I was hanging out last night with a tenor sax player whom I play jazz with frequently and he said I know that I really need to work on my Melodic Minor and Harmonic Minor Scales. Background, this is a guy in his 50s who worked his way through college in Chicago playing sax. He is clearly influenced by Stanley Turrentine and plays what people generally regard as good solos. Hes down on himself because he plays by ear and instinct. He thinks the solo in his head and it comes out his horn. Hes observed that other people obsess about theory, substitutions, etc and he feels like he is cheating or taking a shortcut by playing what he plays. Ive pointed out to him the absurdity of the fact that the rest of us are doing those things because we cant play smoking solos by pure intuition and that thats what we are all aspiring to. I admire that my friend doesnt want rest on his laurels, but I also feel like hes being a bit too hard on himself. I think he should push himself and learn new harmony concepts for his soloing, but I also sort of think, since he has the talent to play things that sound like whoever he likes the sound of, he could probably get what he wants to by listening and transcribing rather than analyzing. But, Ive encouraged him to pursue whatever path he wants, hes a good player no matter what. But, and heres my point, I said this to him and then remembered on that way home that I had no idea what I was talking about and wondered if I should have kept my thoughts to myself. I would like group feedback on whether I might not know what Im talking about. I expect it to be mixed, but still want to hear from anyone with an opinion. Im still trying to fill in the blanks too. So my point was basically: Its good to practice those scales and arpeggios and definitely know that they are sort of expected when you see a minor/major 7 chord, but aside from composing or arranging or practicing rudiments, theres only one point in the melodic/harmonic minor study (in jazz). That is that you can choose to play a major 7th tone over a minor chord, just like you can chose to play a minor 3rd over a dominant chord in a blues or a flat 5 in many places in jazz. Its a choice, its not always the right one, but its just an option. Melodic Minor is Dorian mode with a major 7th in place of the b7 and Harmonic is Aeolian with a major 7th in place of the b7. Personally, I tend to use harmonic on tunes when I want to project a Latin/Spanish type of feel and melodic when it seems appropriate in BeBop. Conversely, I know that there is wisdom that some people subscribe to that says always play Dorian in jazz, never Aeolian, but some tunes heads are based on Aeolian (Dear Old Stockholm) and soloing with Aeolian in mind sounds much more grounded to the tune than Dorian does. When Im playing something like Summertime in a traditional way, it feels like Aeolian to me. So What seems to definitely call for Dorian or maybe Melodic Minor. So, my thinking is that you can delve into the theory and you should practice these scales and arpeggios to get the fingerings associated with the sounds, but when youre blowing, its just a matter of which note feels appropriate in the moment. Things like these derivative minor scale and the bebop scales just remind me that there is a note that I could consider if Im feeling it. Ive heard, for example, not to use blues scale too much. I dont think I ever use the blues scale, necessarily. But I do know that in a song with a blues feel or structure, the blues scales suggests some non-diatonic notes that I could use to deviate from diatonic patterns and expect a blues sound from. Again, not discounting composing/arranging/reharmonizing on modes of melodic minor a la Levine. I know that is good stuff, but we were just taking about blowing. Diminished scales are also different and I have to think differently about them. So, whos with me? Whos against me? Im sure that Im missing the point of something and really do want to understand this. I also dont want to give bad advice, but the best way to avoid that is to keep my mouth shut rather than try to know everything. Ill work on that piece.