Mar 14, 2018

Gene Lees' Jazzletter and some other fine writing on Donald Clarke's site

I'm on a few jazz mailing lists that I may not have actually signed up for. I haven't asked to be removed, though, because the mailings sometimes call my attention to interesting stuff. For example, I was just made aware of Donald Clarke's website, Clarke is a jazz writer with several books to his credit, three of which he has made available for free on his website: All Or Nothing At All:  A Life Of Frank Sinatra (I just finished that one - an excellent read), The Rise And Fall Of Popular Music [A Polemical History] (just started it - looks promising), and Donald's Encyclopedia Of Popular Music (over 4000 entries). He is also the author of Billie Holiday: Wishing On The Moon (haven't read it yet; it's still in print, and available on Amazon).

Donald has also posted a complete archive of Gene Lees' Jazzletter, from 1981 to 2008. Gene was a great writer, and a legend in the jazz world. If you don't already know about Gene Lees, click here to check his bio in Donald's Encyclopedia Of Popular Music. Donald has done us all a big favor by posting the Jazzletter archive, as well as his own books. It looks like I'll have to make reading through this collection one of my long-term projects.

Feb 20, 2018

Patterns books, Part 1: Oliver Nelson, Hanon, Slonimsky, Coker

Oliver Nelson's "Patterns For Improvisation" was published in 1966, originally titled "Patterns for Saxophone." As far as I know, this was the first jazz-instructional "patterns" book, presenting patterns both as a way to practice and as a way to create improvised solo lines.

The idea that improvisation could actually be taught was fairly new in music education in 1966, and there weren't many instructional publications available. Nelson's book became a major influence on many developing players. I first picked up a copy in the early 1970s, and practiced it from cover to cover.

Oliver Nelson was a first-rate saxophonist and composer, who not only recorded as an instrumentalist, but also had a busy career as a Hollywood composer and arranger (his movie credits are on his IMBD page). He passed away in 1975, at the age of 43.

The patterns approach was not new to music, of course. Nelson explains in his preface that he considers "patterns" to be the same thing as "sequential musical devices," as found in the music of "Bach, Beethoven, Bartok, Charlie Parker, John Coltrane..."

Although it's true that sequences are nothing new, the "patterns" approach to improvisation is quite pronounced in Nelson's own solos and compositions. Nelson was influenced by John Coltrane's music, which was more consciously patterns-oriented than the work of earlier players, e.g. Parker or Lester Young.

Nelson's best-known recording was the album "The Blues and the Abstract Truth," with a band featuring Eric Dolphy, Freddie Hubbard, Bill Evans, Paul Chambers, Roy Haynes, and George Barrow. You can hear Nelson's patterns approach in his solos:

On the album "Sound Pieces" Nelson plays soprano, though he most often recorded on alto and tenor. (The head to this tune, "Example 78," is included in his patterns book as "Example 78.")   

Precedents for Nelson's "patterns" approach can be found in classical instrumental methods like Hanon, as well as in Nicholas Slonimsky's "Thesaurus of Scales and Melodic Patterns." However, Nelson's angle was different, presenting patterns as a concept that would aid jazz improvisers. 

As I see it, these books, as well as later ones like Jerry Coker's "Patterns for Jazz," Yusef Lateef's "Repository of Scales and Melodic Patterns," and Barry Finnerty's recent "The Serious Jazz Practice Book," are all aimed at serving the following purposes, in varying degrees:

1) Improving finger dexterity
2) Achieving 12-key fluency, mentally and/or physically
3) Providing sources for musical ideas, to be explored in improvisation or composition

Charles-Louis Hanon, "The Virtuoso Pianist in 60 Exercises" (1873)

Hanon has been used by countless thousands of pianists over the last century and a half. It involves what jazz players might call "digital patterns," written out in the key of C only. According to its preface, the purpose of the book is to develop finger dexterity. As dexterity exercises, these exercises are not unlike the short, repetitive fingering exercises found in other instrumental method books, such as the Klosé clarinet method. Hanon's book was intended for pianists, but its patterns would be good practice material on any instrument (in Oliver Nelson's book, his Examples 5 and 6 are Hanon patterns). 

Although the stated purpose of Hanon's book has nothing to do with creative composition or improvisation, classical pianists have adapted it to the pursuit of 12-key fluency. From Wikipedia:
Both Sergei Rachmaninoff and Josef Lhévinne claimed Hanon to be the secret of why the Russian piano school delivered an explosion of virtuosi in their time, for the Hanon exercises have been obligatory for a long time throughout Russian conservatories; there were special examinations at which one had to know all exercises by heart, to be played in all keys at high speed.
Hanon is in the public domain; you can download it here

Nicholas Slonimsky, "Thesaurus of Scales and Melodic Patterns" (1947)

Slonimsky's Thesaurus is a systematic, exhaustive cataloging of all the ways in which an octave (or several octaves) can be subdivided. According to his introduction, Slonimsky intended the book primarily as an idea source for composers. However, testimonials from the book jacket show that some found it valuable as exercises:
...A violinist or woodwind player who works out fingerings for these figurations will be able to read at sight, except for rhythmic difficulties, anything that modern orchestral repertory can present. (Virgil Thomson)
The Thesaurus is a monumental compilation of unfamiliar melodic patterns; it is a precious reference book for pianists in developing a superior technique. (Maurice Dumesnil)

Charlie Parker seems to have used the book as an idea source. Carl Woideck's biography of Parker documents Bird's use of Slonimsky's Pattern No. 629, in a 1949 or 1950 live recording of "Street Beat" (at 8:19 in the clip below, trading fours with Fats Navarro), also in a 1952 live recording of "Rocker."

It's well-documented that John Coltrane studied the Thesaurus and practiced from it extensively in the late 1950s; in fact, a musical example in the introduction to Slonimsky's book was clearly the source for the second half of the melody and chord progression to Coltrane's "Giant Steps." Coltrane developed and used this "cycle of thirds" harmonic concept through the rest of his career. Here's the example from Slonimsky:

When word got around that Coltrane used the Thesaurus, sales skyrocketed. 

This book is deep. It has been remarked that while many musicians have purchased the Thesaurus, very few have had the focus and patience to look into it truly seriously (I count myself among the many who have only skimmed the surface). Order your copy here! 

Trivia note: In the introduction, Slonimsky cites Rimsky-Korsakoff as having used our "diminished scale," and Busoni as having used what we would now call the "altered" (aka diminished whole tone or superlocrian) scale.

Oliver Nelson, "Patterns for Improvisation" (1966)

As mentioned above, this may have been the first patterns book aimed at jazz education.

I'd call "Patterns For Improvisation" 
a dexterity book, a 12-key book, and an idea book in approximately equal parts. Most of the 81 exercises are presented in 12 keys, generally moving either chromatically or along the circle of 4ths. All the exercises are written out, which does not encourage the student to do the mental work of transposing. The 1 2 3 5 pattern that Coltrane used extensively in his "Giant Steps" solo is presented in a number of rhythmic variations.

Just a few II V patterns are included; there is one exercise involving Schoenbergian 12-tone rows. The only Slonimsky pattern I noticed was Nelson's Example 27 (which is Slonimsky's Example 131) - this may be a coincidence, though Nelson surely was aware of Slonimsky's book.

It seems to me that to use Nelson's book to best advantage, the student really has to read between the lines - for instance, draw a lesson from the rhythmic variations shown for 1 2 3 5, and create rhythmic variations for other patterns. Similarly, the student could take a cue from the way Nelson moves his phrases - chromatically, along the circle, whole steps, etc. - and apply that technique to other licks. And of course, one should try to shut the book, and play the exercises without reading. 

The book is not too big and threatening; its compactness could make it useful for private instruction, with a teacher to explain how to use it.

Jerry Coker, Jimmy Casale, Gary Campbell, Jerry Greene, "Patterns for Jazz" (1970)

"Patterns for Jazz" was published in 1970, just a few years after Nelson's book. It is a more carefully organized version of the patterns approach to jazz practicing, presenting 326 exercises in increasing order of difficulty. Exercises start easy, with major triads and major scales, moving gradually into harder patterns (modes, whole-tone and diminished patterns, polychords). Each exercise shows a phrase in one, two, or three keys, leaving it to the student to transpose the pattern into 12 keys, with suggested movement of keys along the circle, chromatically, by whole step, etc. I'd say that it starts as a dexterity and 12-key thinking book, but towards the end becomes also a licks-and-ideas book.

Like the other books discussed above, this one has become a classic. I got a copy back in the 70s, and worked through about half of it, taking each exercise past its suggested metronome marking, before I decided that with limited available practice time, I would rather focus on specific licks of my own choosing. The bottom line is that this is a student-friendly book, well-presented and methodical, with enough material to last you for quite a while. It's a great product, for those with some patience.

In Part 2 of this post I'll take a look at patterns books by Yusef Lateef and Barry Finnerty.

Jan 25, 2018

Phil Woods "Cherokee" transcriptions from Jeff Rzepiela

Jeff Rzepiela has posted transcriptions of eight Phil Woods "Cherokee" solos on his website, The solos date from 1955 through 2001. Jeff did the transcriptions for a presentation at the 2018 Jazz Education Network Conference. You can access the transcriptions, as well as notes for the presentation, at (scroll down a little). It's an educational kick to play through these Phil solos, and get a closer look at what one of the great bop players could do with one of the great bop vehicles.

Here's one of the recordings, from the 1979 album "Crazy Horse." The track, which is really Cherokee changes, is entitled "Smoke From Medicine Lodge." Phil plays ferocious solos on both alto and soprano; Jeff posted transcriptions of both: also features dozens more of Jeff's solo transcriptions, mostly of saxophonists, including Bb, Eb, and concert key transpositions for each solo. Jeff has also contributed 20 transcriptions to Phil Woods' website. Those transcriptions, and others, are available for free at

Dec 29, 2017

The "Chain of Dominants" Progression

Recently I received a comment on this post concerning the bridge to George Gershwin's "I Got Rhythm." The harmony to the bridge is a classic instance of the "circle of dominants," also called the "chain of dominants":  2 bars each of D7, G7, C7, F7. Each dominant chord resolves into the next, but a stable tonic is not established until the chain comes to rest on a major or minor chord -  in this case Bb, the first chord of the last "A" section.

Here's the comment (thanks, Mark B.!):
I've been reading up on popular music harmony recently. The chain of secondary dominants seems to start with Liszt - at least the earliest example I've seen cited is from him. Ragtime used chains of dominant chords in threes and fours regularly, and they also show up in early Tin Pan Alley tunes from the 1890s, although not in a bridge like this example. The old-time barbershop singers consider this progression their own, calling the dominant chord 'major-minor' - the added b7 being the 'minor.' And I think you'll find them in Sousa's marches as well...

I am not an authority on classical harmony, but I just couldn't believe that the "chain of dominants" started with Liszt. I had always assumed that it was a common classical device. I thought I recalled hearing it in Mozart and Bach, but couldn't cite specific instances. I did a little more internet research on this question, and talked it over with my sister, Dr. Laura Spitzer, a fine classical pianist who teaches at New Mexico State University.

About terminology: I've always called this the "circle of dominants"; I picked that up from my college teachers. "Chain of dominants" is a term that may have been coined by theoretician Allen Forte.

Forte also uses the term "chain of fifths," to describe progressions that may be partially or entirely diatonic. I call that the "diatonic circle of fifths." We are talking here about something different, a device that uses all-dominant chords.

Another term for the same device is "extended dominants." Here's the Wikipedia entry on "extended dominants."
An extended dominant is a non-diatonic secondary-dominant seventh chord that resolves downwards to another dominant chord. A series of extended dominant chords continues to resolve downwards by perfect fifths until they reach the tonic chord. Most common is the tertiary dominant, which resolves to a secondary dominant. For example, V/V/V (in C major, A(7)) resolves to V/V (D(7)), which resolves to V (G(7)), which resolves to I (note that V/V/V is the same chord as V/ii, but differs in its resolution to a major dominant rather than a minor chord). Quaternary dominants are rarer, but an example is the bridge section of the Rhythm changes which starts from V/V/V/V (in C major, E(7)). Though typically used in jazz, extended dominants have been used in other contexts as well.
Chains of three or more dominant chords are common in songs from the "Golden Age" of American standards (roughly the 1920s to 1940s), and in tunes composed by jazz artists. Here are just a few:

Sweet Georgia Brown
A Flower is a Lovesome Thing
Prelude to a Kiss
Gee Baby, Ain't I Good to You
I Got Rhythm
Five Foot Two
Jordu (the bridge consists of two "chains," six dominant chords in each)

After looking a little deeper into classical usage, it appears that secondary dominants and "tertiary" dominants are pretty common, but longer chains are less so - as Wikipedia notes, chains of 4 or more are rare. However, there are instances well before Liszt. Some examples:

Luca Marenzio (late 1500s) - This madrigal cycles through almost the complete circle of fifths, using triads, not dominant chords. There is no reason to think that this was common practice at the time - but yet, there it is.

Rameau (1760) - In a treatise on keyboard accompaniment, he suggests learning to make modulations by practicing playing chains of dominants.

Mozart - Walter Piston, in his 1941 text Harmony, cites an example from K. 283 that cycles through what Piston anlyzes as V of II, V of V, V, V of IV, IV. The piece is in G; in letter names these chords would be E7, A7, D7, G7, C. Piston did not use the terms "chain" or "circle of dominants." Rather, he just thought of this sort of sequence as a series of "secondary dominants." Piston is credited with coining the term "secondary dominant."

Mozart - An instance in K. 586 that cycles through six dominant chords, interpolating a few other chords between the dominants along the way (thanks, Laura!)

The Liszt example that Mark B. mentions may be Nocturne #3, Liebestraum - a dominant sequence begins in bar 2, on a IIIdom chord. You could play the "Charleston" or "Five Foot Two" on top of this progression.

I'm sure someone more knowledgeable than me, and/or with more persistence, could find many more examples in classical music. But for my own purposes, it looks pretty clear that although the "chain" device was known to classical composers, it is employed far more often in American jazz and popular styles.

Getting back to another part of Mark B.'s comment - It does seem to be at least plausible that barbershop singing had something to do with the use of chains of dominants in late 19th and early 20th-century popular music. A similar argument, asserting that barbershop may be one significant reason that blues evolved into a form that uses dominant chords on the I and the IV, is presented in Vic Hobson's book Creating Jazz Counterpoint: New Orleans, Barbershop Harmony, and the Blues.

Here's my review of Hobson's book. Highly recommended!

"Play That Barber Shop Chord": A Case for the African-American Origin of Barbershop Harmony is an influential 1992 paper by Lynn Abbott (click to download). It's a great read - thoroughly researched, and completely convincing. The paper stops short of detailed musical analysis, but it seems quite clear that early barbershop harmony (perhaps as early as the 1880s) had a large improvisational element, and that part of the practice was addition of flat sevenths over major triads. This, of course, could result in secondary dominants, as well as flat sevenths on the I and IV chords.

Dec 5, 2017

"Aquarela do Brasil" and "Song of India"

I'm certainly not the first person to notice similarities between Ary Barroso's "Aquarela do Brasil" and Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov's "Song of India," but I can't resist yet another tune-detective post.

Here's the first recording of "Aquarela," by singer Francisco Alves (1939), with an arrangement by Radames Gnatelli, using big-band instrumentation with samba percussion:

Many of the accompanying riffs in this arrangement, which I'm guessing were written by Gnatelli, have become an integral part of the song as it is usually performed. Click the link above for more about Gnatelli; he was an accomplished composer, arranger, and performer, who had a distinguished career in both popular and classical genres.

Wikipedia has a nice article on "Aquarela," including Ary Barroso's story of how it came to be composed, its path to success, and some notes on the political aspects of the song:
This song, because of its exaltation of Brazil's great qualities, marked the creation of a new genre within samba, known as samba-exaltação (exaltation samba). This musical movement, with its extremely patriotic nature, was seen by many as being favorable to the dictatorship of Getúlio Vargas, which generated criticism towards Barroso...the Barroso family, however, strongly denies these claims...
Anyway, back to the similarities. Here's Rimsky-Korsakov's "Song of India," more properly called "Song of the Indian Guest," from his opera "Sadko":

1) Compare the theme at 1:00 in "Aquarela" with the theme at 2:54 in "Song of India."

2) Compare 1:22 in "Aquarela" with 3:30 in "Song of India."

The themes in 1) above are more obviously similar, but the themes in 2) show a resemblance also - a high held note on the fifth of the key, chromatic descent of a third, then the held note and chromatic line repeated twice more.

There was an earlier instance of the use of Rimsky-Korsakov's piece in popular music. In 1937 Tommy Dorsey released his big-band version of "Song of India":

In Dorsey's song, the theme I have called "2" is the featured melody; you can hear references to theme "1" in Bunny Berigan's trumpet solo. Dorsey's bridge uses yet another theme from Rimsky-Korsakov's piece (this one is not found in "Aquarela").

This recording, with "Marie" on the flip side, was a major hit for Dorsey.

As a side note, Wikipedia cites "Beautiful Ohio" (1918), the Ohio state song, as borrowing a motif from "Song of India." I hear it, but Barroso's use of the theme in "Aquarela" seems a lot more obvious. On the other hand, the reference in "Ohio" to Stephen Foster's "Beautiful Dreamer" is pretty blatant.

There have been countless versions of "Aquarela," but one of the most subtly perfect interpretations has to be Joao Gilberto's:

Nov 12, 2017

Paul Pone, clarinetist

A few days ago I received an email with a subject line reading “Paul Pone,” from someone I didn’t know. I took private lessons from “Mr. Pone” through middle school and high school, back in the 1960s. All I knew about his background was that he had received his musical training in Italy, and had come to the United States as a young man. He passed away in 1984 at the age of 90.

The email was from a local guy, Dave, who had acquired some of Paul’s personal documents at an estate sale (not Paul's estate, though). Dave thought the documents should go to Paul's family, but he had no luck locating them (Paul had no children). On my studio website I had listed Paul Pone as one of my teachers, so Dave contacted me, and decided I should have the documents.

The documents are really interesting - in particular, a two-page memoir that Paul typed up in 1977. He wrote about both his family background, and the story of how he came to the U.S. and became a music teacher. It’s a great story. Here’s a summary:

Paulo Pone was born in 1894. The Pone family lived in Pacentro, Italy. Paul was one of five children. He attended school through high school, also apprenticed to be a tailor, and studied music at the Sulmona Conservatory. After high school he studied in Naples at the Music Conservatory of San Pietro A Majella, and also studied tailoring in Naples at the “Italo-American School of Cutting.”

When he got back to Pacentro he decided he didn’t want to stay. Two of his sisters had emigrated to the United States. His mother told him that he could go to the U.S. also, as long as he stayed with his sister Christina and her husband Joe. Paul embarked for the U.S. from Naples in March, 1913.

Joe lived in a coal mining camp in Brilliant, New Mexico. The camp supplied coal for the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad (Brilliant is now a ghost town). Joe was working as the manager of a company saloon, but had bought a saloon in Suffield, Colorado, and was about to move. Paul describes his work:

I began to work with Joe in the saloon, from 7 am to 10 pm, first had to put beer on tap then fill bottles of liquor to serve, put bottle beer on ice, two different kinds, then sweep the saloon, wash and clean spitoons, wash all glasses behind the bar. The saloon was about a quarter of a mile North from camp in the valley close to the railroad track. I slept in it at night. I used to hear bumps and knocks on the door at night, but I was not afraid…had two .45 pistols with me.
After about four months in Suffield the 1913 miners' strike now known as the Colorado Coalfield War occurred, culminating in the Ludlow MassacreJoe, Christina and Paul moved again, to Raton, New Mexico, where Joe opened up another saloon. Paul was in debt, and worked even longer days for Joe, including playing a show at the saloon until 11 at night:
…got up at five and did the same job, janitor and bartending, for 50 per month…sweep and wash the floor with the rest of the work, also wash the big mirror back of the bar, 5 to 7 a bite to eat and then play the show at night till 11, then to bed and up at 5 the next morning. By working day and night I paid my bills and sent money to mother and dad in Italy.
When the US declared war in 1917, Paul "thought I should do something for my adopted country." He joined the Army, and was assigned to an Army band. The armistice was signed in 1918, so he never was sent overseas. He was discharged in 1919, and at the suggestion of a fellow musician, came to San Francisco.

Through the 1920s and 1930s, Paul played in Bay Area theatres, with the Golden Gate Park Band (it still exists today), and in occasional radio performances. He married his wife, Edith, who I remember, in 1923.

Around 1940, with music jobs scarce due to the depression, he drew on his tailoring training, and took a job as foreman of the clothing factory at Alcatraz Penitentiary for a couple of years. During WWII he worked at the Oakland shipyards. In 1943, Paul saw a notice in the AFM Musician paper advertising a teaching position with the San Francisco School District. He auditioned for a professor at SF State, obtained an emergency teaching credential, and “that was the beginning of my teaching career.”

Paul's memoir ends there. When I studied with Mr. Pone in the 1960s, he had moved to Los Altos, and had a busy private teaching schedule. I'm pretty sure that he still played with the Golden Gate Park Band in SF on Sundays.

Paul was a fine classical clarinetist. He showed me the basics of saxophone, and could read jazz charts well, but classical clarinet was really his forte. He was an incredibly patient teacher, and never gave me a hard time for a bad practice week. 

San Francisco State University offers a scholarship for talented music students called the "Paul Pone Forgivable Loan." I'm guessing that he endowed this program in his will. I recall that Paul liked to play the stock market; I think he started early.

It was pretty amazing that those papers found their way to me (many thanks, Dave!). The company that staged the estate sale had no idea how the papers came into their possession.

Update 1/2/18 - I was able to contact Joe's granddaughter, and have sent her the papers. I was able to find her through one of those unlikely connections - I told this story to the mom of one of my students. Her mother lives in Santa Fe, and she in turn knew someone from Raton. This last friend had gone to high school with several people from Joe's family, and put me in touch with the granddaughter. 

I also received an email from one of Paul's students, who had seen this post. He mentioned a story that Paul had told him - Benny Goodman apparently once came to Paul for help in preparing a concert of classical music. Paul had never told me that story, but it's not impossible. Benny did aspire to being a classical performer. His first classical recording was in 1938; he might have met with Paul in the '30s while in San Francisco for a concert, when Benny was starting his classical project