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.
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:  https://www.facebook.com/philschaap/posts/210417242315736

(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."




May 5, 2011

The Wal-Mart Gig

This one came through a non-profit music school, where I worked at the time as jazz coordinator. Wal-Mart was opening a new store in our town, and was interested in establishing positive ties with the community. Because a member of the school’s board of directors was involved with developing the shopping center, I got the call.
When “Rick,” the music school director, told me that I had a gig to play the national anthem and some jazz for the grand opening of a Wal-Mart, from 8 to 10 AM, I said I’d only do it if the pay was good. He managed to extract $154 per player for two hours, with a $500 donation to the school, for a trio.
To play this gig, I had to find a sub for the middle school jazz band that I taught on Wednesdays, at 7:30 AM. A new teacher at the music school, a bright young percussionist just out of college, said he’d be glad to sub for me. I gave him a map to the middle school, and we agreed to meet there at 7:15.
On the day of the gig, I showed up at the school, tuned up the band, and waited as long as I could. No sub. I put the band under the direction of a trusted 8th grader, and left at about 7:50 for the Wal-Mart. (Although the kid did a great job, I now realize that this was a poor idea, and would not do it again.)
I arrived at the Wal-Mart a few minutes after 8:00, and was relieved to learn that the national anthem had been rescheduled to 8:15. Our bass player was there, but our guitar player did not arrive until 8:30. We played the national anthem with just bass and tenor sax. It went OK. In attendance were around 50 employees of the new store; the general public was not allowed in until 9:00.
Before we played our jazz set, there were about a dozen speakers. They were each welcomed by the assembled employees with a special cheer: “GOOD MORNING, WANDA! WELCOME TO WAL-MART! HUNH!!” The last word was delivered with fist jabs into the air. After the speakers, a local Catholic priest asked God to bless the building, and “all the buyers and sellers.” Then a pioneer Wal-Mart employee spoke about how she had known “Mr. Sam” (Sam Walton). She was close to tears. She told us that in this country anything is possible, and we might be the next Mr. Sam. Our guitarist, who had arrived by then, whispered, “I can’t believe this.” Finally, the employees gave another special Wal-Mart cheer, spelling out the company name and ending with 50 people snapping their fingers for about 10 seconds. Then it was time for us to play.
As the customers were coming in, we played upbeat jazz numbers. One of the first customers was inebriated. He listened to the band for a few minutes, then sat down on a bench a few feet away, next to a life-size replica of Ronald McDonald (there was a McDonald’s franchise inside the Wal-Mart). He put one arm over Ronald’s shoulder, and pulled out a $20 bill. He held up the bill, waving it at the customers coming in the front entrance. We kept on playing our upbeat jazz - bossas, Ellington, standards.
After about fifteen minutes, two employees took the guy to the back room. Twenty minutes later the local police showed up, to escort him out of the store. He was OK, but looked depressed.
After an hour of playing for arriving shoppers, 10:00 arrived. As we were packing up, the assistant manager asked us to play a little longer (they would pay us). The CEO of Wal-Mart was driving in from Pleasanton, and they wanted music for his arrival. We agreed to play for another half hour. He hadn’t shown by 10:30, so we packed up again, and went home. I called the drummer who was supposed to have taught my class; he had forgotten what day it was. The kids had rehearsed by themselves.
The rest of the day was solid with teaching obligations. At my evening class, an improvisation workshop, one of my adult students recollected that he had worked with my father 30 years earlier. They had worked for an early Silicon Valley company, on a project to develop a 42-track tape recorder that would fit inside a suitcase: “You can guess what 3-letter agency that was for.” My dad had never told me about that, of course.