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 the "Giant Steps" melody, as well as the chords, "Giant Steps" 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, 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.

In Part 2 of this post I'll take a look at patterns books by Yusef Lateef and Barry Finnerty.

Jan 25, 2018

Phil Woods "Cherokee" transcriptions from Jeff Rzepiela

Jeff Rzepiela has posted transcriptions of eight Phil Woods "Cherokee" solos on his website, The solos date from 1955 through 2001. Jeff did the transcriptions for a presentation at the 2018 Jazz Education Network Conference. You can access the transcriptions, as well as notes for the presentation, at (scroll down a little). It's an educational kick to play through these Phil solos, and get a closer look at what one of the great bop players could do with one of the great bop vehicles.

Here's one of the recordings, from the 1979 album "Crazy Horse." The track, which is really Cherokee changes, is entitled "Smoke From Medicine Lodge." Phil plays ferocious solos on both alto and soprano; Jeff posted transcriptions of both: also features dozens more of Jeff's solo transcriptions, mostly of saxophonists, including Bb, Eb, and concert key transpositions for each solo. Jeff has also contributed 20 transcriptions to Phil Woods' website. Those transcriptions, and others, are available for free at