Saturday, February 22, 2014

But Beautiful

When you are learning to play an instrument,  you will often run into enormous mountains in the way of your development that seem insurmountable.  My take on most of these mountains has been just to avoid them. Heck,  I'm just playing for my own enjoyment,  so why torture myself  developing techniques that I'll never use?  But sometimes  one of those mountains is in the path of something that you really do want to accomplish,  and then you have to do -something- about it.

One of those mountains for me is to learn to play "outside" of the changes.   What does this mean?  Really good jazz players  will often superimpose a different mode or scale over the chord changes of the song for a time.   If you do it in a tasteful and imaginative way,  it can make your playing sound very special.  The problem is that it opens up a myriad of other possible things that can be played at any given time - as if all of the possible choices weren't difficult enough already!

So my task on  But Beautiful  was not only to re-harmonize the changes,  but then to tastefully(?) find places to play outside of those changes and then come back in again.   As always,  I had a lot of help from my teacher Ed.  I was also able to use an online class from Dave Frank,  who  I am familiar with from his posts in Pianoworld.  If you are interested in this subject, this is a really informative class that I would highly recommend.







Gregory Porter

My inspiration to do this song comes from the the incredible Gregory Porter and his amazing accompanist Chip Crawford.   They perform But Beautiful on Porter's Water  album.   It is just magical.    I had the pleasure to see them perform in Boston at Sculler's jazz club.  I had a chance to talk to Chip at the bar for a while and urged him to record a solo album.   He is really that good!    Anyway,  you really must listen to this recording or you will be missing something special.

Chip Crawford

"But Beautiful" is a popular song with music written by Jimmy Van Heusen, the lyrics by Johnny Burke. The song was published in 1947.

Love is funny, or it's sad
Or it's quiet, or it's mad
It's a good thing, or it's bad
But Beautiful

Beautiful to take a chance
And if you fall, you fall
And oh I'm thinking
I wouldn't mind at all

Love is tearful, or it's gay
It's a problem, or it's play
It's a heartache either way
But Beautiful

And I'm thinking, if you were mine
I would never let you go
And that would be
But Beautiful
I know

Love is tearful, or it's gay
It's a problem, or it's play
It's a heartache either way
But Beautiful

And I'm thinking, if you were mine
I would never let you go
And that would be
But Beautiful
That would be
But Beautiful
That would be
But Beautiful
I know

Geek Alert

There are apparently four  typical ways of playing outside the changes.   I try to make use of three of the these in But Beautiful.

Greatly paraphrasing and simplifying the idea behind these four methods,we get:  

1.  Cycled patterns -  these are 2 to 4 note sequences  either ascending or descending.   You play the pattern on the next scale up or down a minor or major 2nd or 3rd. It is a little more complicated than this.  I will refer you to Dave's class for the real detail.
2.  Modal Assignment -  improvise over an alternate mode  than the changes in the progression,  but always returning to the changes
3.  Ambiguous Scales - Use ambiguous whole tone and diminished scales  going inside-outside-inside of the changes
4.  Chord Extension and Diminution - increase or decrease the number of beats in the chord with the improvisation while the changes stay the same.

Hopefully you will hear spots in the tune where I am attempting each of the first three methods.  The fourth is just too advanced for me to even try at this point  :-(

1 comment:

  1. Ken,

    As usual, you have outdone yourself!
    You have become so proficient with Band in a Box that it's hard to believe your musicians are not in the room with you. The texture is beautiful and the ending is very special. Well done:)
    Keep up the great work!
    Ed

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