Jul 9, 2019

João Gilberto article from NPR

João Gilberto passed away last Saturday at the age of 88. He was one of the most influential musicians of our time. No one could deliver a melody with more depth and subtlety.

Here is an article from NPR's Tom Moon that does a great job in describing his legacy.

Jun 27, 2019

"I Remember You" - the tag

While comparing versions of the harmony to Victor Schertzinger's "I Remember You," I  got distracted by another feature: the often-used tag that repeats the last phrase, up a minor third. Cannonball Adderley uses this ending in this great 1959 version (6:38 in the video):

The tune was written in 1942. The up-a-minor-third tag doesn't appear in any early versions that I could find (Jimmy Dorsey, Harry James). And although I don't have the original sheet music, I did check the chart in the Hal Leonard Real Jazz Standards Fake Book, which shows original sheet-music changes, and the tag didn't occur there.

Browsing Youtube, the earliest usage I could find was in this Dave Brubeck version, recorded 12/14/53. He uses it as both intro and tag (or "outro," as we sometimes say):

Interestingly, Horace Silver uses a similar intro/outro approach in this version, recorded 11/23/53. Horace doesn't use the melody line, but does use the up-a-minor-third device in both intro and outro:

Wikipedia lists this track as having been released in 1953, but does not give an exact date. It's possible, but not too likely, that Brubeck had heard Silver's version prior to his own recording of "I Remember You." My guess is that neither Brubeck nor Silver actually originated this tag, but that it was "in the air" by late 1953. If any readers know of an earlier version using this tag, please let me know in the comments.

While I was listening to these recordings, my wife recalled that there had been a country-sounding version on Los Angeles pop radio in the 1960s. She mght have been remembering one of these versions - Frank Ifield (#1 on the charts in England in 1962), or Slim Whitman, who covered Ifield's version in 1966. Both versions use the up-a-minor-third tag.

Here are the Beatles in an early recording in Hamburg, covering Ifield's version, and again with the tag:

Jun 1, 2019

Nino Rota's La Strada and Dvorak's Serenade for Strings

We often have classical radio on while we do the dishes after dinner. A couple of nights ago we were listening to the Larghetto from Dvorak's Op. 22 Serenade for Strings (1875), when I recognized a familiar melody - the main theme from Fellini's "La Strada" (1954, music by Nino Rota).

I can't resist this tune-detective stuff. Here's the opening to "La Strada." The theme starts at 0:24, right after the Dino De Laurentiis fanfare; the first phrase of the theme is cut off. Regardless of its derivation, it's a beautiful piece of writing :

The theme recurs throughout the movie. If you haven't seen it, or haven't seen it lately, the full film can be viewed here.

And here's the Larghetto from the Dvorak:

Of course, I wasn't the first person to notice the derivation. More info can be found on the Wikipedia entry for "La Strada." 

Apr 30, 2019

Some excellent Charlie Parker analysis

This article goes on my list of first-rate Parker scholarship: Four Studies of Charlie Parker's Compositional Processes, by Henry Martin, published in the July 2018 issue of the journal "Music Theory Online."

Martin studies four Parker compositions that show some evidence of Parker's compositional processes. His article covers the tunes and issues below, in considerable detail:

"Ornithology" has been credited to Benny Harris, to Parker, or to a collaboration of the two. The end of the song was changed (for the better) in later Parker performances. Martin considers the lineage of melodic motives used in the tune as they occur in earlier recordings by Harris, Parker, and others. In the end, it's not possible to positively ascribe authorship to one or the other, though it would seem most likely that Harris wrote the tune, basing the beginning on one of Parker's licks, which in turn derives from Lester Young. The revised ending seems to have definitely come from Parker.

"My Little Suede Shoes" is a combination and reworking of two c.1950 French pop songs, "Le Petit Cireur Noir" and "Pedro Gomez." I discussed this in a previous post, but Martin presents much more detail. Parker's compositional process here consisted of altering and combining the two songs into a coherent and melodically satisfying new tune. 

With "Red Cross" and "Blues (Fast)," we have the opportunity to observe Parker reworking tunes during recording sessions. Parker changes the melodies over the course of subsequent takes, until a final satisfactory result is reached. Martin examines the development of each tune in detail.

Going beyond the discussion of Parker's composition process in these four pieces, Martin considers the question of what exactly "composition" means in a jazz context, proposing a wider definition of the term, including instances of what one might otherwise consider improvisation. It's an interesting question; to me it immediately brings up the issue of what can be copyrighted. Martin has the good sense to stop short of this difficult, thorny question.

Anyone interested in Bird scholarship really should check out this article; a brief review can't do it justice. Just click the link at the beginning of this post.

Mar 9, 2019

"Brasil Toca Choro" - contemporary choro videos

A friend hipped me to a recent series from Brazilian TV, "Brasil Toca Choro" (Brazil Plays Choro). There are 13 episodes on youtube, each with first-rate studio performances by some of the best contemporary choro musicians.

Even if (like me) you don't speak Portuguese, the music is very much worth your listening time.

This link will get you to an index of episodes - or, check the list below.

Here's the blurb from the introductory trailer, google-translated:
Thinking about the importance of chorinho to the construction of Brazilian identity, TV Cultura launches the channel's newest program, Brasil Toca Choro. It is in the mix of melodies of European classical music and American jazz with the African rhythm played in the terreiros of Rio de Janeiro that the pulsating heart of the choro is found. Originating in the second half of the nineteenth century, the musical rhythm has enchanted and thrilled generations for approximately 150 years.
Each program centers around an instrument, composer, or other theme:
  1. Pixinguinha (the legendary choro composer)
  2. Piano e primórdios (piano and origins)
  3. Sopros (wind instruments)
  4. Violões (guitars)
  5. Acordeon (accordion)
  6. Choro Canção (“choro-song” - a modernized form, predecessor of bossa nova)
  7. Maestros arranjadores (great arrangers)
  8. Cavaquinho (stringed instrument basic to choro)
  9. Samba Chorado (samba choro)
  10. Novas Linguagens (new languages)
  11. Flauta (flute)
  12. Outros Sotaques (other accents)
  13. Bandolim (mandolin)

Here's the first program (Pixinguinha), if you would like to get started:

Jan 6, 2019

897 Free Choro Charts on Doce de Choro website!

Choro is a Brazilian music genre, mostly instrumental, improvisational, with a history beginning in the 19th century, predating American jazz. If you are a jazz player and not familiar with choro, you really should check it out. The repertoire is extensive and rich (a few famous composers: Pixinguinha, Jacob do Bandolim, Waldir Azevedo, K-Ximbinho). Performance styles have evolved over the years (as has American jazz), and there are some truly great performers active today.

If you are into choro, the website Doce de Choro (click here) is a gold mine - lead sheets for 897 choros are available for free download. The charts were created by Jean Pascal Leriche-Lafaurie (at least I assume so, as that is the only name listed on the website). Some of the tunes are classics, some are obscure; some are simple, some melodically and harmonically challenging.

I do play some choros with my group, with a jazz approach. I count myself as a fan and student, not an expert. You can find plenty of information about choro on the web, and plenty of performances, old and new, on Youtube.

Just for laughs, here are two recordings of a classic, "Assanhado" by Jacob do Bandolim (1918-1969). It's one of the first choros I learned.

First, here is the original recording by Jacob (click here).

Compare Jacob's original to this more modern version by two great players, Armandinho and Yamandu Costa: