Dec 19, 2011

Paul De Ville: His Saxophone and Banjo Methods

I came across this copy of Paul de Ville's "The Eclipse Self-Instructor for Banjo" (1905) at a sheet music give-away. Sax players will recognize Paul de Ville (or deVille) as the author of the "Universal Method for Saxophone" (1908), a very good instruction book that is still in wide use today. I wondered for a moment if this could be the same person - but of course it is. How many Paul de Villes, writing music instruction books in 1905-1908, could there have been?

On the first page of the banjo book is a "Dictionary of the Principal Words Used in Modern Music." An identical list, under the title "A List of the Principal Words Used in Modern Music," appears on page 13 of the saxophone book. The next page of the banjo book starts a section called "Rudiments of Music." I thought that looked familiar as well. In fact, there is a "Rudiments of Music" section in the saxophone book too. The subjects, layout, and wording are similar but not identical, as though de Ville had revised his 1905 banjo version for the 1908 saxophone book.

Banjo book

But wait! My edition of H. Klosé's "Celebrated Method for the Clarinet" also has a similar "Rudiments of Music" section at the beginning of the book. And "A List of the Principal Words Used in Modern Music," the same list exactly, appears in Klosé, on page 120. 

All three books were (or are) published by Carl Fischer. It looks as though it was company policy to include a standardized "Rudiments" section. Incidentally, on the Petrucci site I found a free download of an 1879 English language edition of the Klosé (pub. Jean White). Comparing it to my 1946 "Revised and Enlarged by Simeon Bellison" edition, it's possible to make some guesses as to which parts of the Klosé were simply lifted by Carl Fischer from the earlier Jean White edition (e.g., most of the wording in the translation from French to English), which parts may have been added in early Carl Fischer editions, (e.g., the "Rudiments" section) and which parts may have been added or rewritten by Simeon Bellison (substitution of less antiquated wording, much extra musical content).

So, back to the banjo book - after the 8-page Rudiments section, de Ville has 3 pages on how to play the instrument, followed by 8 pages of short exercises. Then he gets right down to business, with 139 "Standard, National, and Operatic Melodies." This would have been a pretty cool song collection for most Americans in 1905: Irish, civil war, minstrel show, Gilbert and Sullivan, Verdi, Stephen Foster, jigs, polkas. By comparison, the saxophone book is rather dry - no popular songs at all. I imagine that de Ville modelled the sax book after "serious" classical method books, like Klosé, or the Arban trumpet method.

According to an article on, de Ville published "Eclipse Self-Instructor" books for accordion, concertina, banjo, flute, clarinet, guitar, mandolin, trombone, piano, saxophone, and violin, between 1893 and 1906. The concertina book is still in print (as are the later 1908 "Universal Method" and the Klosé clarinet method, of course).

De Ville seems to have taken his saxophone "Universal Method" seriously, more so anyway than the banjo book. It's aimed at students with patience and discipline, rather than at those just interested in playing popular songs. The "Eclipse" and "Universal" series were aimed at different sorts of customers.

It's interesting that de Ville, and the Carl Fischer company, thought that the saxophone was worthy of a method with a "serious" approach (and that it would sell). As to why that might be, I'm thinking about the social status of the saxophone in 1908. The popularity of the instrument at that time would have been based on its use in the very popular Patrick Gilmore (active 1848-1892) and John Philip Sousa (active 1880-1932) bands, and in thousands of town bands playing similar music at the time. The saxophone's ascendency in pop culture via vaudeville (e.g., the Six Brown Brothers, 1910s) and early commercial recordings (Rudy Wiedoeft, late 1910s and early 1920s) was still in the future. Jazz saxophone came even later.

De Ville is listed as having revised the Lazarus clarinet method c.1900 (Eastman library). In his Author's Note at the beginning of the "Universal Method for Saxophone," he calls the saxophone "my favorite instrument." Maybe he was a single-reed guy.

More about De Ville in my next post.

Dec 9, 2011

Charlie Parker's Musical Quotes

Lawrence Koch's book "Yardbird Suite," reviewed in my last post, offers quite a bit of analytical detail about most of Charlie Parker's recordings, including the musical quotations in Bird's solos. Below is a list I extracted from the book as I re-read it. (Thanks to the author for his kind permission.)

Update 12/21/15 - I've added a few more at the end of the list, from Thomas Owens' dissertation "Charlie Parker: Techniques of Improvisation" (1974).

Parker was more likely to employ musical quotes in live performances than in the studio; it was his way of telling a little joke to his audience. Sometimes his choice of quote was intended as a message to a fellow musician or to a particular listener, sometimes it was just being silly.

This list is more or less chronological, 1941-1955. I haven't included examples of Parker quoting his own previous recordings, or quoting other musicians' solos (e.g., Lester Young's), and I have only listed the first instance of each song quote that Koch cites. When a jazz standard like "Star Eyes" or "I'll Remember April" appears on the list, it's because it was quoted in a solo over a different tune.

There's no independent research on my part here, just a collation of the melodies cited throughout the book. I'm sure that the list is incomplete. It's posted for your amusement, and as bit of musical history.

Isle of Capri
We're in the Money
Bye Bye Blackbird
London Bridge
Happy Am I With My Religion
Drum Boogie
Mean to Me
Woody Woodpecker
Cocktails for Two
In the Gloaming
Happy Birthday
Canadian Capers
Country Gardens
D'Ye Ken John Peel
Le Secret
When The Red, Red Robin...
Why Was I Born?
Buttons and Bows
Then I'll Be Happy
I'll Remember April
The Kerry Dancers
Jingle Bells
The Man On the Flying Trapeze
Pop Goes the Weasel
My Kind of Love
On the Trail
Blues in the Night
West End Blues
High Society
Barnacle Bill the Sailor
The Prisoner's Song
That's A-Plenty
Johnny One-Note
My Man
Did You Ever See a Dream Walking?
In and Out the Window
Memories of You
A-Hunting We Will Go
Claire de Lune
National Emblem March
Jeanie With the Light Brown Hair
Cross My Heart 

Star Eyes
The Song is You
Let's Have Another Cup of Coffee
Mozart Symphony #40
Let's Fall in Love
Three Blind Mice
I Love You Truly
Why Do I Love You
William Tell Overture
Santa Claus is Coming to Town
I Can't Get Started
I Cover the Waterfront
Minuet in G
Moon Over Miami

Addenda: from the Owens dissertation mentioned above:

Over There
Put Your Little Foot
Oh Come, all Ye Faithful
Minute Waltz (Chopin)
"Introduction" from "The Rite of Spring" (Stravinsky)
"Dance of the Ballerina" from "Petrouchka" (Stravinsky)
"Anitra's Dance" (Grieg)
"In the Hall of the Mountain King" (Grieg)
"Menuet Celebre" (Paderewski)
"Star of Eve" from "Tanhauser" (Wagner)

Addendum 9/26/17 - I just ran across this page with more great Bird quote info: Quotes in Bird's Performance.

Addendum 6/13/19 - A few more from the new "Charlie Parker Omnibook Vol. 2":

Tickle Toe
It Don't Mean a Thing
Volga Boat Song

Dec 5, 2011

Review: "Yardbird Suite," by Lawrence O. Koch

Lawrence Koch’s “Yardbird Suite: A Compendium of the Music and Life of Charlie Parker” combines several aspects: biography, annotated discography, psychological speculation, and musical analysis; these aspects are integrated into a chronological narrative of Parker’s life. This book is invaluable to any musician who wants to understand the man who, more than any other individual, was responsible for modern jazz. Following are some comments about each of these facets of “Yardbird Suite.”


It’s a tricky thing, writing a biography of Charlie Parker. As an artist, Parker created an enduring musical language that was optimistic and joyful, as well as intellectually brilliant. In this respect, he was an exemplary human being. But at the same time, his substance abuse problems made him an awful role model, damaged the lives of others, and degraded the public image of jazz. How can a biographer convey the beauty and brilliance of Parker’s contribution, while acknowledging the realities of his personal life? Clint Eastwood’s film, “Bird,” attempted to do this. I remember leaving the theater with a feeling of depression. To me, that meant that the film had failed.

Koch manages to negotiate this problem well. He does not avoid the factual details of Bird’s life, but attempts to place them in proper perspective by making some psychological speculations, and more importantly, by simply focusing far more on the music.

The personal details of Parker’s life are generally drawn from other biographies, but are selected and presented in a way that Koch intends to be as accurate and succinct as possible. Occasionally, he discusses “Bird stories” that he finds factually dubious.


Virtually every Parker recording that had been documented at the time the book was written is discussed, both in the frame of historical narrative and in musical terms. Koch offers his opinions on each recording's relative artistic merit, and suggests which recordings he considers to be more (or less) essential. He lists Bird’s musical quotes in detail; I rather enjoyed that.

In the descriptions of the recording sessions, you will find information and perspective on just about any Parker recording that you may own.

Psychological speculation

I’m not qualified in any way to evaluate Bird’s mental state or motivations, or to evaluate Koch’s comments in this regard. But he offers his opinions, and to me they do not seem particularly out of line. Koch speculates that a lack of discipline in Parker’s early life led to his pattern of self-indulgence as an adult, and that his self-destructive tendencies were due to a conflict between the self-indulgent side of his personality and the higher, artistic side. You’ll have to read this book for yourself to see if I’m paraphrasing it properly.

Musical analysis

This, to me, is the book’s greatest strength. Besides the musical comments throughout the book, there is a 32-page appendix that presents an excellent study of the elements of Parker’s compositional/improvisational style. Topics include: Use of the b6, Use of the Major Scale, Treatment of the Dominant, Substitute Chords, Shifting Harmonic Accents, Superimposition, Blues, and so forth - 17 subjects in all. The appendix concludes with a transcription and bar-by-bar analysis of Bird’s solo on “Embraceable You.”

Personally, and as an ornithologist myself, I agree with most (not all) of Koch’s analytical comments. My disagreements are on the level of minor quibbling. (One quibble concerns his tendency to ascribe chordal thinking [substitutions, interpolations] to virtually every note, where I’d guess that Parker’s thinking might in some places be better explained as employing tension notes, neighboring tones, and passing tones.)

Koch’s writing style is personal and informal, rather than scholarly; this is appropriate, as the book includes a fair amount of personal opinion along with the biographical narrative and musical analysis.

The advertising blurb that you’ll find on Amazon and elsewhere doesn’t really do this book justice. It’s OK until it promises “stories of Parker’s eccentric behavior, sexual appetite, drug addiction, and compulsive drinking.” That sentence seems to have been intended to help sales, but aside from a few well-known incidents, this book doesn’t really deliver prurient details. It’s actually a well-researched book by a musician, directed primarily at other musicians, that delivers a respectful biography and quite a bit of musical insight. If you’re a jazz player, it’s a must-read.

Nov 9, 2011

Theory Articles for

For the last couple of months, I've been working on a series of theory articles for The site is a terrific resource for information on standard tunes. A companion site,, has bios and further links for performers and composers.

That's one reason that my blog posting has been sporadic lately.

From a writing standpoint, the challenge was to address a general audience, while at the same time trying to provide information that would be useful to musicians, and to somehow do it in less than 1500 words per article. You can be the judge of how well I did or didn't do that. It's been a fun project. Thanks to Jeremy Wilson (he runs the site) for the invitation!

Please check them out! The articles are:

Oct 26, 2011

Saxophone Acoustics

If you are interested in saxophone acoustics, especially the role of the vocal tract in shaping sound, these links will take you to a wealth of information:

One of my students' parents pointed me to this site (thanks, Randy!). It's maintained by a group of researchers at the University of North Wales.

It will take me a while to digest all the information on these pages, and on the links from there to additional research papers. Highly recommended, to say the least. You'll find info there on the acoustics of most other musical instruments as well.

Oct 2, 2011

The Max Roach Workshop

In the mid-1980s I was working at a local non-profit music school, organizing their jazz program. One day I got a call from our music school director (a classical guy). "Have you heard of someone named Max Roach? He wants to do a workshop here." I told him that this was something we should definitely try to make happen, as Max Roach was one of the greatest drummers in the history of jazz.

Max had gotten a grant to do some performances and workshops in the San Francisco area, and as part of the package, needed to arrange some "community outreach." Somehow the name of our school came up, and his agent had made a call. Our director called back with an affirmative reply, we put out some publicity, and a couple of months later Max showed up to do the workshop.

Shaking hands, I couldn't help thinking that I was one handshake removed from... just about every major player in the jazz world. Max was wearing a suit with 1940s style high-waist, baggy pants, nicely creased. He reminded me of my Uncle Louis, a New Yorker of Max's generation, who dressed the same way.

There were around 40 people in the audience: perhaps 30 older non-musicians - bebop fans - and 10 or so relatively young student jazz players (that included me). Now, "workshop" is a sort of vague term, less specific than, say, "masterclass." We didn't know exactly what Max had in mind, and he probably didn't either, at least not until he had a chance to size up the audience.

Max talked for a few minutes about his current projects (working with dancers, I recall), and then sat down at the drum set and played for about 20 minutes, a couple of fascinating, virtuosic solo pieces. That was an education in itself, especially for the handful of drummers in the audience. Then Max said, "Would anyone like to come up here and play?"

Wow! For us young boppers, this was too good to be true... playing a tune with Max Roach! About 8 of us got our instruments and gathered around the drum set.

Max stood up, walked back into the audience, and took a seat. Then he said, "What are you going to play?" We discussed it for about 15 seconds. How about a blues? Great! How about "Now's the Time?" Max, from the audience, said, "Now's the Time... I think I played on that recording."

So we played "Now's the Time," everybody took a solo, maybe 10 or 12 minutes altogether. Max, talking to the rest of the audience, said "Ladies and gentlemen, do you see how this works? These musicians have probably never played together (true), but they have a common repertoire, and didn't have any problem improvising a performance..." Of course, we were a little disappointed that we weren't able to actually play a tune with Max, but what the heck, at least we played for him.

Max took questions for another 30 minutes or so, and then headed back to San Francisco for his gig at Fort Mason.

Aug 25, 2011

Concert Review: Sergio Augusto and Tony Moreira

Last Saturday I had the pleasure of hearing bossa nova played right, by guitarist/singer Sergio Augusto, accompanied by keyboardist Tony Moreira. Sergio was a pioneer of the bossa movement, on the scene in Sao Paolo as a teenager in the early 1960s. After a long career in advertising, he is concertizing again. I was able to catch them at Senzala Restaurant in Sunnyvale, California (it's a nice venue where I play a lunch gig every Friday).

But let's talk about the music. Sergio and Tony played the classics - plenty of Jobim and Menescal, but also some bossa-influenced American tunes ("Call Me"), and some bossa versions of oldies ("Blue Moon," "Volare"). The idea was to give the audience a tour of bossa nova, played in pure bossa nova fashion. It was pretty straight ahead that way. Sergio was certainly the right guy to do it. I enjoyed his guitar work - again, very straight ahead, but a model of bossa/samba comping. Nice vocals, too.

For just a duo, Sergio and Tony covered a lot of space. Sergio's arrangements were just right - everything where it should be. Countermelodies and textures that were part of the original compositions, but are omitted from fake books, were tastefully covered by the keyboard. There weren't many improvised solos, but when Tony got the chance, he sounded great. Every so often the arrangements worked in some interesting reharmonizations.

At the suggestion of Lidia, one of the owners of Senzala, I was asked to sit in on "Corcovado" and "Ipanema." A real privilege!

All in all, it was a very enjoyable concert, with a very warm vibe to it. Many thanks to Sergio and Tony, and to Lidia and Wagner at Senzala as well.

Jul 24, 2011

Lessons with Joe

Back in 1977-79, I had the good fortune to take some saxophone and improvisation lessons from Joe Henderson. Here’s the story of how I stumbled into the opportunity, and my recollections of Joe’s teaching method.

I had been teaching private lessons and a few combo classes at a small community music school for a couple of years. Two friends who had just graduated from Berklee had started teaching there also, and in the spring of 1977 we decided to offer a summer jazz program, a sort of local version of an Aebersold clinic, or a National Stage Band Camp (I’d been to one of each, and of course the other guys had been to Berklee). At the time, there wasn’t much like that in our area.

Our school’s office staff (two volunteers) put together some publicity, including some public service announcements. Since we were a non-profit organization, radio and TV stations would run our PSA’s free of charge.

One day a few weeks later, the receptionist asked if I could take a phone call from a guy who wanted some information about the Summer Jazz Program. The conversation went something like this:

Caller: “Hello, I wonder if you could tell me more about your Summer Jazz Program.”
Peter: (proceeds with the spiel for a prospective student)
Caller: “Well, actually I was interested more in teaching.”
Peter: “Oh - sure. What’s your name?”
Caller: “Henderson.”
Peter: “Is this Joe?”
Caller: “Yes.”

Incredible. Joe was one of my musical heroes; I knew his work with Horace Silver, his Blue Note recordings, and his more recent work for CTI with Freddie Hubbard, Herbie Hancock, etc. And here he was, on the telephone. He had heard one of the PSA’s on TV, late at night. I said that we didn’t have any budget to bring him to the school, but that I would really like to take some lessons. Joe gave me directions to his house in San Francisco, and we set a date.

Joe had a big old house on a hill in the southern part of SF, on Los Palmos Drive. For the first lesson, we set up in a sun room upstairs. The first thing was to make sure I could play all my major scales, and a chromatic scale into the altissimo register. I could sort of do that, but I had been using some fingerings I had picked up partly from my old teacher Eddy, and partly from..somewhere. Joe had me learn the Sigurd Rascher fingerings. Joe told me he had studied with Larry Teal in Detroit; he was proud of that. Perhaps Teal had taught him those fingerings.

After a couple of weeks, our lessons were relocated to a small room downstairs, where he had a keyboard plugged into a little “Pignose” amp. From then on, lessons consisted of dictation and memorization of solo lines. Joe would play a couple of measures at the keyboard, and I was supposed to play it back to him. Then he would extend the solo line by another few measures. I was supposed to add that and play it back - and so forth. The first lesson, I got maybe 4 measures. Then I was supposed to practice it for a week; at the next lesson he would extend it further. No recording or notating was allowed; it was all about memorization. A couple of times at the beginning, he wrote down just a few notes on staff paper, from the middle of the solo, so that I could use it to jog my memory later.

Often, by the time I had driven home to Palo Alto (45 minutes), I had forgotten most of the solo. But then, it would come back to me later that night, or the next morning. As time went on, I got better at retaining the music, and could get maybe 8-12 measures in a lesson.

Each solo was constructed on the spot, specifically for that student. Joe always remembered what he had given me the previous week. I don’t know how many students he did that with. He had an amazing musical memory.

This teaching method was unique, and perfect for most of Joe’s students. I figured it like this: People went to Joe because they dug his playing style, and wanted pick up some of it. This way, students not only got his musical ideas, but got licks tailored to their capabilities. In addition, most of his students probably came in with a pretty good reading background - so they didn’t need that. What they needed was to develop their ear, their musical vocabulary, their sense of solo construction, and their connection between brain and fingers. Joe’s method did all of that, and included some technique too.

He never talked about theory or about how a given lick would fit the harmony. That part of the lesson was implicit in the solo line, and the student was supposed to just internalize it.

One day I came in for a lesson, and was introduced to the student who was just leaving. He was a very well-known funk tenor player. I saw the music on the stand; Joe had him working on a classical etude.

I came for a lesson every week that Joe was in town, for about a year and a half. Those were some of the best lessons I’ve ever had. Sometimes I kick myself for not sticking around longer. But then, I’m still learning from the material Joe gave me. I have to admit that a lot of it has faded from memory, but I still run through the 6 choruses of “Relaxin’ at Camarillo” about once a week as a warmup, and I never did write that down.

By the way, Joe was very clear about his belief that improvised solos were the property of the performer, and that this applied to the solos he created for our lessons. So - my apologies - I won't be posting a transcription.

Here are a couple of interesting items about Joe Henderson’s teaching style:

A recording of a masterclass that Joe gave at North Texas State University;

Mel Martin interviews Joe 

Jul 6, 2011

An Analysis of Charlie Parker’s “Billie’s Bounce” Solo

This post will cover some of the devices (that is, practices, procedures, or tricks) that Charlie Parker often used in soloing over a 12-bar blues form. To illustrate how he implemented these devices, I’ll have a look at his solo on his classic tune “Billie’s Bounce.”

I initially thought of doing this post because it’s pretty much like a lesson I might give to a high school or adult sax student. At the lesson, we’ll first play through a transcription of a Parker solo, often a blues, and listen to the recording. I’ll then talk about the transcription, pointing out devices or approaches that seem noteworthy, trying to read Parker’s mind somewhat. Then the student and I do some blues improvising, and he or she can try to put those tricks into practice. This lesson gets students into analysis and applied theory, and gives them some familiarity with Bird’s style, which is of course the foundation of most jazz as it is played today.

I posted a book review a couple of weeks ago in which I promised to analyze the “Billie’s Bounce” solo. However, I ran into a problem: Copyright restrictions prevent me from reproducing either the printed solo, or the recorded solo, for the reader’s reference. The recorded solo is easy to find - $.99 from iTunes. The transcription can be found in the Charlie Parker Omnibook, and also in the Hal Leonard publication, The Best of Charlie Parker.” These two versions differ in a few details.

Parker’s Characteristic Blues Devices

First, here is a measure-by-measure list of devices that Bird generally likes to use in soloing over a blues progression. I’ll assume here that we are in the key of D (the alto sax key for “Billie’s Bounce”):

m.1: Parker often (not always) uses the sound of a Dmaj7 chord here, as opposed to the more common D7. Occasionally he will use what we would now call a blues scale sound.

Note: If Parker implies a particular harmony by his note choice, this does not mean that the rest of the band will be using it - more on this below.

m.2: Traditionally, a G7 is often used here. Parker will sometimes ignore the G7 and continue the Dmaj7 through m2 or m3. If he uses an F#, he’s implying Dmaj7; if he uses an F, he’s implying G7.

Note: In the first 7 bars of a blues, Parker often includes notes from a guide tone line (voice leading line, or “thread”) that follows the F# in the tonic chord (third of Dmaj7 or D7) to the F in the subdominant chord (seventh of G7). See the chart at the end of this post.

Alternatively, Parker sometimes implies a ii V7 in m.2.

m.3: He generally uses notes that define Dmaj7 or D7. Occasionally he will imply Am7 here, to set up a D7 in bar 4.

m.4: Here Bird likes to bring out the sound of the note C, to make the tonic chord sound more like a V7 of IV, providing some push into the G7 (IV7) in bar 5. This is a traditional device going back almost to the beginning of the 12-bar blues form. Often Parker will enhance this effect by (1.) adding tension notes like #5, b9, or #9 to the D7, (2.) preceding the D7 with an outlined Am7 to set up a “ii V7” sound, (3.) implying an Ab7 in place of the D7 (tritone substitution), or (4.) some combination of the above. All of these devices have the effect of forcing the D7 to sound more like a dominant chord than a tonic, pushing towards a resolution to G7 in the next bar.

m.5: As mentioned above, he generally accentuates the F note in the G7. Also commonly heard here is the D “blues scale.”

m.6: Traditionally, one might use a Gm6 or G#dim7 chord here. Parker sometimes implies the Gm6 here by using a Bb note, even if the rhythm section is not playing this chord.

m.7: Parker generally prefers the sound of Dmaj7 here, rather than the traditional D7.

m.8: Lots of action here. Parker likes to imply B7b9, or / F#m7 B7b9 / (2 beats each), or  / F#m7 Fm7 /, or Fm7. This would have been a “modern” sound in the early 1940s - something that traditional blues musicians wouldn’t play.

m.9: Em7 (ii) chord here, as expected.

m.10: A7 (V7), as expected, perhaps with tension notes.

mm.11-12: Sometimes a turnaround, sometimes a pause on a note that is not the tonic, to give an unresolved feeling.

Note on comping: Listening to Parker with various pianists, it seems to me that they tend to play simply, and stay out of his way. This makes sense; it leaves Bird the space to interpolate any reharmonizations he might decide to use at any given moment. For the “Billie’s Bounce” recording, the pianist was Dizzy Gillespie. Listening to Dizzy’s playing in m.8, he plays / F#m7 Fm7 / for the head and in all 4 solo choruses. Perhaps that was just his personal choice, or perhaps Bird asked him to do this. In either case, Parker knew to expect those chords. However, in his last two solo choruses Bird plays licks that definitely fit / F#m7 B7b9 / , contrary to Diz’s comping. The lesson to be learned here is that Parker felt free to play ideas that might contradict the expected harmony.

The Billie’s Bounce Solo

Below is my take on Parker’s “Billie’s Bounce” solo. It is from a recording session early in the period of his mature style (11/26/45), the first recording done under his own name. Download Parker’s version of this song from iTunes (it’s the one with duration 3:09), and get out your Omnibook!

I have divided the material into five 12-bar sections: the head (excluding the intro), and the four choruses of sax solo.


m.1: Most people today play the head as it reads in the Omnibook, but that’s not what I hear Parker playing. The fourth eighth note in m.1 should be E; the seventh note should be C. The transcription in “The Best of Charlie Parker” fixes the C, but not the E. The common (wrong) way might be an improvement.

m.8: This lick outlines the typical / F#m7 B7b9 / (or full measure B7b9), but also fits  / F#m7 Fm7 /, which is what the pianist plays in m8 every time in this recording. The second eighth note in beat 2 should be a D.

m.9: The Omnibook shows a “turn” embellishing beat 3 of this measure, but Parker plays it without the turn. The Hal Leonard book corrects this.

mm.9-10: This lick outlines the chords / Em Em#7 / Em7 A7 /, incorporating a voice-leading line that goes E D# D C#. This is a way of embellishing ii V7 that Parker employed from time to time in various guises (see 4th chorus, mm.9-10).


mm.1-2: Bird must have liked this phrase as an opener; he used it 8 years later to open his solo on “Now’s the Time.” Carl Woideck says it may derive from a Lester Young lick.

m.2: The opening melody line in mm.1-2 is similar to the head of “Ornithology.” That tune is often attributed to Parker, but was actually written by Benny Harris. According to Woideck, Harris got the opening lick from a Parker blues solo in a 1942 recording with Jay McShann’s band. The use of F# implies D7 or Dmaj7, not G7.

mm.5-6: Includes guide tone line, using the note F prominently.

m.7: The use of C# suggests Dmaj7, a favorite Bird device in this measure.

m.10: Another “Ornithology” lick. 


m.1: “Blues scale” licks, not so common for Bird to use in m.1.

m.3: Note similarity to chorus 1, m.6.

mm.3-4: Brings out C natural by ending the phrase with it (see “devices” list).

m.5: Brings out F natural (guide tone).

mm.9-10: A favorite double-time lick over a ii V7 - often used by Bird, but only in this key, never any other. Sits nicely under the fingers on alto.

m.12: The eighth-note pickups outline the upcoming D chord. “Playing into the changes” (gearing solo notes to upcoming chord) is a favorite Bird device.


m.1: Use of note C rather than C# indicates that Parker is thinking D7 here, perhaps leading him to think of a G chord in the next measure.

m.2: Implies Gmaj9 with the notes F# and A; on beat 4, implies some sort of Gm chord with the note Bb.

m.5-6: Guide tone F for the G7.

m.7: Guide tone F# for the D7 (or Dmaj7).

m.8: Lick clearly outlines B7b9, although pianist continues to play / F#m7 Fm7 /. Note characteristic running of chord from 3 to b9.

m.10: b9 #9 lick on beat 4, another favorite device that uses chord extensions.

m.12: Pauses on E (fifth of A7), holds into next chorus.


mm.1-2: Guide tone F recognizes a G7 in m.2. The F also continues the held-note motif from chorus 3, m.12.

mm.5-6: Again, guide tone F for G7. Repeats lick from chorus 1, m.5; this was another in his bag of favorite licks.

m.7: Clear statement of Dmaj7, emphasizing note C#.

m.8: As in chorus 3, m.8, Bird outlines B7 while piano continues to play / F#m7 Fm7 /. Moral: If you are Charlie Parker, you can play what seems right to you without worrying about trivial points like precisely what the piano is laying down. If the idea has good continuity and is played with confidence, there will be no audible clash.

mm.9-10: This is another ii V7 elaboration, incorporating the notes / E D# / D C# /, the moving tones in an assumed underlying progression: / Em Em#7 / Em7 A7 /. See head, mm.9-10.

m.10: First three eighth notes are upper and lower neighboring tones bracketing a target chord tone, another favorite Parker device.

General Comments

Parker used a licks-based approach to improvisation, but was adept at altering the licks in his vocabulary, in many creative ways. His sense of harmonic placement was flexible; he often seemed to be mentally altering durations of chords, either hitting them early or prolonging them, or adding progressions that were not part of the accompaniment.

Parker was always melodic, always interesting. His notes were always there to make a statement, not because they strictly fit the original harmony.

I hope this analysis has been useful to somebody, somewhere. Sorry I couldn’t include a transcription of the solo. If you are a sax player, you should get a copy of the Omnibook anyway, if you don’t already have it.

The chart below shows the above mentioned “guide tone lines” for mm.1-7 as notes in the staff. Above the staff are chord options that Parker sometimes implies in his choice of notes. (Addendum: this chart should also show / Em7 A7 / as a possibility in bar 2.)

Jul 3, 2011

Concert Review: Anat Cohen Quartet

Another great concert at Stanford last night! Anat Cohen probably plays jazz clarinet as well as anyone on this planet, and I say this as a lifelong clarinet player. I could call her technique "unbelievable," but I was there, so I believe it. Anat's soloing style has been described as incorporating many influences - what reached my ear was: roots in the jazz mainstream; precision that probably started with some early classical training; the expressive note-bending gestures of klezmer and early jazz; and a certain amount of fusion/soul stylistic inflection. She understands her roots, but her style is very contemporary.

She didn't play any choros, but I'm not complaining.

Cohen's quartet also included Robert Rodriquez, piano; Joe Martin, bass; and Daniel Freedman, drums. They are all wonderful players, and the band had a great rapport. Freedman was especially impressive - subtle, inventive, supportive, always precise. There was a lot of rhythmic interplay, much of it coming from Freedman and Martin. Pieces tended to be long - the last set was just three tunes, at least fifteen minutes each. Solos were long, with plenty of time to develop ideas. As with all the best performers, each solo and each tune took the audience on a journey.

Here's a link to Anat Cohen's website.

The Stanford Jazz Festival concerts are always good, but this summer's lineup is better than ever. I've been to three events so far (Milton Nascimento earlier this week - what a privilege!). The organizers did a great job. Tickets are not cheap, but I'll be taking in a few more of these concerts in the next couple of months.

Jun 27, 2011

Concert Review: Oscar Castro-Neves and Gary Meek

Great concert last night at Stanford - Oscar Castro-Neves on guitar, vocals, and piano, with Gary Meek on flute, soprano and tenor sax, and keyboard. Oscar has been a major figure in Brazilian music since the beginnings of bossa nova, in the late 1950s. He plays the genre with as much mastery as anyone. Gary Meek has been playing with Castro-Neves' groups for at least 5 years, but this was the first gig they had ever played as a duo. Gary sounded terrific on every instrument - chops used with taste!

To me, it seemed to be a perfect match of players and material.

The music was all bossa nova, and almost all Jobim, with the exception of three tunes by Oscar, one Bonfa piece, and a bossa/novelty "In the Mood." The duo played arrangements originally written for Castro-Neves' 6-piece band; this gave a sense of arrangement, but with a greater sense of communication between musicians, and a greater spontaneity, than we might have heard from the full band. That is, both guys were figuring out how to cover what was important to the arrangements, and then delivering it to the audience.

I could go on, but it would just be a lot of superlatives. Oscar should use this format more often. He is otherwise often seen as a sideman with major jazz and popular artists (see his biography on his website).

Here's a Youtube clip of Oscar doing Waters of March; here's one of She's a Carioca.

There are quite a few Youtube videos featuring Gary Meek (a lot of fusion, as a sideman with Jeff Lorber, Dave Weckl, etc.). None of it sounded anywhere near as good to me as he did in person, with Oscar, playing Brazilian music.

Jun 19, 2011

Review: "The Best of Charlie Parker," by Mark Voelpel

I’m always interested in a good Charlie Parker book; I hadn’t seen this one until recently, though it was published in 2003. The full title is "The Best of Charlie Parker: A Step-By-Step Breakdown of the Styles and Techniques of a Jazz Legend." It’s part of the Hal Leonard “Signature Licks” series. The advertising blurb promises “in-depth analysis of twelve classics.” The book is an educational tool aimed at music students, particularly sax players, who want to better understand what Parker's style was all about.

This 48-page book includes an eight-page introductory essay on “Charlie Parker’s Music,” which begins with some biographical information regarding the development of Parker’s improvisational/compositional style. The essay goes on to list some of the characteristic melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic devices that contribute to that style. The rest of the book consists of twelve solo transcriptions, each preceded by a short introduction offering comments on points of interest in the solo.

This is a product worth checking out, but it is not without its flaws. 

The essay on Parker’s stylistic devices is pretty good. Voelpel discusses about seven devices in some detail, with musical examples: tritone substitution, chord extensions, a favorite triplet arpeggio figure, a chromatic triplet figure, “bebop scales,” chromatic approach notes, and “upper neighbor/lower neighbor” approach tones. These are indeed factors in Parker’s style, and this is a good presentation. However, if you are looking for a more complete and in-depth examination of the components of Bird’s style, I‘d refer you to Yardbird Suite, by Lawrence Koch, an excellent biography that includes a 32-page appendix in which Koch discusses something like 17 devices or aspects of Parker’s style in detail (I’ll post a review of that book in the near future).

Any published transcriptions of Parker solos will inevitably be compared to the Charlie Parker Omnibook by Jamey Aebersold and Ken Slone, a terrific collection that came out in 1978 (I’ve used it in teaching for years). All but two of the solos that Voelpel has chosen are covered in the Omnibook as well. Voelpel has improved upon the Omnibook in quite a few spots, but to my ear, there are still occasional missed notes and rhythms in the transcriptions. Some errors seem to be due to typos. Voelpel published a similar book for guitar two years earlier (which I haven’t read). Perhaps this book, directed at sax players, just wasn’t adequately proofed by a sax player.

The short written introductions to each transcription don’t really deliver the ”in-depth analysis of twelve classics” promised by the publisher’s advertising blurb. For example, the introduction for “Billie’s Bounce” comments on just nine spots in the 61-measure solo (I’ll post my own take on this solo before too long). Other introductions contain some biographical or discographical info, but little or no musical analysis.

A CD is included, with the transcriptions played by alto sax, piano, bass, and drums. On the one hand, some students might find it helpful to hear these versions, insofar as they are played with better sound quality than the original Parker issues, and at a slower tempo. The sax part is recorded on only the right side of the stereo, so that the tracks can be used as play-alongs.

On the other hand, something is lost in translation. The best reference for a Parker solo is - by definition - Bird’s original recording, with all its inflections, accents, timing, unquantifiable thinking and emotion, and of course, “correct” notes. The versions on the CD are the result of several steps of processing: first from Parker to the recording, then to the ear of the transcriber, then to paper, then visually from paper to performer, and finally from performer to the new recording. Even considering just the notes, errors accumulate along the way. The character of the music changes too, and the end product is not exactly a Charlie Parker solo. But we have to be understanding; perhaps the rights to the original recordings were not obtainable.

I may have been a bit critical here, but I’m glad that Voelpel put this book together, and that Hal Leonard published it. It’s a contribution that is worth checking out. For those who would like to dig deeper into the elements of Bird’s style, I’d suggest the Koch book, and also Charlie Parker: His Music and Life, by Carl Woideck. You might also have a look at these websites:

Jun 12, 2011

A Bugs Bower Story

When I was in college in Portland, a fellow sax player introduced me to some great jazz duets: Bop Duets, by Bugs Bower. My friend’s teacher in Chicago had used them as lesson material when my friend was in high school.

After I finished college, I moved back to the San Francisco Bay Area. When I started teaching, naturally I started using the Bop Duets book with some of my students. I had no idea who Bugs was; I just liked the music.

One Sunday afternoon, after I had been teaching for 10 years or so, I was playing in a sax quartet rehearsal at the home of Bob M., the soprano player in the quartet.

We played for an hour or two, and then took a break for coffee. Bob was standing at the kitchen counter mixing up his instant coffee, and the rest of us were sitting at the table. The bari player said, “So, Peter, I hear you are a teacher. What do you use for jazz duets? I like the Lennie Niehaus duets...” I replied, “They’re OK, but I really like the Bugs Bower Bop Duets. Bob, standing with his back to us, sort of froze up and then turned around and said, "Bugs Bower? How do you know that name?"

I started to explain about the duet book, but Bob was already into nostalgic memories. He said, "I was in the Army with Bugs Bower during World War II...when the war ended, we were stationed outside Paris. One time, we had a day free, and we decided to go into Paris to look up Marcel Mule, the world's greatest classical sax player. We found him in the phone book, and took a taxi to his house, in one of the suburbs. We knocked on the door, and introduced ourselves as American servicemen, and Marcel Mule invited us in for lunch. After lunch, we went into a room where he had a collection of antique saxophones, and we played on them all afternoon..."

I couldn't believe how lucky I was to get this great story out of Bob. Besides being a great story, it gave me some idea who Bugs Bower was, besides just a name on a book. I asked Bob what Bugs’ real name was. He said, "I don't know...we called him 'Bugs,' because he was kind of crazy, like Bugs Bunny. I think his name was Maurice."

This was before the internet. I know more about Bugs now. His name is indeed Maurice. After the war, he went on to an illustrious career in the music business: record producer and A&R Director for many major labels, two Grammys, nine Gold Records, worked with Bing Crosby, Cab Calloway, Perry Como, Jimmy Dorsey, Kool and the Gang, etc. He also wrote quite a few more educational publications. More recently, he put in some years teaching at Five Towns College in New York.

I managed to contact Bugs, and sent him this story, asking if he remembered it. He sent me this gracious reply:
Sorry---it was too long ago, and thanks for the nice words. I'm 89 and still creating CD's & Music Books. They are all on CD Baby including my latest: THE BEST 101 CHILDREN'S SONGS. 3 Hours of Fun & Music on 3 CD's! 
Stay Well and Happy in the Music Business-- Kindest regards, Dr. "Bugs" 

Here's a link to the site with Dr. Bower's latest books and CDs.

If you don’t know who Marcel Mule was, check out this Wikipedia article.

There’s a nice video clip of an interview with Bugs here.

Thanks again, Dr. Bugs! 

Jun 5, 2011

Keep Practicing

Here's another story about tempo, from my Uncle Ted:

Uncle Ted put himself through college in Chicago, in the 1920s, working as a jazz pianist. At one point, his group hired a teenage kid to play drums, who had such a lousy sense of time that they had to let him go after only a week or so.

Uncle Ted went on to a successful career as a patent attorney. The kid's name was Gene Krupa.

May 31, 2011

Businessman's Bounce

Last Saturday, as on most Saturdays, I drove to the Moffett Field Rec Center, where I coach a jazz combo class. We were working up a tune at gradually increasing tempos, and ran into that familiar problem - some tempos are easier to hold than others. I think it has something to do with the average human pulse rate. I was reminded of a couple of tempo-related gig stories.

Businessman’s Bounce

Some years ago, I had a series of country-club gigs with a pianist, “Bob,” and a guitarist, “Tommy.” I forget who was on bass and drums. Bob played OK, but he only used one intro, which was I VI II V , two beats each, repeated twice. He used that on pretty much every song. He also played in just one tempo - what musicians call “businessman’s bounce,” or “hotel tempo.” That’s at a metronome setting of about 132-138 beats per minute. This tempo is pleasant, happy, and danceable, and plays very well with a country club audience. You might note that 138 BPM is just about twice the typical human pulse rate.

The lack of tempo variety eventually began to drive Bob's sidemen up the wall. Finally at one of these gigs, after 3 hours of the same intro and the same tempo, and with an hour still to go, Tommy decided to put it delicately to Bob: “Maybe we should play a ballad, just to change it up.”

Bob said, “That’s a great idea! We’ll play a ballad! Let’s play Body and Soul!”

So Bob started it off with an intro...I VI II V, repeated twice, at 138 BPM.

Auld Lang Syne

It was New Year’s Eve, 2000. As you may recall, it was a big deal - Y2K, a new millennium. The big band I played with at the time had a gig at the Pacific-Union Club in San Francisco. To say that this is a high-society club only begins to describe it. You have to at least look at the Wikipedia entry (scroll down for the “list of prominent members”), and perhaps read some of the Yelp reviews (“The first rule about the Pacific-Union Club is that you don’t talk about the Pacific-Union Club”). The membership overlaps considerably with the Bohemian Club (see this scholarly article). The club doesn't have a website, at least not one that you or Google can access. But I digress.

From about 7:30, I was with a quartet playing jazz standards at the bar. The piano player pointed out a former Secretary of State standing a few feet away, chatting. At about 9:00, we joined the big band in the ballroom for the dance sets, to usher in the new year. A special show was planned for midnight: At 11:45, there would be a Chinese lion dance, and then at the stroke of midnight, a bagpiper would walk in playing “Auld Lang Syne.” The band was instructed to join in, and the guests would all join in singing. We didn’t have a chart, and didn’t know what key the piper would be playing in.

So at 11:45 the lion dancers put on their show - very impressive. Then the guests were all brought to the floor of the ballroom facing the band, we counted down the seconds, and at the stroke of midnight the bagpiper walked in, playing “Auld Lang Syne.”

We caught the key immediately - he was playing in Bb, which fortunately is an easy key for a big band. However, the bagpiper had a sense of tempo that was, let’s say, extremely flexible. The music was quite chaotic, with the band trying to match a constantly shifting “one.” This Youtube video will give you a rough idea. Start at 0:45 in, and imagine a piper that is far more tempo-challenged. I don’t think the guests had much luck singing along.

May 22, 2011

More Jobim Tunes With Borrowed Chords

This post is a sort of necessary follow-up to Jobim’s “Out of Nowhere” Tunes (March 28). There are a few more early Antonio Carlos Jobim tunes with chord sequences borrowed from the “Great American Songbook.” If you are a jazz player, you might be interested in this info just from a theory angle; but knowing this stuff also has the practical value of helping you to insert silly quotes into your solos. Here are the tunes:
Girl From Ipanema (1962): The A section harmony is borrowed from “Take the A Train,” with tritone substitutions for the V chords. Here’s a clip of Jobim playing his own tune, and quoting “A Train.” This is from an all-star jam at a tribute to Jobim. The date is listed as 2002 on the YouTube clip, but I think it was really 1993 (Jobim died in 1994).
The “Ipanema” bridge is harder to solo over than one might think. My solution is to see the bridge as a series of Imaj7 to IVdom chords: Gbmaj7 to B7, then A6 (disguised as F#m7) to D7, then Bb6 (disguised as Gm7) to Eb7, followed by a turnaround in F to set up the last A section. Each of these Imaj7 to IVdom sequences can be treated in a blues sort of way, with guide tones Bb to A, then C# to C, then D to Db. Try thinking of it as three blues sequences, with the guide tones indicating the major third of the key to the minor third of the key. The progression makes more sense that way, and you can get some blues mileage out of it. Jobim inverted the chords to create a more interesting bass line, which obscures their functional logic. (Well, that’s my take, anyway.)
So Danco Samba (1962): This tune has an “A Train” A section, and a “Satin Doll” bridge. (And of course, the A section of “A Train” was itself borrowed from the earlier “Exactly Like You.”)
Wave (1967): The 12-bar A section is a disguised blues, crammed with extra changes. The I and IV are right where they should be in a blues (bars 1 and 5), and the Dm7 G7 dorian vamp in bars 11 and 12 is right where a blues would have had a return to the tonic D7. These “landmark” spots in bars 5 and 11 are each prepared backwards with a series of dominant chords or II V’s that, when played forwards, resolve nicely into each other. It’s the same compositional process as Charlie Parker’s “Blues for Alice,” with a different end result. As in “Blues for Alice,” the I and IV are major 7 chords. Note the blues lick in bars 10-11 of the A section.
One-note Samba (1959): The A section is “I Got Rhythm,” with each chord 4 beats instead of 2 beats, and tritone subs in bars 2, 4, 6, 8, 14, 15, 26. 28, 30, and 32. The last A section has a clever alteration in the last 4 bars. Actually, to be a bit more accurate, it’s based on “Rhythm changes,” i.e. the chord changes evolved by jazz players to make the original Gershwin tune more improv-friendly. The melody of the A section is very likely inspired by the verse (introduction) to Cole Porter's "Night and Day."
Chega de Saudade (1958): A great early composition, sometimes called the first bossa nova tune. The B section (where it goes into the key of D major) is “When You Wish Upon a Star,” from the Disney movie,"Pinocchio." This borrowed chord sequence goes for 16 measures. You can amuse your audience and your fellow band members with this lengthy quote, at least until everyone is thoroughly bored with hearing it. Then you can keep doing it, like telling a bad joke over and over again. The shape of the melody in bars 1-6 references “Bye Bye Blues,” although “Chega” is in minor, and the chords are completely different.
There’s also “How Insensitive,” which is partly based on Chopin’s Prelude #4 in E minor. I only mention this to round out this article. I’m not sure how to get a good quote out of it.
And don’t forget the corny “Star Trek” quote that you can use on all of those “Out of Nowhere” tunes (see the March 28 post).

Late addition: "Este seu olhar," which pretty much follows the harmonic template of Rodgers and Hart's "Bewitched" - see this post. Another Jobim tune, "So em teus bracos," isn't too far off.

May 11, 2011

Tunes Miles May Not Have Written

So who actually wrote “Four,” “Tune Up,” “Blue in Green,” “Solar,” Dig,” “Out of the Blue,” and “Donna Lee?” Maybe you already know about the questions concerning the authorship of these tunes, but here’s a story about how I came across some details of this little corner of jazz history.
About 10 years ago, I was proofreading my “Jazz Theory Handbook” with the help of my  friend Bob Murphy. Bob is a fine teacher/saxophonist, and has taught every summer, for years, at the Stanford Jazz Workshop. In the book, I had cited the tune “Dig’” as using pre-existing chord changes (the harmonic structure of “Sweet Georgia Brown”), and wanted to attribute the tune to the correct composer. Miles Davis was usually credited with “Dig,” but I had heard somewhere that it was actually written by Jackie McLean. I asked Bob if he knew about this, and he suggested, “Why not ask Jackie?” 
Jackie McLean was one of the bebop greats, an alto saxophonist a little younger than Charlie Parker, who came up in the 1950s. I would never have bothered him about this, but Jackie had taught at the Stanford Jazz Workshop a couple of years earlier, and Bob thought he was a nice guy who wouldn’t mind. So how could I get in touch with him?
I called Herb Wong, a legend himself, who lives not far away. He didn’t know exactly how to contact Jackie, but gave me the name of a rep at the Berkeley Agency who might know. Herb also told me a story that he had heard from Bill Evans (I’m paraphrasing here): 
A few months after Miles’ album “Kind of Blue” had come out, Bill ran into Miles at a club, and asked him if perhaps he could receive some of the royalties from the song “Blue in Green,” which Bill had written. Miles didn’t say anything, but a few weeks later, Bill got a check in the mail from Miles, for $25. That was all he ever received in royalties for that song. (This story, related by Herb, also appears in “Bill Evans: How My Heart Sings,” the biography by Peter Pettinger.)    
I thanked Herb, and called the number he had given me. The agent said that she did not represent Jackie, but gave me the number of the agent who did. I called this next guy, who gave me Jackie’s number in Connecticut. I called that number, and got Jackie’s answering machine. I left a message explaining why I was calling.
About two weeks later, I got a call back from Jackie. He had been out of town. I asked him about “Dig.” He said that he had brought that tune to a recording session with Miles, in 1951. Sonny Rollins was there too, and had brought a tune called “Out of the Blue.” When the album came out, Miles was listed as the composer of both tunes. Jackie was willing to consider it an error by the recording engineer. He later talked to a lawyer about getting proper credit, but was told that the returns would not justify the cost of pursuing it, so he just let it go.
Then Jackie said. “Maybe you’ve heard that ‘Four’ and ‘Tune Up’ were written by Eddie Vinson.” I said that I had heard rumors to that effect. “And ‘Solar’ was written by Chuck Wayne.” I hadn’t heard that before. “Well, that’s what they say.” Jackie also mentioned that some people thought that “Donna Lee,” credited to Charlie Parker, had actually been written by Miles, but Jackie doubted that. In his opinion, Miles’ melodic sense at that point, early in his career, was not developed enough for him to have written it. I thanked Jackie for the call (I felt honored!), and we hung up.
The next Saturday, I told this story to my adult jazz combo class. After I said the word “Solar,” our pianist, Larry, said “Chuck Wayne.” I asked him how he knew that; Larry replied that he had heard it from a friend of his, whose girlfriend had known Chuck Wayne. 
According to Wikipedia, citing Ashley Kahn , “The Davis estate acknowledged Evans' authorship (of ‘Blue in Green’) in 2002.”
In his book “The Making of Kind of Blue,” Eric Nisenson recounts a conversation with Miles: 
I once asked him who wrote the tunes “Four” and “Tune Up.” He replied, “Eddie Vinson.” So I asked him why, then, the tunes listed Miles as sole composer. “Because I wrote them,” he replied. 
“But you just told me that Eddie Vinson wrote them.”
“What difference does it make?” he asked with mock exasperation.
For more about Chuck Wayne and “Solar,” check out this essay on Bill Crow’s website.
About “Donna Lee,” I think Jackie is probably right. Miles insisted that he had written the tune, but there’s a lot about it that sounds like Charlie Parker. For example, the first notes are right at the top of the normal alto sax range, making a great entrance for the alto. The tune is quite alto-friendly. 
The lick over the F7 in bar 2 continues into the triplet at the beginning of bar 3, suggesting a b9/#9/b9 over an F7 that is prolonged into bar 3, even though the underlying chord has changed to Bb7. This sort of harmonic displacement is pretty  common in Parker’s solos. Then there is the "Honeysuckle Rose" quote in bar 15, and other Parkerisms. 
Of course, it’s possible that Miles, who was playing with Parker at the time, had thoroughly learned the idiom, and this was a particularly well-written effort of his. We’ll probably never know for sure. But comparing “Donna Lee” to Miles’ early compositions (“Half Nelson,”  “Sippin’ at Bells,” “Little Willie Leaps”), I see a different level of craftsmanship. 
Some people have pointed out that in those years, it was not unusual for leaders to take credit for the work of their sidemen. 
Miles was a truly great musician, and contributed an incredible amount to jazz as an art form. He led the way in several stylistic changes taken by jazz over the course of his career, and he promoted the careers of many other major talents (Coltrane, Adderley, Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Bill Evans, Kenny Garrett, etc., etc.). We owe him a lot. But he was a complex person.
Miles passed away in 1991 and was buried at Woodlawn Cemetery in New York. Here is a picture of his memorial. The notes inscribed on it are the first two measures of “Solar.”

(addendum 6/8/11) - according to Lewis Porter, we might add "The Serpent's Tooth," written by Jimmy Heath, to this list.

(addendum 1/19/14) - Here's another: "Milestones" (original), written by John Lewis and reportedly "given" to Miles as thanks for including Lewis in the recording session. Thanks to Staffan William-Olsson for bringing that up in his interesting comment - see comments, below. Apparently this is well-known history, but I hadn't been aware of it. 

(addendum 5/29/14) - Here's the "smoking gun"on the "Solar" question: a recording of Chuck Wayne playing the tune, eight years before Miles recorded it.

(addendum 11/27/15) - I guess "Walkin'/Sid's Ahead" should be added to the list. See this post.

(addendum 3/19/17) - Thanks to "Big Al" for the comment on "Donna Lee," below. According to Phil Schaap, "Donna Lee," or a tune very much like it, was written in 1946 by Aaron Sachs, and recorded by him in 1946 under the name "Tiny's Con." The Parker/Miles recording was May 8, 1947. Miles may have reworked "Tiny's Con." Other info on the web seems to suggest that it was recorded by Tiny Kahn. If anyone can give me a link to the recording, please do! Here's the link to Schaap's Facebook post:

(addendum 8/11/17) - Thanks to jazz author/pianist Brian Priestley for this contribution:
1) Just found your site thanks to Mike Fitzgerald. Two bits of hard info: John Lewis confirmed his authorship of the 1947 "Milestones" in a phone interview with me (1999) but denied writing any of the other tunes recorded at that session;
2) Gil Evans (speaking to me in 1987) was very affirmative that "Donna Lee" was Miles's tune and confirmed that he sought Miles's permission to adapt it for the Claude Thornhill band - but then he probably didn't know about "Tiny's Con". Incidentally, the writer Max Harrison (cite not to hand) pointed out the opening phrase of "Donna Lee" is a quotation of Fats Navarro's solo on "Ice Freezes Red", three months earlier than "Donna Lee."