7 (also in the key of C major).
  • #IVdim7 V7, e.g. F#dim7 G7. Or F#dim7 C/G, with resolution on the second inversion of I. This sequence can also be considered a variation of V7/V V, e.g. D7 G7.
  • #Vdim7 VIm7, e.g. G#dim7 Am7. This sequence can also be considered a variation of V7/VI VI, e.g. E7 Am7.

In addition to the passing diminished chords, Grantham speaks of the colour diminished chord, i.e. the one that resolves on itself. This chord can only be found on the I and V degree of the scale.

  • Idim7 Imaj7, e.g. Cdim7 Cmaj7
  • Vdim7 V7, e.g. Gdim7 G7

On all these diminished chords, instead of using the usual octophonic diminished scales sT/T or T/sT Grantham suggests an ingenious system. Just like secondary dominants, these chords can take specific scales formed by the chordal notes + the notes of the diatonic scale on which they resolve.

For example, on C#dim7 Dm7 he suggests the scale C# D E F G A Bb C. The system is very interesting and also simple: when you use a diminished chord in a C major passage, you can use the notes of the chord + the notes of the C major scale.

Chapter 20, the bebop

A good chapter, very concise, where Grantham says the essentials about the bebop style. Interesting explanation and examples on approach notes, in particular Grantham suggests using the ascending chromatic and descending diatonic movements.

Grantham ascending chromatic approaches
Chordal notes in pink, approach notes in yellow

Vediamo adesso un esempio di approccio diatonico discendente:

Grantham descending diatonic approaches
Chordal notes in pink, approach notes in yellow

Chapter 22, the pentatonic scale

In the chapter devoted to pentatonics, the Jazzmaster Cookbook does not simplify things, but makes them more intricate. Grantham proposes to treat the major pentatonic scale in a modal way, by building five modes from the same pentatonic. For example, the five modes of C would be used on the following chords respectively:

C D E G A C6
D E G A CD7sus
E G A C D Em7(b5)
G A C D E Gm6
A C D E FAm7

Together with a system of ‘variation’ of the same pentatonic, it proposes a number of examples which sound rather bad and are also difficult to remember. It is certainly easier to remember that a pentatonic sounds good on several chords and to include just one alternative pentatonic, the b3 pentatonic, which covers minor mode chords well. For example, the pentatonic C D Eb G A is great on the chords of Cm6, Am7(b5), F7.

Jazzmaster Cookbook, as it continues

Section II, jazzmaster workout

In this section Jim Grantham presents scale vamps, typical progressions including secondary dominants and tritone substitutions, exercises on major scales, pentatonic scales, chromatic scales, intervals, chord arpeggios.

The approach to the exercises is mainly melodic, for this reason those who play a harmonic instrument should supplement it with exercises on chords and voicings.

Section III, Key Reference

Here Jim Grantham proposes various schemes and exercises in the key of C major, to be carried in 12 keys. This is followed by ninety pages of blank staffs to be filled in, which seems to me to be quite naive. For that a notebook is more than fine. It’s probably a publisher’s choice, a 300-page book may cost more than a 200-page one, but 90 blank pages really don’t make sense.

Final remarks: is Jim Grantham’s Jazzmaster Cookbook a good book?

Overall, the Jazzmaster Cookbook is an interesting work but lacks balance, wanting to appeal to too wide an audience, it lacks simplicity and clarity for beginners, while at times it is a little schematic on more advanced concepts.

The Jazzmaster Cookbook also suffers from a mainly melodic, horizontal approach. Hence the somewhat messy and partial approach to voicings and the sometimes unnecessary multiplication of scales.

The evaluation of this work also depends very much on the point of view. Let us therefore try to consider that of a beginner and that of an experienced musician.

Is the Jazzmaster Cookbook a good book for beginners?

No, it is not a good book for a beginner starting to study jazz harmony. A beginner will also find too much information, which may intimidate him. At the same time, the key/mode misunderstanding can complicate things quite a bit. Finally, the minor mode is dealt with in a confused and partial way, if not wrongly. I would not recommend this book to a beginner.

E’ un buon libro per uno studente intermedio/avanzato?

Yes, to this question I answer positively. A student who already has the basics can study the Jazzmaster Cookbook critically and appreciate the most interesting insights, especially into dominants, pentatonic scales and diminished harmony.

Despite the limitations of the Jazzmaster Cookbook, Jim Grantham deserves credit for covering some topics in a very comprehensive manner. For example, on diminished harmony it is certainly the best book I have read.

I hope this review and study guide of Jim Grantham’sJazzmaster Cookbook is useful for your studies. If you’ve already studied this handbook, I’d love to hear what you think. Please leave a comment below, thanks!

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