Nov 19, 2018

Monk's "Dreamland"

If you haven't yet read it, be sure to check out Ethan Iverson's recent post, Thelonious Sphere Monk Centennial: Primary and Secondary Documents. It's an excellent overview of Monk's recording career, his compositions, Monk biographies, articles, tribute recordings, and Monk-related documents.

I'd like to offer some comments on just one song mentioned in the article, 
"Dreamland." Monk may or may not have written it. Recordings exist from 1958, 1969 (available as part of a Mosaic Records DVD box set), and 1971. Monk never copyrighted it.

Iverson posts two charts for Monk's "Dreamland," one that was done by Paul Motian (without barlines), and a version re-charted by Bill Frisell (with barlines). You can find the charts towards the end of Iverson's article, along with a discussion of the tune. 

Here's the 1958 version. Monk did not approve this track for release, and it was not included in the original "Thelonious in Action" album pictured below; Orrin Keepnews eventually released the track on an album called "Blues Five Spot" (1984), after Monk passed away in 1982. On the 1984 album it was titled "unidentified piano solo."




Here is Monk's only studio recording of "Dreamland," done in London for Black Lion Records in 1971: 




When the 1971 track was released, the record company titled it "Meet Me Tonight in Dreamland." Most people who are familiar with "Meet Me Tonight in Dreamland" would call this a mistake, as Monk's tune seems to have nothing to do with the old 1909 waltz that has been recorded countless times over the years. 




Although Monk's tune is definitely not "Meet Me Tonight in Dreamland," I do hear some similarity to the original verse (introductory lead-in) of the 1909 tune. Here are Elizabeth Wheeler and Harry Anthony singing the tune, starting with the verse, recorded in 1909:





Here are the first two pages of the original sheet music, showing the verse (click to enlarge):







Here are the opening bars to each song, with "Meet Me..." transposed to Eb, for easier comparison. In "Meet Me...," if you remove the third note in bars 1, 3, 9, and 11, you will see a melodic curve very much like "Dreamland."





It seems at least possible that Monk took the melodic shape of the verse to "Meet Me" as a starting point, then wrote his own tune. In his recordings, Monk plays "Dreamland" straight through as an arrangement, with no real improvised solo, much as he did in his performances of "Crepuscule With Nellie."

Iverson writes that he is "unconvinced that ['Dreamland'] is not just some old parlor piano tune we haven’t found yet, mainly because the bones of Monk’s original ballads are so much more idiosyncratic than the quite conventional 'Dreamland.' " That's a good point - the changes don't resemble other Monk tunes - but the chord progression in Monk's "Dreamland" is not in a style you'd typically find in a 1910s or 1920s parlor tune. To me, the harmony sounds more 1930s or 1940s (of course, Monk might have done some reharmonizing).

Note that the melody of "Dreamland" falls on the #11 of a dominant chord in bars 4 and 8, and on the b9 in bar 16. Also note the pickup/triplet shape in bars 3 and 7. These are characteristic bop features, although it's always possible that they were added as part of a Monk interpretation.

There's a notation at the top of the first page of the 1909 sheet music that cautions us:
PLEASE NOTE:--Owing to the phenomenal and unprecedented success and sale of this beautiful song, there have been placed on the market, imitation "Dreamland" songs with very similar titles.
This song written and composed by LEO FRIEDMAN and BETH SLATER WHITSON is THE ORIGINAL song of this title and WE CAN PROVE IT.

If Iverson is right that Monk's "Dreamland" is an old parlor tune, one might guess that it could be one of those "Meet Me Tonight" knockoffs that the sheet music warns us about - but the style of both melody and changes is all wrong for 1909. 

In his definitive biography Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original, Robin D. G. Kelley writes,
"Dreamland" has been mislabeled and misrepresented many times...I have reviewed both songs ["Meet Me..." and a song titled "Dreamland" by Goetz and North], along with dozens of other songs with the title "Dreamland" (Harry L. Newman's "Take Me Back to Dreamland," Harold Arlen's "Hit the Road to Dreamland," Francis Paul, "Dreamland," ad nauseum). None of these songs bear any resemblance to what Monk played on those two occasions. After ten years of searching, querying, and digging, I have come to the conclusion that...it is a Monk original. Perhaps it is a sketch of a song never quite finished.

My own opinion is that there's a pretty good case that Monk composed the tune, taking off from a paraphrase of the verse to "Meet Me Tonight in Dreamland."


Finally, here's one last video, a 1950s Les Elgart big-band version of "Meet Me Tonight in Dreamland." Sitting in the sax section of local big bands, I played this arrangement countless times, but it took a few gigs before I recognized the original melody buried in the arrangement:




Oct 30, 2018

Play little songs

 "Play little songs."
- Advice to improvisers from Tadd Dameron, quoted in I Remember Tadd, an article by George Ziskind, posted on the "Jazz Profiles" blog. 
The wisest three words I've ever heard on the subject. Ziskind was a friend of Dameron's. I was referred to his article by my friend Adam, who studied jazz piano with Ziskind. Ziskind gave Adam the same three words of advice.

Ziskind explains in more detail:
This was Tadd's most basic advice to the improviser. When playing one's chorus(es) on a tune, it is not sufficient to know the harmony (backwards and forwards, so to speak!!); to be 100% comfortable with its figurations; and to have more than a passing familiarity with the composer's conception. Tadd stressed that the above were merely starting points. They were the basic building blocks necessary to construct a credible solo and only when you had those items fully covered could you be ready to deal with the heart of the matter, i.e., to make "little songs" as you played—little self-contained melodic bits—that could be two beats long, or two bars long, or nine or ten bars long.

Oct 21, 2018

The "Honeysuckle Rose" II V lick - Charlie Parker, K-Ximbinho, and Mauricio Einhorn

One of the staple bop solo clichés is the "Honeysuckle Rose" II V lick. Bop-era jazz players utilized it quite a bit, and it is still part of the jazz improviser's language.

Here's the lick as it originally appeared in Fats Waller's 1929 song "Honeysuckle Rose" (key sig. is one flat):








Use of the lick in soloing is associated with Charlie Parker, but I really can't say when American jazz players first started using "Honeysuckle Rose" as an improv element. If any reader can point out a recorded 1930s instance in a solo by a jazz artist, please let me know in the comments section below.

One interesting early use is in the head to Tadd Dameron's "Lady Bird." According to one source, this tune was written around 1939. At that time Dameron would still have been living in Cleveland, Parker was not well-known, and bop had not yet taken shape as a distinct style. (See this post for more about this tune.)

Here's the "Honeysuckle Rose" phrase in "Lady Bird" as it appears in the Hal Leonard Real Book (bars 3-4). The last note was originally F, not E.




Another well-known use of the lick is in "Donna Lee," written by either Miles Davis or Charlie Parker in 1947 (see this post regarding authorship) (key sig. is 4 flats)



By Parker's own account, "Honeysuckle Rose" was the first complete tune that he ever learned, as a teenager. He used the lick throughout his career.

Parker got extra mileage out of the "Honeysuckle Rose" lick by varying its notes and rhythmic placement. A few examples from the Charlie Parker Omnibook are below:

Marmaduke head (Omnibook, p. 68)

Scrapple from the Apple solo (Omnibook p.17)

Blues for Alice solo (Omnibook, p.19)

Bloomdido head (Omnibook, p. 108)

7
Donna Lee solo (Omnibook, p. 49)


Perhaps solo (Omnibook, p. 72)


Klaunstance solo (Omnibook, p. 90)


Parker uses the lick in various ways, not just over a straight II V. For example, the "Donna Lee" solo clip above is over what I would have called IVm bVIIdom (as is the Dameron "Lady Bird" instance). The Scrapple example is pretty heavily disguised, and played in Eb, "side-slipping" a half step above what the rhythm section is playing. 

I also ran across a couple of examples in some Brazilian classics - a 1946 choro by K-Ximbinho, "Sonoroso," and a 1960's bossa by Mauricio Einhorn, "Estamos Ai." That seemed a little surprising, but upon further reflection, maybe not so surprising after all. K-Ximbinho (stage name of Sebastião Barros) was a Brazilian jazz saxophonist and clarinetist, born in 1917. His bio is here (translation from Portuguese Wikipedia). It's quite likely that he would have been listening to records from the US in 1946.

Mauricio Einhorn is a jazz harmonica player, born in 1932. He was active as a performer in Rio in the 1950s, and was prominent in the early days of bossa nova. He's still performing. American jazz fans might remember him as the composer of "Batida Diferente," recorded by Cannonball Adderley. Einhorn certainly would have been familiar with the bebop language. His bio is here (translation from German Wikipedia).

Here's the lick as used in K-Ximbinho's "Sonoroso" (it occurs at the end of the "B" section) (key sig. is one flat):





There are many recordings of  "Sonoroso" on Youtube. The first one below is probably the original. It's from 1946 with the Orquestra Tabajara; K-Ximbinho played with the group at that time. Following it is a more modern version with Altamiro Carrilho and Paulo Sergio Santos.










Here's the "Honeysuckle Rose" lick as it occurs in Einhorn's "Estamos Ai" (bars 16 and 32):




A 1965 version by Leny Andrade:







A two-harmonica rendition by Einhorn and Toots Thielemans, played with a swing beat:






Aug 20, 2018

"My Romance" - What are the right changes?

Rodgers and Hart's song "My Romance" first appeared in the musical "Jumbo" (1935), produced by impresario Billy Rose. From Wikipedia:
The musical opened on Broadway at the Hippodrome Theatre on November 16, 1935 and closed on April 18, 1936 after 233 performances. Directed by John Murray Anderson and George Abbott, it starred Jimmy Durante, Donald Novis, Gloria Grafton, and a number of circus specialty acts. Jumbo tells the story of a financially strapped circus. At the end of each performance, Durante lay down on the stage and permitted a live elephant to place its foot upon his head.
The large 5,000-seat theatre was turned into a circus tent where the various specialty acts (including acrobats and animal acts) performed during the show. The music was played by Paul Whiteman and his orchestra.
Other notable songs that first appeared in this musical were "Little Girl Blue," and "The Most Beautiful Girl in the World."

Incidentally, this was not the first show at the Hippodrome that had featured a live elephant. The song "Poor Butterfly" (1916) was written in an elephant pen in the basement of the Hippodrome; Harry Houdini performed a "disappearing elephant" trick there too.

Here's a newsreel from 1935, covering the opening of "Jumbo," including some rehearsal footage:





In a recent interview, bassist Steve Swallow mentions that the chords to "My Romance," as shown in the old bootleg Real Book, are the "Bill Evans changes." This, of course, sparked my curiosity about what the original changes were. 

I was able to locate a copy of the original sheet music. In looking at "Golden Age" standards, original sheet music is generally a pretty good indicator of the composer's intention, as it is likely that the composer approved it for publication. Besides that source, I have a version of the song from the "Tune-Dex" fakebook, a popular bootleg from (I think) the early 1950s, which shows bare-bones chord changes for hundreds of standards, probably copied from the sheet music, with a high degree of inaccuracy. 

We can also refer to this 1936 recording by Donald Novis and Gloria Grafton, the stars of "Jumbo." There is a good chance that this arrangement is at least somewhat close to the way the song was presented in the show:





There are two modern fakebooks that show some version of the original sheet music changes, side-by-side with a modern reharmonization - The Best Chord Changes for the Most Requested Standardsby Frank Mantooth, and the Real Jazz Standards Fake Book, both published by Hal Leonard.

The sheet music puts the tune in the key of C, as does the Tune-Dex book, but for some reason the 1974 bootleg Real Book shows it in Bb (the Hal Leonard "6th Edition" Real Book, copying the old RB, also has it in Bb). The 1936 recording is in Eb, probably to accommodate the singers. Bill Evans played it in C. To make comparisons easier, the charts in this post are all in the key of C.

The sheet music includes a "verse" (introductory lead-in) that no one really uses any more; I won't discuss it here. It's included in the "Real Jazz Standards" version.  

In deference to copyright, I won't post the complete sheet music, but I think it's within "fair use" to show this clip:




As is usual in old sheet music, the chord symbols do not really represent the piano arrangement. Below is a chart with the chord symbols as shown on the sheet music:



However, the actual piano notes indicate a harmony closer to this:


Some features in the piano arrangement: 

1) stepwise bass lines in mm1-2, 5-6, 17-18, 21-22. The chord symbols miss this. Modern charts suggest different bass lines here (see "Evans" chart, below).

2) triads with added 9 - a sweet, bright sound.

3) a lot of IV chords - sweet and simple, in keeping with the theme of the lyrics.

4) F#m7 rather than F#m7b5 in m13. Modern charts all use F#m7b5, presumably because it seems like the right way to do a minor-key II V. That's not what Hart wrote, though.

5) D9 in m28 resolves to C/G in m29. In classical terminology, C/G is a cadential tonic six-four chord. This device (II dominant to I with fifth in the bass, followed by a final cadence) is common in classical music. It occurs in the original harmonic setting of several jazz standards, e.g. "After You've Gone," m16; "I Remember You," m32; "There Will Never Be Another You," m28. The fifth in the bass sets up a brief dominant pedal for the cadence.

The II dominant to tonic six-four device has fallen out of favor in jazz. It seems like just about every modern chart of the tunes listed above replaces the IIdom approach with something else. Some modern charts of "My Romance" preserve the G in the bass under the tonic C chord, keeping the dominant pedal effect, while replacing the D7.

Here's an image of the beginning of the Tune-Dex chart:



This chart really cuts to the essence of the tune. The Tune-Dex fakebook was probably the most complete bootleg collection of tunes available to popular music performers in the late 1940s and early 1950s. I got my copy from the father of one of my students; his father ("Doctor K.") had been an aspiring musician in New York in the early 1950s. The notations in the margin are Doctor K.'s; he was studying the Schillinger system. The Schillinger symbol ΣIV indicates a #4 melody note; it occurs in m3. The note in the margin says, "going to ΣIV more surprising more intense."

For comparison, here is a chord chart with the bare-bones Tune-dex changes. Try playing the melody with this harmony - I think it preserves the simple, sweet quality of the tune pretty well: 

As Steve Swallow relates in his interview, the old bootleg Real Book was created in 1974 by two Berklee students. Many of their charts originated with some of their instructors, or friends of their instructors. Swallow describes the "My Romance" chart as using "Bill Evans" changes. Here are the chords as shown in the old RB, but transposed to C, rather than the RB key of Bb:


Some features of this version:

1) The bass line in mm1-2 and 17-18 is changed to a familiar I  II III bIIIdim progression. The bass line in mm 5-6 and 21-22 is replaced with a familiar "My Funny Valentine"-type voice-leading line over a static minor chord - the line here is A to G# to G, over the A minor chord.

2) The measure-long IV chords are gone.

3) In mm9 and 11 a bVIIdom chord (Bb7) is added to transition from IV to I - again, a standard device. 

4) In m14 Eb7 is added, a tritone sub approach to the Dm7 that follows.

5) mm27-28 are reworked, replacing a short chain of dominants with a minor II V and a II bIIdom. It's a fancier way to get there, but the Ab7 still sets up a tonic six-four chord.


I think you will find that virtually all modern charts derive from the old RB "Bill Evans" changes, with a few alterations here and there. If you want to learn the tune today, you should probably learn this version. Personally, I favor the key of C rather than Bb. The New Real Book vol. 1 (Sher Music Co.) has the tune in C, with Evans-like changes.

I don't know exactly where the old RB compilers got their chart, but it's pretty close to the way Bill Evans plays "My Romance" in the 1961 Village Vanguard recording:





Here's a link to a transcription by Jorn Swart of Bill's first chorus.

Bill Evans played "My Romance" through his entire career. He recorded it a number of times, including on his first album, "New Jazz Conceptions" (1956) and his last, "The Last Waltz" (1980). Of course, the lead sheet does not even begin to show what he did with the tune; his approach evolved continuously. Here's his last recording of "My Romance":






Aug 16, 2018

Steve Swallow interview

A friend sent me a link to this video - Steve Swallow and John Scofield, interviewed by Dr. David Schroeder. It's over an hour, but well worth the time. Topics include "ear" playing versus reading skills; the origin of the Real Book; Steve's experiences working with Gary Burton, Stan Getz, Carla Bley and others; and Steve's transition from double bass to electric bass. Some great stories here!

I'd long wondered why the old Real Book had changes to "Here's that Rainy Day" that seemed so wrong - according to Steve, they were Jim Hall's reharmonization. Steve also mentions that the Real Book changes to "My Romance" are the "Bill Evans changes." That made me wonder what the original chords to the song actually were, since pretty much all modern fake books show something close to the changes in the old RB. The original harmonization was quite a bit different; I'll get to that in a future post. Here's the interview:



Aug 6, 2018

Combo project - "Horace Silver Complete" fakebooks

Over the last several years, my Saturday adult combo class has taken on some ambitious projects. The first was playing repeatedly through a list of 100 jazz standards, trying to play by ear and from memory, rather than reading (we are not done with this project). Next was playing through all the tunes in the Thelonious Monk Fake Book, one or two tunes every Saturday for more than a year. After that was the Just Gershwin Real Book, then Charles Mingus - More Than a Fake Book. Following that was an effort to go through all the Tadd Dameron tunes that we could find charts for.

Our newest project is to play through the two volumes of the "Horace Silver Complete" fakebooks - Horace Silver Complete Vol. 1: The 50s (58 tunes), and Horace Silver Complete Vol. 2: The 60s (49 tunes).

We had hoped at first to check out at least one or two tunes each session, but it hasn't worked out that way. One reason is that many of these tunes involve arrangements that are more detailed than the usual head/solos/head format of a run-of-the-mill combo rendition. Another reason we've been working more slowly is that Horace's compositions are enjoyable and challenging, and some need several weeks, just to come anywhere close to getting it right.

We felt the same way about the Monk and Mingus repertoire, though we got through the list of Dameron tunes somewhat faster. As for the Gershwin fakebook, I think we all agreed that George and Ira in fact wrote a large number of pretty unmemorable tunes, along with the wonderful ones that made it into the jazz standards canon.

Jay Glacy, the editor of the two Silver books, has made a fine contribution to jazz education. I do have to say, after going through the first dozen tunes with the class, that some charts could have benefited from one more round of proofreading. It has been helpful for the class to listen to Horace's original recordings, both to check for typos and to understand the intended form of the tunes. Of course, checking the recordings is something that we should do anyway, since a lot of musical elements can't really be put into lead sheet form. The charts do include many shout choruses, bass lines, and harmony parts.

I'm hoping the editor will eventually publish one or two more volumes in this series. Horace recorded through the 1990s. He was with Blue Note records from 1952 to 1979 (27 albums). According to Wikipedia,

His final Blue Note album was Silver 'n Strings, recorded in 1978 and 1979. His stay was the longest in the label's history. By Silver's account, he left Blue Note after its parent company was sold and the new owners were not interested in promoting jazz. In 1980, he formed the record label Silveto, "dedicated to the spiritual, holistic, self-help elements in music"...Silver also formed Emerald at the same time, a label for straight-ahead jazz, but it was short-lived. 

From 1993 to 1999, Horace recorded five more albums for Columbia, Impulse, and Verve.

Here is Horace's Wikipedia bio, and here is his discography

Here are the Amazon links for the two volumes:

Horace Silver Complete Vol. 1: The 50s 
Horace Silver Complete Vol. 2: The 60s 

The books, as well as pdf versions, are also available from reallygoodmusic.com.

Jul 5, 2018

Michel Legrand and Saint-Saëns

Here are a couple of terrific performances: Michel Legrand playing his song "I Will Wait for You," and Itzhak Perlman playing Camille Saint-Saëns' "Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso."

Both are great listening, but I'm posting these because I had a tune-detective moment with the rondo theme that occurs at 1:40, 3:08, and 5:27 in the Saint-Säens video. Maybe it's a stretch?






Jun 21, 2018

Patterns books, Part 2: Yusef Lateef's "Repository of Scales and Melodic Patterns"

Dr. Yusef Lateef was a deep musical thinker as well as a prolific recording artist, composer, and author. He left us a lot of wisdom and beauty. A look at his website, yuseflateef.com, will give you some idea of the breadth of his interests.


Yusef's Repository of Scales and Melodic Patterns (1981) is, as the title indicates, a sort of jazz equivalent of Nicholas Slonimsky's "Thesaurus of Scales and Melodic Patterns" (1947). Where Slonimsky's book is a systematic "Thesaurus," organizing and presenting scales and patterns in a series of permutations, Lateef's work is a "Repository," an eclectic collection of scales and patterns derived from the music of many cultures, as well as from contemporary classical music, that he found interesting and/or useful, as an improviser and composer. Or, as Yusef himself describes the book in his introduction,

[This book] is a capacious pallette of materials...that refuse to be indentured by a severe conventional plan...this Thesaurus [Yusef's word here] is a collection of deep reflective explorations in thought, sound, and feeling pursued in many directions with the objective of symbolizing movements of beauty through sound.
First of all, let me say that I highly recommend this book to all creative musicians.
In a previous post, Pattern books, Part 1, I suggested that patterns books attempt to serve three purposes, in varying degrees:

1) Improving finger dexterity
2) Working towards the goal of fluency in all keys, both mentally and physically
3) Providing sources for musical ideas, to be explored in improvisation or composition

The "Repository" is primarily intended to serve as a source of ideas and inspiration. It can certainly also be used for 1), finger dexterity. The book does not much emphasize 2), 12-key exercises. I suppose that is assumed, but that's not really the focus of the book.

I probably won't be putting many of these patterns into 12 keys, although I did play through the entire book. Even with this limited level of engagement, this book opened my ears to some interesting aspects of music that were new to me. Playing through the book was also a great sight-reading project and fingering workout.

Patterns are presented almost entirely within the normal range of the saxophone, and are playable on other instruments as well. A few piano pieces are included. A bass clef version of the book is available.

To give you some idea of how diverse the ideas are in this book, here are just a few of the types of patterns Lateef includes:

  • Triads around the circle of fourths and in other cycles, organized and inverted in creative sequences
  • Similar patterns and exercises for other chord types
  • "Synthetic Formations" given by Eric Dolphy to Yusef, with creative variations composed by Yusef 
  • Fourths patterns
  • "Triple diminished" patterns 
  • Pentatonic patterns
  • Archaic Chinese and Greek scales with etudes and derived patterns composed by Yusef
  • 12-tone patterns
  • Japanese, Indian, and Pygmy scales, and derived patterns

That's just a sampling from the first half of the 270-page book. 

Generally, Yusef not only presents the scales and patterns, but also includes composed exercises and etudes that draw on the patterns. I'm sure that he meant this to show the way forward, an illustration of how to apply the patterns creatively, for musicians who might be exploring the "Repository."

Yusef sometimes uses some rather opaque jargon: "improvisational spirals," "morphic patterns," "mutated hexadic scales of the supra-diatonic scale." These can often (though not always) be figured out with the aid of the "Explanation of Terms" at the front of the book.

Yusef's recorded performances seem to me to be very much rooted in the jazz and blues tradition, augmented by multi-cultural materials acquired in his research and exploration. His output as performer/composer/author was extensive, and in a number of different genres. You can check Yusef's list of compositions on his website. The website also lists his recordings on his own label, YAL Records, but he also recorded on commercial labels including Impulse, Atlantic, and CTI. Here's Wikipedia's discography.

Here's Yusef's Wikipedia entry, with a biography.

Yusef did not care for the term "jazz," preferring "autophysiopsychic music."

Yusef's music explains what he was about far better than I could. Here is a documentary, "Brother Yusef," filmed in 2005, when he was 85. It is absolutely worth 51 minutes of your time:






May 21, 2018

Coltrane, Morton Gould, Francis Poulenc, and Harold Shapero

A friend (thanks, Carlos) just pointed me at a great "Deep Dive With Lewis Porter" article on the inspirations behind John Coltrane's composition "Impressions." Briefly put, Porter demonstrates that the melody of "Impressions" is a paraphrase of a section of Morton Gould's "Pavanne" (1938). The chord structure, of course, is borrowed from Miles Davis' "So What." For more detail on this, check out the Porter article. It's a great read, with plenty of sound clips. I'd heard about Coltrane's use of "Pavanne" before, but the following was news to me:

In a follow-up article, Porter cites the source of the melody to Coltrane's "Big Nick": Francis Poulenc's "Impromptu #3." See Porter's article for recorded examples.

In a comment below the second article, a reader points out that the source of the melody to the first half of "Giant Steps" was pretty definitely Harold Shapero's String Quartet (1941). Check the recording below! Shapero moves his theme through quite a few transpositions, including some chromatic third relations, though he doesn't follow "Coltrane changes."


 



The second half of "Giant Steps,” both chords and melody, is definitely borrowed from Nicholas Slonimsky. This is widely known (see this previous post for an image).  It was a monumental achievement for Coltrane to combine the Shapero melody, Coltrane changes, and the Slonimsky example into a cohesive whole, not to mention working up the technique and applying the improvisational creativity necessary to perform it.

While checking other sources for this post, I ran across an assertion that the intro to "So What," written by Gil Evans, is borrowed from Debussy's "Voiles." I hear Debussy, but I don't particularly hear that piece in the "So What" intro. I also read in several places that "So What" derives in some way from Ahmad Jamal's recording of Gould's "Pavanne" - I'd have to be convinced. However, it's a fact that the horn riff in James Brown's "Cold Sweat" was derived from "So What" - as stated by Alfred "Pee Wee" Ellis, who wrote the horn parts.

Mar 24, 2018

"La Fiesta," "Someday My Prince Will Come," and "Olé"

A couple of days ago I was driving home from teaching, and turned on KCSM, our Bay Area jazz station. Miles' recording of "Someday My Prince Will Come" was playing, and I tuned in just in time for John Coltrane's solo. The first notes in the solo are pretty much exactly the beginning of the second theme in Chick Corea's "La Fiesta." I had never noticed that before.

Here's the Miles recording on Youtube. Coltrane's solo starts at about 5:50.

Here's a transcription of the solo, scrolling while the music plays. (Sorry I can't just post these videos here - apparently Sony has blocked any access except viewing them directly on Youtube.)

Here's Chick Corea's tune. The second theme (the part in question) starts at 1:45:




Both tunes are in 3/4 time, and the chord progressions are the same for four measures. The Miles recording was done in 1961; "La Fiesta" was recorded in 1972. It seems pretty clear that Corea got some initial inspiration from the Miles/Coltrane recording. 

As you might expect, I was not the first person to notice this. Here's a discussion from 2003; check out the first comment from Mike Fitzgerald (fourth comment from the top), with some very good information on this question. The comments also point out the similarity of the first theme of La Fiesta to the Coltrane tune "Olé" (recorded in 1961 also). Coltrane's "Olé" definitely uses the same chord progression as the first theme in "La Fiesta," but as Fitzgerald points out (quoting Lewis Porter's Coltrane bio), the progression was not original with Coltrane. 




The song "El Vito" is a likely source, both for "Olé" and for the first theme of "La Fiesta":




Mar 14, 2018

Gene Lees' Jazzletter and some other fine writing on Donald Clarke's site

I'm on a few jazz mailing lists that I may not have actually signed up for. I haven't asked to be removed, though, because the mailings sometimes call my attention to interesting stuff. For example, I was just made aware of Donald Clarke's website, donaldclarkemusicbox.com. Clarke is a jazz writer with several books to his credit, three of which he has made available for free on his website: All Or Nothing At All:  A Life Of Frank Sinatra (I just finished that one - an excellent read), The Rise And Fall Of Popular Music [A Polemical History] (just started it - looks promising), and Donald's Encyclopedia Of Popular Music (over 4000 entries). He is also the author of Billie Holiday: Wishing On The Moon (haven't read it yet; it's still in print, and available on Amazon).

Donald has also posted a complete archive of Gene Lees' Jazzletter, from 1981 to 2008. Gene was a great writer, and a legend in the jazz world. If you don't already know about Gene Lees, click here to check his bio in Donald's Encyclopedia Of Popular Music. Donald has done us all a big favor by posting the Jazzletter archive, as well as his own books. It looks like I'll have to make reading through this collection one of my long-term projects.

Feb 20, 2018

Patterns books, Part 1: Oliver Nelson, Hanon, Slonimsky, Coker

Oliver Nelson's "Patterns For Improvisation" was published in 1966, originally titled "Patterns for Saxophone." As far as I know, this was the first jazz-instructional "patterns" book, presenting patterns both as a way to practice and as a way to create improvised solo lines.

The idea that improvisation could actually be taught was fairly new in music education in 1966, and there weren't many instructional publications available. Nelson's book became a major influence on many developing players. I first picked up a copy in the early 1970s, and practiced it from cover to cover.

Oliver Nelson was a first-rate saxophonist and composer, who not only recorded as an instrumentalist, but also had a busy career as a Hollywood composer and arranger (his movie credits are on his IMBD page). He passed away in 1975, at the age of 43.

The patterns approach was not new to music, of course. Nelson explains in his preface that he considers "patterns" to be the same thing as "sequential musical devices," as found in the music of "Bach, Beethoven, Bartok, Charlie Parker, John Coltrane..."

Although it's true that sequences are nothing new, the "patterns" approach to improvisation is quite pronounced in Nelson's own solos and compositions. Nelson was influenced by John Coltrane's music, which was more consciously patterns-oriented than the work of earlier players, e.g. Parker or Lester Young.

Nelson's best-known recording was the album "The Blues and the Abstract Truth," with a band featuring Eric Dolphy, Freddie Hubbard, Bill Evans, Paul Chambers, Roy Haynes, and George Barrow. You can hear Nelson's patterns approach in his solos:




On the album "Sound Pieces" Nelson plays soprano, though he most often recorded on alto and tenor. (The head to this tune, "Example 78," is included in his patterns book as "Example 78.")   





Precedents for Nelson's "patterns" approach can be found in classical instrumental methods like Hanon, as well as in Nicholas Slonimsky's "Thesaurus of Scales and Melodic Patterns." However, Nelson's angle was different, presenting patterns as a concept that would aid jazz improvisers. 

As I see it, these books, as well as later ones like Jerry Coker's "Patterns for Jazz," Yusef Lateef's "Repository of Scales and Melodic Patterns," and Barry Finnerty's recent "The Serious Jazz Practice Book," are all aimed at serving the following purposes, in varying degrees:

1) Improving finger dexterity
2) Achieving 12-key fluency, mentally and/or physically
3) Providing sources for musical ideas, to be explored in improvisation or composition


Charles-Louis Hanon, "The Virtuoso Pianist in 60 Exercises" (1873)




Hanon has been used by countless thousands of pianists over the last century and a half. It involves what jazz players might call "digital patterns," written out in the key of C only. According to its preface, the purpose of the book is to develop finger dexterity. As dexterity exercises, these exercises are not unlike the short, repetitive fingering exercises found in other instrumental method books, such as the Klosé clarinet method. Hanon's book was intended for pianists, but its patterns would be good practice material on any instrument (in Oliver Nelson's book, his Examples 5 and 6 are Hanon patterns). 

Although the stated purpose of Hanon's book has nothing to do with creative composition or improvisation, classical pianists have adapted it to the pursuit of 12-key fluency. From Wikipedia:
Both Sergei Rachmaninoff and Josef Lhévinne claimed Hanon to be the secret of why the Russian piano school delivered an explosion of virtuosi in their time, for the Hanon exercises have been obligatory for a long time throughout Russian conservatories; there were special examinations at which one had to know all exercises by heart, to be played in all keys at high speed.
Hanon is in the public domain; you can download it here


Nicholas Slonimsky, "Thesaurus of Scales and Melodic Patterns" (1947)



Slonimsky's Thesaurus is a systematic, exhaustive cataloging of all the ways in which an octave (or several octaves) can be subdivided. According to his introduction, Slonimsky intended the book primarily as an idea source for composers. However, testimonials from the book jacket show that some found it valuable as exercises:
...A violinist or woodwind player who works out fingerings for these figurations will be able to read at sight, except for rhythmic difficulties, anything that modern orchestral repertory can present. (Virgil Thomson)
The Thesaurus is a monumental compilation of unfamiliar melodic patterns; it is a precious reference book for pianists in developing a superior technique. (Maurice Dumesnil)

Charlie Parker seems to have used the book as an idea source. Carl Woideck's biography of Parker documents Bird's use of Slonimsky's Pattern No. 629, in a 1949 or 1950 live recording of "Street Beat" (at 8:19 in the clip below, trading fours with Fats Navarro), also in a 1952 live recording of "Rocker."






It's well-documented that John Coltrane studied the Thesaurus and practiced from it extensively in the late 1950s; in fact, a musical example in the introduction to Slonimsky's book was clearly the source for the second half of the melody and chord progression to Coltrane's "Giant Steps." Coltrane developed and used this "cycle of thirds" harmonic concept through the rest of his career. Here's the example from Slonimsky:




When word got around that Coltrane used the Thesaurus, sales skyrocketed. 

This book is deep. It has been remarked that while many musicians have purchased the Thesaurus, very few have had the focus and patience to look into it truly seriously (I count myself among the many who have only skimmed the surface). Order your copy here! 

Trivia note: In the introduction, Slonimsky cites Rimsky-Korsakoff as having used our "diminished scale," and Busoni as having used what we would now call the "altered" (aka diminished whole tone or superlocrian) scale.



Oliver Nelson, "Patterns for Improvisation" (1966)



As mentioned above, this may have been the first patterns book aimed at jazz education.

I'd call "Patterns For Improvisation" 
a dexterity book, a 12-key book, and an idea book in approximately equal parts. Most of the 81 exercises are presented in 12 keys, generally moving either chromatically or along the circle of 4ths. All the exercises are written out, which does not encourage the student to do the mental work of transposing. The 1 2 3 5 pattern that Coltrane used extensively in his "Giant Steps" solo is presented in a number of rhythmic variations.

Just a few II V patterns are included; there is one exercise involving Schoenbergian 12-tone rows. The only Slonimsky pattern I noticed was Nelson's Example 27 (which is Slonimsky's Example 131) - this may be a coincidence, though Nelson surely was aware of Slonimsky's book.


It seems to me that to use Nelson's book to best advantage, the student really has to read between the lines - for instance, draw a lesson from the rhythmic variations shown for 1 2 3 5, and create rhythmic variations for other patterns. Similarly, the student could take a cue from the way Nelson moves his phrases - chromatically, along the circle, whole steps, etc. - and apply that technique to other licks. And of course, one should try to shut the book, and play the exercises without reading. 

The book is not too big and threatening; its compactness could make it useful for private instruction, with a teacher to explain how to use it.


Jerry Coker, Jimmy Casale, Gary Campbell, Jerry Greene, "Patterns for Jazz" (1970)


"Patterns for Jazz" was published in 1970, just a few years after Nelson's book. It is a more carefully organized version of the patterns approach to jazz practicing, presenting 326 exercises in increasing order of difficulty. Exercises start easy, with major triads and major scales, moving gradually into harder patterns (modes, whole-tone and diminished patterns, polychords). Each exercise shows a phrase in one, two, or three keys, leaving it to the student to transpose the pattern into 12 keys, with suggested movement of keys along the circle, chromatically, by whole step, etc. I'd say that it starts as a dexterity and 12-key thinking book, but towards the end becomes also a licks-and-ideas book.

Like the other books discussed above, this one has become a classic. I got a copy back in the 70s, and worked through about half of it, taking each exercise past its suggested metronome marking, before I decided that with limited available practice time, I would rather focus on specific licks of my own choosing. The bottom line is that this is a student-friendly book, well-presented and methodical, with enough material to last you for quite a while. It's a great product, for those with some patience.

Click here for Part 2 of this post, where I review Yusef Lateef's "Repository of Scales and Melodic Patterns."