Jun 21, 2018

Patterns books, Part 2: Yusef Lateef's "Repository of Scales and Melodic Patterns"

Dr. Yusef Lateef was a deep musical thinker as well as a prolific recording artist, composer, and author. He left us a lot of wisdom and beauty. A look at his website, yuseflateef.com, will give you some idea of the breadth of his interests.

Yusef's Repository of Scales and Melodic Patterns (1981) is, as the title indicates, a sort of jazz equivalent of Nicholas Slonimsky's "Thesaurus of Scales and Melodic Patterns" (1947). Where Slonimsky's book is a systematic "Thesaurus," organizing and presenting scales and patterns in a series of permutations, Lateef's work is a "Repository," an eclectic collection of scales and patterns derived from the music of many cultures, as well as from contemporary classical music, that he found interesting and/or useful, as an improviser and composer. Or, as Yusef himself describes the book in his introduction,

[This book] is a capacious pallette of materials...that refuse to be indentured by a severe conventional plan...this Thesaurus [Yusef's word here] is a collection of deep reflective explorations in thought, sound, and feeling pursued in many directions with the objective of symbolizing movements of beauty through sound.
First of all, let me say that I highly recommend this book to all creative musicians.
In a previous post, Pattern books, Part 1, I suggested that patterns books attempt to serve three purposes, in varying degrees:

1) Improving finger dexterity
2) Working towards the goal of fluency in all keys, both mentally and physically
3) Providing sources for musical ideas, to be explored in improvisation or composition

The "Repository" is primarily intended to serve as a source of ideas and inspiration. It can certainly also be used for 1), finger dexterity. The book does not much emphasize 2), 12-key exercises. I suppose that is assumed, but that's not really the focus of the book.

I probably won't be putting many of these patterns into 12 keys, although I did play through the entire book. Even with this limited level of engagement, this book opened my ears to some interesting aspects of music that were new to me. Playing through the book was also a great sight-reading project and fingering workout.

Patterns are presented almost entirely within the normal range of the saxophone, and are playable on other instruments as well. A few piano pieces are included. A bass clef version of the book is available.

To give you some idea of how diverse the ideas are in this book, here are just a few of the types of patterns Lateef includes:

  • Triads around the circle of fourths and in other cycles, organized and inverted in creative sequences
  • Similar patterns and exercises for other chord types
  • "Synthetic Formations" given by Eric Dolphy to Yusef, with creative variations composed by Yusef 
  • Fourths patterns
  • "Triple diminished" patterns 
  • Pentatonic patterns
  • Archaic Chinese and Greek scales with etudes and derived patterns composed by Yusef
  • 12-tone patterns
  • Japanese, Indian, and Pygmy scales, and derived patterns

That's just a sampling from the first half of the 270-page book. 

Generally, Yusef not only presents the scales and patterns, but also includes composed exercises and etudes that draw on the patterns. I'm sure that he meant this to show the way forward, an illustration of how to apply the patterns creatively, for musicians who might be exploring the "Repository."

Yusef sometimes uses some rather opaque jargon: "improvisational spirals," "morphic patterns," "mutated hexadic scales of the supra-diatonic scale." These can often (though not always) be figured out with the aid of the "Explanation of Terms" at the front of the book.

Yusef's recorded performances seem to me to be very much rooted in the jazz and blues tradition, augmented by multi-cultural materials acquired in his research and exploration. His output as performer/composer/author was extensive, and in a number of different genres. You can check Yusef's list of compositions on his website. The website also lists his recordings on his own label, YAL Records, but he also recorded on commercial labels including Impulse, Atlantic, and CTI. Here's Wikipedia's discography.

Here's Yusef's Wikipedia entry, with a biography.

Yusef did not care for the term "jazz," preferring "autophysiopsychic music."

Yusef's music explains what he was about far better than I could. Here is a documentary, "Brother Yusef," filmed in 2005, when he was 85. It is absolutely worth 51 minutes of your time: