Bass Shed Spotlight #2: Chet Baker’s solo on Autumn Leaves

July 1, 2024
Chet Baker's solo on Autumn Leaves - Image of a trumpet on a dark background by Eric Awuy

Bass players can get a lot of ideas from transcribing horn lines. And if you’re new to transcribing solos from instruments other than the bass, Chet Baker is a great place to start. One thing I like about Chet Baker solos is that he can sound good with lines that are diatonic for the most part.

In this post, I’ll share a few concepts I lifted from Chet Baker’s solo on Autumn Leaves.

Let’s dive in.

What I Learned From A Chet Baker’s Autumn Leaves solo

Autumn Leaves (Snippet of Chet Baker's solo) - Together Album (Chet Baker & Paul Desmond)
Autumn Leaves (Snippet of Chet Baker’s solo) – Together Album (Chet Baker & Paul Desmond)

A while ago, I transcribed a snippet of Chet Baker’s solo.

Autumn Leaves is a Jazz standard. The concepts that Chet Baker is using over this tune are practical and musical. So, you can start using them today over any chord progression. And your solos will immediately start sounding better.

But first, here are the musicians on this recording. They’re crushing it on this recording. I recommend that you check it out.

  • Chet Baker (trumpet)
  • Paul Desmond (alto sax)
  • Hubert Laws (flute)
  • Bob James (keyboard)
  • Ron Carter (contrabass)
  • Steve Gadd (drums)

Concept #1: When you can sound good with diatonic lines, a small amount of chromaticism can have a huge impact

What you’ll see in the transcription, is that Chet Baker’s solo is very inside. He isn’t using too much chromaticism.

When he does use it, it is enough to make the listener’s ear go, “what was that!?”

For the most part, the notes of this entire section of his solo is in Ab Major.

He sometimes uses chromatic approach tones when he approaches F, Eb, and C.

Although the notes of his solo are in Ab for the most part, the chromatic approach tones emphasize a F Minor sound.

Whenever you’re practicing and exploring new sounds, try to stay diatonic for an extended period of time before introducing chromatic notes.

Concept #2: Diminished Arpeggios imply a Dominant 7b9 Chord

Diminised arpeggios are common among Jazz vocabulary.

When you play a diminished arpeggio starting on the 3rd, 5th, b7, or b9 of a dominant 7 Chord, you end up outlining a 7b9 chord.

This sound has a strong pull to the tonic chord, wether the tonic is major or minor. It’s also an effective way to introduce tension in a subtle way.

Chet Baker uses diminished arpeggios a few times in this short snippet of his solo.

Whenever you want to create movement in your lines, try inserting a diminished arpeggio to imply a dominant 7b9 sound.

Concept #3: You don’t need to play notes on every bar

Chet Baker leaves space in his solo in a way that makes it sound conversational.

Sometimes he’ll leave an entire measure of space. This allows the band to interact with what he’s playing.

Try practicing keeping your phrases either 2 bars or 3 bars in length. And explore placing these short phrases in different locations in the bar.

Practicing leaving space will help you to focus on creating simple melodic statements. Space is underrated. Don’t sleep on space. It’s a powerful device in music.

Concept #4: A simple rhythm can seem like so much more if you add variations to your note durations

The rhythms in this part of Chet Baker’s solo aren’t complicated.

Although most of it focuses on eighth notes, Chet Baker varies it up using short and long tones.

This makes the rhythm swing harder and have forward motion.

Concept #5: Use the range of your instrument

One thing I love about the melodic aspect of Chet Baker’s solo is that it uses a full dynamic range.

In my personal experience, just by using the range of your instrument, you can keep the interest of your listener without having to play anything flashy.


It’s amazing how many ideas can get squeezed out from a few bars of Chet Baker’s solo on Autumn Leaves. Adding to that, when you transcribe solos from instruments other than the bass guitar, you’ll find a whole new set of technical challenges that’ll really get your fingers working.

Head over here to dive into more bass guitar lessons and jazz theory concepts.


Hi! I’m Posido Vega, a multi-passionate creative. I’m an artist, bass player, jazz theory enthusiast, children’s book author and illustrator, and SEO 😅.

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