Enclosures: The genius and simplicity of Clifford Brown

Learn how to use a fundamental part of the jazz language, enclosures, by referencing how Clifford Brown uses them in his solos.

Published on May 1st, 2020

Updated on Jun 16th, 2022

Breaking down and mastering the elements of the jazz language is a lifelong process, with a massive catalog of artists and genres to transcribe, digest, and absorb into your playing. Who (and honestly when) you transcribe has a significant impact on the outcome of your solos for the early part of your career as improvisor.

Clifford Brown, one of the most iconic improvisors and examples of the jazz language, acted much like a bridge between the bebop era and the hard bop era by taking fundamental language elements and pushing them further along in their evolution and executional style. While his solos seem incredibly complicated and composed of many different components and language, he tends to be one of the most clear and concise examples of straightforward jazz language fundamentals, one of those being the enclosure.

We’re going to utilize his monumental solo on “Take the ‘A’ Train” from the 1955 album Study In Brown to break down his use of enclosures, why they aren’t as complicated as you might think, and strategies for implementing them in your own playing.

Clifford’s strategy on “Take the ‘A’ Train”

There are several key reasons why this solo is a stand-out in the Clifford Brown library; strict adherence to the harmony, melodic repetition, usage of digital patterns that run the changes. For the sake of this article we’re going to focus mainly on his implementation of the enclosure.

What is an enclosure?

An enclosure in the jazz language idiom can be use to describe targeting a specific chord tone (usually the 1, 3, or 5) by wrapping or enclosing it with a note diatonically above, and a note a half step below.For example: if you were trying to enclose the third of C major you would enclose it with a F above and a D# (or Eb) below).

Why does the enclosure sound good?

From the perspective of Clifford Brown (and frankly for all jazz musicians), the enclosure sounds good because:

  1. If used properly (see above) it outlines a chord tone
  2. It can act as a joining mechanism to connect two different licks, runs, or other improvisational techniques.
  3. It often adds chromaticism which presents a bit of tension and resolution when used. Meaning, we hear a note that sounds a little bit outside or like it wants to go somewhere else, and we take it to that resolution point.

In almost every single use case Brown uses enclosures to emphasize a chord tone (1, 3, or 5), but the majority of these examples are around the 5th scale degree; the 5th being enclosed by the preceding 6th and #11 scale degrees in that order.

For example, check out the measures 6-7 of the transcription in which the 5th of both the dominant (G7) and the tonic (Cmaj7) is enclosed in almost the same exact fashion outline above.

Example 1

There are clear theoretical reasons that we can use to describe Brown’s usage of different enclosures that stem from alterations of the dominant chord, secondary dominants, and anticipation of the next chord.

When resolving to the tonic from the dominant (in the key of C major, G7), enclosing the 5th scale degree of C between the b6 and #11 expresses an altered tonality. Without getting too complex, the ‘altered’ scale can be defined as the 7th mode of the melodic minor scale that is generally used over dominant 7 chords. For example:

Example 2

Looking at measures 12-13 in the transcription, this is straight from the dominant (A7) of the ii-7 (D minor 7) in which the root is enclosed using the 2nd and natural 7th. While A7 technically doesn’t appear in the chord changes, it’s up to the improviser and rhythm section whether or not they want to add a sort of secondary dominant in that section since it leads nicely into the turnaround.

Example 3

How to implement enclosures in your own solos

Working these examples into your own improvised solos is easier than you might think. Consider an exercise that focuses on enclosing each diatonic (within the scale) note:

Example 4

This exercise utilizes the same enclosure with an half-step approach tone underneath the target note that Clifford Brown uses, but expands it into an exercise that can be practiced in any key and focuses on the entire range of the scale, rather than chord tones.

We can expand these even further by adding an additional layer of complexity to the above exercise. I’ve highlighted each note being enclosed, but it follows the same pattern; precede the target note above by a whole step and below by a half step, except in this circumstance the pattern is more circular.

Example 5

Additional improvisation strategies

Enclosures are only one of the fundamental strategies that Brown uses in this solo, he also absolutely annihilates the changes by using digital patterns (running patterns up and down the scale), nailing the #11 on almost every D7#11 chord, and using implied chromaticism in his runs. I included an analysis of the additional strategies he uses in the download, see what other techniques he uses.

Next steps and practice strategies

Once the above exercises have been mastered in all 12 keys it’s time to start working them into your own solos. This can be approached similarly to how you would work on jazz language, by forcefully injecting these snippets into your solos when you're improvising over a play-along with the goal being to start hearing exactly who each of these enclosures resolves.

You might even come across the coveted four note enclosure, but that’s a conversation for a later article.