Jul 5, 2018

Michel Legrand and Saint-Saëns

Here are a couple of terrific performances: Michel Legrand playing his song "I Will Wait for You," and Itzhak Perlman playing Camille Saint-Saëns' "Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso."

Both are great listening, but I'm posting these because I had a tune-detective moment with the rondo theme that occurs at 1:40, 3:08, and 5:27 in the Saint-Säens video. Maybe it's a stretch?

Jun 21, 2018

Patterns books, Part 2: Yusef Lateef's "Repository of Scales and Melodic Patterns"

Dr. Yusef Lateef was a deep musical thinker as well as a prolific recording artist, composer, and author. He left us a lot of wisdom and beauty. A look at his website, yuseflateef.com, will give you some idea of the breadth of his interests.

Yusef's Repository of Scales and Melodic Patterns (1981) is, as the title indicates, a sort of jazz equivalent of Nicholas Slonimsky's "Thesaurus of Scales and Melodic Patterns" (1947). Where Slonimsky's book is a systematic "Thesaurus," organizing and presenting scales and patterns in a series of permutations, Lateef's work is a "Repository," an eclectic collection of scales and patterns derived from the music of many cultures, as well as from contemporary classical music, that he found interesting and/or useful, as an improviser and composer. Or, as Yusef himself describes the book in his introduction,

[This book] is a capacious pallette of materials...that refuse to be indentured by a severe conventional plan...this Thesaurus [Yusef's word here] is a collection of deep reflective explorations in thought, sound, and feeling pursued in many directions with the objective of symbolizing movements of beauty through sound.
First of all, let me say that I highly recommend this book to all creative musicians.
In a previous post, Pattern books, Part 1, I suggested that patterns books attempt to serve three purposes, in varying degrees:

1) Improving finger dexterity
2) Working towards the goal of fluency in all keys, both mentally and physically
3) Providing sources for musical ideas, to be explored in improvisation or composition

The "Repository" is primarily intended to serve as a source of ideas and inspiration. It can certainly also be used for 1), finger dexterity. The book does not much emphasize 2), 12-key exercises. I suppose that is assumed, but that's not really the focus of the book.

I probably won't be putting many of these patterns into 12 keys, although I did play through the entire book. Even with this limited level of engagement, this book opened my ears to some interesting aspects of music that were new to me. Playing through the book was also a great sight-reading project and fingering workout.

Patterns are presented almost entirely within the normal range of the saxophone, and are playable on other instruments as well. A few piano pieces are included. A bass clef version of the book is available.

To give you some idea of how diverse the ideas are in this book, here are just a few of the types of patterns Lateef includes:

  • Triads around the circle of fourths and in other cycles, organized and inverted in creative sequences
  • Similar patterns and exercises for other chord types
  • "Synthetic Formations" given by Eric Dolphy to Yusef, with creative variations composed by Yusef 
  • Fourths patterns
  • "Triple diminished" patterns 
  • Pentatonic patterns
  • Archaic Chinese and Greek scales with etudes and derived patterns composed by Yusef
  • 12-tone patterns
  • Japanese, Indian, and Pygmy scales, and derived patterns

That's just a sampling from the first half of the 270-page book. 

Generally, Yusef not only presents the scales and patterns, but also includes composed exercises and etudes that draw on the patterns. I'm sure that he meant this to show the way forward, an illustration of how to apply the patterns creatively, for musicians who might be exploring the "Repository."

Yusef sometimes uses some rather opaque jargon: "improvisational spirals," "morphic patterns," "mutated hexadic scales of the supra-diatonic scale." These can often (though not always) be figured out with the aid of the "Explanation of Terms" at the front of the book.

Yusef's recorded performances seem to me to be very much rooted in the jazz and blues tradition, augmented by multi-cultural materials acquired in his research and exploration. His output as performer/composer/author was extensive, and in a number of different genres. You can check Yusef's list of compositions on his website. The website also lists his recordings on his own label, YAL Records, but he also recorded on commercial labels including Impulse, Atlantic, and CTI. Here's Wikipedia's discography.

Here's Yusef's Wikipedia entry, with a biography.

Yusef did not care for the term "jazz," preferring "autophysiopsychic music."

Yusef's music explains what he was about far better than I could. Here is a documentary, "Brother Yusef," filmed in 2005, when he was 85. It is absolutely worth 51 minutes of your time:

May 21, 2018

Coltrane, Morton Gould, Francis Poulenc, and Harold Shapero

A friend (thanks, Carlos) just pointed me at a great "Deep Dive With Lewis Porter" article on the inspirations behind John Coltrane's composition "Impressions." Briefly put, Porter demonstrates that the melody of "Impressions" is a paraphrase of a section of Morton Gould's "Pavanne" (1938). The chord structure, of course, is borrowed from Miles Davis' "So What." For more detail on this, check out the Porter article. It's a great read, with plenty of sound clips. I'd heard about Coltrane's use of "Pavanne" before, but the following was news to me:

In a follow-up article, Porter cites the source of the melody to Coltrane's "Big Nick": Francis Poulenc's "Impromptu #3." See Porter's article for recorded examples.

In a comment below the second article, a reader points out that the source of the melody to the first half of "Giant Steps" was pretty definitely Harold Shapero's String Quartet (1941). Check the recording below! Shapero moves his theme through quite a few transpositions, including some chromatic third relations, though he doesn't follow "Coltrane changes."


The second half of the "Giant Steps" melody, as well as the chords, "Giant Steps" is definitely borrowed from Nicholas Slonimsky. This is widely known (see this previous post for an image).  It was a monumental achievement for Coltrane to combine the Shapero melody, Coltrane changes, and the Slonimsky example into a cohesive whole, not to mention working up the technique and applying the improvisational creativity necessary to perform it.

While checking other sources for this post, I ran across an assertion that the intro to "So What," written by Gil Evans, is borrowed from Debussy's "Voiles." I hear Debussy, but I don't particularly hear that piece in the "So What" intro. I also read in several places that "So What" derives in some way from Ahmad Jamal's recording of Gould's "Pavanne" - I'd have to be convinced. However, it's a fact that the horn riff in James Brown's "Cold Sweat" was derived from "So What" - as stated by Alfred "Pee Wee" Ellis, who wrote the horn parts.

Mar 24, 2018

"La Fiesta," "Someday My Prince Will Come," and "Olé"

A couple of days ago I was driving home from teaching, and turned on KCSM, our Bay Area jazz station. Miles' recording of "Someday My Prince Will Come" was playing, and I tuned in just in time for John Coltrane's solo. The first notes in the solo are pretty much exactly the beginning of the second theme in Chick Corea's "La Fiesta." I had never noticed that before.

Here's the Miles recording on Youtube. Coltrane's solo starts at about 5:50.

Here's a transcription of the solo, scrolling while the music plays. (Sorry I can't just post these videos here - apparently Sony has blocked any access except viewing them directly on Youtube.)

Here's Chick Corea's tune. The second theme (the part in question) starts at 1:45:

Both tunes are in 3/4 time, and the chord progressions are the same for four measures. The Miles recording was done in 1961; "La Fiesta" was recorded in 1972. It seems pretty clear that Corea got some initial inspiration from the Miles/Coltrane recording. 

As you might expect, I was not the first person to notice this. Here's a discussion from 2003; check out the first comment from Mike Fitzgerald (fourth comment from the top), with some very good information on this question. The comments also point out the similarity of the first theme of La Fiesta to the Coltrane tune "Olé" (recorded in 1961 also). Coltrane's "Olé" definitely uses the same chord progression as the first theme in "La Fiesta," but as Fitzgerald points out (quoting Lewis Porter's Coltrane bio), the progression was not original with Coltrane. 

The song "El Vito" is a likely source, both for "Olé" and for the first theme of "La Fiesta":

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, donaldclarkemusicbox.com. 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.

Click here for Part 2 of this post, where I review Yusef Lateef's "Repository of Scales and Melodic Patterns."