Woody Shaw on "If"

Today is Woody Shaw's birthday, so I thought I'd share a transcription of one of his earlier solos from the classic Larry Young record Unity (1965): Joe Henderson's F blues "If." I transcribed this solo shortly after finishing Art Farmer's solo over "Sippin' at Bells" from Cool Struttin' (1958), another blues in F, and there's an expected but refreshing contrast between the two players on these specific tracks. I like how Shaw repeats some notes in his lines, like in m.17 or twice in m.28, which adds some texture in 8th note lines that are otherwise in smooth, continuous motion. 

And it's impossible to not mention Shaw's harmonic choices, which seem surprisingly clear when put on paper: Gm7 pentatonic, Abm7 pentatonic (over I, I7 leading to IV, IV, and even over ii-V-Is based on the melodic context), and also pentatonic shapes over dominant scales that suggest a G7 or C7 pentatonic (maybe 1-3-4-5-7). But what really makes the solo work, I think, is Shaw's sense of narrative logic: the arc of the solo is very clear, and the anthemic opening to the third chorus of the solo elevates the action of the solo so that the following choruses can continue to rise in intensity (and in register). Enough from me—here's the transcription:

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It might also be worth noting that Shaw was a month shy of turning 21 when this was recorded. By comparison, Freddie Hubbard was 23 when he recorded "Birdlike" on Ready for Freddie (1961) and Clifford Brown was 23 when he recorded "Wee-Dot" on Live at Birdland, Vol. 2 (1954). Motivation to practice?


  1. Dang! I just typed "woody shaw if solo transcription" into google and this came up.....what an amazing resource your site is....I heard this the other day and it knocked me out!

  2. Any chance we could get a leadsheet for this wonderful tune as well?

  3. Yeah, Kevin!!! I just heard this solo again for the zillionth time and realized that I need to learn this solo. I'm going to transcribe it on my own, then use your's to check my work. This solo, of everything Woody played, is a great summary of his harmonic choices and vocabulary! Good pick!!!


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