Dec 26, 2013

Chord Terminology: Dm7b5, Dø7, or Fm6?

"Minor 7 flat five," "half-diminished," or "IVm6"?

These three progressions all express pretty much the same thing, II V I in the key of C minor:
Dm7b5    G7b9    Cm
Dø7        G7b9    Cm
Fm6        G7b9    Cm
One of my first jazz teachers felt that the most accurate way to notate the first chord in this progression would be "m7b5," rather than "half-diminished." His reasoning was that its usual function had more in common with m7 chords than it did with diminished chords. That made sense to me then, and still does now.

The m7b5 chord is usually encountered as II (dominant preparation) in minor, as in the examples above. In major keys, II is a m7 chord. So in C major, II would be Dm7, and in C minor, II would be Dm7b5. It makes sense to use similar terminology - m7 and m7b5 - to describe similarly functioning chords.

The m7b5 chord is often called "half-diminished" because of its construction: diminished triad, with a minor seventh. It's only one accidental away from a "fully" diminished seventh chord. But these chords are not functionally related: The "fully" diminished seventh chord does not occur as a II (dominant preparation) in either major or minor. Rather, it virtually always functions as either a dominant chord (Bdim7 = G7b9 minus the root), or as a passing chord (supplying chromatic passing tones between two other chords). Here are two common turnaround progressions illustrating these usages:
Cmaj7   C#dim7   Dm7   G7    (here the C#dim7 has a dominant function, substituting for A7b9 as a V of II) 
Em7   Ebdim7   Dm7    G7    (here the Ebdim7 is a passing chord)
It's true that a m7b5 chord could serve as a dominant 9 chord minus the root (Bm7b5 = G9), but you'll rarely see it used that way in jazz lead sheets.

It's also true that you will sometimes see the m7b5 chord used in a sort of "passing" context in what I'd call an extended turnaround:
F#m7b5  Fm7   Em7   Ebdim7  Dm7  G7   (e.g., Cole Porter's "Night and Day")
Or sometimes as a VII in major, as part of the "circle within a key" (diatonic circle of fourths):
Cmaj7  Fmaj7  Bm7b5  Em7  Am7  Dm7  G7  Cmaj7
And yes, it's quicker to write a circle with a slash through it (or type option - o) than to write "m7b5."

But I'd still argue that "m7b5" better describes this chord, given its most common function.

In older fakebooks, you'll often see m7b5 expressed as a IVm6 chord:

As you can see, Fm6 is an inversion of Dm7b5; the only difference is that Fm6 implies F in the bass rather than D. In the context of a progression like  Fm6  G7b9  Cm, Fm6 has the same "dominant preparation," minor-key function. Most modern fakebooks would relabel this chord as Dm7b5 (or Dø7), making it easier for players to recognize it (and deal with it) as part of a II V.

In his autobiography To Be, or Not to Bop, Dizzy Gillespie credits Thelonious Monk with showing him how to use a "minor sixth chord with the sixth in the bass." Of course, voicing it this way gives you exactly a "minor seven flat five."

In current usage, you are more likely to see minor 6 chords occurring as I or IV in a minor key, or as IVm in a major key (e.g., Fm6  Bb7  Cmaj7, where the Fm6 and Bb7 are "borrowed from the parallel minor," adding temporary minor color via the notes Ab and Bb). 

I don't want to digress too much. But the next point of discussion might be: In the progression  Fm6  Bb7  Cmaj7  (or  Fm7  Bb7  Cmaj7), is the Fm6 (or Fm7) just a substitute for Dm7b5, as mentioned above, and is Bb7 just a substitute for G7b9 (e.g., see the bridge to "Stella by Starlight," where bVIIdom sustitutes for V)? One might make that argument, at least on the level of "dominant preparation, dominant substitute, tonic." However, the "IVm bVIIdom" formula tends to occur in specific harmonic situations, and I see it as a rather different thing.

Dec 22, 2013

More About "The Preacher"

Eric Stevens sent in some historical info about Horace Silver's "The Preacher," as an addendum to my last post:
According to [my] memory... 
In the early 60s Charlie Russo cut it as THE PREACHERMAN, as you may know. His mgr made him claim authorship; it got near the top, so Steve Allen and Ray Anthony cut it, big band. Then it hit the fan! Horace should’ve let it hit # 1, but sued too soon, and Russo & the disc were pulled. They first needed a B side, & I played bass on THERESA.
Well, I hadn't known that. Charlie Russo's "Preacherman" is on YouTube, but unfortunately not "Theresa."

Eric Stevens is a talented and prolific songwriter - here's a link to his website:

Thanks, Eric!

Addendum 2/8/14: Here's a news clipping from 1963:

The original article is here, in a Dorothy Kilgallen showbiz gossip column.

Dec 15, 2013

Roots Jazz: Horace Silver's "The Preacher," and Clark Terry's "One Foot in the Gutter"

I've always dug Clark Terry's gospel-flavored tune "One Foot in the Gutter." I thought I had discovered something when I figured out that you could quote Stephen Foster's "Old Folks at Home" over the whole tune; it fits the chords perfectly. However, according to Robin Kelley's biography of Thelonious Monk, "One Foot" is actually based on the chords to "We'll Understand it Better, By and By." Here are "One Foot" (starts at 4:40 in the first video below, second tune on the album), and "We'll Understand it Better":

Still, "One Foot" has a bridge which does in fact fit the bridge to "Old Folks at Home," while "We'll Understand" doesn't have a bridge. But, on to the next subject.

Here's Horace Silver's "The Preacher," recorded in 1955, originally issued on the album "Horace Silver and the Jazz Messengers":

I don't think it's out of line to observe some striking similarities, both in the melody and the chord progression, between "The Preacher" and this old American tune (Julian Lage on guitar, John McGann on mandolin):

There's only about one spot where the chords don't correspond (bar 9).

Here's a link to the first printed version of "Railroad" (1898), here titled "Levee Song." The familiar part starts halfway down the first page. Note the last bar on the first page, a B triad moving to a C triad. That's kind of a telltale spot, occurring also in "The Preacher" (different key, of course).

But wait, there's more! Here's Nat King Cole with a classic advertising jingle from the 1950s:

Just one more, then I'll stop, I promise:

Dec 8, 2013

A 6-key Clarinet

Some years ago, I think in the late 1980s, one of my students (Eric, an eighth grader), said, "My grandpa's been fixing up an old clarinet. Do you want to see it?" I said, "Sure, bring it in next week." I was expecting a junker, or maybe an Albert system clarinet from the early 1900s, or...whatever.

At his next lesson, Eric brought in a cardboard mailing tube, and pulled out an instrument that looked like a recorder (German blockflöte or English fipple flute) but had a few keys, and a clarinet mouthpiece. It was a clarinet, but obviously a very early one. Grandpa (Doug) had filled a hairline crack, replaced the string windings that this instrument had instead of tenon corks, and replaced the pads. He had used felt for the pads, probably because the original leather ones were so deteriorated that they looked like felt to him.

The clarinet had 6 keys. I recall them this way: a register key, an A key, a RH little finger Ab/Eb key, and LH little finger keys for E/B and F#/C#. These keys had a flat, square area to hold the pad. A sixth key for LH C#/G#, differently shaped with a round area for the pad, had apparently been added later. The mouthpiece was ebony, with grooves to hold the string that was used in those days instead of a ligature. The mouthpiece tip, unfortunately, was broken. The clarinet was made of boxwood. It had a stamp on it that had a not-quite-legible maker's name, and "Paris."

I talked with Doug. He said that the instrument had been in his family at least since he was a kid (probably in the 1920s), disassembled, in bad shape, in a cigar box. His parents would say, "Now don't throw that away - that's a clarinet!" Doug kept it, and finally one day when he was much older, he decided that it was time to fix up that old clarinet. He was a fix-it kind of guy. So he did what seemed right, then sent it in with Eric.

I asked around, and found an early-music expert at Stanford who told me that 5-key clarinets were standard from around the 1750s until as late as the 1820s, and that the 6th key was often added to 5-key instruments in the early 1800s. I wondered how long that clarinet had been in Doug's family, and how it made its way to California (I never found out). The Stanford guy sent over a piece of leather that would be the appropriate material for pads. Doug used it to replace the felt pads. Then he bought a little block of ebony, and carved a new mouthpiece. It looked right, but of course it's a fine art to make a mouthpiece, and it didn't play. So he went to the next solution - he turned a new barrel on his lathe, with a diameter on one end to fit the clarinet, and a diameter on the other end to fit a modern mouthpiece. Now it was playable.

It seemed to play in the key of C (although in the 18th and 19th centuries, tuning standards varied wildly - see this Wikipedia article). Doug loaned me the instrument for six months. There was just one condition: I would learn to play it, and record something for him to listen to. What a privilege! I found a fingering chart somewhere, and eventually recorded him a couple of simple Handel pieces. The clarinet had a nice sound, but without the volume or projection of a modern instrument. Fingerings were of course not quite the same as a modern clarinet. Above high C, though, Boehm fingerings seemed to work. One problematic note was second-space Ab. The best I could find for that was to press only the register key - pretty stuffy, and out of tune. This instrument gave me an appreciation for what it took to play those Mozart and Stamitz pieces, in the era that they were written.

If Eric is out there somewhere and happens to read this, please leave me a comment!


Here's a nicely written up history of the development of the clarinet.

For some pictures of early clarinets, and current prices on antique instruments, here's one place to browse. The 14th and 20th ones down from the top of the page (#4611 and #4580) resemble the one described here.

Nov 27, 2013

Doug Little

A couple of months ago I got an email from Doug Little, who had been one of my students way back when, when he was in high school. He's based in Minneapolis now, and has created a place for himself in the music world. Doug was visiting the Bay Area, and we had a nice chat over coffee. Doug is a really fine straight-ahead player (alto, tenor, flute, bass clarinet), but has also picked up a pretty deep interest in Cuban music along the way. He's received grants to study it, and has spent 8 months in Cuba over 4 trips. I can't take credit for how great a player he is now, but I'm happy if I helped at all.

Doug has several bands; he's also an educator, and runs the Twin Cities Jazz Workshop in the summer. You can check Doug's bio and music on his website, He has a bunch of videos on youtube; here are a couple of them. This one is from a sax quartet he wrote:

This one is more American/straight-ahead:

It's always nice to hear from ex-students, and of course, gratifying if they are still playing music. Obviously, very few make a career in music. That's harder to do now than ever, and I'd never advise a student to try it, unless (like me) there's really no good alternative.

Not too long ago, as I arrived at the Saturday session of an adult jazz combo that I coach, Bob (the drummer) said to me, "I met one of your ex-students - we played a gig together last night." Me: "Really? Who?" Bob: "Jerry P." Me: "Oh, yeah, Jerry - nice kid, good player." Bob: "He's not a kid, he's an old man." I did a quick time calculation. Bob was exaggerating, but...

Nov 18, 2013

B2B Update 11/18/13

Mestre Acordeon and Mestra Suelly's B2B group, bicycling from Berkeley to Brazil, now is somewhere south of Tecuala, approximately 100 miles south of Mazatlan. Here are some links:

B2B Facebook page

Rider blogs:

Oct 27, 2013

Louis, Sonny, Dizzy, and "I'm a Ding Dong Daddy From Dumas"

The other day I had a few minutes between lessons, and randomly opened up the Hal Leonard "Real Book" Vol. 5 (reviewed here), to a tune called "I'm a Ding Dong Daddy From Dumas." Remembering the song title from an R. Crumb cartoon, I looked at the tune a little closer, and had a flash of recognition: the chord progression is basically the same as Sonny Rollins' "Doxy." I'd always heard that "Doxy" was written on the chords to "Ja-Da" (1918), but the bridge of "Doxy" fits the "Ding Dong Daddy" bridge a lot better. Of course, that led to some clicking around.

According to Wikipedia, "'Doxy' was written by Sonny Rollins during his stopover in England on a European tour. Its name is given after a bread-spread that the band was eating in the hotel." Here's the first recording of "Doxy," with Sonny and Miles (1954):

Although it wasn't the first recording of "I'm a Ding Dong Daddy From Dumas," one of the best is by Louis Armstrong (1930):

Here's another 1930 recording by Slatz Randall, posted as a 2-song medley (both sides of the record), with "Daddy" preceded by a tune called "Skirts," which has the same chordal template. You'll notice that Slatz's version of "Ding Dong Daddy" includes a lead-in section, sort of like the "verse" in many "Golden Age" standards:

In Louis' version, note the "Salt Peanuts" riff at the end of the trumpet solo - the first recorded use of this riff. Dizzy expanded it by two bars and used it in "Little John Special," a blues that he recorded with Lucky Millinder (1942):

In 1943 Dizzy re-framed the riff over (more or less) Rhythm changes, as the bop classic "Salt Peanuts."

But to get back to Louis - Here is a really great writeup by Armstrong expert Ricky Riccardi, with a wealth of interesting details about the song, Louis, Dumas (Texas), and much more.

In this article, the author mentions "How Come You Do Me Like You Do" (1924) as the source of the "Doxy" changes. Maybe. It's closer than "Ja-Da," but the bridge to "How Come" is still a bit different, ending on the tonic chord. I think "Ding Dong Daddy" is still a better fit. Or maybe "Skirts." Maybe all of them. You be the judge!

Oct 23, 2013

B2B Update 10/23/13

Mestre Acordeon and Mestra Suelly's B2B group is about 7 weeks into their 1-year bicycle trip from Berkeley to Brazil. As nearly as I can tell from their Facebook posts, they are somewhere near Santa Rosalia, halfway down Baja California. They can't post regularly, due to no internet on the road, but if you are interested in following their progress, here is the B2B Facebook page. Mestre Acordeon recently posted an enthusiastic and positive video message to his friends and supporters.

Two of the participants in the ride are blogging about the project:

Sabbatical by Bicycle:

One Game at a Time:

Oct 13, 2013

Mancini and Piazzolla

The latest entry in our "who wrote it" chronicles comes to us courtesy of guitarist Hugo Wainzinger. Hugo told me about this one during a break at a gig last week.

First, a Henry Mancini tune, "Meglio Stasera (It Had Better Be Tonight)," from "The Pink Panther (La Pantera Rosa)." The film was released in 1964:

Here is Astor Piazzolla's "Contrastes," written around 1955. The theme in question starts at 0:40.

As they say, you be the judge. They are both great writing, regardless. I remember "Meglio Stasera" from my big band days, as a stock arrangement that we played as a ballroom samba (not a tango), for dancers.

Oct 9, 2013

Roberto Menescal Charts

A few years ago I got hold of O Melhor de Roberto Menescal, a collection of tunes by the great composer and guitarist. Menescal is a pioneer of bossa nova, best known to American jazzers as the writer of "O Barquinho (My Little Boat)" - but he's contributed far more than that.

Recently, I brought in his tune "Voce" to an adult combo class I teach. After the class Carlos, our sax player, checked out Menescal's website. It turns out that pdf's of every chart in the book are available there, as free downloads. If you are interested in checking out some beautiful, well-written bossas, click here.

Sep 17, 2013

The Vibrato Plastic Saxophone

There's been some buzz (no pun intended) about a new plastic saxophone from the Vibrato Co., Ltd. The company is based in Thailand (here's the company website); the saxophone is distributed in the USA by Vibratosax USA (here's the American website).

I haven't played one yet.

Here's a video (thanks, Carlos!) with Jim Cheek doing a side-by-side comparison with a Yanigasawa A901. Jim sounds terrific on both horns, but you can hear the difference. The Yanigasawa has a crisper attack, and a richer sound, with more highs in the spectrum.

I listened to some of the video clips on the company website when my wife was in the next room. Her comment was that when played by a really good player, this horn is like a $10 bottle of Vino Nobile from Trader Joe's. I'll interpret: Not bad, especially considering the price, but it will never be a $50 bottle.

Here's a video interview with Piyapat Thanyakij, president of Vibrato Sax, at the NAMM show. There's a nice demo at the end of the clip by saxophonist Reggie Padilla, brother of the interviewer. Reggie's a great player. My friend Ken in Hawaii actually hipped me to him some while ago, when Ken's son was taking lessons with Reggie. Reggie makes the horn sound very good, but there's still a relative flatness to the tone.

Judging from the video clips on the company website, the mouthpiece makes a large difference in the tone (of course).

But really, why shouldn't someone be able to make a decent plastic sax, theoretically, anyway? We've had plastic clarinets for a long time, and they can be quite good, depending on the manufacturer. And of course, there was the Grafton plastic sax, in the 1950s. Charlie Parker played one at the legendary Massey Hall concert in 1953, and sounded just like he did on any other alto (allowing, that is, for the very low-fidelity recording techniques of the period).

Vibratosax makes several alto models, differing mainly in the composition of the polycarbonate. You can read more about this on the company website. Only altos so far.

Here's a "Repairman's Overview." Matt Stohrer lists some possible issues with the design and materials:

It sounds to me as though all-metal keywork might have been a better idea. In general, I'd worry about long-term durability.

Piyapat Thanyakij's talking point about the "waterproof" qualities of this horn reminds me of this classic video from Hermeto Pascoal. If you are looking to recreate this performance, a waterproof sax might be perfect for you:

I'm looking forward to checking out one of these horns. I'm sure it won't be long until a student walks in with a Vibratosax alto.

If you are an "early adopter" sort of person and just have to check out this horn, you can click here to buy one.

Sep 15, 2013

B2B Update 9/15/13

Mestre Acordeon and Mestra Suelly's B2B group is two weeks into their 1-year bike trip from Berkeley to Brazil; they should be somewhere around Santa Barbara right now.

The send-off party in Berkeley on Sept. 1 was a kick (no pun intended). I had the rare pleasure of playing tenor sax in the context of 20 or so capoeiristas playing berimbaus, pandeiros, and agogos, singing capoeira songs, while watching students and mestres playing capoeira in front of the stage. The energy was amazing. It was an honor and a privilege.

The B2B group will arrive in Los Angeles this week, and there are some events scheduled:

The best way to check their progress seems to be through their Facebook page.

Aug 27, 2013

Review: Hal Leonard "Real Book" Vol. 5

So let's think back...why was the old Real Book so successful? I mean the original bootleg one, produced by two Berklee students in 1975. Here's why: because it was so much better than the shoddy fakebooks we had before that. We liked the old RB because:

  • It included mostly great tunes that were a core part of the standard jazz repertoire, with very few "filler" tunes; 
  • It had mostly (not entirely) correct, jazz-friendly chord changes; 
  • It had nice calligraphy that you could read in dim club light;
  • Although it was a money-making effort, the old RB was produced with respect for the musicians who would be using it. 
  • The kids who produced it pretty much knew how to produce a practical yet accurate chart.

What did we not like about the old RB? The inaccuracies, in a few cases egregious, and the fact that it was a pirate product, that did not respect copyright (at least that's how I felt, although many musicians couldn't care less about copyright).

So how does the new Hal Leonard "Real Book" Vol. 5 compare? I'm sorry to say, not very well. Why not?

  • Many of the tunes can only be described as "filler";
  • The changes are often not presented in a jazz-friendly way;
  • There is an unacceptably high percentage of errors, most of them preventable, if the company had cared enough to edit the book properly;
  • It's a money-making effort all right, but without sufficient respect for the musicians who will be using it;
  • And the "World's Largest Print Music Company" in many cases did not seem to know how to produce a practical yet accurate chart.

Positive features: A readable font that mimics the calligraphy in the old RB; and copyright is respected.

Please see my review of Hal Leonard RB Vol. 4 - critical, but polite, I think. Many of the observations about that volume hold true for this one as well.

For this review, I am feeling less generous. This big company should know better.

Except for the respect of copyright and the nice font, this book is a throwback to the bad old days of fakebooks that were full of filler, full of errors, and that required informed interpretation to be useful to the average jazz musician. I don't want to spend too much time on specific cases, but here is a representative example:

The chart for "Anything Goes," like many charts in this book, uses changes that seem to have been copied straight from the original sheet music. In most old sheet music, chord symbols were an afterthought, added to a composed piano part. Changes are often harmonically superfluous; or in the absence of the piano arrangement, need to be carefully voiced to make sense. In the old days, we developed the skill of knowing how to handle these sorts of charts - when to ignore changes, or when and how to rearrange them in a more practical way. Musicians who are accustomed to "modern" lead sheets often don't know how to do this reworking, or have no patience for it. The better, more jazz-oriented charts of the last 40 years (e.g. the old RB, or charts in Aebersold playalongs) took care of the simplification process, taking the burden off the end user. (See this post for comments on how to create a good chart.)

The "Tune-Dex" fakebook of 1949, one of the very first fakebooks, consisted of lead sheets that just copied the chord symbols from the original sheet music, as was apparently done in this Hal Leonard chart for "Anything Goes." As a matter of fact, this HL chart is almost exactly like the Tune-Dex chart of 1949 for "Anything Goes," in the details of its awkward chord placement.

In fairness, a number of the charts are better conceived.

Next, a word about the tune choice in this volume. Out of 400 tunes, I'd say about 80 might be useful. By what stretch of the imagination should a "Real Book" (i.e., a purportedly practical, jazz-oriented fakebook) include:
"Aquarius" (yes, that one)
"The Beat Goes On"
"Billie Jean"
"Smooth Operator"
"Somethin' Stupid"
"What's New Pussycat?"
As with HL RB Vol. 4, there are also some extreme retro "trad" tunes like "Alexander's Ragtime Band" and "I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles," some moderately interesting second-tier bebop, and some forgettable fusion tunes.

Hal Leonard has attached the name "Real Book" to about as many products as it could (Bluegrass, Christmas, Dixieland, Rock, Blues, Worship). In this usage, "Real Book" just means "fakebook," nothing more. The term formerly referred to a product that was by and for jazz musicians, produced with a healthy respect for the people who would be using it. Now it's just a term that is being mined to confer some credibility.

BTW, "Star Eyes" is just about always played in Eb, not F. Don't use this chart.

Apparently, HL's "Real Vocal Book" has editorial problems also. Check out this Amazon page, and scroll down to read the customer review from "PianoJazzMan," including HL's reply.

I guess I won't be publishing anything through Hal Leonard any time soon. But darn it, we should be honest.

Aug 8, 2013

Joao Bosco, Chaplin, and Puccini

The other day, Patricia was listening to Puccini's "Tosca," and noticed how much this piece ("Ah, quegli occhi!") sounded like Charlie Chaplin's "Smile." Check it out for yourself. Here's Placido Domingo singing Puccini, and Nat King Cole singing Chaplin:

Here's an interesting excerpt from a Chaplin biography quoting David Raksin about working on music with Chaplin, referencing Puccini.

There's that old saying: "If you're going to steal, steal from the best."

And here's the Wikipedia entry for "Smile," with lots of interesting info. For example, although the melody is from the music to Chaplin's movie "Modern Times" (1936), Nat Cole was the first to record "Smile" as a song (1954). There's nothing in this article as yet about "Ah, quegli occhi!"

But now check out this one - Joao Bosco's "O Bebado e o Equilibrista" ("The Drunk and the Tightrope Walker"). It's a tribute to Chaplin, and a poetic commentary on the military dictatorship that ruled Brazil at the time it was written. Bosco uses "Smile" as the intro to "O Bebado," then reworks it into a great samba (I also pick up a bit of "La Vie en Rose" and "Aquarela do Brasil" in there):

Jul 23, 2013

Berkeley to Brazil by Bicycle

My old friend Bira Almeida (Mestre Acordeon) will be biking 14,000 miles, from Berkeley to Brazil, in a multi-faceted cultural/musical project that will ultimately benefit at-risk kids in Brazil.

Bira's trip will take about a year. I'll post updates and/or links about his ride from time to time.

Please check out the project website (click on the flag icon for language). If you would like to contribute, here is a link to a "crowdfunding" campaign that will be active for the next 4 days.

Below is an excerpt from the project website with some background information about Bira and the "B2B" project:

Mestre Acordeon (Ubirajara Almeida) born in Salvador, Bahia Brazil, is considered a living legend in the Afro-Brazilian martial art known as Capoeira. He is one of the oldest living graduated students from the school of legendary Mestre Bimba (1899-1974), who is actively teaching, training, studying and promoting Capoeira.

A visionary, musician, researcher, author and producer, Mestre Acordeon has played a significant role in the evolution of Capoeira in the last 50 years. Acordeon opened his first school in 1962, created the Grupo Folclórico da Bahia in 1964; taught Capoeira in São Paulo during 1968/69; and inspired an entire generation of capoeiristas, establishing himself as one of the most influential capoeiristas in Brazil.

In the late seventies, with 22 years of active experience, Mestre Acordeon brought Capoeira to the international stage, and is credited as being one of the pioneers to have introduced Capoeira to the United States. Recently he celebrated 35 years of teaching in the San Francisco Bay Area. His organization, the Capoeira Arts Foundation functions as an umbrella for the schools affiliated with the United Capoeira Association, and it is the base for all of the projects related to Mestre Acordeon.

Mestre Acordeon will commemorate his 70th birthday by riding his bicycle on a 14,000-mile journey from Berkeley to the source of his eternal inspiration: his hometown of Salvador da Bahia, Brazil. This epic and historic journey, called Project B2B-Joga Capoeira (Berkeley to Bahia), will start September 1st and take about a year to complete. It will allow Acordeon to immerse himself in local cultures: customs, traditions, values, music and dance. He will study the social significance of Capoeira in these diverse communities. The project will encompass populations in 11 countries (including Brazil) and more than 32 cities. This story will be told by a Capoeira icon who has lived for his art for over half a century.

Material collected during the B2B trip will be documented into four distinct cultural products:

  • "Las Americas Cantan la Capoeira", a collaborative CD of world music, using Capoeira songs recorded during the course of the trip with participation of capoeiristas who are musically creative and open to using their own cultural influences in this work.

  • "Flat Tires and One Berimbau", a documentary film that will fuse historical footage, anecdotes of Mestre Acordeon's Capoeira practice, and stories of Brazilians and non-Brazilians, as they find solace in the art form regardless of their heritage.

  • "B2B Joga Capoeira" a television and/or web series with programs that touch upon Capoeira and its expansion in the Americas. People, culture, music, and language of each region traveled will be highlighted.

  • "Lyrics of the Capoeira Path". Acordeon will use the lyrics of his recorded songs to expound on the path he has taken in capoeira. He will share reflections acquired over 55 years of active participation in his art form.

About Capoeira
For those unfamiliar, Capoeira is an Afro-Brazilian art form that involves movement, music, and elements of practical philosophy. A Capoeira player experiences the essence of the art in a physical game called "jogo de Capoeira" (game of Capoeira) or simply "jogo." During this ritualized combat, two capoeiristas (players of Capoeira) exchange movements of attack and defense in a constant flow while observing rituals and proper aesthetics. During the jogo, the capoeiristas explore their strengths and weaknesses, fears and fatigue in a sometimes frustrating, but nevertheless enjoyable, challenging, and constant process of personal expression, self-reflection, and growth.

Jul 15, 2013

"E.S.P." (Wayne Shorter)

In this post I'll take a look at "E.S.P.", one of Wayne Shorter's classic 1960s tunes. I'll assume that you have a lead sheet to refer to - you can find it in the old Real Book "5th edition," the Hal Leonard Real Book "6th Edition," or the Sher New Real Book vol. 1. There is a chord chart at the end of this post (chords mostly as in the New Real Book).

The melody begins with 3 notes (C, G, D) moving down and up by fourths. This non-triadic shape produces a sort of floating feeling, and does not, in itself, clearly define a tonic. In bars 7-11 new notes are added, setting up a D minor pentatonic tonality; bar 12 adds a Bb, suggesting D natural minor; bars 13-16 add the note B, suggesting D dorian. The second ending adds the note Eb, a suggestion of sub V. To my ear, both the first and second endings of the melody finish in D minor.

With chords added, we hear this piece as being in F major, but I think the F-major-ness is induced by the creative harmonic backing for a basically D-minor melody. Note that the melodic range is from low D to high D, except for one Eb high point near the end. The melody is harmonized in ways that set up other tonal centers, causing the D-minor-ish melody notes to come across often as extensions (color tones), often as members of non-D minor tonalities.

A note about terminology: Measures 1-2 and 5-6 are harmonized with E7alt, or E7(#5, #9), depending which lead sheet you are looking at. The Sher New Real Book and old RB both show E7alt; the booklet that comes with the Jamey Aebersold play-a-long and the Hal Leonard RB both show E7(#5,#9). The Hal Leonard book The New Best of Wayne Shorter shows E7#9 for the head (oddly, the chords printed over the solo section consistently show E7b5 for these bars; I suspect that this may be a mistake). To many musicians, E7#9 would imply a supporting #5 in the voicing.

As I understand it, both Aebersold and Sher had access to Shorter's original chart. I'd guess that the chart originally called for E7(#5,#9), and that Sher made a decision to express this chord as "alt." The term "alt" usually means (#5, #9), but implies that the chord might also be expressed in other ways that involve a b5, #5, b9, and/or #9. The term "alt" also implies that one would play an "altered" scale over it (AKA diminished whole tone, or superlocrian). I think that the "alt" approach might take us to a somewhat different place than the composer intended.

In this interview, Herbie Hancock recalls that Wayne's score for "Nefertiti" showed chord voicings, but no chord symbols. It's not clear from the interview whether this was Wayne's usual way of writing scores in the 1960s, or if it was only done that way for "Nefertiti." On the other hand, the frontispiece for the Shorter biography Footprints is a lead sheet in Wayne's writing for the tune "Footprints," with just melody, bass line, and chord symbols, no voicings. This "Footprints" chart shows two of the chords in the turnaround as "B+9+5" and "A+5+9+11" - no use of "alt." (No "7" in these symbols either, BTW. I don't know if this was intentional.)

With Shorter's harmony added under the melody, the generally "D minor" melody notes take on different resonances and different functions. In mm 1-2 and 5-6, played over E7(#5, #9), the C and G come across as #5 and #9. In mm 3-4 the G and D, played over Fmaj7, come across as 9 and 13. In bars 7-8 (played over Ebmaj7#11), the A and F become #11 and 9. In bar 10 (over Ebmaj7#11) the A becomes #11. In the first bar of the second ending, the melody note G (over Db7#11) sounds as a #11.

The chord progression directs the melody into different key centers:
mm 1-4:  The E7(#5, #9) is a substitute dominant (not a tritone sub, though) preparing the Fmaj7 in mm 3-4. You could look at it as a sort of inverted C7#5; it functions the same way, as a V seeking resolution; resolution is to Fmaj7. F major is the tune's overall key.
mm 4-8:  the E7(#5, #9) is repeated, but this time resolves into a new tonal center, Ebmaj7#11 (Eb lydian), in tritone-sub fashion. 
mm 9-12: The Ebmaj7#11 drops again (in tritone-sub fashion) to D7, then moves chromatically up until it reaches Fmaj7, then drops to Ebmaj7, to set up the Dm7 that follows. 
mm 13-16 (first ending):  The Ebmaj7 resolves back down to Dm7; this sounds like a D minor key center to me. G7 could be a dorian IV chord. However, it is also true that the entire first ending is a standard way to cadence in F major (VI, V of V, II, sub V). 
mm 31-34 (second ending):  Db7#11 is sub V of V in F, Gm7 is II. In Bar 31, Gb7 is sub V, with Dbm7 inserted in front of it, to set up a short II V in Cb. Nothing unusual here, really.

How to solo over this? Of course, that is entirely up to you.

Wayne's solo from Miles Davis' album E.S.P. (transcribed in "The New Best of Wayne Shorter") is fairly chord-oriented, using a number of 4-eighth-note "digital" patterns (e.g., 1235). Miles, in his solo, seems to be acknowledging the chords and structure, but playing more chromatically. I don't hear chord scales.

You might try D minor pentatonic (= F major pentatonic) over the whole tune. Use your ear, and it will work.

An intervallic/motivic approach could be appropriate, and a good excuse to use some "fourths" ideas.

If you relate to the "chord-scale" approach, most of the tune can be boiled down to one or another type of F scale:
mm 1-2: F melodic minor (E alt)
mm 3-4: F major
mm 5-6: F melodic minor (E alt)
mm 7-8: F mixolydian (Eb lydian)
m 9: F dorian b2 (D alt) (consistent with the D7#9 shown in some charts)
m 10: F mixolydian (Eb lydian)
m 11: F melodic minor (E alt)
m 12: F major to F mixolydian (Eb lydian)
first ending:
m 13: F lydian (D dorian)
m 14: F lydian (G mixolydian)
m 15: F major (G dorian)
m 16: F phrygian (Gb lydian)
second ending:
m. 29: F locrian #2 (Db lydian dominant) or F whole tone
m 30: F major (G dorian)
m 31: F# mixolydian (B major)
m 32: F major
This last approach seems excessively fussy to me, but it's one way to use a chord-scale approach.

Or, similarly, you might just think in F major, with notes added or altered here and there, as dictated by the chords.

Beyond all that, though, I feel that this tune has a rather "out" character, that will justify pretty much any direction that your solo might take. Here's an excerpt from a Wayne interview with Eric Nemeyer in January 2000, regarding the song "Dolores," another Shorter tune recorded by Miles' band in the '60s (I used this quote in a previous post):
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..."

Some links:

A transcription of Wayne's solo on the Miles E.S.P. album (notated with some awkward accidentals). The transcription in The New Best of Wayne Shorter is mostly cleaner reading, but is transposed for Bb instruments.

The E.S.P. track from the Miles album, with Shorter's aforementioned solo.

Here's the chord chart:

Jul 4, 2013

Changes for Ten Bells, Part 2

This is a followup to my previous post, Percival Price: Changes for Ten Bells.

After reading more about "change-ringing," I think I have a clearer idea what was on that list of bell patterns that Price wrote out in 1931. For reference, here's the document again:

First, here is a beautifully concise definition of "change ringing" from the North American Guild of Change Ringers:
Change Ringing is a team sport, a highly coordinated musical performance, an antique art, and a demanding exercise that involves a group of people ringing rhythmically a set of tuned bells through a series of changing sequences that are determined by mathematical principles and executed according to learned patterns.
The Guild's website has a very nice presentation of the mathematical aspect of this art. As generally practiced, it has to do with ringing extensive permutations of a set of bells (the set is called a "ring of bells"). The resulting extended sequence in the "peal" (performance) is not random, but intricately patterned, according to an exact method. 

The rhythm of the bells will be unvarying. The interval sequences will not be at all chosen for musicality, but will occur however is dictated by the permutation method. Thus, the musical content is quite randomized.

This sounds like a composition method that might have appealed (pun not intended) to John Cage, doesn't it? Cage did, in fact, compose a randomized piece called Music of Changes (1951). The title is in reference to the I Ching ("Book of Changes"), but I have to wonder...

Anyway, back to Percival Price. The sheet he wrote out is titled "Musically Interesting Changes for Ten Bells." This is a reference to the fact that most "changes" in change-ringing are perhaps not so musically interesting. Price lists eight patterns, each of which has a distinct "musical" interval sequence, with performance instructions in the margins.

These patterns come under the heading of "Named Changes" (aka "Called Changes," or "Call changes"), and are generally well-known in the world of bell-ringing. See this Wikipedia explanation. Call changes tend to have amusing and very British names - see this list.

I don't think that Price's document implies the traditional playing of permutations, at all.

Rather, this seems to be a sort of composition by Price, built out of "Named Changes" selected for their musicality, and put into a meaningful order. He includes specific instructions for the performers (obviously, the performers would be a "ring" of ten bells): In the margin, "Play each change twice." Below the changes, "Conclude with Queens and Rounds." At the bottom of the sheet, "N.B. Let strokes average 200 to 100 per minute, according to size of bells."

As the piece would begin with Rounds and Queens, it would finish symmetrically with Queens and Rounds. Altogether there would be 10 "changes," each played twice, or 20 sequences of 10 notes each. There would be a 1-stroke rest between each sequence, I believe, making 220 strokes total including the rests. At 200 to 100 per minute, that's a playing time of just over 1 minute at minimum, to just over 2 minutes maximum. That seems like some pretty furious bell-ringing!

Jul 1, 2013

Percival Price: Changes for Ten Bells, Part 1

I found this document at a sheet music sale, when a local community music school was clearing out unwanted material. Perhaps it had been donated by a retired local musician, or perhaps by a family clearing up an estate. It's titled "Musically Interesting Changes for Ten Bells," and signed "Percival Price, Peace Tower Ottawa, 2/July/31" (that's 82 years ago, tomorrow!).

Percival Price is legendary in the world of carillon players (carillonneurs). This document turned out to be a snapshot of a small but interesting corner of music history. 

In case you don't know what a carillon is, here is Wikipedia:
...a musical instrument that is typically housed in the bell tower (belfry) of a church or other municipal building. The instrument consists of at least 23 cast bronze, cup-shaped bells, which are serially played to produce a melody, or sounded together to play a chord. A traditional manual carillon is played by striking a keyboard — the stick-like keys of which are sometimes called batons — with the fists, and by pressing the keys of a pedal keyboard with the feet.
Since these "changes" are for just 10 bells, it's not carillon music, but rather "change-ringing," to be performed by 10 ringers, one for each bell (see the last video, below). Some pretty extensive information on change-ringing can be found in this Wikipedia article.

The Ottawa Peace Tower carillon was inaugurated on July 1, 1927 by Price, who had consulted on its design. Price was in charge of the Peace Tower carillon from 1927-1939. Here's Wikipedia on the Peace Tower carillon:
Accompanying the Peace Tower clock is a 53-bell carillon, conceived by an act of parliament as a commemoration of the 1918 armistice that ended World War I, and was inaugurated on 1 July 1927, to mark the 60th anniversary of Confederation. The bells weigh from 4.5 kg to the 10,160 kg (10 lbs to 23,399 lbs) bourdon, all cast and tuned by Gillett & Johnston in Croydon, England, and which are used by the Dominion Carillonneur for both regular recitals and to toll to mark major occasions such as state funerals and Remembrance Day. Each bell is stationary and is struck by its internal clapper, itself mechanically linked to the carillon keyboard, to create a note, a particular one on the music scale for each bell. In this way, the carillon plays similarly to a piano, allowing the carillonneur to change the sounds by varying the way he or she strikes the keys.

The date in the upper right corner is June 30, 1931; the date below Price's signature in July 2. 

How do you suppose this piece of paper came to be in Mountain View, California, 82 years later?

How about this scenario: In 1931 a young musician with an interest in the carillon, and perhaps who was a bell-ringer in a church with 10 bells, makes a pilgrimage to Ottawa for some lessons with Price. They have a nice visit over a few days; Price writes out the sheet on June 30. The student sticks around for the festivities on July 1 (Canada Day - "Canada's birthday"). Undoubtedly, Price would have played a carillon concert. The next day, before the student leaves, he/she asks Price to autograph the sheet. Many years pass; the musician ends up in the Bay Area. He/she passes away, and the family donates his/her sheet music to the community music school. It gets culled out for the sale, because the person doing the sorting doesn't think it's worth keeping. I look at it, find it somewhat interesting, and buy it, along with a pile of other music. It sits in a stack of music for some years, until I finally take a closer look.

Happy Canada Day!

For a followup to this post, click here: Changes for Ten Bells, Part 2

Here's Price inaugurating the Peace Tower carillon in 1927:

Another composition by Price:

This 10-bell sequence seems to be "Rounds," the first of the changes on Price's sheet:

Jun 24, 2013

"Recorda-me" and "Invitation"

Ever notice the similarity between Joe Henderson's "Recorda-me" and Bronislau Kaper's "Invitation"?

Joe's tune (AKA "Recordame" or "No Me Esqueca") was, according to Joe, written when he was a teenager. Here's a quote from his interview with Mel Martin:
When I was about fourteen or fifteen years old, I wrote my first composition. That tune was recorded on a Bluenote record, the very first record I did. It's one of the tunes that I get the most recognition for and it's called Recordame. When I first wrote it, it had a Latin flavor to it. But when the Bossa Nova came out I changed it to fit that rhythm, which meant that I changed a couple of phrases around.
Pretty good for a first composition, by a 15-year-old. Joe was born in 1937, so that would have been around 1952.

Kaper's "Invitation" was written for a movie that came out in 1950, then used again for another movie in 1952 (however, Sher's "New Real Book" shows 1944 as the copyright date). Joe could very well have heard it or played it as a kid - that would have been a pretty hip upbringing (he had some jazz guidance from an older brother, beginning at age 9). 

I'll save myself the trouble of writing out the charts, and assume you have a fake book. Both tunes are in the old Real Book, as well as in the Hal Leonard "6th Edition" Real Book. You can also find "Recorda-me" in the Sher Music "New Real Book" Vol. 1, under the name "No Me Esqueca," and "Invitation" in New RB Vol. 3.

Check out the similarities:

  • Both tunes begin with extended minor chords, with the second related to the first by ascending minor third (Am to Cm for "Recorda-me," Cm to Ebm for "Invitation'). "Recorda-me" does this in 8 bars, with 4 bars of each chord; Invitation takes 16 bars, and connects the two extended minor chords with a couple of dominant chords - but the areas of minor tonality move in the same way.
  • Both melodies begin with a short phrase involving a relatively large melodic leap, with the melodies hitting the major sixth over a minor 7th chord.
  • Both tunes employ a device of dwelling on the minor chord long enough to make it come across as tonic, then re-interpreting the minor chord as a II in a II V I, sending the progression forwards.
  • Both tunes then move through a string of II V I sequences, with each I chord becoming the II of the next sequence. "Recorda-me" uses major II V I progressions, while "Invitation" uses altered dominants and minor I chords.

It seems to me that there are just too many points of similarity for this to be a coincidence. I guess Joe was into theory as a kid. That's not too surprising.

Joe recorded "Invitation" several times. The Joe Henderson Discography (not just recordings, but also documented live performances) shows 19 performances of "Invitation" (36 for "Recorda-me," by the way).

Here's Joe playing "Invitation":

May 12, 2013

Review: "Charlie Parker: His Music and Life," by Carl Woideck

Carl Woideck’s Charlie Parker: His Music and Life has long been one of my two favorite Parker books, along with Lawrence Koch’s Yardbird Suite (previously reviewed here). In different ways, each book combines biography with in-depth musical analysis.

Woideck’s book begins with a concise “Biographical Sketch,” and follows with an analysis of Parker’s stylistic development, marked off into chapters covering 1940-43, 1944-46, 1947-49, and 1950-55. Appendices include a selected discography, and four solo transcriptions.

The 48-page biography chapter is well-researched, describing both Parker’s musical and non-musical life. Woideck addresses some Bird myths - as the book jacket reads, “setting the record straight where possible.” Parker’s drug use, not an irrelevant factor in both his musical and non-musical life, is dealt with realistically. Although this section is nicely done, I get the feeling that for Woideck, it was a sort of obligatory part of the book, and he would just as soon get on with the analysis. As he writes at the end of the bio, “That leaves us with the music, which is as it should be.”

The musical chapters comprise the real subject of this book. The Koch book covers a lot of biographical and discographical detail, with some analysis along the way, and a 32-page appendix that digs into the technical details of Parker’s music. Woideck, while also presenting his material chronologically, deals primarily with Parker’s style, rather than spending time on the minutae of Bird’s performances and recording history. The two books complement each other nicely.

Some of the particular angles, or points made, in Woideck’s book:

1) Parker was a great student of the jazz of his day. Notably, he studied Lester Young's recorded solos.

2) Parker had a unique ability to integrate advanced (for his era) theory concepts into his playing in an organic, natural way. Theory immediately became practice.

3) In the 1950s, Parker seems to have had difficulty in expanding his musical frontiers; in this period his performances seem “formulaic.” He aspired to expand his knowledge of the European classical tradition, but was not able to realize this ambition.

Woideck makes interesting, often astute, observations throughout the book. For example:

1) Parker has been quoted as saying he was “impressed by Bach’s patterns.” Woideck points out the similarity of some of Parker’s phrases to Bach’s solo pieces. I have to agree. Play through some of Bach's cello suites, and see what you think.

2) Woideck cites a pattern that Parker plays in a 1952 recording of “Rocker,” that seems to have been borrowed from Nicholas Slonimsky’s Thesaurus Of Scales And Melodic Patterns. Slonimsky’s book became famous among jazz musicians later, in the 1960s, when John Coltrane used some of its patterns as source material for solos. Woideck finds only this one example from Parker, but his early use is significant.

3) It’s interesting to speculate on how much of Parker’s improvisations may have been prepared in advance. Woideck traces the development of Parker’s approach to the bridge of “Cherokee” over a period of years. Parker’s treatment of the bridge's II V sequences seems to have started as “Tea for Two” quotes, over time becoming increasingly embellished and varied, as a sort of “work-in-progress,” ultimately becoming a Parker trademark. Woideck also cites the 1946 recording session that produced “Night in Tunisia”; Parker used “nearly identical” solo breaks on all three takes (this is the excerpt issued as the “Famous Alto Break”). Of course, prepared or not, it’s still stunning, and advanced for that era.

I do think that when Woideck repeatedly states that Parker’s creativity ebbed in the 1950s, he may be overstating the point a little. He asserts that Bird settled into a “lick-based,” “formulaic” approach. As I see it, Parker’s approach had always been “lick-based.” It was part of his style, and his genius, that he could vary the licks, and their rhythmic placement, in countless ways. Also, I think it’s undeniable that Bird produced some transcendent work in the 1950s. If there is some validity in Woideck’s assertion, it is perhaps largely a reflection of the recording situations that Ross Russell placed Parker in, and of the fact that Parker often toured as a “single,” without his own quartet as a support group.

In an appendix, Woideck presents four transcribed solos: “Honey and Body” (a medley of “Honeysuckle Rose” and “Body and Soul”), “Oh, Lady Be Good,” “Parker’s Mood,” and “Just Friends.” It’s a great selection of solos, and the transcriptions are nicely done. Unfortunately for alto players, the solos are shown in concert key, not transposed for Eb instruments. This will work for pianists and guitarists, but sax players will miss seeing how the notes lie on the instrument with which the solos were created. I’m sure that this was a difficult judgement call by the author.

All in all, a fine piece of scholarship, and a must for all ornithologists.