Dec 23, 2015

"Lady Bird" and "Joy Spring" - Parallel Minor or II V?

According to some sources, Tadd Dameron's "Lady Bird" was written in 1939. This sparked a few thoughts. The melody in measures 3-4 is a version of the well-known "Honeysuckle Rose" lick, deriving from Fats Waller's 1929 tune of the same name, and a favorite II V phrase of the 1940s bebop players (often played with rhythmic or melodic variations). If the 1939 date is correct, it's the earliest use of the lick that I know of, after Waller's original song - though I'd imagine players quoted it plenty in the 1930s, since the tune was a pop hit.

Here are the changes to "Lady Bird":

I had always thought of the Fm7 Bb7 in bars 3-4 as IVm and bVII dominant, two chords borrowed from the parallel minor key (C minor), rather than as II V in Eb major. But here Dameron uses a II V lick as melody, indicating that he was thinking of the harmony in bars 3-4 as a II V in Eb. This shift of tonality from C to Eb, a minor third up, would not be unusual for Dameron. Note also that he follows this in bars 7-10 with a shift from C into Ab, a major third down. All of this makes me think that II V in Eb is probably what Dameron had in mind for bars 3-4, not "parallel minor."

Yes, it's true that Eb major and C minor share a key signature, and use the same set of notes - but they are not the same thing; they sound different. Using one key or the other, or thinking of the sequence as a II V, will lead one to come up with different types of solo ideas. Taking a cue from the melody, is II V maybe a better way to go in this case?

The IVm bVIIdom progression is sometimes called a "back door II V." I've never felt quite right about using this term. For one thing, IVm and bVIIdom are not always used together, but quite often are used singly, and can substitute for each other. In many or most Broadway-style standards, IVm and/or bVIIdom do not suggest a key change, but are there to provide minor color to a prevailing major key. In that kind of setting, they are best explained as "chords borrowed from the parallel minor." Classical music has long used this device.

The IVm bVIIdom progression is also sometimes classified under the heading "subdominant minor" - a group of chords that use the b6 note, the strongest note for bringing minor color to a piece that is otherwise in major. Subdominant minor chords used in C major would include Fm6, Fm7, Bb7, Abmaj7, Ab7, Dm7b5. They can often substitute for each other.

"Modal interchange" is another term used for this sort of device: i.e., switching from major mode to minor mode. Using this term, we can add G7b9, G7#9, G7"alt" and G7 #5 to the above list (I can't quite bring myself to label a dominant, V-type chord as "subdominant minor"), since they import notes from the parallel minor.

In "Joy Spring," written by a jazz player (Clifford Brown) rather than a Broadway composer, the melody and chords in measures 4, 12, and 28 seem to reflect a treatment more like Dameron's - that is, the melody employs a II V lick over the IVm bVIIdom. I don't hear any key change here, but the melody in these spots is definitely a II V shape.

All this musing led me to check out some classic solos on "Lady Bird" and "Joy Spring," to see if I could find any indications as to which way the soloists might have been thinking. I checked Clifford Brown's and Harold Land's solos on "Joy Spring," Miles Davis' solo on "Half Nelson" (1947, same chords as "Lady Bird"), Fats Navarro's solo on "Lady Bird" (first recording, 1948, with Dameron), and Dexter Gordon on "Lady Bird" (1964, 9 choruses).

Below is my take on what these great players were doing over the IVm bVIIdom sections in "Lady Bird" and "Joy Spring." The players' names are linked to the transcriptions that I consulted - thanks to the musicians who did the transcribing, including Jeff Rzepiela for the Harold Land solo!

Clifford Brown on "Joy Spring" (transcription is in concert key, F; trumpet solo starts at 1:45 of the video) (the measure numbers below are not as shown on the linked chart; my numbers do not include pickup measures):

m.4 - Notes are plausible as a "back door II V" (Bbm7 Eb7), but Brown may be treating this measure as he would a C7 (V in F), playing a b9/#9 lick over it.
m.12 - Brings out the D, the parallel minor-signifying b6 note in this section, but the line is plausible as a II V.
m.28 - Plausible as a II V, but again reflects a possible b9/#9 over an imagined C7.
m.36 - The D natural doesn't really fit the Bbm7. Could be a missed note, but would fit an imagined Gm7 C7 with b9/#9 over the C7.
m.44 - F# minor scale (parallel minor in this section).
m.60 - Brings out the Db (parallel minor note in this section); plausible as a II V.

Harold Land on "Joy Spring" (transposed for Bb inst., shown in G; tenor solo starts on 0:55 of the video linked to above for the Clifford solo) (again, measure numbers not as shown on chart; mine do not include pickups):

m.4 - Seems to be an obvious II V lick
m.12 - Bebop scale II V lick
m.28 - II V lick

Miles Davis on "Half Nelson" (same chords as "Lady Bird") (transposed for Bb inst., shown in D; recording is here; trumpet solo starts at 1:21):

mm.4-5 - Melodic shape somewhat follows the outline of the "Honeysuckle Rose" II V lick.
mm.19-20 - Scalewise with F# pickup; plausible as a II V (Gm7 C7) lick, with #9/b9 over the C7.

Fats Navarro on "Lady Bird" (transposed for Bb inst., shown in D; recording is here; trumpet solo starts at 0:32):

mm.4-5 - Chord-oriented with "enclosure" shapes; he is probably thinking II V.
mm.19-20 - Runs Gm7 to the 9, possibly a II V idea.

Dexter Gordon on "Lady Bird" (transcription in link, described below, is in concert key, C; video is here, with visuals showing transcription in D, transposed for Bb inst.):

mm.3-4 (chorus 1) - Seems to be thinking Fm7 for both measures
mm.19-20 (chorus 2) - Same
mm.35-36 (chorus 3) - Eb note moving to D suggests II V
mm.51-52 (chorus 4) - Perhaps II V
mm.67-68 (chorus 5) - Quotes head (Honeysuckle Rose II V lick)
mm.83-84 (chorus 6) - Eb major material (suggests II V)
mm.99-100 (chorus 7) - F "blues scale" lick, both measures
mm.115-116 (chorus 8) - F blues lick and Fm material
mm.131-132 (chorus 9) - Eb note suggests parallel minor, but Dexter might be just thinking Fm7 for 2 bars again.

Summing up - In these recordings, the II V interpretation is the approach most utilized over the IVm bVIIdom. In the case of these two tunes, "back door II V" might be an apt term. However, II V doesn't seem to have been the only way these players' thoughts went. Sometimes we hear a parallel minor shape, as in m.44 of Clifford Brown's solo, or a b9 #9 that would normally go over a C7 (V) even though the chords are  Bbm7 Eb7 (IVm bVIIdom), as in mm.4, 28, and 36 of Clifford's solo. Or a player might just run the IVm chord, as Dexter seems to be doing. It all works. As always, if it sounds right, it is right.

Dec 16, 2015

That Lick from "Four," "If You Could See Me Now," and "Groovin' High"

The phrase below appears in all three of these songs: Tadd Dameron's "If You Could See Me Now," Dizzy Gillespie's "Groovin' High" and Eddie Vinson's "Four." I've often wondered which tune came first. Here's how it occurs in "If You Could See Me Now":

I've been reading "Dameronia," Paul Combs' interesting and well-researched bio of Tadd Dameron. Dizzy and Tadd were good friends, and discussed music a lot in the early 1940s. Either one of them might have worked out this lick, but Dizzy recorded it first in February 1945, as part of the trumpet cadenza (arranged rather than improvised, I'd guess) at the end of "Groovin' High." "If You Could See Me Now" was first recorded by Sarah Vaughan in 1946, with a beautiful arrangement by Dameron. "Four," written by Eddie Vinson, was first recorded by Miles Davis in 1954.

There is a stylistically similar lick in Dameron's "Good Bait," weaving through the chords of a turnaround at the end of each 8-bar section. "Good Bait" was written possibly as early as 1939, according to this Dameron bio (see Chapter 10).

Here are the tunes in question. Be sure to listen to "If You Could See Me Now" - you'll see why this tune became a jazz classic. As an aside, note the altered melody that Sarah sings in the last A section. It parallels a melodic phrase in the introduction; maybe Dameron intended the last A to go that way.

In "Groovin' High," the lick occurs at 2:32:

Nov 26, 2015

Who Really Wrote "Walkin’” (aka "Weirdo" aka "Sid's Ahead" aka "Gravy")?

The question of who really wrote the blues tune "Walkin'" takes us into some very murky territory. The song was made famous by Miles Davis; most of his recordings credit the song to "Richard Carpenter."

I'm currently reading Dameronia, Paul Combs' biography of Tadd Dameron. Combs describes Richard Carpenter as a "shadowy figure in the jazz world," who had some sort of long-term financial hold over Dameron. Combs avoids making accusations of illegality, but he is pretty clear that Carpenter made a business in the 1950s of buying musical rights from musicians with drug problems, who needed a little quick money. A Google search turned up some references to Carpenter from jazz writers who were more straightforward in their choice of words. For example, Chet Baker biographer James Gavin, in an interview on (see page 2): "Chet wanted to kill him, literally. Carpenter is remembered as the greatest leech the jazz world has ever known." (Gavin's Chet Baker bio is Deep in a Dream: The Long Night of Chet Baker.)

Carpenter's hold on Dameron may or may not have had something to do with Dameron getting off more easily on a 1956 drug conviction because his previous arrest records had somehow disappeared from city files, according to Combs.

But let's get back to the question of who composed "Walkin'." It wasn't Carpenter. Miles recorded an extremely similar tune in March 1954 that he called "Weirdo," listing himself as the composer.

In April 1954 he recorded the same tune as "Walkin'," listing Carpenter as composer. The track was released on a 10" LP in 1954, and again in 1957 on the album "Walkin'."

In 1958 Miles recorded the same song under the name "Sid's Ahead," crediting himself this time. It was released as part of the album "Milestones."

Miles' later recordings of the song under the title "Walkin'" credited Carpenter; Miles frequently played the tune in live performances as late as 1965.

But Miles didn't compose "Walkin'," either. In 1950 Gene Ammons had recorded "Gravy," crediting Jimmy Mundy as composer. It's the same tune. Here's a link to listen to it.

I guess "Walkin'/Sid's Ahead" should be added to the list of tunes that Miles may not have written.

Combs, in Dameronia, offers his take: "...some maintain that ['Walkin''] was written by Lucky Thompson, and others cite Gene Ammons. The author is inclined to agree with the latter assignation but cannot prove it."

According to this 1964 Downbeat article, Richard Carpenter at one time managed Gene Ammons. According to James Gavin's biography of Chet Baker, Jimmy Mundy had been a client of Carpenter's too. From Gavin's book:

"After Mundy's death in 1983, Don Sickler, a trumpeter and music publisher who handled Dameron's catalogue, found the copyright certificate at the Library of Congress for a tune originally called 'Gravey.' Mundy was believed to be the composer, although some argued that it was Gene Ammons or Miles Davis. The title had been partly erased; 'Walkin'' was written over it and Carpenter's name inserted as composer." (This excerpt was quoted in a discussion of Carpenter at If you're interested, there are some more details there.)

It's impossible to know exactly how that erasure and altered composer credit could have happened, but there would have been (and still is) a bit of royalty money at stake. Perhaps it was all legal, though.

Nov 18, 2015

David Raksin's "Laura" - Soundtrack vs. Sheet Music

"Laura" is a brilliantly composed song by David Raksin, first presented as the theme of Otto Preminger's 1944 movie of the same name. The melody occurs throughout the film, but is never heard in full; the nearest it gets to a complete playing is in the opening credits, where it stops three measures short of its full 32 bars, leaving listeners with an unfinished song and a tense chord, as the movie's story begins.

"Laura" was published as sheet music in 1945, with lyrics by Johnny Mercer. No lyrics appear in the movie; they were added for the sheet music version, as was the unremarkable introductory "verse." Mercer's lyrics have pretty much nothing to do with the film's storyline, but they do create a mood, and certainly contributed to the song's popularity.

There's an excellent writeup of the tune's origins at, where it is rated number 35 on their list of the top 1000 standards.

"Laura" is one of the very few "Golden Age" jazz standards that ends in a different key (C major) than it begins (G major). The only other tunes I can think of that do that are "Unforgettable" and "Autumn Leaves" - and that one only if you count relative major (G) and relative minor (E minor) as being different keys.

A couple of weeks ago my wife and I watched "Laura" via Netflix streaming. As the title theme played, I noticed an unusual modulation halfway through the tune. I checked it out, and as it happens, this modulation allows the song to end in G (or rather, it would have, if the last three bars had been played). I could guess that Raksin might have originally set up the tune to end in the same key it started, but later changed his concept when preparing the sheet music.

Below is how the changes appear in the sheet music. This is a bare-bones version; I've omitted some superfluous chord symbols. Most modern fakebooks show similar changes, but with the Fdim7 replaced by Dm7b5  G7b9.


And here's an outline of the way the movie's opening credits presented the song. The melody starting in bar 17 matches the sheet music, but is pitched a fifth higher than in the sheet music, beginning with an F# in the melody, over the Em7 chord.

The sheet music version smoothes out the tune by beginning the second half in the same key as the first half, as one might normally expect in a commercial song. The modulation halfway through in the movie version worked in the soundtrack, but may have seemed a bit strange for a popular sheet music version, hence the revision. The trade-off was that by beginning the second half conventionally, in G, the tune would have to end in a key (C) different from the one it began in.

This is just speculation, of course, but it might be why "Laura" ends in a different key. Just a guess!

Here's Charlie Parker playing "Laura" with strings, recorded live. This arrangement employs a modulation, but not the same one heard in the movie.

Oct 25, 2015

A Short Charlie Parker Story

Back in the 1970s, I was a music major at Portland State University in Oregon. This was before the internet, so we had to do our research in the libraries. One day I was in the Portland city library checking out back issues of Downbeat, looking for solo transcriptions. There was another college kid also studying in the music section, and we struck up a conversation. He told me this story.

The kid's father (let's call him Bill) was a trombonist in the early 1950s, in New York City. One evening he decided to go to a jam session at a club. When he got there, he saw that there were some real heavies on stage, including Charlie Parker. Bill was kind of intimidated, so he took his trombone out into the hallway and jammed along quietly, horn pointed at the wall. Then someone grabbed him by the collar, and marched him up onto the stage. When he turned around to see who had grabbed him, Bill saw that it was Charlie Parker.

Oct 12, 2015

Why is the "Bb Bis" Key on Saxophones Named That Way?

Saxophones are not designed with a lot of alternate fingerings, but the note Bb is an exception - the Bb on the center line, and the Bb above the staff (same fingerings, plus the octave key) have 5 different possibilities. The most useful of these is the "bis" fingering, with the first finger of the left hand holding down both the B key and the little "bis" key directly below it.

I'd always wondered why the bis key had that name. I knew it meant "again" in French, but that didn't completely answer my question. This last summer I had the pleasure of meeting Xavier Sibre, a French sax/clarinet player who was visiting in Silicon Valley for a couple of weeks. He's back in Paris now. It occurred to me that Xavier might be able to give me a good answer to the "bis" etymology question, so I emailed him. Here's his answer:
Actually yes, "bis" means something in French. It means "double" as in the double of something already existing. For example, you would find a house on number 3 of a street and another house on 3 would be called 3bis. So concerning the Bb it means the bis key is like a second option towards the same result ;-) if you see what I mean. Just like a Bb number 2.
As nearly as I can tell, the first saxophones c. 1845 used a Bb fingering with the first two fingers of the LH, plus a RH side key, as on clarinet. According to Fred Hemke's 1975 dissertation "The Early History of the Saxophone," an 1886 patent application described a mechanism that allowed a Bb with LH first finger plus either first, second, or third finger of the RH (as on modern saxophones). In 1887, the bis key is described in a patent granted to Evette and Schaeffer, "allowing the Bb to be fingered with the first finger left hand alone."

In high school, my lessons were mostly on clarinet, from Paul Pone, who was an accomplished classical clarinetist, but not really a sax player, or a jazz guy. In college I signed on with Eddy Flenner, who was both a saxophonist and a jazz player. At my first lesson with Eddy, he asked me to play an F major scale for two octaves. I did, and Eddy asked me, "Why didn't you use the bis key?" I said, "What's that?" I had to spend some practice time learning to use it.

I teach students to use the bis Bb in most situations. Exceptions would be when going chromatically between B and Bb (usually the side fingering is better), and in a few rare situations (usually arpeggios when 1 and 1, 1 and 2, or 1 and 3 offers some advantage). If intonation needs to be adjusted, it's useful to remember that bis Bb is a little sharper than the other fingerings.

Here's a discussion of "bis" etymology from Sax on the Web - but I think Xavier's answer is about as clear as it could be.

Oct 8, 2015

Coltrane and the "Delta" Symbol for Major Seven Chords, part 2

Just to not leave the job unfinished, I've looked at the rest of the thumbnails of John Coltrane manuscripts from the jazz auction catalog, mentioned in my last post, to see if there was a clue as to when Coltrane might have started using the "" symbol to indicate major 7 chords (Yusef Lateef asserted that Coltrane introduced this usage to jazz). The evidence is inconclusive.

(Click here for Part 1)

The manuscript name and the symbol used for "major seven" chords are shown below. While I was at it, I checked for "minor seven" chord symbols also:

A Love Supreme:   
Saida's Song Flute:  △, mi, mi7
Like Sonny:  maj, maj7 (recorded 1960)
I'm a Dreamer:  maj, maj7, -7 (This is the chart with chords in concert, melody transposed for Bb. Recorded 1958.)
Unidentified (chart for King Kolax):  maj7, mi7
Swinging Seventh:  m, m7, -
Handwritten Chord Progressions:  maj7
From Diz to Tadd:  maj7, -7
Moody Speaks:  ma7, mi7
Apollo:  Eb (letter only), maj7, -7

The catalog also showed thumbnails of several Tadd Dameron charts, presumably written out by Dameron, but including a "Lady Bird" chart that I had thought might have been in Coltrane's hand:

Tadd's Delight:  maj7
Choose Now:  maj7
Milt's Delight:  ma.7
Smooth as the Wind: maj7
Lady Bird:   (Byline "signature" similar to Tadd's other charts, but treble clef in a different style; this is the only chart in the Dameron group using the "" symbol.)

The catalog also showed one lead sheet written by Wayne Shorter:

Africaine (Wayne Shorter):  △7, -7 

So, the charts using the "" symbol were:

A Love Supreme (recorded 1964)
Saida's Song Flute (recorded 1959, released on the "Giant Steps" record with the misspelling "Syeeda's")
Naima (1959, on the "Giant Steps" record)
Lady Bird (chart perhaps written out by Coltrane; if by Dameron, it would be the only use of the "" symbol in the catalog's Dameron group of charts; date impossible to know)
Africaine (chart by Shorter; this tune was recorded in 1959 with Art Blakey)

I'm not sure we can draw any conclusions here, but FWIW, it looks as though both Coltrane and Shorter were using the symbol by 1959. In Coltrane's case, perhaps not earlier. Wayne used a "△7", Coltrane just a  "". Coltrane was inconsistent in using "mi7" or "-7" symbols.

If any readers know of any use of the "" symbol for major 7 chords pre-1959, please leave a comment. Trivia? Maybe, but it's interesting.

Sep 17, 2015

Coltrane and the "Delta" Symbol for Major Seven Chords, part 1

A friend sent me a copy of Yusef Lateef's Repository of Scales and Melodic Patterns a few months ago (thanks, Bill!). I've been having some fun with it, playing through some cool patterns, just splashing around on the surface of this obviously very deep book. I'll get around to reviewing it at some point (it's been around since 1981, but it's new to me). But this post takes off from just one brief sentence in the book:

"DELTA (△) SYMBOL. Introduced into music notation to symbolize a major seventh chord by the late John Coltrane."

Really? John Coltrane invented the delta symbol for major seven chords? Well, Yusef was as fallible as any of us, but then again, he was a friend of Coltrane's. Yusef was one of the greats, and had been around jazz for a long time (b. 1920), so maybe he knew what he was talking about.

Then I remembered that I had a copy of the catalog for the 2005 Guernsey's Jazz Auction, with thumbnails of a number of Coltrane manuscripts that were up for bidding. Below is a chart for "Lady Bird," possibly in Coltrane's hand, showing the delta symbol (I commented on this chart in a previous post, in connection with the turnaround). This chart was not advertised as being in Coltrane's hand, and was grouped in the catalog with some Tadd Dameron charts that had been owned by Coltrane. However, the manuscript style looks similar to other charts that are definitely in Coltrane's hand (see below), and looks not at all like the other Dameron charts. Click to enlarge.

This chart for "Naima," also from the auction catalog, is definitely Coltrane's. The catalog leads us to believe it is in his hand, and it came to the auction from the family of Juanita Coltrane (John's first wife; Naima was her middle name). Coltrane recorded "Naima" in May 1959. If you have ever wondered about the correct changes to this song, this chart should help.

But then, this chart for "I'm a Dreamer! Aren't We All?" uses "maj 7" rather than the delta symbol. Coltrane recorded "I'm a Dreamer" in 1958. The coda to "Dreamer" seems to be an arranged addition, and matches the end of Coltrane's 1958 recording. (Interestingly, the melody in the "Dreamer" chart is transposed to tenor key, while the changes appear in concert pitch. Why?)

Some observations about these charts:
1) The treble clefs in "Naima" and "Dreamer" are the same. "Lady Bird" clefs are a little different. See my "Lady Bird" post.
2) In "Naima" and "Dreamer," Coltrane mostly doesn't bother with bar lines at the left- and right-hand sides of the page. In "Lady Bird," bar lines appear at the beginning and end of each line.
3) Coltrane recorded "Half Nelson" (changes based on "Lady Bird") in 1956, "Dreamer" in 1958, "Naima" in 1959.
I thought for a moment that the chronology of the charts might help us figure out when Coltrane started using the delta symbol (1959?), but it's not that easy.
1) The "Dreamer" chart seems to be from around 1958, judging from the coda "arrangement" and the date of the recording, but might be earlier.
2) The "Naima" chart might date from 1959, the date of the recording, but could be earlier. Coltrane and Juanita were married in 1955.
3) The "Lady Bird" chart could be from any time at all. I'd assume that Coltrane knew the tune well enough to not need a chart. "Lady Bird" goes back to at least 1947.
The discrepancies in the treble clefs, bar lines, and in "△" vs. "maj7" can be explained by plain old personal inconsistency. Speaking for myself, I'm sometimes inconsistent when handwriting chord symbols - for example, m7 vs.  -7, m7b5 vs. ΓΈ, and △ or △7 vs. maj7.

So while it's an interesting exercise to try to figure out when Coltrane started using the "delta" symbol, I don't think these charts really give us an answer, except to say that he was using it in 1959 for sure, and maybe earlier.

If any readers know of any pre-1958 examples of the use of the delta symbol, by Coltrane or anyone else, please send in a comment!

For your listening pleasure, here is the Coltrane recording of "I'm a Dreamer! Aren't We All?" using the ending from the chart above. Coltrane just burns.

And here's "I'm a Dreamer" in its original setting:

Update 10/8/15 - I looked at some more charts in the auction catalog - Click here for Part 2 of this post.

Aug 30, 2015

Jobim's "Estrada do sol" and Copland's "Laurie's Song"

"Estrada do sol" is a beautiful Jobim tune, written in 1958. It's been recorded by a long list of artists; here's a nice, definitive solo piano version from Jobim's album "Terra Brasilis" (1980).

The other night, picking up after dinner, we had "Classic Arts Showcase" playing on the TV, and a video came up with Aaron Copland's "Laurie's Song," from his opera The Tender Land (premiered 1954). There's a phrase with a similarity to "Estrada do sol" that's hard to miss, right at the beginning, in the instrumental introduction.

I think it's quite possible that Jobim consciously borrowed that melodic phrase from Copland; there are a number other instances of his borrowing musical ideas (from both classical and American popular sources) and using them in his own way.

Besides the melodic phrase, the pieces have a bit of harmonic similarity. In "Laurie's Song," the harmony seems (to me) to start with repeated Bm to C chords, creating a temporary B phrygian feel, eventually resolving to G major. "Estrada do sol" begins with a Dm7 G7 vamp, giving a temporary D dorian feel, resolving after 8 bars to C major.

This device - beginning in minor (in "Estrada do sol," D dorian), dwelling on it long enough to establish the minor key as tonic, then resolving it to the "relative major" (here, C) - shows up in some well-known tunes that predate both the Jobim and the Copland. Bronislaw Kaper's "Invitation" (1950) does this, as does Ary Barroso's "Na baixa do sapateiro" (1938).

Here's a Toquinho version of "Na baixa" that starts with the vamp in question:

You can find the music to "Estrada do sol" on (click here), along with a wealth of other Jobim resources.

Jul 31, 2015

The Flat Five As a Blue Note

It seems pretty clear that in early blues (say, pre-1920), musicians did not much employ the b5 as a blue note. By the mid-1920s, we have recordings with b5 licks used as part of the blues/jazz vocabulary. At some later point, the concept of a "blues scale" was conceived. I've been trying to get some historical perspective on all this (see my previous post, Early Blues, Blue Notes, and Blues Scales).

In his autobiography, referring to pre-1914 Southern folk music, W. C. Handy wrote:
[Black Southern folk musicians were] sure to bear down on the third and seventh tones of the scale, slurring between major and minor. Whether in the cotton fields of the Delta or on the levee up St. Louis way, it was always the same...
Handy speaks of the flat third and seventh, but does not mention the flat fifth.

Looking at the earliest blues (by Handy and others) that appeared as sheet music pre-1915, I don't see any "blue note" use of the b5 (see the books on early published blues by Peter Muir and Vic Hobson, reviewed here earlier).

Listening to Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue (1924), I don't hear any blues use of the b5. Gershwin was not a blues musician, but as a bright young music industry insider, he would have been quite aware of blues usage in his time, at least the commercial and big-city type (Gershwin was born in 1898; the "blues craze" in popular music began c.1914). If the b5 had been part of what constituted "blues" for him in 1924, he surely would have exploited it in "Rhapsody in Blue."

To me, "blue note" usage of the flat five consists of either scooping the note in the same way and to the same extent that the third was traditionally scooped and bent, or incorporating the b5 into this sort of lick. This is from the opening of the melody in Tadd Dameron's The Squirrel (1947):

This kind of usage doesn't seem to have been there, in the earliest days of blues.

So when did musicians begin to use the b5 as a blue note? The earliest recorded example I could find was this 1925 Bessie Smith recording of "St. Louis Blues," featuring Louis Armstrong:

In the minor-key section, Bessie bends the fifth, and also embellishes the melody with a lick that's very close to the b5 4 b3 1 shape shown above. (Incidentally, check Louis in the second 12-bar strain of the tune, suggesting a IVm chord in bar 6 - pretty harmonically aware for 1925!)

There are a quite a few similar b5 licks in Louis' 1928 recording of "St. James Infirmary":

The b5 licks here are used liberally - in Louis' vocals and cornet solo, and in the clarinet and piano parts as well (Earl Hines was the pianist). The trombone contributes a b5-5 scoop.

You can hear similar b5 licks in later jazz standards like Ellington's "It Don't Mean a Thing" (1931) and "In a Sentimental Mood" (1935), and in Matt Dennis' "Angel Eyes" (1946).

Interestingly, the b5 licks in these Bessie Smith, Armstrong, Ellington, and Matt Dennis examples all occur in a minor-key context. This might seem to suggest that b5 blues usage started in the mid-1920s, in minor-key tunes.

On the other hand, the mid-20s time frame only reflects minor-key examples that I could find recordings for. "St. James Infirmary," for example, is a very old tune (see this Wikipedia entry). Perhaps Louis was just playing it the way New Orleans players had played it decades earlier, before recordings.

By the 1940s, b5 licks were commonplace in major-key blues as well. (Note: blues usage of the b5 by the bebop players was a different phenomenon than their use of the b5 for harmonic color.)

Some years ago, I researched blues scales for a college course. Surveying books and articles, I found no less than ten different "blues scales." The earliest proposal of a "blues scale" that I could find was by Winthrop Sargeant, in his 1938 book "Jazz - Hot and Hybrid." Here's Sargeant's diagram, as reproduced in Gunther Schuller's "Early Jazz":

The arrows indicate prevalent melodic motion. Sargeant stated that this diagram related more to early or traditional blues (from a 1938 perspective).

If this scale is based on C as tonic, it is our present-day "major blues scale" with an added b7, and does not include the b5.

I'm not sure when our present-day "minor blues scale" (1 b3 4 b5 5 b7 1) came into the picture. If a blues scale involving the b5 had become commonly known by the 1940s, could it have influenced b5 usage? It's an interesting thought, but I have a feeling that it didn't happen that way.

I emailed this question to a few jazz musicians who who had learned their stuff in the late 1930s or early 1940s: When you were learning to play, were you aware of any concept of a "blues scale?" I heard back from two of them. One well-known NY pianist had this to say:
When I was learning to play, in the 30's and 40's, there was no "jazz education" to formalize matters, but there were soloists such as Lionel Hampton, Pete Brown, Lester Young,  Harry Edison, Buck Clayton, Charlie Christian, and the boogie-woogie pianists (Ammons, Lewis, James P. Johnson) who employed the blues scale in their solos and their pieces, and we followed what they did without labeling it systematically as "the blues scale."
Maurice "Dr. Bugs" Bower's answer was, "Never heard of it."

Jun 28, 2015

"Bewitched," "Este seu olhar," and "So em teus bracos"

"Este seu olhar" is our latest addition to the list of classic Jobim tunes that use a harmonic template similar to an American "golden age" standard - in this case, Rodgers and Hart's "Bewitched."

A recent recording by Carlos Lyra, Roberto Menescal, Marcus Valle, and Joao Donato runs these tunes simultaneously, along with "So em teus bracos," another Jobim tune with similar changes (but not quite as exact a match). No one has posted this track or this album on Youtube yet, but here's a link to the album on iTunes; play the short sample of "Bewitched" and you'll get the idea.

Thanks to Carlos Ribas for the tip!

May 24, 2015

Teaching Music in Silicon Valley, a Saga

My music teaching business, Hope Street Music Studios, will be moving to a new location in Mountain View, in the next couple of weeks. Here’s a brief history of our studio, with some perspective on what it takes to be a self-employed music teacher in the heart of Silicon Valley.

Ten years ago, in 2005, I was teaching in the back of a music store in downtown Mountain View. The store, Mountain View Music Center, had been around for many decades. The store’s founder was an old friend; I used to buy reeds from him when I was a kid. But the store had changed hands - Tony had sold the store to his son, and a few years later, Tony’s son sold it to an ex-tech guy who had made some money on Netscape, and had always wanted to run a music store. 

Unfortunately, this was a period of shakeout in the music store business. Customers were using the store to try out instruments, but then making their purchases on the internet. It began to look as though the store might not survive this shakeout. I had been talking with one of my fellow teachers about finding a place to rent, so that we could be in control of our own venue, and in 2005, Frank Conrad and I leased a 1200-square-foot space in downtown Mountain View, about a block from the store. It had 6 small offices (it was former medical space), a luxurious teaching situation compared to the tiny, stuffy teaching rooms we had at the store. (A year and a half later, the store did in fact close.)

A couple of teachers at the store came with us, and over time we signed up other teachers, who sublease space from us on an hourly, daily, or monthly basis. We now have 17 teachers at Hope Street, covering most instruments (piano, guitar, bass, drums, voice, sax, clarinet, flute, violin, viola, cello, french horn, trombone, and trumpet). As a business, the studio partnership is break-even. Frank and I make little or no profit on the studio (we make our living on our teaching), but our business plan has worked out well - we are surrounded by fine teachers, and we have a pleasant place to work that is under our own control.

In 2005, we were still in a bit of a tech recession. Commercial vacancy rates were around 20% in Mountain View. The space we leased had been vacant for over a year, and as result we had been able to obtain a 5-year lease with a 5-year option to renew, at a very reasonable rate.

As we came to the end of our 10-year lease, we began to worry. Mountain View has changed radically. Tech businesses and their employees are putting huge pressure on the real estate market, both commercial and residential. Where commercial vacancy rates were 20% in 2005, it’s more like 2.5% now.

To say that this area is in an economic “boom” does not begin to describe it. Google is the business that dominates the city, with tens of thousands of employees and thousands more coming, but Intuit, LinkedIn, Symantec and many others are also located here. Apple is building a new HQ a few miles away, in Cupertino. New-construction 1-BR apartments are renting for up to $4,000/month; downtown office space rents for $4-$5/sf/month. It’s crazy. We were offered a new lease at our present location, but the rent would have more than doubled.

So about a year and a half ago, we started a search for a new location. We checked commercial real estate listings nearly every day. There wasn’t much available, and it seemed that every time we found a possibility, there was a problem with zoning, parking, affordability, location, or lack of a long-term lease. Then about a year ago, on a day when I was feeling too burned out to check, my wife saw a new listing. It seemed like it might work: zoning OK (but we would have to apply to the City for a Conditional Use Permit), parking OK, affordability OK, location good, and a 5-year lease with 5-year option to renew. The only drawback was that it was basically warehouse space, and would require an expensive buildout to be used as teaching studios.

We started paying rent on the space last October, while we worked on the Conditional Use Permit, then the architect’s plans for the remodel, then the building permit. There were expenses and hangups every step of the way. Only two parts of the process went smoothly: Our acoustical adviser (Malcolm Clark) has been terrific, and once we had the building permit, our contractor (Dan Riley) got the job done in record time, and kept our expenses from getting any more ridiculous than they already were.

I’m omitting a lot of details here. It’s been a long, involved process. But after all the hassle, I’m pretty sure that we didn’t have a choice, if we want to keep working as independent music teachers in Silicon Valley. The alternatives would have been: 1) start driving to students’ houses to teach, 2) teach in my living room, 3) become an employee of one of the for-profit or non-profit music teaching organizations in Mountain View, where management takes a cut of 50% or more of earnings or 4) try to find space in the back of a music store (not many stores are left, and their space is completely booked). These were not attractive options. In addition, Frank and I considered the other 15 teachers, and the fix some would be in if we closed the studio.

At the moment, we are feeling pretty good about it. If all goes well, we will be open for business at the new location in a couple of weeks. We won't be on Hope Street any more, but we're keeping the name, for the time being.

May 3, 2015

Tchaikovsky, Bing, and the Checkers

I guess inspiration can strike in unlikely ways. Here's Odette's Solo from "Swan Lake"(1876)...

And here's Bing (1943)...

As a side note, the composer of "I'll Be Home For Christmas," Walter Kent, is also remembered for "There'll Be Bluebirds Over the White Cliffs of Dover" (1941), another wartime song of hope and home. Here's a cool version by The Checkers (1953). Stick around for the sax solo by Red Prysock...

Apr 11, 2015

Early Blues, Blue Notes, and Blues Scales

Here are a few thoughts regarding blues history and blues usage, that came up in the course of reading several interesting books on early published blues (see this review and this review). I don't claim to be an authority on the subject, beyond the fact that I'm a sax player who has played and listened to a lot of blues over the years.

Blue notes and Blues Changes

Composers of early published blues drew inspiration from folk musicians. In the absence of better documentation, examining these compositions can be one way of trying to understand what early (pre-1910) folk blues and pre-blues might have sounded like.

Early published blues, in turn, influenced the development of popular music in the years that followed, especially jazz and jazz-oriented blues, but published blues influenced subsequent folk blues as well.

In his autobiography Father of the Blues (1941), W. C. Handy describes his creative process in writing "St. Louis Blues" (1914):
[Black Southern folk musicians were] sure to bear down on the third and seventh tones of the scale, slurring between major and minor. Whether in the cotton fields of the Delta or on the levee up St. Louis way, it was always the same. Till then, however, I had never heard this slur used by a more sophisticated Negro, or by any white man. I had tried to convey this effect in Memphis Blues by introducing flat thirds and sevenths (now called "blue notes") into my song, although its prevailing key was the major; and I carried this device into my new melody as well. I also struck upon the idea of using the dominant seventh as the opening chord of the verse. This was a distinct departure, but as it turned out, it touched the spot.
It appears that Handy may have gotten inspiration not just from folk blues, but in part from Anthony Maggio's earlier published tune, I Got the Blues (1908). Maggio's melody consisted of a repeated riff, clearly meant to mimic the bent third that Maggio had heard from a folk musician. Maggio's b3-3-1 phrase was used by Handy in his "Memphis Blues" (1912), "Jogo Blues" (1913), and "St. Louis Blues" (1914).

Maggio's riff as it was used in "St. Louis Blues" (click to enlarge):

Handy's prior awareness of Maggio's tune is pretty clearly demonstrated in Peter Muir's book, Long Lost Blues. But be that as it may, there are two other noteworthy points in Handy's statement:

1) He describes b3 and b7 as blue notes, but not b5.

2) Handy describes the seventh as being bent, like the third, in folk usage. I don't doubt that, but in early published blues by Handy and others, when the b7 of the key is used in the melody or harmony, it is almost always in the context of setting up a I dominant (V of IV) sound, preparing a IV chord. That goes for the first bar of St. Louis Blues as well - perhaps a "departure," as Handy stated, but still acting as a V of IV, preparing the IV in bar 2.

Use of b7 notes in the context of a V of IV can be found in Sousa marches, arrangements of church hymns, and in popular classical themes - musical settings that were commonly heard in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Musicians like Handy, Maggio, and Artie Matthews (arranger of "Baby Seals Blues," pub. 1912) were relatively well-educated, and probably would have known quite well how a secondary dominant works. Usage of the b7 in that context is not at all unique to blues.

Vic Hobson, in his book Creating Jazz Counterpoint, has pointed out that adding a b7 to a triad was a common practice in barbershop singing - a popular pastime in the African American community in those years.  That may well have been another factor in b7 blues usage. But as far as a unique barbershop influence goes, I’d look more to the b7 that is added to the IV chord in blues, resulting in a b3 of the key (a non-classical usage), or to the use of a #IVdim7 in bar 6 of the progression, a feature that goes back to some of the earliest published blues.

In the first published blues tunes, and in late 1910s/early 1920s recordings, most “blue note” usage seems to occur on the third of the key. In sheet music intended for piano, a bent-note effect could be expressed by a b3 to 3 grace note, or by putting a b3 on the beat, resolving then to the 3 (as in the example above), or by simply sounding a b3 note over a major or dominant chord. Melodic b3 notes can also appear in measures harmonized with a IVdom chord (where the b7 in the chord is the b3 of the key), or in measures harmonized with a V7 (the b3 of the key is a #5 relative to the chord).

In early published songs and early recordings, the third seems to be scooped or bent far more than the seventh, which is relatively stable (still true now, IMO).

The b5 rarely occurs in these early blues. 

The M6 note is also an important part of blues vocabulary, then and now. It wasn’t flagged as a “blue note,” though, because it is a part of our familiar major scale. 

Gunther Schuller, in his book Early Jazz, traces b3 and b7 blue note usage to the b7 note that he states was common to the music of Central/West African societies, with the b3 resulting from singing parallel lines. I don't doubt that African music often used b7 notes, but the prevalence of the b3 and bent third in early blues, and the relatively “classical” usage of the b7 (V of IV context) when it does occur, do not seem to support this explanation.

The nature and degree of African influence on the development of blues styles is an open question. Some blues scholars see extensive African influence, others see relatively little.

Willie Ruff has suggested the possible influence of “lining out” worship singing, introduced in America by English and Scottish settlers perhaps hundreds of years ago, on popular music practices in the South. "Lining out" singing still exists in a few congregations in Scotland (Presbyterian) and in the South (Baptist) - see this very interesting video. Check out the similarities and differences in the melodic embellishments and bent notes used by congregations from Scotland, Kentucky, and Alabama. There's room for some speculation on the influence of this type of singing in the origins of blues and gospel style.

In my non-expert opinion, recordings by male "down home" blues artists in the late 1920s seem to show more use of the b7 as a melodic blue note than we see in early published blues, or in recordings of female blues singers in the early 1920s. This may reflect the rural folk style of earlier, undocumented times (pre-1910). On the other hand, styles can change over time. Jazz recordings of blues tunes seem to show freer use of the b7 as a "blue note" (not just a secondary dominant note) as time goes on, from the 1920s through the 1940s. 

The b5 seems to have been used increasingly beginning around perhaps the early 1930s, and became an integral part of blues/jazz/pop melodic vocabulary (e.g., Ellington's 1931 tune "It Don't Mean a Thing," or Matt Dennis' 1941 "Angel Eyes"). By the 1940s, blue-note b5 licks were a part of the bebop language.

Of course, since musicians have been taught that there is a "blues scale" for perhaps 70 or so years, it is now universally accepted that blues-scale-derived licks are basic blues melodic vocabulary.

Blues scales

As I see it, it's a bit misleading to teach students that playing a “blues scale” is the way to create a good blues solo. Historically, and to this day, much of the blues musical vocabulary does not conform to any sort of “blues scale.” In the early days of jazz and blues, the concept of "blues scales" did not exist. The idea of a “blues scale” seems to have come about in the late 1930s, when academically-inclined musicians looked for some sort of underlying principle that would explain the use of “blue notes” in a major-key musical context.

A number of different “blues scales” have been proposed over the years. The one that most of us have settled on (1 b3 4 b5 5 b7 1) has some utility: We can give it to beginning improvisers, and they will usually sound good immediately, which inspires self-confidence. I do teach this way, but I always follow up by saying that lots of great blues licks don’t use the scale, and that any note could sound good, depending on how it is used.

Mar 19, 2015

Review: "Long Lost Blues: Popular Blues in America, 1850-1920," by Peter C. Muir

Long Lost Blues is a state-of-the-art history and analysis of early published and recorded blues, with an emphasis on blues published in sheet music form between 1912 and 1920. Muir presents a detailed, well-researched historical account and, for musicians, some perceptive musical analysis.

The book includes 98 musical examples; sound files for all of them can be listened to on the author's website.

For those who feel that “folk blues" is somehow more “authentic” than the published blues influenced by Tin Pan Alley, Muir makes the point that composers of early published blues often drew heavily from folk sources. In the absence of any sort of recorded documentation of early folk blues, and very little early field research, sheet music compositions can provide useful information on the early development of the “blues” genre. And in any case, published blues is an interesting genre in its own right, that strongly influenced the subsequent development of American music.

Here is a chapter-by-chapter synopsis of Long Lost Blues:

Chapter 1: The Popular Blues Industry - Details the early development of the popular blues industry (“popular blues” is here defined as music that was titled and commercially presented as “blues”), beginning seriously around 1912, and gathering momentum in subsequent years. By the end of 1920, 456 “blues” compositions had been published. Presentation to the public took the form of sheet music and recordings, as well as performances in musicals, minstrel shows, and vaudeville.

Chapter 2: The Identity and Idiom of Early Popular Blues - Early blues songs were influenced to a greater or lesser degree by the “genes” of folk blues and Tin Pan Alley; instrumental compositions generally showed some ragtime influence. The author lists and explains five categories of vocal blues: Relationship Blues (the most common), Nostalgia Blues, Prohibition Blues, War Blues, and Reflexive Blues.

The relation of blues to the “fox trot” dance craze and to swing beat is explored. Five “distinctive components of the blues idiom” are listed and discussed: the 12-bar sequence, blue notes, the “barbershop ending,” the “four-note chromatic motif,” and the inclusion of the phrase “I’ve got the blues” or a variant.

Chapter 3: Curing the Blues with the Blues - This chapter is an investigation of the historical use of the word “blues,” particularly in regard to music, and the idea that blues (and other types of music) can be therapeutic. “Neurasthenia” was a fashionable disease in late 19th-century America. It was thought to be a sort of nervous exhaustion cause by the stress of modern civilized life, and was commonly called “the blues.” 19th century sheet music songs were presented as “a cure for the blues,” long before the appearance of the 12-bar blues form. The early 20th-century 12-bar blues tunes were generally thought of the same way.

The author proposes the terms “homeopathic” for slower blues with mournful themes (treating the player’s and listener’s “distressed state of mind with distressed music”), and “allopathic” for faster, more cheerful tunes (treating “a depressed mood with lively music”). By this measure, much folk blues is homeopathic, while the popular blues discussed in this book is generally more allopathic. Many specific examples are discussed. 

Chapter 4: The Blues of W. C. Handy - Muir discusses Handy’s 26 blues tunes from both a historical and an analytical perspective, focusing particularly on those written between 1909 and 1917.

Handy was probably the most prominent figure in the world of early popular blues, influential enough to deserve a chapter devoted to his compositions. His “Memphis Blues” (1912) was what we might call a “breakout hit.” In Muir’s words, “it was this work more than any other that introduced the genre of blues to mainstream popular music.” Handy’s “St. Louis Blues” (1914), though initially slower to catch on, did much to codify the elements of what we know as “blues” today.

Chapter 5: The Creativity of Early Southern Published Blues - Southern published blues were “geographically and culturally closer to the folk sources of blues.” Muir examines the melodic and harmonic makeup of several of the earliest published southern blues in some detail: “Baby Seals Blues” (1912), “Dallas Blues” (1912), and “1913 Medley Blues” (1912). A number of other southern blues up to 1920 are also discussed; sections of this chapter also cover the blues compositions of Euday L. Bowman, George W. Thomas, and Perry Bradford. 

Chapter 6: Published Proto-Blues and the Evolution of the Twelve-Bar Sequence - This chapter in particular spoke to my own personal interests, and began to answer a difficult question: How did blues evolve?

To a modern musician, “blues” is not defined as simply as “any tune that calls itself a blues.” I think of a blues as a song with a particular 12-bar chord sequence (or variation thereof), blue notes, perhaps AAB lyrics, and as being recognizably part of what has become a deep, century-long tradition. So - where did that chord sequence come from? 

This last chapter includes sections on:

 “Development of the Blues Song”  - Discusses the history of American songs dealing with the word “blues,” and how the term came to describe an African American genre.

“The Evolution of the Twelve-Bar Blues Sequence” - The 12-bar chord pattern may derive from any or all of these: “The Bully Song” (pre-1894), “The Ballad of the Boll Weevil” (c. 1892?), “Stagolee” (c. 1895?), “Frankie and Johnny” (c. 1899?) and a number of popular songs by Hughie Cannon with harmonic schemes that are “Frankie and Johnny” - related, including the very popular “Just Because She Made Them Goo-Goo Eyes” (1900). Muir offers his opinion on how these songs may have evolved into the sequence we recognize as “blues.” There may not be any final answers here, but there is a lot of great information, and some well-considered speculation.

I enjoyed this book immensely, and recommend it to anyone interested in looking into the origins of blues. You can order it from Amazon; here's the link.

After reading this book and a few others about early blues (see this review), I’ve refined my view of early blues a bit. As a musician who has played many sorts of blues over the years, I have some thoughts to share about blues changes, blue notes, and blues scales - but I’ll save that for another post.