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:

Dec 29, 2018

Tunes published in 1923 will be entering the public domain

United States copyright law is quite restrictive as compared to many other countries. According to the provisions of the Copyright Act of 1976 and the Copyright Term Extension Act of 1988 (aka "Mickey Mouse Protection Act"), works published or registered before 1978 remain under copyright for 95 years.

Since the passage of the 1988 Mickey Mouse Protection Act, the cutoff date for works entering the public domain has been 1922, with any works published in 1923 or later remaining under copyright. Beginning in 2019, the clock will start running again, with each new year bringing one more year of songs and other works into the public domain. Over the next 20 years or so, most "Golden Age" jazz standards will lose copyright protection.

As of January 1, 2019, copyright will expire for these works published in 1923:

King Porter Stomp
Who's Sorry Now
Tin Roof Blues
Yes! We Have No Bananas
The Charleston
Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out
I Cried for You

In 2020, these works from 1924 will become public domain:

Everybody Loves My Baby
Fascinating Rhythm
I Want to be Happy
I'll See You in my Dreams
It Had to be You
The Man I Love
Rhapsody in Blue
Somebody Loves Me
Tea for Two
Oh, Lady Be Good

Depending on your tastes, you may find some of these songs to be a bit dated. But the 1920s and 1930s were a period of rapidly increasing musical sophistication. In a few more years we will start to see some of the better tunes by Gershwin, Cole Porter, Jerome Kern, et al.

Unless, of course, Congress comes under corporate pressure again, and passes another extension like the 1988 Mickey Mouse Protection Act.

Many other countries have shorter terms of copyright; one common formula is the life of the author plus fifty years (see this table). For example, in Canada you will be able record songs written by Wes Montgomery (d. 1968), without paying royalties.

Some articles to check out regarding copyright:

A Landslide of Classic Art is About to Enter the Public Domain (The Atlantic)

For the First Time in More Than 20 Years, Copyrighted Works will Enter the Public Domain (

These 1923 Copyrighted Works Enter the Public Domain in 2019 (

Copyright Law of the United States (Wikipedia)

Dec 20, 2018

Hermeto Pascoal’s improv lessons

A fascinating article from the Ethnomusicology Review: Notes from the Jabour School: Multidimensional harmonic models for improvisation, composition and arrangement from Hermeto Pascoal’s Grupo in Rio de Janeiro, by Jovino Santos Neto.

You really have to read this yourself, but I'll try to summarize.

Jovino, an articulate writer, discusses his experiences as a young musician playing with Hermeto Pascoal's ensemble, particularly Hermeto's method of teaching improvisation to his musicians. An excerpt:
The first thing that Hermeto taught us when improvising over chords to ‘Campinas’ was to write above each chord symbol a number of triad options. So, if a chord was a C major 7th, we would write the symbols for G, E minor, D and B minor. These triads are components of the C Lydian mode. If a chord was a C minor 7th, we would write the triads Eb, Bb, D minor, F. These are components of the C Dorian mode. For each chord type there are between 2 and 5 triad options to be explored. However, instead of having us learn linear scales and modes, Hermeto would inspire us to create simple, intuitive melodies based on those triads.
This comes across to me as an adaptation of the "substitution by thirds" and "upper structure" approaches. But the last sentence above is essential. 

Jovino goes on to describe his own expansion of this perspective:
Even though we tend to treat chords as individual entities or motionless objects, in reality they connect to and inform all the musical material surrounding them, so it would be more appropriate to consider chords as verbs, (which denote actions), rather than nouns, which denote objects. We can then visualize any chord as a cloud of possible musical actions, with an ‘atmosphere’ of triads surrounding it. I found it convenient to use three dimensional images as a visual aid to enable the multi-sensorial perception of harmony...
...Furthermore, I find that even better than using abstract Platonic solids as sources of imagery for musical reference, we can instead focus on shapes commonly found in Nature. Trees, for instance, can very effective models for conceiving harmonic entities. As land-dwelling beings, we think of trees as stationary objects, but somewhere in the inner core of our brains, we can still visualize trees as stations along a pathway of travel like our canopy-dwelling ancestors.

As I mentioned, you really have to read this article in its entirety. In fact, I think I'll go back and read it a few more times, myself.

Note: Jovino will be presenting a lecture on "The Harmonic Forest: Musical Structures Heard as Trees" on Jan. 21, 2019, at the Seattle Art Museum. Here's a link for ticket information.

Nov 19, 2018

Monk's "Dreamland"

If you haven't yet read it, be sure to check out Ethan Iverson's recent post, Thelonious Sphere Monk Centennial: Primary and Secondary Documents. It's an excellent overview of Monk's recording career, his compositions, Monk biographies, articles, tribute recordings, and Monk-related documents.

I'd like to offer some comments on just one song mentioned in the article, 
"Dreamland." Monk may or may not have written it. Recordings exist from 1958, 1969 (available as part of a Mosaic Records DVD box set), and 1971. Monk never copyrighted it.

Iverson posts two charts for Monk's "Dreamland," one that was done by Paul Motian (without barlines), and a version re-charted by Bill Frisell (with barlines). You can find the charts towards the end of Iverson's article, along with a discussion of the tune. 

Here's the 1958 version. Monk did not approve this track for release, and it was not included in the original "Thelonious in Action" album pictured below; Orrin Keepnews eventually released the track on an album called "Blues Five Spot" (1984), after Monk passed away in 1982. On the 1984 album it was titled "unidentified piano solo."

Here is Monk's only studio recording of "Dreamland," done in London for Black Lion Records in 1971: 

When the 1971 track was released, the record company titled it "Meet Me Tonight in Dreamland." Most people who are familiar with "Meet Me Tonight in Dreamland" would call this a mistake, as Monk's tune seems to have nothing to do with the old 1909 waltz that has been recorded countless times over the years. 

Although Monk's tune is definitely not "Meet Me Tonight in Dreamland," I do hear some similarity to the original verse (introductory lead-in) of the 1909 tune. Here are Elizabeth Wheeler and Harry Anthony singing the tune, starting with the verse, recorded in 1909:

Here are the first two pages of the original sheet music, showing the verse (click to enlarge):

Here are the opening bars to each song, with "Meet Me..." transposed to Eb, for easier comparison. In "Meet Me...," if you remove the third note in bars 1, 3, 9, and 11, you will see a melodic curve very much like "Dreamland."

It seems at least possible that Monk took the melodic shape of the verse to "Meet Me" as a starting point, then wrote his own tune. In his recordings, Monk plays "Dreamland" straight through as an arrangement, with no real improvised solo, much as he did in his performances of "Crepuscule With Nellie."

Iverson writes that he is "unconvinced that ['Dreamland'] is not just some old parlor piano tune we haven’t found yet, mainly because the bones of Monk’s original ballads are so much more idiosyncratic than the quite conventional 'Dreamland.' " That's a good point - the changes don't resemble other Monk tunes - but the chord progression in Monk's "Dreamland" is not in a style you'd typically find in a 1910s or 1920s parlor tune. To me, the harmony sounds more 1930s or 1940s (of course, Monk might have done some reharmonizing).

Note that the melody of "Dreamland" falls on the #11 of a dominant chord in bars 4 and 8, and on the b9 in bar 16. Also note the pickup/triplet shape in bars 3 and 7. These are characteristic bop features, although it's always possible that they were added as part of a Monk interpretation.

There's a notation at the top of the first page of the 1909 sheet music that cautions us:
PLEASE NOTE:--Owing to the phenomenal and unprecedented success and sale of this beautiful song, there have been placed on the market, imitation "Dreamland" songs with very similar titles.
This song written and composed by LEO FRIEDMAN and BETH SLATER WHITSON is THE ORIGINAL song of this title and WE CAN PROVE IT.

If Iverson is right that Monk's "Dreamland" is an old parlor tune, one might guess that it could be one of those "Meet Me Tonight" knockoffs that the sheet music warns us about - but the style of both melody and changes is all wrong for 1909. 

In his definitive biography Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original, Robin D. G. Kelley writes,
"Dreamland" has been mislabeled and misrepresented many times...I have reviewed both songs ["Meet Me..." and a song titled "Dreamland" by Goetz and North], along with dozens of other songs with the title "Dreamland" (Harry L. Newman's "Take Me Back to Dreamland," Harold Arlen's "Hit the Road to Dreamland," Francis Paul, "Dreamland," ad nauseum). None of these songs bear any resemblance to what Monk played on those two occasions. After ten years of searching, querying, and digging, I have come to the conclusion is a Monk original. Perhaps it is a sketch of a song never quite finished.

My own opinion is that there's a pretty good case that Monk composed the tune, taking off from a paraphrase of the verse to "Meet Me Tonight in Dreamland."

Finally, here's one last video, a 1950s Les Elgart big-band version of "Meet Me Tonight in Dreamland." Sitting in the sax section of local big bands, I played this arrangement countless times, but it took a few gigs before I recognized the original melody buried in the arrangement:

Oct 30, 2018

Play little songs

 "Play little songs."
- Advice to improvisers from Tadd Dameron, quoted in I Remember Tadd, an article by George Ziskind, posted on the "Jazz Profiles" blog. 
The wisest three words I've ever heard on the subject. Ziskind was a friend of Dameron's. I was referred to his article by my friend Adam, who studied jazz piano with Ziskind. Ziskind gave Adam the same three words of advice.

Ziskind explains in more detail:
This was Tadd's most basic advice to the improviser. When playing one's chorus(es) on a tune, it is not sufficient to know the harmony (backwards and forwards, so to speak!!); to be 100% comfortable with its figurations; and to have more than a passing familiarity with the composer's conception. Tadd stressed that the above were merely starting points. They were the basic building blocks necessary to construct a credible solo and only when you had those items fully covered could you be ready to deal with the heart of the matter, i.e., to make "little songs" as you played—little self-contained melodic bits—that could be two beats long, or two bars long, or nine or ten bars long.