Dec 26, 2012

A Method for Evaluating Reed Cane

The December 2012 issue of The Clarinet (my favorite quarterly) has an interesting article by Michael J. Montague and Tina Ward: "Reeds: Good or Bad? It's in the Cane - An Inside View of Arundo Donax L." The article describes a method of evaluating reed cane by magnifying a cut cross-section of a reed or a piece of cane, and examining its visual characteristics.

All reed players dream the impossible dream of always having wonderful reeds to play on, so this is potentially valuable information for us!

If you hold a reed up to the light, you will see "fibers" of darker material running lengthwise. These are "vascular bundles." Each one is a sheath ("fiber ring") containing tubes that carried water and nutrients when the cane was a living plant. The butt end of a reed is a cut cross-section of the cane. By sanding and polishing this surface, one can see (with a magnifier) a cross-section of every fiber ring. According to Montague, unbroken rings make for good cane, while a high proportion of broken rings would signify cane with poor potential. Anyone can perform this examination, using a glass surface, sandpaper, and a 40x magnifying lens.

See this article by Marilyn Veselak for a picture of a clarinet reed cross-section, showing the fiber rings.

Montague cites two previous scientific studies that found a correlation between intact fiber rings and cane quality ("good reeds"); one of this article's contributions is the "anyone-can-do-it" method of evaluating cane.

Montague notes that after examining three boxes of Vandoren V12 clarinet reeds (2.5, 3.5, and 5+), he discovered that "softer reeds have more discontinuous rings. The average was 17.4%, 10.9%, and 3.9%, respectively, for strengths 2.5, 3.5, and 5+." Thus, if one uses commercial reeds, it might be better to start with a stiffer strength - which would give better odds of quality cane - and then adjust the reed to one's preference.

Or by taking a few minutes to examine the reeds, one could eliminate those with poor potential (i.e., those with discontinuous, or broken rings).

I haven't worked with this method yet.

As the article notes, commercial reeds are apparently all cut with the same machines, to the same proportions, regardless of strength. They are then graded for flexibility ("hardness"), and boxed accordingly. Montague states that "hardness is a property of the cane itself." My own impression is that harder reeds tend to have thicker fiber rings; the fiber rings (and the bark) are the hardest components of the cane.

Over the last few years, I've been trying to develop my reed-adjusting skills, and it's going well. I've improved my percentage of playable reeds considerably. While I've been working on single reeds of all sizes, I've put the most time in on tenor sax reeds. The tenor mouthpiece I've been using is a Jody Jazz 8*. It blows much more easily than than the 8* designation would suggest, for whatever reason. To find reeds that work with this setup, I usually start with a batch of Vandoren Java 2.5 or 3 reeds, then put them through a 4- or 5- day adjustment procedure (see this article). Starting with harder reeds than that has not worked well - when I thin a hard reed as much as is necessary to make it playable on this setup, the tone suffers. I don't think that starting with #5 reeds would work for me. I'd say that more factors are at work than just thick, or continuous, fiber rings.

But I'll certainly buy myself a magnifier, get out the sandpaper, and check out this method. I'll report back.

This article is not accessible online. If you are interested in joining the ICA and receiving The Clarinet, here is the link. Members can access back issues.

And here is an absolutely terrific article on cane, by James Kopp. It's aimed at bassoonists, but has info relevant to all reed players; includes another fiber ring closeup.

Update: I got the magnifier and worked with it a bit; here's my report.

Dec 12, 2012

"The Music Lesson" by Victor Wooten

Carter, who has been playing bass in one of my combo classes for a couple of years, is moving from the Bay Area to Pennsylvania to take a university teaching job. As a going-away present, he gave each member of the group a copy of Victor Wooten’s The Music Lesson: A Spiritual Search for Growth Through Music. The publisher classifies it as “Music/Inspirational.” This book contains a wealth of good advice, and is quite entertaining. I can recommend it to any musician. Wooten is a great bass player; it's worth paying attention when he offers us a "Music Lesson."

I’ve been hearing about Wooten’s book for several years, but hadn’t read it until now - Thanks, Carter!

"The Music Lesson" is a novel describing a series of encounters between the narrator (a stand-in for Wooten, or for the reader) and several guru-type figures, who bring him enlightenment regarding music and life. The main teacher, “Michael,” informs him that music is made up of ten interrelated elements. Ten of the book’s chapters cover these elements. Each of these 10 chapters is a story elaborating upon, and elucidating, one of these elements.

Following is a list of the book’s chapters. I’ve included short quotes or comments to give you some idea of the points he covers, but Wooten's discussions are much deeper, frequently going beyond nuts-and-bolts music, and into a more cosmic realm.

Prelude: Wooten sets the stage by introducing his narrator and “Michael,” his mystical guide.
Groove: This is important enough that it rates first mention, over and above the following 10 “elements” of music. “Never lose the groove in order to find a note.”
Notes: “Notes are overrated” (by "notes," he means viewing music as chords and scales).

Articulation/Duration: “Notes are alive and like you and me, they need to breathe. The song will dictate how much air is needed.” And, comparing animal tracking to listening to music: “...the tracker, if he is a good one, can see right into the soul of whoever left the tracks...A good musician should be able to do the same.”

Technique: “Your technique should be at such a high level that you can forget about it.” And, “We practice our scales, modes, and techniques over and over...I propose a different path.”

Emotion/Feel: Here he discusses the ability of music to emotionally affect the listener, and the necessity of using this power responsibly. “Strive to make Life better, and you will have all of Life’s power backing you.”

Dynamics: This chapter offers a lesson in using dynamics to change the focus of the audience - for example, playing quieter as a way of quieting an inattentive audience (I’ve used this technique, and it sometimes works).

Rhythm/Tempo: Here he describes some exercises to improve one’s sense of time and groove, using a drum machine; he extrapolates his points to a larger view: “Music is alive, and if you treat her that way, she will speak to you. You will feel her pulse.”

Tone: “If you want your audience to dance, you should use a certain tone. If you want them to quiet down and listen, another tone may be necessary. If you want them to be healed, an altogether different tone...”

Phrasing: “All the elements of music can be phrased, not just the notes.” And, “You can phrase your life, too.”

Space/Rest: We should “play the rests.” “Learn how to make a rest speak louder than a note.”

Listening: “I found that when I listened to the other musicians more than I listened to myself, I played better.”

The Dream?: The narrator has a summing-up conversation with Music, herself.
Coda:  The narrator/Seeker becomes a Teacher.

Many of Victor Wooten’s points will already be familiar to experienced musicians: for example, the limitations of “notes,” playing the rests, and the absolute importance of groove. But it’s always good to be reminded, and it’s done in an entertaining way. The “New Age” stuff might or might not work for you. You don’t have to buy in to all of it to benefit from (or otherwise enjoy) this book.

I have some opinions about the genre of inspirational books.

First, let me say that I am not much of a New-Age acolyte. I was raised in the rationalist tradition, and the only problem I see with an entirely rational worldview is that honest rationality compels us to realize its own limits. So I am not quick to accept magic, or for that matter New-Age spirituality, if it contradicts rationality.

There’s a fair amount of magic in “The Music Lesson,” but I don’t think we are expected to literally believe those stories. As Wooten writes, “[Michael’s] stretching-the-truth style was new to me, but once I understood how and why it was used, I added it to my own teaching method.”

“The Music Lesson,” like many inspirational books, is a dialogue between Teacher and Seeker. The Teacher imparts extraordinary knowledge to the Seeker, who will then be empowered (or not). For example, Don Juan Matus with Carlos Casteneda; Plato’s Socrates with his questioning students; R. Crumb’s Mr. Natural with Flakey Foont. Wooten is on the less mystical side of this genre, and approaches it with some humor.

A basic contradiction, inherent in this genre, is that the Seeker is generally cast as someone who is lacking, and in need of help. The Seeker thus begins from a disempowered position. The Teacher then imparts knowledge that will fix the problem. This dynamic always reminded me of mass advertising, where the ad tries to convince you that you have a problem (bad breath, dirty collar, etc.), then sells you a product that is supposed to fix it.

Take, for example, one very popular inspirational book, The Artist's Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity. Each of its 12 chapters is titled, “Recovering a Sense of Safety,” “Recovering a Sense of Identity,” “Recovering a Sense of Power,” “Recovering a Sense of Integrity,” and so forth. Obviously, the reader is being asked to buy into the premise that he or she has lost these things - then the book/Teacher will help the reader/Seeker recover them.

Of course, if Seekers did not think they need help, we wouldn’t have these books. And I’m sure that most of these authors are sincerely motivated by the desire to help their readers. I’m just suggesting that this dynamic is an inherent contradiction, in works purporting to empower the reader/Seeker.

The way to rise above this disempowering dynamic is to “Think for yourself,” and “Be your own teacher.” Wooten makes this point repeatedly, as any good teacher should.

This book offers a lot of great perspective. But don't forget, we all still need to know our chords and scales.

Here are some links if you’d like to know more about Victor Wooten:

A bunch of Victor Wooten videos on - includes a bio.

The Music Lesson website, with further links to Victor's other sites

For a couple of stories about student/teacher dynamics in the jazz world, see these previous posts:

Lessons with Joe Henderson

Mike and Tom Take a Lesson With Charles Lloyd

Nov 14, 2012

A Review of Benjamin Schwarz's Book Review in "The Atlantic"

A friend sent me a copy of Benjamin Schwarz’s review of Ted Gioia’s "The Jazz Standards," in this month’s The Atlantic magazine. I reviewed Gioia’s book myself, in a previous post. But if you don’t mind, I’d like to take a few minutes to review Schwarz’s review. His article is titled The End of Jazz: How America’s Most Vibrant Music Became a Relic.”

The title is kind of a red flag, isn’t it?

First, please read the article. Schwarz is an excellent writer. I’d expect no less from The Atlantic’s literary editor and national editor.

In his first two paragraphs, Schwarz lavishes praise on Gioia, and on Gioia’s book. The second paragraph concludes, “The value of such a work, of course, depends on the acumen of the author. In virtually every instance, Gioia delivers.”

In the third and fourth paragraphs, Schwarz examines Gioia’s writeup of “Lush Life,” and finds it praiseworthy: “...Gioia’s entry, in its own way definitive, is but one of a quarter-thousand assessments in this monument to taste and scholarship.”

In his fifth paragraph, Schwarz discusses four songs that he thinks Gioia should have included: “Where or When,” “In the Still of the Night,” “Begin the Beguine,” and “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.” I’m sure that anyone who reads Gioia's book will have some opinions of this sort. I guess Schwarz is partial to Cole Porter. That’s all right with me.

In the sixth paragraph, Schwarz briefly touches on the line of thought that relates to the article’s title:
The great overlap between the [Great American] Songbook and the jazz catalogue largely explains a fact that troubles Gioia—that his book can enshrine “few recent compositions”—and raises doubts about his assertion, supported by passion rather than by argument, that “the jazz idiom [is] a vibrant, present-day endeavor.”

The seventh and eighth paragraphs develop the idea that the “jazz catalogue” and the “Great American Songbook” are closely intertwined, and the ninth paragraph describes Frank Sinatra’s role in establishing “Great American Songbook” titles as essential jazz repertoire.

The tenth and final paragraph continues the argument that jazz is closely identified with “Songbook” compositions - but at the very end, Schwarz takes a sudden turn:
...despite Gioia’s ardency, there is no reason to believe that jazz can be a living, evolving art form decades after its major source—and the source that linked it to the main currents of popular culture and sentiment—has dried up. Jazz, like the Songbook, is a relic—and as such, in 2012 it cannot have, as Gioia wishes for it, an “expansive and adaptive repertoire.”

This, then, leads us back to the article’s title, “The End of Jazz: How America’s Most Vibrant Music Became a Relic.”


I’d have to say that the content of the article does not support the assertion in these last two sentences, or the shallow sensationalism of the title. I could charitably imagine that someone else at The Atlantic besides Schwarz is in charge of creating titles for articles.

The “End of Jazz” is an idea that is meaningless to those who are actually involved with the music.

Here are a few more comments on the subject. I’ll keep it short; a rant isn’t worth the effort.

What do we think “jazz” actually is? I might say that it is improvisational music with a particular history and a self-referential vocabulary; it is creative and exploratory by definition.

Or as Louis Armstrong supposedly said, “If you don’t know, don’t mess with it.”

It’s not limited to straight-ahead performances of "Great American Songbook" tunes - far from it - although I love that stuff.

As my wife put it, “Improvisation isn’t going to die until people stop thinking.” (Thanks, Patricia!)

Let’s let it go at that.

For some further thoughtful comments and some ranting by others, have a look at the comments at the end of the Atlantic article.

Nov 5, 2012

Review: Hal Leonard Real Book Vol. 4

A couple of months ago I purchased a copy of the Vol. 4 Hal Leonard Real Book, and I’ve been checking it out. To evaluate this book, let’s start with a brief review of what came before:

The original, “old” Real Book was produced in 1975 by a couple of Berklee students, and succeeded wildly in the jazz world. The music calligraphy is quite good, and the harmonies are mostly (not completely) accurate. The tune selection (400 or so) is well-considered, including many of the greatest “Great American Songbook” tunes, as well as some by jazz composers that were cutting-edge in 1975 (e.g., Wayne Shorter, Joe Henderson), with only a few less useful tunes. The old RB reflected the basic repertoire of its time and place, and in turn became a strong influence in defining (some might say “ossifying”) the basic repertoire of the present.

Old RB Vol. 2 followed, around 1985. Another bootleg, from different anonymous compilers. The format is similar, the production/accuracy not quite as good. It presents another 400+ tunes, most of them useful to jazz players.

Old RB Vol. 3 came out in (I think) the early 1990s. Another bootleg, from anonymous compilers. It swept up still more standards, most of them useful. Each successive volume of the old pirate RB strove for usefulness (and hence saleability), but to come up with yet another 400 or so tunes, the compilers had to dig deeper towards the bottom of the barrel.

Meanwhile, starting in 1984, Sher Music put out a series of "New Real Books" Vols. 1-3, as well as a "Standards Real Book," a "Latin Real Book," and more. These were nicely researched and produced, with a high level of respect for the jazz musicians that would be using the book, and for the music itself. The tune choices, however, are what one might call eclectic - genres in each of Sher RB Vols. 1-3 range from standards, to fusion, to soul.

There have been a number of other useful collections of tunes over those years: Aebersold volumes, the two Dick Hyman books, and so forth. But the old RB remained the standard of the industry, until...

Beginning in 2005, the Hal Leonard Corporation (the “world’s largest print music publisher”) came out with its own series of “Real Books,” basically replicating the old bootlegs, with mostly the same tune selections, and with a format that mimics the the bootlegs. The name “Real Book,” of course, had never been copyrighted, so was up for grabs.

HL’s Vol. 1, the so-called “Sixth Edition,” was a bit disappointing to me (see this earlier post). HL’s obvious intent was to take control of the “Real Book” franchise, an effort that has mostly succeeded. I felt that this product could have been better in both repertoire and accuracy, given Hal Leonard’s resources. A number of important tunes from old RB1 were omitted, a number of mistakes in old RB1 were corrected, and some new mistakes were introduced. Copyright was respected - that was an improvement.

HL Real Book Vol. 2 and Vol. 3 followed, attempting to replicate the old bootleg RB Vols. 2 and 3. Like the first HL book, these were useful enough, better in some ways than the bootlegs.

Against this background, let’s consider HL RB Vol. 4.

There never was an “old” Vol. 4, so this one is entirely a Hal Leonard creation.

First, let’s look at the tune choice. I’m imagining a meeting of the production team. The team leader says, “I want each of you to come back in a week with 100 tunes that didn’t make it into the first 3 volumes.” A week later, they have a collection that includes a sampling of virtually every style that has been called "jazz" in the last 100 years:

  • some “trad” dixieland tunes (e.g., "Cakewalking Babies from Home," "Aunt Hagar's Blues"), 
  • some 20s and 30s pop that could arguably perhaps be called "jazz" (e.g., "Across the Alley From the Alamo," "When the Red Red Robin Comes Bob Bob Bobbin' Along"),
  • some third-tier standards,
  • a handful of important standards that were for some reason left out of the HL Vol. 1 “Sixth Edition” (e.g., "Days of Wine and Roses," "Just Friends," "Night and Day"),
  • some interesting but often obscure bebop ("Goin' to Minton's," "Bags' New Groove"),
  • some Beatles, Ray Charles, and James Brown,
  • some fusion and smooth jazz (Bob James, David Sanborn, Marcus Miller),
  • various good tunes that may have been chosen because Chuck Sher had included them in his fakebooks ("A House is Not a Home," "After the Rain," "Mr. Lucky"),
  • some more recent jazz originals (e.g., Chick, Wayne, Bill Evans), and
  • Some Christmas jazz tunes (Mel Torme, Vince Guaraldi).

The resulting collection is quite eclectic - or, one might say, unfocused.

Second, let’s consider usability. The chords are reasonably well done. As with the first three HL books, the look and feel mimics the old bootleg books, with a nice, readable, “handwritten” music font, and a comb binding that opens flat on a music stand. However, I don’t see the book as being particularly useful on gigs - it’s not worth hauling it around for the few tunes that one is likely to select from this book for a jazz gig, in whatever genre.

The content, as scattered as it is, would be a useful addition to an electronic collection, for those musicians who have dozens of fake books on their tablets, in pdf form.

As well, the book might be interesting to people like me, who enjoy checking out even some of the more obscure repertoire.

It wouldn't be the first fakebook to buy for your collection; it might be the sixth or seventh.

As with the previous bootleg and HL Real Books, no lyrics are included. This, I think, is unfortunate. Quite a few of the songs in this collection really only come off well as vocals ( e.g., "I Saw You," "Waters of March," "Compared to What"). In addition, horn players are - or should be - interested in the lyrics to standards; knowing the words helps us to come up with more appropriate phrasing when playing the heads, and helps us to understand the original meaning of the tunes. The Sher books are better in this regard, although even in that series, the words only appear in the concert key editions.

I suppose that you can always look up lyrics somewhere online. But you shouldn’t have to.

HL RB Vol. 4 is not really a “Real Book,” in the Real Book tradition of providing resources that address the everyday needs of jazz musicians. It’s actually more of an eclectic, fairly interesting collection of tunes that is packaged under the saleable name, “Real Book,” in a visually similar format. (HL has a number of other publications that exploit the name and use the same format.)

Far be it from me to question the financial imperatives of the business world.

Another HL "Real Book" -  Vol. 5 -  is scheduled for release in April 2013.

Oct 14, 2012

"Must-Know" Blues Tunes: Comparing Lists

For various reasons, my "consensus" list of must-know jazz standards (see my post from Sept. 9, 2012) turned out to be short on blues. This was partially because of the nature of the lists I was comparing, and partially because there are so many blues heads, most of them using generic blues chord progressions. (We are talking about "jazz blues" here, of course - not Mississippi Delta, Chicago blues, '50s rock, etc.)

In this post I will try to find a consensus on which are the most essential blues tunes to learn. This time I have a few additional lists of "must-know" tunes to compare. has a page with 7 "must-know" lists, from 1) The author of the page, 2) Jamey Aebersold, 3) Nick Drozdoff, 4) Pete Thomas, 5) Manhattan School of Music, 6) University of Oregon Jazz Studies Department, and 7) A group of Maryland colleges.

For the present discussion, I have compared 6 of the lists from, as well as the 6 sources I used in my September 9 post, extracting only blues tunes. Pete Thomas' list was one of the 6 that I had already used, so I didn't count it a second time. Also, one of my sources (Bert Ligon's list) itself incorporated suggestions from "several" jazz educators. So I suppose I'm comparing "must-know" lists from at least 14 different sources.

The results are below. Nine "hits" means that the tune showed up in nine of the lists, eight "hits" means it showed up in eight lists, etc. I don't find too much to disagree with in these results, at least down through the two-hit list. Personally, I'd only vote for about half the tunes on the one-hit list.

Jazz students (that's all of us, right?) should probably try to know most of these blues heads, all the way down to the two-hit list, and a few more besides.

How did these particular blues tunes become "must-knows"? I'd say through a process that involves these factors: 1) inclusion in some landmark recordings, 2) inclusion in well-known fake books, 3) status as popular jam vehicles, 4) the quality of the tunes, 5) if they are easy to learn, 6) currency in the world of jazz education. Of course, these routes to popularity overlap, and influence each other.

9 hits: Billie's Bounce 
8 hits: Mr. P.C. 
7 hits: All Blues, Blue Monk, Tenor Madness 
6 hits: Footprints, Now's the Time, Straight No Chaser 
5 hits: C Jam Blues, Things Ain't What They Used To Be, Watermelon Man 
4 hits: Stolen Moments 
3 hits: Au Privave, Blue Train, Cool Blues, Cousin Mary, Misterioso, Sandu 
2 hits: 
Bags' Groove
Birks' Works
Blues for Alice
Blues Walk
Freddie Freeloader
Night Train
One O'Clock Jump
The Sidewinder
Some Other Blues
Sonnymoon for Two
West Coast Blues 
One hit: 
Beale St. Blues
Bessie's Blues
Blue 'n Boogie
Blue Seven
Blues for Alice
Blues On the Corner
No Blues
Red Top
Royal Garden Blues
St. Louis Blues
Society Red
Tin Roof Blues
West End Blues

Oct 7, 2012

A Tune-Dex Fakebook, Continued

This is an addendum to my previous post, "A Tune-Dex Fakebook and Some Schillinger Symbols." You may want to read that post first.

There is some more information to be gleaned from Dr. K.'s Tune-Dex fakebook.

On some loose sheets inserted before the Table of Contents, Dr. K. had made a tally of the number of songs that various composers had "contributed" to the fakebook. He had made three lists, each organized alphabetically: One showed composers with 10 or more songs; the second list showed those with 5 to 9 songs; the third showed those with less than 5 songs. The lists showed the page numbers for each song. For example, the first list began with :

Arlen     60, 73, 104, 108, 127, 142, 156, 182, 189, 216

Perhaps Dr. K. had made these lists as a way of 1) seeing which songwriters were more successful, and 2) making a quick guide to looking up those songs. For me, those lists were food for thought. Following are a few thoughts.

The lists show which composers were most successful in 1949 (date of publication), by the measure of the bootlegger who put together the book. Clearly, he intended to assemble a fakebook that would be as useful as possible to working musicians (profit motive). This would have entailed an effort to select the "best" (most popular) tunes for this purpose.

According to Barry Kernfeld's "The Story of Fake Books," Tune-Dex cards (the raw material pirated for this fakebook) were produced from 1942 until 1963. George Goodwin, the man behind Tune-Dex, produced about 100 new cards each month during this time, eventually leaving a total legacy of 25,000 titles. In 1949, the apparent year of the fakebook's publication, there would have been something like 7200 Tune-Dex cards for a bootlegger to choose from. For this fakebook, Mr. Pirate had narrowed it down to about 1000 titles.

I should note also that just 266 of the 369 pages were devoted to "Great American Songbook" titles. Dr. K. only tabulated songs from those first 266 pages. Below is the master index; you can see that the rest of the tunes are mostly "ethnic." These "ethnic" tunes were included because of their usefulness to working musicians.

Tune-Dex Fakebook Table of Contents

Just as with the Old Real Book in 1974, the choices made for the collection not only reflect the tunes that were deemed important by the compilers in that time and place; the choices would have also had an effect in shaping the repertoire of the musicians who used the book. And this repertoire choice would, in turn, have had an effect on the tunes deemed important by later musicians (the "canon"). It's just a thought - but that's definitely what happened with the old RB.

The book contains mostly "Great American Songbook" tunes (266 pages, or about 750 tunes), not including the "ethnic" sections. The "Blues and Dixieland" section is generally trad jazz and big band, and only 7 pages. There's no bebop.

The book, though it is a bootleg, does show copyright owners and dates for each tune - these notations were at the bottom of each Tune-Dex card, and were not deleted by Mr. Pirate. Glancing through the book, I didn't see any copyright dates later than 1949. That's a pretty good indication of the date of publication; it also shows that Mr. P. wanted his fakebook to be as up-to-date as possible. Another indication of the date is that Richard Rodgers' tunes include some from "South Pacific" (opened April 1949), but none from "The King and I" (opened March 1951). Kernfeld cites court records in a copyright violation case that set the publication date as 1949.

The end of the "Golden Age of American Songwriting" is often set at 1950.

Below is Dr. K.'s numeration of composer titles. He had originally listed composers alphabetically, but I have arranged the names in order of the number of songs in the Tune-Dex fakebook. I'm only listing songwriters with 5 or more songs in the book.

Richard Rodgers 32
George Gershwin 24
Cole Porter 24
Harry Warren 17
Richard Whiting 14
Jerome Kern 13
Buddy De Sylva 12
Walter Donaldson 12
Sigmund Romberg 11
Arthur Schwartz 11
Harold Arlen 10
Charles Henderson 10
Jimmy McHugh 10

Nacio Herb Brown 9
Vincent Youmans 9
Joe Burke 8
Hoagy Carmichael 8
Johnny Green 8
Rudolf Friml 7
Con Conrad 6
Victor Herbert 6
Ray Noble 6
Ralph Rainger 6
Spencer Williams 6
Milton Ager 5
Harry Akst 5
Harry Barris 5
J. Fred Coots 5
Noel Coward 5
Dave Dreyer 5
Duke Ellington 5
Burton Lane 5
James Vincent Monaco 5
Harry Tierney 5

A lot of the songs in this fakebook have fallen by the wayside. Popular tastes have changed. It was really a different world then. Jazz performers have preserved a narrow selection, mainly tunes that are good improvisation vehicles. Who nowadays can name 24 Cole Porter songs?

One would think that there must be some good tunes in this old book that have not been exploited much. On the other hand, I recall spending some time digging through songbooks looking for hidden gems by Jimmy Van Heusen, and ultimately deciding that the jazz world had already done that, and very well, too. All the good ones were already in the "canon." It was like I had been trying to reinvent the wheel.

One of my old professors had been a swing band trumpeter before becoming an academic. Once I said, "Gee, Professor Crowley, they sure wrote a lot of great songs in the old days." He replied, "Yes, but you have to remember, they wrote a lot of bad ones, too."

Sep 30, 2012

A Tune-Dex Fakebook and Some Schillinger Symbols

Here is a little story about one of the first fakebooks, and how I finally achieved a sketchy understanding of the Schillinger System of Musical Composition.

Last week a student-dad, Randy, loaned me a fakebook that his father had used, about a half-century ago. Randy's dad (I'll call him "Dr. K.") was an aspiring songwriter in the early 1950s, who later entered academia, received a doctorate in music, and taught at Syracuse University.

This was a very cool fakebook, for a couple of reasons.

First, because it is an original Tune-Dex fakebook. These were the first bootlegged fakebooks, printed beginning in 1949, made by reproducing three Tune-Dex cards on each page. You can read about the (legal) Tune-Dex cards and about early bootleg fakebooks here.

Below is a sample of the format. With three of these little charts per page, on 369 pages, this book included over 1,000 songs. In fact, some "editions" were titled "Over 1,000 Songs" - that was the name of the book.

Tune-Dex fakebook chart

In "The Story of Fake Books," Barry Kernfeld traces the history of this product. It seems to have been owned and used by many musicians in the 1950s and 1960s - actually a very good resource in its day, although the chord changes are often kind of crude.

It turns out that I possess a Bb edition of this book, given to me by my friend Emil, a fine sax player and very nice guy who passed away recently at the age of 96. The tunes and pagination of my Bb book exactly match Randy's original concert key book. The concert-key book was in a 3-ring binder, making it an earlier printing (according to Kernfeld) - Randy thinks early 1950s. My Bb book seems to have been originally in a plastic comb binding, making it probably an early 1960s printing .

The Bb Tune-Dex book reminds me of the Bb edition of the old Real Book - hand copied, in notation not as clean as the concert book, by a "second generation" of musician-pirates who saw an opportunity to make a buck. Actually, the Bb Tune-Dex book was prepared more neatly and more carefully than the Bb edition of the old RB.

But there was something else very cool about the book that Randy loaned me. Dr. K. had marked up many of the tunes with symbols that seemed to be musical analysis, of a sort that I had never seen before. Randy thought that they had something to do with the Schillinger system. Here are three examples, among many:
Schillinger symbols?

Joseph Schillinger was a composer and theoretician who developed a mathematical system of musical analysis and composition that was popular among cutting-edge American musicians from the 1930s through the 1950s. George Gershwin, Glenn Miller, and Benny Goodman studied with Schillinger. So did Lawrence Berk, the founder of "Schillinger House," which later became the Berklee College of Music.

Dr. K. had studied composition with Rudolf Schramm, a Schillinger student who was a leading teacher of the system. Schramm was a prominent musician in his time (see his NY Times obit here); his students also included Jimmy Heath, Mercer Ellington, and Eubie Blake.

Randy's dad had used this fakebook as study material because it was, presumably, the best or most convenient compendium of popular songs available to him. The markings in the fakebook were his Schillinger-system analyses of "Great American Songbook" tunes. Maybe this was for self-study, or perhaps for his studies with Schramm, who did also teach songwriting.

After looking more closely at the way Randy's dad had used those mysterious symbols throughout the Tune-Dex book, some of them began to make some kind of sense. For example:
The first symbol above (the one that looks like a cube root sign) was used to indicate a cadence that goes from a tonic major chord to a major chord a M3 away, then back to the tonic - for example, Eb B Eb. 
The "S47" was used to indicate m6 chords that served as dominant preparation - what I would call an inverted m7b5 chord - e.g., the chord Am6 in a progression that goes Am6 B7 Em. Here the Am6 is really an inverted F#m7b5.
The third one I couldn't decipher.

Then Randy loaned me a Schillinger book that he had inherited from his father. It is a volume containing Book XI and Book XII of "The Joseph Schillinger System of Musical Composition" - the last one-sixth of a 1640-page work. After Schillinger's death in 1943, some of his students assembled and edited his teaching materials into this book. With some effort, I read through several chapters. A glossary included information on the symbols.

I suppose I might have had an easier time if I had first studied the preceding 1275 pages.

I can't say that I truly comprehend all of the Schillinger System, but I at least now have a basic sense of what it is about. It's a way of assigning mathematical or graphic structure to every aspect of music: rhythm, pitch, melody, dynamics, attacks, even emotion. The system involves a great deal of special terminology (jargon).

Here is how the glossary explained the three above examples:
The first symbol denotes root movement of a M3, as I had guessed. The "3" refers to the division of an octave into 3 equal parts - i.e., 4 half steps, i.e. a major third. I don't know where the "2" comes in.
The "S" in "S47" denotes a seventh chord. I couldn't find anything about the "47" part. Perhaps this was a way of showing that Am6 was really a seventh chord (F#m7b5), as I mentioned above. 
The third one indicates "Harmonic continuity as a major generator" - in other words, the predominant force driving and organizing the music in that song was the harmony (as opposed to melody or rhythm).

There have been some brilliant people who have created their own mathematical systems for working with music - besides Schillinger, I'm thinking of Arnold Schoenberg, George Russell, and Nicholas Slonimsky (in his "Thesaurus Of Scales And Melodic Patterns"). One could spend a lifetime mastering these systems. For my own part, I still find enough challenge in the "conventional" approaches to music and music theory. My knowledge of Schillinger, Schoenberg, Russell, and Slonimsky is fairly superficial, and probably is destined to remain that way - although it's fun to dabble.

Like the counterpoint exercises we did in college, these systems provide different perspectives on the materials of music, and help one to be more adept at working with these materials, regardless of the style of music one might pursue. Advocates of each one of these systems will acknowledge that the system is just a set of tools, and that its real usefulness depends on the creativity of the composer or improviser.

Famously, George Gershwin may (or may not) have utilized Schillinger's teachings in composing "Porgy and Bess." A number of composers of film scores have used elements of the Schillinger system. Bugs Bower, who wrote some well-known educational music books, used some elements - check out this interview in which he talks about his book "Rhythms." And I'm pretty sure that Bugs uses some Schillingerian rhythmic permutations in his "Bop Duets," a book that is widely used for teaching swing beat reading.

Some people are still teaching the Schillinger system - just check Google. I'm not in a position to say who is now the real "keeper of the flame."

If any readers have pertinent info on this stuff, I hope you will leave a comment.

Some links:

Wikipedia's article on Schillinger

A brief survey of Schillinger's life and works, in vignette paragraphs

An article on "Porgy and Bess" and Gershwin's use (or not) of Schillinger's teachings

For a continuation of this topic in my next post, click here. For a final word on these symbols from a Schillinger expert, click here.

Sep 9, 2012

“Must-Know” Jazz Tunes: Comparing Lists

After my last post, a review of Ted Gioia's book “The Jazz Standards,” it occurred to me to try comparing various “must-know” lists of jazz standards, and to try to compile some kind of list of mutual agreement. I selected six lists that seemed well-considered; they are listed below. Each one has its quirks.

1) The list of all tunes discussed in “The Jazz Standards” (252 Songs). According to the author’s introduction, this list was first conceived as a “must-know” list for his students. It strikes me as also having a jazz-history aspect, in many of the song choices.

2) The table of contents in Jamey Aebersold’s “Pocket Changes” (335 songs), a changes-only fakebook from (I think) the 1980s. I have an older edition; a newer one is available now. It seems to me that a fakebook can be a sort of de facto must-know list, particularly if it is a one-volume book aimed at jazz players - even more so, if the song choices are not limited by copyright considerations. It is “settled law” these days that chord progressions can not be copyrighted; this book shows only chords, not melodies. At first I considered using the song list from the original bootleg Real Book for the same reason I included “Pocket Changes,” but decided that the old RB (1974) has had such a pervasive influence in defining standard repertoire that it would already in effect be represented in the other lists.

3) The list of jazz repertoire on Pete Thomas’ website, (165 songs). These were chosen with jazz education in mind. I used his entire list, but on his website he has noted which of these 165 tunes he considers “should know” and which are “must know.” If you’d like to see his breakdown, click on the link above.

4) The website lists the top 1000 jazz standards, chosen and ranked by a statistical method related to number of CD recordings. I have used only the top 200 of these; the sample size seemed more or less in keeping with my other sources. Besides, including a larger sample would have produced increasing numbers of “outlier” tunes.

5) Bert Ligon has posted a list on the University of South Carolina website that he compiled by asking “several jazz educators” for their top 100 tunes that “everyone should know” and then adding a few more of his own (428 songs altogether). This method produced a list with quite a few outliers (tunes that appear on no other list). It seems to me that some of his contributors made what I would call eccentric choices. However, since this list actually represented input from several jazz educators, it seemed like exactly the sort of source I was looking for.

6) My own list of “100 Must-Know Jazz Tunes.” This list originated as a “List of Shame” that I compiled for my adult jazz combo classes. The idea was that the combo musicians were all adults, and lifelong players, and should probably never again have to open a fakebook to jam on basic tunes (Blue Bossa, Take the A Train, All of Me, etc.). The original concept morphed into this “top 100” list, which is posted as an article on my studio website. The list also includes preferred (that is, relatively correct) fakebook sources for the 100 tunes. In this article you will also find a further explanation of my criteria.

I should mention here that I initially wanted to include the repertoire list from Chapter 21 of Mark Levine’s “The Jazz Theory Book,” a very good list that is skewed towards more modern tunes (e.g., Wayne Shorter). But as I made a table of these lists, it appeared as though Ligon’s list had already incorporated Levine’s - that is, Levine’s list is an almost exact subset of Ligon’s. That is the only reason that Levine’s list is not among the ones I used. (If I’m right, though, ML actually contributed 227 titles. Just 2 songs on ML’s list don’t appear on BL’s - “How Deep is the Ocean,” and “Witchcraft.”)

The authors of the six lists obviously used widely varying criteria in choosing tunes. There might be regional differences (for example, Pete Thomas is in the UK), generational differences, stylistic preferences, and/or differences in the exact purpose of the list (statistical, historical, educational). It seemed to me that the intersection of these lists would produce an interesting result.

So - I made up a chart of the 618 tunes represented in these six sources, and charted the number of “hits” for each tune - 618 rows for the tunes, six columns for the sources.

If a tune had six hits, the various lists were all in agreement that the tune was a “must-know.”

Five hits had the effect of eliminating one “outlier” source that failed to include the tune for some reason. For example, the list is only statistical, and does not include tunes that someone else might list for pedagogical reasons. My own list is limited in size to just 100 tunes, and of necessity leaves out some likely choices. "Pocket Changes" tends to exclude blues tunes, since the chords are generally pretty much the same from one blues tune to the next. In fact, if a blues tune has 4 or 5 hits, it’s a very important tune to know.

The tunes with four hits also seem to me to be basic repertoire, even if two sources failed to list them. I drew the line there, and am not listing those with three hits or less.

These 6-, 5-, and 4-hit "derivative" lists are really short on blues, IMHO. There are NO blues tunes on the 6-hit list. Blues with 5 hits were "Billie's Bounce," "Blue Monk," and "C Jam Blues." 4-hit blues were "All Blues," "Straight No Chaser," and  "Things Ain't What They Used to Be." That's it. However, the entire list of 618 standards included 44 blues heads (7%), almost all of them well-known classics. Besides the issue with "Pocket Changes" noted above, the 6 compilers seem to have made some widely varying personal choices about which of these classic blues to include.

Note: I address this blues issue in my Oct. 14 post, comparing a total of 12 "must-know" tune lists, to arrive at a ranked list of must-know blues tunes.

Here are the results; you can draw any conclusions you like. 

These tunes appear on all 6 lists (31 songs):
All of Me
All the Things You Are
Autumn Leaves
Body and Soul
Bye Bye Blackbird
Days of Wine and Roses
Donna Lee
Georgia on My Mind
How High the Moon
I Got Rhythm
In a Mellow Tone
Just Friends
Night and Day
Night in Tunisia
Oh, Lady Be Good!
On Green Dolphin Street
Out of Nowhere
Round Midnight
Satin Doll
Softly, As in a Morning Sunrise
Star Eyes
Stella by Starlight
Sweet Georgia Brown
Take the A Train
There Will Never Be Another You
What Is This Thing Called Love?
Willow Weep for Me
Yardbird Suite

These tunes appear on 5 of the lists (47 songs):
Ain’t Misbehavin’
Alone Together
Autumn in New York
Billie’s Bounce
Blue Bossa
Blue Monk
But Not For Me
C Jam Blues
Embraceable You
Fly Me to the Moon
Girl From Ipanema, The
Groovin’ High
Have You Met Miss Jones?
Here’s That Rainy Day
I Can’t Get Started
I Got It Bad
I Remember Clifford
I’ll Remember April
It Could Happen to You
Jitterbug Waltz
Like Someone in Love
Love for Sale
Lover Man
Lullaby of Birdland
Mack the Knife
My Funny Valentine
One Note Samba
Over the Rainbow
Pennies From Heaven
Prelude to a Kiss
St. Thomas
Scrapple From the Apple
So What
Someone to Watch Over Me
Song for My Father
Sophisticated Lady
Star Dust
Stormy Weather
There Is No Greater Love

These tunes appear on 4 of the lists (76 songs):
All Blues
Angel Eyes
Blue Moon
But Beautiful
Come Rain or Come Shine
Darn That Dream
Do Nothing ‘Til You Hear From Me
Don’t Get Around Much Anymore
East of the Sun
Easy Living
Giant Steps
God Bless the Child
Gone With the Wind
I Didn’t Know What Time It Was
I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart
I Remember You
I Should Care
I Thought About You
If You Could See Me Now
It Might As Well Be Spring
Joy Spring
Lady Bird
Lover, Come Back to Me
Maiden Voyage
Man I Love, The
Manha de Carnaval (Black Orpheus)
Mean to Me
Milestones (new)
Moment’s Notice
Moonlight In Vermont
My Favorite Things
My Foolish Heart
My Old Flame
My One and Only Love
My Romance
Nearness of You, The
Nice Work If You Can Get It
Old Folks
Once I Loved
Our Love Is Here to Stay
Polka Dots and Moonbeams
Shiny Stockings
Smoke Gets In Your Eyes
Someday My Prince Will Come
Song Is You, The
Speak Low
Stompin’ at the Savoy
Straight, No Chaser
Take Five
Tea for Two
These Foolish Things
Things Ain’t What They Used to Be
Time After Time
Tune Up
Way You Look Tonight, The
Well, You Needn’t
What’s New?
Work Song
You Don’t Know What Love Is
You Stepped Out of a Dream
You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To

Sep 3, 2012

Book Review: "The Jazz Standards" by Ted Gioia

Any jazz player should have a great deal of curiosity concerning what we call "Jazz Standards" - which ones are most important to learn, where the tunes came from initially, how they acquired the status of basic repertoire, what the classic recorded performances are. Ted Gioia's new book, "The Jazz Standards," does a great job of addressing these questions. It's a book that needed to be written. Gioia is an accomplished jazz pianist and jazz historian, and the right person to have done it.

The "Jazz Standards Canon" is not exactly the same thing as the "Great American Songbook," although the categories overlap. "Jazz Standards" are those tunes preferred (and preserved) by jazz musicians, while "Great American Songbook," or "Golden Era" tunes, are those that have become iconic with a wider public. Any list of "Jazz Standards" would include not just "Golden Era" tunes, but also a number of tunes written by jazz players, yet not widely known by the general public.

Before Gioia's book was published, the definitive reference on standards was Alec Wilder's 1972 book, "American Popular Song." It still is a definitive reference for "Golden Era" tunes. Wilder was a composer of both popular and classical music (and a legendary one), and wrote his book from that viewpoint. The book is organized by songwriter, with chapters on Jerome Kern, George Gershwin, Irving Berlin, Richard Rodgers, etc. Wilder researched virtually every song that these composers had written (thousands), then wrote about the songs that seemed to him significant, particularly representative of the composer, or particularly well-written. Wilder is extremely and openly opinionated, but deeply informed. He knew some of the great songwriters personally, and interviewed others; his book includes some first-hand quotes from Richard Rodgers, Harold Arlen, Cole Porter's get the idea. He frequently offers musical analysis on particular aspects of the tunes that seem to him to explain their success.

Wilder was a friend of quite a few prominent jazz and popular musicians too, but he didn't have a jazz player's perspective. Ted Gioia, writing from a jazz viewpoint, focuses on different information. Reading Wilder, I feel as though I am taking songwriting lessons from an eccentric, opinionated master. Gioia's presentation seems more like taking a course from a well-organized jazz studies professor who has done his research.

To give you some idea of the difference in their approaches, here are summaries of the two writers' discussions of Cole Porter's "All of You." This tune is unarguably a jazz standard.

Gioia discusses the original setting of the song (the 1955 musical "Silk Stockings"), the subsequent 1957 movie with Fred Astaire, and a series of influential recordings: Ahmad Jamal, Miles Davis, the MJQ, Ella, Billie, Sarah, Bill Evans, McCoy Tyner - the recordings that helped to establish it as a "jazz standard." The essay and list of recordings cover about a page and a half.

Alec Wilder, on the other hand, writing in 1972, and certainly knowing that the song was widely regarded as a standard, wastes only a short paragraph on this tune: "I honestly doubt if All of You would have achieved the popularity it did but for the rather dubious wit of the lyric line, 'The East, West, North, and the South of You.'...I mention this line only because the song doesn't have any particular distinction."

So much for that tune. When he likes a song, though, you will find a valuable and informative writeup. I mention this Wilder quote only to point up his frank and honest approach to his subject.

Gioia discusses 252 tunes. "The Jazz Standards" is organized alphabetically by song, rather than chronologically or by composer. Each song receives a one- or two-page essay, covering the origin of the tune, pertinent anecdotes, and the route that led to its popularity. Often Gioia will, in the Wilder tradition, offer his personal opinion on some aspect of the song. He tends to go easy on harmonic analysis, in order not to exclude the general reader. Following each essay is a list of recordings that are either historically significant, or particularly interesting, in the author's opinion. His writing style is clear, entertaining, and scholarly-yet-informal.

In his introduction, Gioia states that his book was conceived primarily as a "must-know" list that is also a reference work. I see it as just as much a historical "must-know" list, though, as it is a list of tunes for aspiring jazz players to learn. I say this as a way of explaining the inclusion of a number of "traditional jazz" tunes that are not really a major part of modern repertoire (e.g., "Dinah," "Tiger Rag," "Tin Roof Blues").

A friend (thanks, Bill!) sent me a copy of a Wall Street Journal review of "The Jazz Standards," in which the reviewer takes Gioia to task for leaving out "Sheik of Araby" and "Some of These Days" on the trad side, but also for leaving out "Something to Live For," "Stablemates," "No Moon at All," and "Green Chimneys." Well, one has to make some decisions! I would have a different set of tunes to include or to excise, but I wasn't the author, and it's a great book as is. Anyone into jazz, player or not, should find it interesting and valuable, both as a good read and as a reference work.

"Must-know" lists of standards are pretty much always subjectively chosen. I'll have more to say about this in a future post. For now, here are a few other takes on the subject. All are a bit different, reflecting the compiler's background and viewpoint. Only the first list uses some sort of "objective" criteria.

  • The list of 1,000 tunes on, ranked for popularity by a statistical method (full disclosure: I have written a few articles for this site).
  • The list in Chapter 21 of Mark Levine's "Jazz Theory Book."
  • De facto choices in collections like the original bootleg "Real Book," the Sher "Standards" fakebook, Dick Hyman's two collections, or other fakebooks. Also in this category: Ralph Patt's "Vanilla Book" list.
  • My own list of 100 "must-know" tunes.

Here are some links to check out:
Ted Gioia's website 
An interview with Ted Gioia
Alec Wilder's biography

Aug 13, 2012

The Dan Quayle Gig

Disclaimer: Although this is an election year, this post should not be taken as involving any sort of political advocacy. It is intended purely as entertainment. Like many gig stories, it illustrates the bizarre situations that performing musicians sometimes encounter.

This gig story is from pianist Nicki Kerns, who swears that it really happened. Here it is, in her own words:
In October 1992, during the presidential campaign, Vice President Dan Quayle was in town to do a fundraiser for Bruce Herschenson, who was running for United States Senator from California. A woman had called me to play for a cocktail party, at which Quayle was going to be the guest of honor. 
At the time, she didn’t tell me that he was going to be there; she just said it was a “high-profile” guest, that security was going to be tight, and that the Secret Service would need my personal information so that they could do a background check on me. Well, if you’re doing a Secret Service check, then you’re playing for the President or the Vice President, right?

So once I figured out that it was Quayle, she admitted it, and said, “Well, you know, it’s a cocktail party, it’s going to be $1,000 a plate, we’ll have some people there. The Vice President’s reputation hasn’t been the greatest lately, and you’re going to be doing background music - so please play whatever you want, except ‘If I Only Had a Brain.’

I thought she was kidding, but she was completely serious, so I said, “Fine.”

Well, the day of the job came, I showed up at this private residence in Los Altos Hills, and apparently it was a really expensive ticket price, because only 24 people showed up. For $1,000 they didn’t even get a plate. They got a cocktail napkin with two pieces of shrimp, and a glass of champagne.

When Quayle arrived with his Secret Service guys in their black limousines, instead of “If I Only Had a Brain,” I played that Gershwin song, “You say potato, and I say potatoe...let’s call the whole thing off.” Nobody caught the joke.

Quayle gave a speech that extolled Herschenson’s virtues while bashing Diane Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, which didn't make me happy. On my way home from the gig I passed a voter registration table in front of a store. The table had a sign asking Democrats to register to vote there. At the time I was a Republican, but that speech had left such a sour taste in my mouth that I stopped at that table, re-registered as a Democrat and put a bunch of "Clinton for President" stickers all over my car.

The best part of this story was that the woman who originally hired me for the Quayle gig hired me again for ANOTHER Republican fundraiser six months later! Of course I said yes, but had to park six blocks from the venue because I thought it would look bad to play at a Republican event with Democrat stickers all over my car.

Note: For readers who may not remember the “potatoe” incident and other details of his political career, see Wikipedia’s “Dan Quayle” entry, in the section “Vice Presidency.”

Aug 11, 2012

Tony Monaco at Dana Street Roasting Company

Well, I'm definitely a Tony Monaco fan. He really is one of the great B3 organists. Patricia and I caught the show last night at Dana Street Roasting Company in Mountain View. When Tony is in town, he uses local players - this time his trio included Jack Tone Riordan on guitar and Brandon Etzler on drums. It's obviously a heads-up gig for these guys to play with Tony, and they did just fine. Jack had the appropriate mix of blues and bebop, and was quick on the uptake when Tony threw him new changes. Brandon anticipated Tony's kicks with amazing acuity.

Tony has played several gigs at Dana Street over the last few years, and it's great to be able to see him right here in little old Mountain View. Nick, who runs Dana Street Roasting Company, deserves big thanks for setting up the gig. Dana Street has jazz regularly on Fridays and Saturdays featuring local players, and from time to time hosts more prominent artists (Charlie Hunter will be appearing in December).

Here is the set list. Most of these were probably unrehearsed, called on the spur of the moment:

Set 1: 
Road Song
I Can't Give You Anything But Love
Slow Down Sag (original)
Polka Dots and Moonbeams
There Is No Greater Love
Set 2:
Body and Soul
Indonesian Nights (original)
Bb Blues (slow, gospel-style)
The Champ
Original Ballad (introduced as "a song I wrote about love")
A few observations about Tony's style: 
A vast vocabulary of B3 sounds and techniques
An extremely vocalistic approach to soloing, both tone and notes
Very funky, but with great bebop chops
He likes long tags that often constitute a musical journey in themselves
As he was playing "Polka Dots," I was thinking that Tony's textures were kind of orchestral. After he finished the tune, he said "I like to play ballads on the organ, because it's like a big orchestra."

Tony's recordings are great, but not even close to the live gigs. He works with the moment.

He can get pretty intense. As a friend who is an organist put it, "What an emotional torrent that guy is. I compare listening to him to drinking from a firehose." (Thanks for the quote, Randy!)

Tony will be appearing today (Saturday) at the San Jose Jazz Festival, at 3 PM, link here. Tomorrow (Sunday) he'll be at Bach Dancing and Dynamite in Half Moon Bay, at 4:30, link here.

Tony's website is here.

Jul 16, 2012

The "Lady Bird" Turnaround, the Jazz Auction, Treble Clefs, and More

Thinking about my last couple of posts, I was reminded of the different takes on the turnaround to Tadd Dameron's "Lady Bird," and thought I'd write a quick post about a vintage leadsheet I had run across, that I had thought might settle the matter. But looking a little closer, the issue became more complex. Here's how it went, more or less chronologically:

1) I used the old Real Book version of "Lady Bird" for years - in fact, since the old RB first came out. It is straightforward, and easy to memorize. I had an LP of a Tadd/Fats Navarro version, but I had never listened to it analytically.

2) When the Sher "New RB" came out, it had two lead sheets for "Lady Bird," both of them different from the old RB - a Miles version, and a Tadd/Fats version. I noticed the differences and wondered about them, but never actually researched it.

3) In 2005, Guernsey's auction house in NY staged an incredible auction of jazz memorabilia, including sheet music, instruments, and personal items that were consigned by the families of John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Benny Goodman, Gerry Mulligan, and many more. A catalog with details about the items was printed, and sold for (I recall) $26. I had to have one, of course, although actually bidding on the items was out of the question for me financially. The catalog was easily worth the $26. Besides documenting the amazing collection of auction items, it had thumbnails of some manuscripts - for example, the original score to "A Love Supreme" (final sale price: $129,200), the chords to "Naima" in Coltrane's writing ($10,620), and... a leadsheet to "Lady Bird" ($1534) that had belonged to Coltrane. The catalog seemed to imply that this chart was in Tadd Dameron's handwriting. The turnaround in bars 15-16 was shown as  |  C  Ebmaj  |  Abmaj  Dbmaj  ||  (the chart showed triangular "delta" signs to indicate "major").

Note: Apparently you can still purchase this catalog from Guernsey's. The price is $60 now. Click this link and scroll down.

4) So, I thought that that settled it. Assuming that "C" and "Ebmaj" were meant to indicate major 7 chords, it would seem that the old RB got it right. Whether it was in Tadd or Coltrane's hand, I figured that if Trane learned it that way, it was good enough for me. Besides, I liked the sound of the parallel major 7 chords, and was used to playing the tune that way.

5) So back to the present - I thought this would make a nice little post. However...

6) Looking a little closer, the notation on the lead sheet thumbnail did not seem to match the other Tadd Dameron offerings in the catalog, at all. The other Tadd charts were much cleaner, and nicely calligraphed. Now, it's possible that someone else did the copy work for Tadd, but it started me thinking.

7) Looking at some of the other Coltrane charts, I started to think that it looked more like his writing. One problem with this idea was his style of writing a treble clef. The clefs in the "Lady Bird" chart used what I might call the "stick" approach, while almost all of his other work used what I'll call the "curvy" approach. Shown here are my own renditions of the "stick" and "curvy" approaches.

8) However! Another of the papers up for auction, thumbnail provided, was a sheet showing Coltrane's practicing how to draw a treble clef; he tried it both ways. I'd guess that both the practice sheet and the "Lady Bird" sheet were from very early in his career. And it's still possible that someone else wrote the lead sheet.

9) A couple of other characteristics of Trane's notation convinced me that the chart was probably in his handwriting: Indicating a major 7 chord with just a letter and a triangle, as in the "Naima" sheet;
and showing quarter note triplets with a "3" within a broken bracket (my writing, not his).

10) But of course, the best info about a tune is to be found in the recordings. Here, once again, the tracks posted quasi-legally on YouTube were quite helpful. Here are some of the versions I checked out:

Miles with Charlie Parker playing "Half Nelson" (1947) (This tune uses "Lady Bird" changes, slightly tweaked, with a different melody, by Miles) 
Tadd Dameron (1948) with Fats Navarro, Allen Eager, Wardell Gray. Very much arranged, with intro, harmony lines, kicks, shout chorus, and coda. 
Tadd Dameron and Miles Davis (1949) with James Moody.
Miles Davis (1951). Jam session format, not much of the arrangement. Date and personnel listing is more correctly listed here.
Miles with Coltrane playing "Half Nelson" (1956). Uses shout chorus from "Lady Bird" original arrangement to set up drum solo. 
Dexter Gordon and James Moody (1969). Uses shout chorus from original arrangement to set up drum solo. 
Tommy Flanagan with Jerry Dodgion (1979)

Where the piano was audible, I can't say that I heard the all-maj7-chord version of the turnaround in any of these versions. I didn't hear solo lines outlining all maj7 chords, either. Of course, I'm just a horn player, without a pianist's ear, but overall, IMHO, I heard  |  Cmaj7  Eb7  |  Abmaj7  Db7  ||. The last chord could equally well be G7. Please have a listen to these, and let me know what you think.

The Tadd Dameron performances are very much arranged, with harmony lines, an 8-bar "shout chorus" that sets up an 8-bar solo break, and arranged kicks. Some of the other performances include this shout chorus line as well. The only fake book source that shows any of this is the Sher "New RB," which shows the shout chorus as part of the "Miles" version, and some of the harmony notes and kicks in the "Fats/Tadd" version.

The original melody uses the notes as shown in my third handwritten example above for measure 3, with a similar shape in m7. This is a sort of "Honeysuckle Rose" shape. Often, though, the last 2 notes of m 3 will be switched (likewise in m7). Measures 4 and 8 are also played in various ways by different players - though I've not heard any versions with the b5 notes shown in the old RB for mm 4 and 8.

11) Just because a lead sheet belonged to a young John Coltrane, does not mean that it is "correct." All sorts of lead sheets have no doubt been floating around since the late 1940s. Here are some of the versions I checked:
a) The Coltrane sheet that we have been discussing. 
b) The earliest fake book source that I can find is in a pre-Real Book bootleg from the early 1960s (I think). It was published with the title "Library of Musicians' Jazz," and probably reprinted under other titles also. Perhaps you have seen this book - the titles look like this: 
This chart shows the melody as played in the 1948 arrangement, but shows the turnaround as all major 7 does the old RB. Maybe it was a source for the old RB. 
c) The old RB version - The melody here is a bit different - in m4 and m8, the phrase finishes on the b5 of the chord. It sounds good, but I haven't found any classic recordings that do that. And incidentally, these notes in m4 and m8 seem to have been added in later, by someone with a different manuscript style.
d) The Sher New RB versions - The "Miles" version seems accurate; the "Tadd/Fats" version is also, though it omits some harmony notes and kicks, and does not show the shout chorus.
e) The Colorado Cookbook - Very close to the 1948 Tadd/Fats version, but in a minimal format, with no harmony, kicks, or shout chorus.
f) The Hal Leonard "6th Edition RB" version - Measures 4 and 8 were copied from the old RB, but the turnaround is fixed. Again, minimal format.
12) Conclusion? Well, as usual, one must consider the alternatives, and make a choice. I'm inclined to go with  | Cmaj7  Eb7 |  Abmaj7  Db7  || as a basic version, but I might play it differently at any given moment, just for the heck of it. I'm not sure how I'd play the melody at any given moment, but if playing with someone else, now I'd at least be aware of which variation they might be using. And it's good to know that cool shout chorus.

While we are on the subject, here are a few observations about the harmony in this tune:

1) The melody in bars 3-4 sounds like a II V lick (Honeysuckle Rose or otherwise); perhaps Dameron was thinking of this as a II V in Eb. To me, though, the  |  Fm7  |  Bb7  | comes across more as a IVm bVIIdom in C. I don't hear the key of Eb being established, so much as a change of mode from C major to C minor. Of course, whether Eb major or C minor, it's 3 flats in both cases. For solos, you could think either way. C blues licks can work well in mm 3-4.

2) | Cmaj7  Eb7 |  Abmaj7  Db7  || for the turnaround is a variation of the very basic  |  Cmaj7  A7  | Dm7  G7  | , via a couple of tritone substitutions, and the substitution of Abmaj7 for Dm7. However, this way the Eb7  Abma7  comes across as a quick, temporary change of key:  V  I  into Ab major. The first 6 beats of the turnaround are like a snippet of "Giant Steps" changes. It's worth noting that the main part of the tune includes a modulation from C major into Ab major in mm 5-10; if the turnaround is played this way, it reflects that part of the tune.

Here's a great article about the 2005 auction.

Jul 6, 2012

"Footprints," Continued

A few more thoughts, picking up where the last post left off:

Applying the principle of "melody first," it's obvious that "Footprints" is a 12-bar blues in minor. If this were a generic blues, bars 9-10 might be harmonized in a way more or less like one of these:
|  Dm7  |  G7  |  
|  Dm7b5  |  G7b9  | 
|  D7  |  G7  | 
|  Ab7  |  G7  |
|  G7  |  Fm7  |

The melody uses a repeated B natural (leading tone in C minor) in bar 9, to a long Bb note in bar 10. To my ear, that works best with either  |  D7  |  G7  |  or   |  G7  |  Fm7  |. So here's hazarding another guess: Wayne wanted something hipper, taking one of these variations along a different route.

In the case of  |  D7  |  G7  | , here's how it might have gone:

F#m7b5 is the same thing as D9, minus the root D.
It could then be recast as the II chord in a II V :  |  F#m7b5  B7  | . That's bar 9. In our "bio" progression, he drops the b5 on the F# chord.

In bar 10, triads on both E and A are perfectly good upper structures for G7. Also, using these chords allows the bass line to continue along the circle of fourths. The tensions indicated in the "bio," Sher, and Aebersold charts add color, yet don't do anything to spoil the overall "G7" function of the measure.

You might note that the old bootleg Real Book shows  |  D7  |  Db7  | . In a reductionist sense, maybe the old RB wasn't entirely wrong, after all.

If the original route were via   |  G7  |  Fm7  | , it might have gone this way:

In bar 9, prepare the G7 with a D7, substitute F#m7b5 for D7, then route it to B7 instead, as in the previous case; in bar 10, think Fm6 with E in the bass (this equals E7"alt"), then route it to A7, as above.

Just guessing.

Also, I'm guessing that leaving the "7" off the B and A chords in the "bio" chart was inadvertent.

As for why the A7(#5, #9, #11) moves so nicely into the Cm9 that follows in bar 11, it's because 1) We totally expect a Cm9 there, and because 2) In Wayne's harmony, a dominant sound, creating tension, can pretty much resolve anywhere, into any tonic-sounding target chord.

Jul 4, 2012

Those "Footprints" Changes

I've just finished reading "Footprints," Michelle Mercer's biography of Wayne Shorter. This book goes a long way toward explaining Wayne's personality and his music, and I'd recommend it to anyone who is a Wayne fan. Although the book doesn't attempt much in the way of musical analysis, it includes a handwritten lead sheet of "Footprints" as a frontispiece.

As you may know, the chords to measures 9 and 10 appear a number of different ways in different publications. So it appears that we finally have something like a definitive version...or do we?

This lead sheet includes an intro in 4/4 that I've never heard played on any recording, by Wayne or anyone else. The chart also features a small change in the bass line in m 12, with the notes shown as:
(A kind of Picardy third thing - no one plays this, either...)

I had been under the impression that Wayne contributed lead sheets to the Aebersold playalong, as well as to the "Footprints" chart in the Sher New Real Book. While all very similar, these charts (bio, Aebersold, Sher) are not identical. Other print sources show some very different versions of the harmony for these two measures.

Following are some versions of mm 9-10:

From the "Footprints" bio mentioned above:
|  F#m9  B(+5, +9)  |  E7+9  A(+5, +9, +11)  |    (note: no 7 shown on the B or A chords)
From the Sher New Real Book, vol. 1:
|  F#m11(b5)  F13(#11)  |  E7alt  A7alt  |   or alternatively,  
|  F7(#11)  E7(#9)  |  D7alt  G7#5  |
Aebersold vol. 33:
|  F#m7b5  B7+9  |  E7+9  A7(+5, +9) or Eb7#11  |
Colorado Cookbook:
|  Gbm7b5  F7#11  |  E7#9  A7alt  |   or alternatively, with a 4 against 6 feel:
|  Dbsus/Ab   Csus/Db   Bsus/F3   Bbsus/B   |   Asus/E   Absus/A   Gsus/D   Gbsus/G   | 
"The Ultimate Jazz Fake Book" (Hal Leonard)
|  F7b5  F13  |  E9b5  A9  |
Old (bootleg) Real Book:
 |   D7   |   Db7   |
Jimmy Rowles (via David Ferris - see this discussion):
|  F#m11  B7  |  Fm11  Bb13(#11)  |
Hal Leonard "Artist Transcriptions":
|  D13  G9  |  Em7b5  A7  | 
Hal Leonard "6th Edition" Real Book:
|  F#m7b5  F7#11  |  E7b5(#9)  A7b5(#9)  |

So which version is "right"? Well, if you want to approximate the treatment of this tune on the "Adam's Apple" LP  (the first time it was recorded, February 1966), you should probably use the first version above. It seems to be pretty close to the way the band plays mm 9-10.

By the time "Footprints" was recorded by Miles Davis' group on the "Miles Smiles" album (October 1966), the treatment of the tune had become more abstract. Here are a few later live recordings by Miles' group:

Sweden 10/31/67  (the form is very loose)
Germany 11/7/67
France July 1969

On Wayne's "Footprints Live" album (2005), the treatment is very free indeed.

I would hazard a guess that Wayne did supply lead sheets for Aebersold and Sher, but that he tweaked each one a little differently. That's a composer's privilege.

You might note that in the lead sheet from the bio and in the Aebersold chart, chord extensions are specified, and the expression "alt" is not used. I'd hazard another guess - that the editors of the Sher book decided to use the "alt" expression. "Alt" means that both the ninth and the fifth have been altered (raised or lowered) in some way, but the expession does not specify exactly how. The "bio" chart is quite specific. The expression "alt" also implies the usage of a "altered" (aka "superlocrian" or "diminished whole tone") scale over the chord; I don't think that's necessarily what Wayne had in mind.

Some of the charts exhibit definite wrongness: for example, the "Ultimate Jazz Fake Book" chart shows bars 5-6 as Abmaj7. The "Artist Transcriptions" chart seems pretty far off in the chords to mm 9-10, and besides that is written in 3/4 rather than in 6/4. You might say that that is a judgement call, but all of the supposedly Wayne-derived charts show the tune in 6/4. Anyway, when notated in 6/4 it looks more like a 12-bar blues.

So - I'd say check out the sound of these various versions, and take your choice. Also bear in mind that Wayne left this sort of literalness behind long ago, 40+ years ago. Here's an excerpt from an interview with Eric Nemeyer in January 2000, printed in the magazine "Jazz Improv," regarding the song "Dolores," also from the "Miles Smiles" album:
Wayne:  "...we were actually tampering with something called DNA in music in a song. So you just do the DNA and not the whole song. You do the characteristics. You say, "Okay, I will do the ear of the face, I will do the left side of the face. You do the right side of the face..."
EN: "You are looking at maintaining the flavor and character of the tune without necessarily being bound by the harmonic structure that was underlying the melody?"
Wayne: "Yeah. those days we were talking about getting rid of the bar lines."
EN: "Yeah. and was Herbie Hancock's accompanying - do you know if he was looking at it the same way? Or was it just meant for the whole thing to be loose and 'let's use our ears and see what goes'?"
Wayne: "Yeah, that's all..." 
Many of the points in this post are considered in forum discussions here, here, and here.

There are a few more thoughts about "Footprints" in my next post.