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Dominant Decision: The Lydian Dominant

By Miles Donahue

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The Lydian dominant is significant in that the scale has a raised IV – i.e. G major Mixolydian is G-A-B-C-D-E-F, whereas G Lydian dominant would be G-A-B-C#-D-E-F.

Where to use this dominant sound is essential to being a better improviser. When the dominant 7th chord resolves up a step as in the chord progression for “Freddie the Freeloader” (bar 11 and 12 ) A7 resolving up to B7. Miles Davis plays the line 7-9-#11-13 using the Lydian dominant sound.

Another harmonic situation that calls for the Lydian dominant is the two dominant seventh chord usually followed by the iim7 – the V7 and resolving to one chord. “Take the A Train” by Billy Strayhorn is such a chord progression. The chord on the 3rd and 4th bars is the ii7 and the melody is 9 to #11 implying the Lydian dominant sound.

Here [opposite] are some examples of how master jazz improvisers use the Lydian dominant sound. Examples 1 and 2 are from Ryan Kisor’s live solo at Jazz at Lincoln Center (search for “Ryan Kisor – Take the ‘A’ Train (Live) Trumpet Solo” on YouTube) Examples 3 and 4 are from Branford Marsalis’s solo from the album Digital Duke. Examples 6,7,8 and 9 are from Troy Roberts album Tales and Tones. Example 10 is Lew Soloff’s solo from Jazz at Lincoln Center: They Came to Swing.

When trying to teach the tools of improving it is necessary to have some rules that can be arbitrary and therefore I want to provide enough examples that substantiate my teachings. Then, if the student breaks those rules, he or she at least had a place to start from.

In a career spanning over 50 years, New England-based bandleader, sax player, and jazz educator Miles Donahue has performed on and recorded 14 albums. His third album with Mike Stern is coming out in 2020 on Whaling City Sound. Donahue is currently a visiting professor at Middlebury College, teaching a class on the music of Motown and popular piano styles. His site, www.jazzworkbook.com, offers an effective course for new players to learn jazz improvisation and for seasoned players to learn fresh approaches to soloing.

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