Mar 28, 2011

Jobim's "Out of Nowhere" Tunes

Antonio Carlos Jobim was the most recent major composer in the tradition that ran through Jerome Kern, Cole Porter, George Gershwin, and Jimmy Van Heusen. Jobim was a great songwriter, standing on the shoulders of other greats. He assimilated the harmonic devices of those who had come before, and building on those, created a unique and beautiful personal style. There were other key elements: a rhythmic/melodic vocabulary that incorporated Brazilian traditional styles, a classical education, and a great gift for melody. 
In this post, I’d like to talk about the harmony that underlies a certain group of his tunes, which share a template that seems to have been borrowed from the American standard “Out of Nowhere,” by Johnny Green. Here's Charlie Parker playing it.
Jobim certainly knew the Great American Songbook. Early in his career, he logged perhaps thousands of hours accompanying night club singers in Rio, at a time when American standards were popular. 
Johnny Green’s “Out of Nowhere” begins with the chords:
 || Gmaj7 | Gmaj7 | Bbm7 | Eb7 |
| Gmaj7 | Gmaj7 | Bm7 | E7 |

| Am7 | etc.
That is, two bars of the tonic chord (Gmaj7), then a II V in Ab (Bbm7 Eb7), then back to the tonic for two bars, then a III chord (Bm7) that is a pivot, serving also as the first chord in a II V (Bm7 E7) pointed at the II, then the II (Am7). Jobim seems to have borrowed this 9-bar section for at least six of his tunes. They are listed below, with links to some youtube versions:

“Look to the Sky” aka “Olha Pro Çeu”  - from Jobim's album "The Composer of Desafinado Plays" 
“Vivo Sonhando” aka “Dreamer”- Stan Getz and Joao Gilberto
“Eu Preciso de Voce” - Sylvia Telles
“Fotografia” - Barbara Casini and Phil Woods
"Triste"Elis Regina
You have to think of bars 3 and 4 of these tunes as using a “harmonic departure” of one kind or another - not necessarily the exact device Green used. If you look at the tunes this way, they all begin with very much the same 9-bar template, before continuing on in various different ways.
Most of these tunes are in 32-bar ABAB1 form (no bridge), as is “Out of Nowhere.” “Meditation” adds a bridge: ABABCAB1.
Below is the start of each of the Jobim pieces: 
Look to the Sky”:
|| Ebmaj7 | Ebmaj7 | Ebm7 | Ab7 |
| Ebmaj7 | Ebmaj7 | Gm7 | C7b9 |
| Fm7 |  etc.
Here, the “departure” in bar 3 is a I to IV in Eb dorian (see “Triste”). Note the similarity to Miles Davis/Eddie Vinson’s tune “Four”.
Vivo Sonhando”:
|| Gmaj7 | Gmaj7 | Ebmaj7/G | Ebmaj7/G |
|| Gmaj7 | Gmaj7 | B-7 | E7b9 |
| Am7 |  etc.
The key is G major, as in the Green tune. Bars 3-4 use Ebmaj7, a VI chord borrowed from the key of G minor (parallel minor to G major), with G in the bass.
| C6 | C6 | B7sus4 | B7 |
| C6 | C6 | A7 | A7 |
| Dm7 |  etc.
Here the “departure” is to a dominant chord a half step down from the tonic (see “Whispering” and “Groovin’ High”). Bars 7-8 simplify the II V approach to bar 9, using just a V of II rather than a II V approach. See the note at the bottom of this post regarding the tune "Bye Bye Blues."
Eu Preciso de Voce”:
| Cmaj7 | Cmaj7 | Ab7 Ebm7 | Ab7 |
| Cmaj7 | Cmaj7 | A7b9 Em7b5 | A7b9 |
| Dm7 |  etc.
Another simplified “Out of Nowhere” form (again, see note regarding “Bye Bye Blues”). Here bars 3 and 7 have the II chord inserted in the second half of the bar, changing the harmonic motion just a little.
| Cmaj9 | C6/9 | F7sus4 | F7 |
| Cmaj9 | Cmaj9 | Em7b5 | A7b13 |
| Dm9 |  etc.
Here the “departure’ in bars 3-4 is a blues-style IV dominant chord, with a suspended fourth moving to a third, to give some harmonic motion.

|| Bbmaj7 | Bbmaj7 | Gbmaj7 | B7 |
| Bbmaj7 | Bbmaj7 | Dm7 | G7b9 |
| Cm7 |  etc.
In this tune, the “departure” in bar 3 is a VI chord borrowed from the parallel minor (Gbmaj7 is a normal VI in Bb minor), moving in bar 4 to the next stop on the circle of 5ths (B7), which conveniently is a subV approach to the Bbmaj7 in bar 5.
In the second A section, the “departure” in bars 19-20 changes to Bbm7 Eb7, which we can analyze as a I to IV in Bb dorian - a sort of parallel minor. This is the same device used in “Look to the Sky.”

"Triste" is the most harmonically complex of these songs, as it continues. It was written later than the others, in 1967.

You can see that these 6 tunes share a template. In case you think I’m imagining the “Out of Nowhere” origin of these tunes, check out Jobim’s piano solo on “Vivo Sonhando” from the “Composer of Desafinado Plays” album, where he begins by quoting “Out of Nowhere.” 
I think it’s quite possible that Johnny Green wrote his tune (1931) around an elaboration of the chords to “Bye Bye Blues” (1925). Here’s the beginning of that one:
|| C6 | C6 | Ab7 | Ab7 |
| C6 | B7 Bb7 | A7 | A7 |
| D7 |  etc.
BTW, if you didn’t already know it, the entire “Out of Nowhere” harmonic template was also used for the theme to the original “Star Trek” TV series, by Alexander Courage (c. 1966). The Jobim tunes were all written between 1959 and 1967.
Note: These songs are sometimes played in other keys, or with chord variations. For the purposes of this post, I have used these sources - Real Book (bootleg or Hal Leonard) for “Triste,” “Look to the Sky,” and “Meditation,” and Songbook Tom Jobim (pub. Lumiar Editora, ed. Almir Chediak) for “Vivo Sonhando,” “Eu Preciso de voce” and “Fotografia.”
For a listing of all (or most) of Jobim’s compositions, see this page.

Some other Jobim tunes with borrowed chord sequences are discussed in a later post on this blog - click here.

Mar 16, 2011

Real Book Origins

Worth checking out: An interesting note on Barry Kernfeld's website from one of the authors of the first "Real Book." Looks like I'll have to check out Kernfeld's book, The Story of Fake Books: Bootlegging Songs to Musicians

Mar 9, 2011

"Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum" (Wayne Shorter)

Wayne Shorter’s contributions to jazz, as saxophonist/composer/bandleader, are immense. His best known compositions are those that he recorded in the 1960s, both on his own albums and with Miles Davis. Wayne's melodies tend to be simple, while his harmonic style is often complex. His approach varies from tune to tune, but it's accurate to say that he uses mostly logical, established harmonic devices. However, he employs them in creative ways that might seem hard to fathom at first glance.
How to play on Wayne's tunes is a pretty deep subject; it's difficult to address it in blog-post length. Here I am just going to look at one representative song, “Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum,” from the “Speak No Evil” album. 
Lead sheets for this tune can be found in the Jamey Aebersold playalong series (Vol. 33), and in the Hal Leonard "sixth edition" Real Book. You'll find a chord chart at the bottom of this post. In consideration of copyright, I am reproducing only the chords here. You can find the melody in one of the above sources, and/or just listen to it. Be sure to listen to the original version - that's the only way you will understand the piece (99 cents on Amazon, $1.29 on itunes, posted quasi-legally on youtube). 

To get to the essence of a Wayne Shorter tune, listen to the melody. The melody drives the tune. The melody is surrounded by a harmonic atmosphere. Wayne sets up progressions that take harmonic excursions, and in the process, often result in the melody notes occupying color tones like 9, b9, #11, etc. This compositional style gives the improviser some options - how much to work with melody, how much with chords. 

Regardless of the complexity of the chords, you should be able to tell by ear what key you are in just from the melody - that's your starting point. “Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum” is in Bb. We need to take a wide view of what a “key” is: Bb major, Bb minor, Bb blues, Bb dorian, and G minor are pretty much the same thing.

Here is what I see in the harmony of this tune:

We are in Bb. The first chord, Eb7, is a blues-style IV dominant. The first melody note comes across as a #11. The second chord (D7#9) is V7 in G minor, which reveals the Eb7 as also being subV of V in G minor. In other words, the Eb7 is both a blues IV and a pivot chord heading for G minor. G minor is the relative minor of Bb major; they are pretty much the same tonality. The Abmaj7 chord is a sort of subV in G minor, but I think it is there to put the melody note Bb on the 9th, perhaps also to set up the Bmaj7 (explained next).

The chords in bar 3 reference John Coltrane's "Giant Steps." Bmaj7 to D7 is the first measure of that tune. In "Giant Steps," Coltrane explores the motion of key centers by major third. He repeatedly states a major 7 chord (e.g., Bmaj7) followed by a dominant chord a minor third higher (D7); this then resolves to its tonic (Gmaj7) - thus, moving into a new key a major third lower than the first (B major into G major). In our tune, notice that the root motion of Abmaj7 into Bmaj7 is by minor third. The next root motion is another minor third - Bmaj7 into D7, as in “Giant Steps.”

It may be "Giant Steps," but to me the Bmaj7 sounds like a dominant preparation chord, setting up D7, like the Eb7 in bar 1. Bars 1-3 come across as being all in G minor. Bar 4 reminds me of a minor blues, where the tonic minor chord is made dominant in order to set up a IV chord in bar 5. In this tune, Wayne delivers a return to Eb7 instead. This sounds fine (1.) because it's a new 4-bar unit, and (2.) because Eb7 has 3 notes in common with the "expected" Cm7.

Wayne could have kept the Coltrane progression going in bar 4 by writing Gmaj7 to Bb7; this would have made a nice V7, setting up the Eb7 in bar 5. But maybe that seemed too obvious. 

The title “Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum” seems to reference Giant Steps - it's also in the same bag as Wayne's other mystical/mythical titles (ESP, Nefertiti, Pinocchio, Witch Hunt). The beginning of the melody of “Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum” also resembles the opening bars of “Giant Steps,” outlining a major 7 arpeggio, with the Shorter tune adding some passing tones (and of course, harmonized very differently). 

Bars 5-8 are the same as bars 1-4, except that bars 7-8 cadence into Bb7 (overall tonic) by means of C7b9 (V of V) to F7 (V) to Bb7 (I, with a bluesy b7 note).

Next comes the bridge: Eb7 (bars 9-10) is a blues-style IV dominant chord, going to Bb7 (bars 11-12), a blues I chord. Then back to the funky Eb7 (bars 13-14). In bar 15, instead of another Bb7, Wayne puts in Bbm7 Eb7. This appears to be a II V in Ab, but notice that it is also a I to IV in Bb dorian. This is the same harmonic device found in "Oye Como Va," or the intro to "Wave." Again, Wayne is giving the improviser a couple of possible routes. In bar 16, the II V shape is moved down a half step, to Am7 D7. This would normally lead to G major. In fact, it does set up the key of G - actually G minor, when the opening progression repeats in bar 17.

From bars 17-21 the initial progression repeats; in bar 22 it takes a different turn. This time the D7#9 resolves down as a subV of Dbmaj7. The chromatic descent then continues to C7b9, resolving down to the final Bmaj7. This last chord puts the tonic note Bb on the major 7 of the chord, with all other chord tones suspensions that never actually resolve. This last trick is actually common enough in jazz, except that in a more ordinary setting this progression might have then resolved to a tonic Bb6 chord (e.g., the last two chords in "One Note Samba"). But that would have been way too ordinary for this tune.

The solos on the original recording (Freddie Hubbard, Wayne, Herbie Hancock) seem to generally take a reductionist approach - that is, the soloists don't concern themselves with hitting every chord, but rather play mostly in Bb major/blues or in G minor. Once in a while, a line will veer into other harmonic territory, e.g. the Am7 D7 in bar 16. Melodic/expressive phrases are more important, not running changes - even though the changes offer a lot to work with.

I hope that made sense to some reader, somewhere. A lot of Wayne's other tunes can be viewed the same way as this one. Remember - melody first.

If you'd like to dig further, there's a discussion of this tune with some interesting perspectives on

Mar 3, 2011

The Persian Wedding

This was in about 1983, when I played with a Brazilian band called Corpo Santo. We were booked to play for a Persian wedding in Sausalito, across the bay from San Francisco. The reception was scheduled for 3:00, at a church in the hills above downtown Sausalito, on Labor Day. The band members lived in either San Francisco or Palo Alto, so we decided to pool rides in a car and a van.

John (our flutist/percussionist) and I drove to SF, followed by Rich (keyboard), in his van. We stopped in SF to pick up Bira (leader/singer/guitarist), and got some bad news: Our drummer had been stopped by the police on the freeway the night before, and was cited for smoking pot. Rather than go to court, he had taken the first flight back to Brazil. Bira had called Rudy, a fine Latin percussionist but a beginner on traps. The plan was that Rudy would borrow a drum set and meet us on a corner on 19th Avenue, on our way to the Golden Gate Bridge, and we'd all ride together to Sausalito.

Rudy met us on the corner with a shoddy borrowed drum set. However, we had neglected to consider the Labor Day traffic. We were going down 19th at about 5 mph, falling further and further behind schedule. By 3:00 - downbeat time - we could see the bridge ahead of us. By 5:00, we had crossed the bridge. By 5:30, we were in downtown Sausalito. John jumped out of the car and bought a map (this was 1983 - no cell phones, no Google maps) while we sat in stalled traffic. Finally we got out of the traffic jam, drove up the hill, and parked to consult the map, to find the church.

Rich parked just down the hill from me, got out of his van, and walked towards my car. In my rear view mirror I saw the van rolling slowly backwards, down the hill. Rich ran back, jumped in, and stopped the van after it had rolled about ten feet. We went back to the map, found the church, and finally arrived at 6:00, about three hours late.

The party was going strong, people dancing to Persian rock and roll playing on a boom box, everybody drinking. No one noticed that we were three hours late. We set up our equipment, and Bira counted off the first tune. Rudy hit the first beat on his ride cymbal, which fell onto the rest of his drums, knocking them all over. We kept playing, while he set them up again.

We had been given some special Persian wedding music to learn, a piece called Mobarak Bad.  This apparently translates as "Happy Wedding," or "Congratulations" (I think it's a sort of Persian equivalent of "Celebrate"). Our Brazilian/American band gave it a good effort - Bira and Rudy set up a 6/8 Afro beat, and I played the melody on soprano sax. The dancers liked it, but seemed confused when I tried improvising on the tune, so I just played the melody over and over, while the band picked up the tempo. The dancers liked that.

It turned out to be a pretty good gig. Rudy made friends with a Persian-American kid who brought us plenty of champagne, and told Rudy the special dirty lyrics that the kids sing to Mobarak Bad. We got paid, and no one said a word about us showing up three hours late. Years afterwards, a Persian musician told me that it is normal in Iran for musicians to show up late ("It means it's going to be a good party"). He said that they were maybe as bad as Brazilians that way.

Mar 2, 2011

Here We Go

It's about time! I'll be posting some gig stories, jazz theory articles, sometimes a concert review - stuff like that. I promise an amusing gig story in the next post, and sometime in the next week or two I'm hoping to write up some thoughts on how to improvise on Wayne Shorter tunes.

I'm a saxophonist and clarinetist in Mountain View, California (yes, home of Google). My musical training was initially classical, then straight-ahead jazz. Along the way I picked up an interest in Brazilian music. You can read a short bio here.

I teach at Hope Street Music Studios, and coach two adult jazz combo classes, one at the studio, the other at Moffett Field (home of the Google Air Force).

For now, those of you who are interested might check out a couple of articles on my studio website: "100 'Must Know' Jazz Tunes," and "Adjusting Saxophone and Clarinet Reeds."