Sunday, December 6, 2015

What Child Is This

The Charlie Brown Christmas songs performed by the Vince Guaraldi Trio are my absolute favorite.  They evoke so many memories of childhood.   I'm sure that I'm not alone in that assessment.  Many piano players from George Winston to David Benoit have credited first hearing Vince with their desire to become pianists.

From Wikipedia:

A Charlie Brown Christmas is a 1965 studio album by American composer/conductor Vince Guaraldi (later credited to the jazz group the Vince Guaraldi Trio). The album was released in December 1965 in the United States by Fantasy Records. It is the soundtrack to the CBS Christmas television special of the same name. Guaraldi was contacted by television producer Lee Mendelson several years prior to compose music for a documentary on the comic strip Peanuts and its creator, Charles M. Schulz. Although the special went unaired, these selections were released in 1964 as Jazz Impressions of "A Boy Named Charlie Brown". Coca-Cola commissioned a Christmas special based on Peanuts in 1965 and Guaraldi returned to score the special.

A Charlie Brown Christmas features several originals ("Christmas Time Is Here", "Linus and Lucy") as well as covers of well-known Christmas songs ("The Christmas Song", "O Tannenbaum"). The score for the special was largely cut at recording sessions at Glendale, California's Whitney Studio. Much of this material was later re-recorded by Guaraldi at three sessions later in the year at Fantasy Recording Studios in San Francisco, alongside a choir of children culled from St. Paul's Episcopal Church in nearby San Rafael. The sessions ran late into the night, with the children rewarded with ice cream afterwards. Bassist Fred Marshall and drummer Jerry Granelli have been credited as performing on the album, although a host of musicians claim to have recorded the album.

One of my favorites from Charlie Brown Christmas is What Child Is This.   It doesn't seem to be as famous as some of the other numbers that were recorded for the show,   perhaps because it is a cover of a well-known song or maybe because it is a very short number in the show.   I like it because it strikes me as just a beautiful and unique arrangement.   It is one that I've always wished that I could play.

This year I wanted to see if I could determine what he did with the arrangement and come up with one of my own.   I bought a book of Guaraldi transcriptions for the Kindle called "The Vince Guaraldi Collection".   I found out some interesting things right away.  The first thing was that aside from the Peanuts songs,  he was a rather respected Latin jazz pianist.   He has some very interesting Sambas and other songs in this collection that I'm going to have to delve into after the new year.

Here is the list of non-Peanuts songs:

Cast Your Fate To The Wind
Manha De Carnaval
Outra Vez
Samba De Orfeau

As for What Child Is This,  it is performed in the rich piano key of Ab.  He also has an interlude of Fm7-Db-Bb-C  that he puts in between each section of the song to add color.   The basic form is AAB with interludes.   Transcriptions are good to use even if you don't intend to play the whole song note-for-note.   You can find out the form, basic harmonies,  and some voicing ideas,  like I've done here - without playing every note as written.

The form that I chose to use is:

B - solo piano rubato
Interlude with trio
A
Interlude
A
Interlude
B  
Interlude
A Improv
Interlude
A Improve
Interlude  -  second part of interlude doubles the length of the bars
B - solo piano rubato
End on sustained Fm9 chord.  

  


Here is one random page of the Vince Guaraldi transcription.   Don't want to get in trouble :-)









Saturday, November 14, 2015

When I Fall In Love

Composer Victor Young and lyricist Edward Heyman wrote “When I Fall in Love” for the 1952 film One Minute to Zero, where it was performed as an instrumental by Richard Heyman and His Orchestra. Doris Day took the song to number seven on the charts for 14 weeks in 1952. Nat King Cole’s version from 1956 was featured in the 1957 film Istanbul, and Julie London recorded it in 1959. The Lettermen made a hit of the song in 1962. Natalie Cole created another duet with her deceased father on “When I Fall in Love” for the album Stardust.

Many jazz instrumentalists have covered this song over the years. One of my favorite versions is by the Bill Evans Trio. There are so many brilliant, memorable phrases in his ballad treatment of this number. When I decided to make a run at When I Fall In Love, the Bill Evans Trio model was what I had in mind.  He also has a wonderful solo take on this number,  but it is the trio piece that has really captivated me over the years.

The number has a fairly simple form.  I used the real book chart as the base for this tune.   This chart already has a number of interesting chord substitutions in it,  so I did not need to make a lot of additional ones.  During the solo section I did add a couple of subs,  but nothing too dramatic.

The song starts out with a four bar intro, then goes through an entire  32-bar ABAC verse at 54 BPM.  It then goes into a double-time solo during the next ABA section. The last two measures of the final A section are doubled for dramatic effect.  This then leads into the final C section which is back at the 54 BPM ballad tempo.  I finish up with a piano-only grouping of mostly major 7th arpeggios.



There were a few Bill Evans licks from his trio recording that I wanted to include in some fashion.   I was not going to be able to work them in exactly,  but I wanted at least some simplified or "bastardized" elements of these great licks in the second A section of the first verse.   It is almost a trivia exercise to figure out where these are included,  since resemblance to the original is minimal at best :-)









Richard Heyman's Lyrics:

When I fall in love, it will be forever
Or I'll never fall in love
In a restless world like this is
Love is ended before it's begun
And too many moonlight kisses
Seem to cool in the warmth of the sun

When I give my heart, it will be completely
Or I'll never give my heart
And the moment I can feel that you feel that way too
Is when I fall in love with you

And the moment I can feel that you feel that way too
Is when I fall in love with you


Bill Evans Trio - When I Fall In Love



Wednesday, October 14, 2015

My One And Only Love


My One and Only Love was written by Guy Wood in 1947.    Robert Mellin wrote new lyrics for the song and it was introduced by Frank Sinatra in 1952.   It is one of those songs that seems to be a perfect blend of music and lyric,  even though both were not done at the same time.



Recently,  I participated in an online recital for the Piano World "Adult Beginner's" group.  The theme was Great American Songbook songs.  Some of the folks  who participated would certainly not fit most people's description of a beginner.  There was even  a gentleman who participates in the prestigious Van Cliburn piano competitions who was nice enough to add some entries.  One of his submitted GAS songs was an absolutely beautiful arrangement of My One And Only Love  by a composer named Liz Story.  Liz's "Story" is that  she's better known as a "New Age" artist, but she acquired extensive jazz experience while a student at Julliard in the early 1960s. She fell in love with Bill Evans's music then, and got to know Evans personally. He, in turn, recommended a teacher in NYC who taught her the ropes in jazz harmonization and style. 

This person turned in an inspiring performance of Liz Story's arrangement.   At the same time,  I had been listening to Jaime Cullum's excellent vocal/piano arrangement of My One And Only Love  quite a lot.   It became clear  that some version of this song needed to be my next tune!

This arrangement is a solo piano effort.  I had a trio backing track worked up for it,  but it did not fit all of the the different styles that I wanted to get into the short Cullum-esque arrangement.   So solo it was.

The intro and ending have a little vamp that is similar to what Jamie has in his arrangement.   The form of the song is AABA.   The first A section is ballad legato tempo,  I then go into another A section with Shearing chords at ballad legato tempo.  The  B section is ballad as well,  but when I come back to the last A section,  this is played as a bass-in-2 rhythm.   After the whole first verse completes,  I come back right away to the B section with a slightly faster bluesy improv part,  then end up the final A section and ending back at legato tempo.

That is a lot of stuff to cram into a short song!    Many thanks to  my piano teacher Ed,  for help on ideas for this one. 

(Please excuse some of the ambient TV noise in the background.   There is never a quiet time to record something in this place :-))  
  

The very thought of you makes
My heart sing,
Like an April breeze
On the wings of spring
And you come to me all your splendor,
My one and only love

You fill my eager heart with such desire
Every kiss you give sets my soul on fire
I give myself in sweet surrender
My one and only love

The touch of your hand is like heaven
A heaven that I've never known
The blush on your cheek whenever I speak
Tells me that you are my own


Jamie Cullum






Sunday, August 16, 2015

I Fall In Love Too Easily

I Fall In Love Too Easily is an American Songbook classic written in 1944 by Jule Styne with lyrics by Sammy Cahn. It was introduced by Frank Sinatra in the 1945 film Anchors Aweigh. The film won an Academy Award for its music; "I Fall in Love Too Easily" was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song,  which it lost to Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II's "It Might As Well Be Spring".

If you don't remember the movie, Anchors Aweigh is famous for Gene Kelly’s dance with cartoon character Jerry, the mouse from the Tom and Jerry series.

This song is actually only a 16 bar song,  which is generally strange for a standard.  Sammy Cahn has said of the conception of the sixteen-bar song: "This song was written one night in Palm Springs. When I sang the last line, Jule Styne looked over at me and said, 'So. That's it.' I knew he felt we could have written on, but I felt I had said all there was to say, and if I had it to do over, I would stop right there again."

The song has become an often-played jazz standard. It has been recorded  probably most famously  by trumpeter/vocalist Chet Baker, and Miles Davis.

I first became infatuated with this song after hearing the impossibly powerful and beautiful treatment of the song by Gregory Porter and his fabulous accompanist.   If you have not heard it yet,  you must buy it.   Truly one of a kind.  Not kidding.

I've been interested in listening to how piano players have approached the song.  Luckily,  I had many great renditions to listen to.    I bought some great versions from Bill Evans, Keith Jarrett, Jacky Terrasson, Brad Mehldau, Fred Hersch and Harry Pickens.   Each one was unique and added a little understanding to different ways that this beautiful song could be approached.  

I decided that I would do a free-form legato first verse,  but would attempt to have my bass player and drummer follow me!   I love the way that this sounds with a real trio,  so that was my conception for the song.  The virtual musicians in my band don't really support that,  so it was quite a trick coaxing them to play with the proper empathy.  Then the song goes into a double-time improv section for a verse and a half and comes back down to to finish at the ballad tempo and a piano/cymbals ending.

There are very many harmony substitutions throughout the song.   One non-standard substitution that just sounded so good to me that I could not convince myself out of playing it,  is to play Abm7/Db after one of the normal Cm chords in the song.   There are many other choices that would make more sense technically,  but sometimes you just like what you like :-)   


The Lyrics

I fall in love too easily
I fall in love too fast
And I fall in love too terribly hard
For love to last

My heart should be well schooled
'Cause I've been fooled
Oh I've been fooled by you in the past
I fall in love too easily
I fall in love too fast
I'm always on the run and I hate copy paste for god's sake
I fall in love too easily
And I, I fall in love too fast
And I fall in love too terribly hard
For love to last

And I, I whose heart should be well schooled, well schooled
'Cause I've been fooled, oh I've been fooled by you in the past
I fall in love too easily
I fall in love way too fast
Way too fast, way too fast, too fast

Frank Sinatra pretending to play the piano while singing the song




The incomparable Gregory Porter



Monday, July 20, 2015

This Masquerade

I'm continuing on this little theme of choosing numbers that were made famous as guitar numbers.  For my last post,  I covered Cavatina which was made famous as a classical guitar number.   For this entry,  I've created an arrangement of This Masquerade.

"This Masquerade" is a song written by Leon Russell. The song appeared on the B-side of the single for Russell's 1972 hit "Tight Rope" and on his Carney album. The song has also been recorded by many other artists including Helen Reddy, The Carpenters, Shirley Bassey and Willie Nelson.  

But it is most well known as the top-ten pop and R&B hit by the great jazz guitarist/vocalist George Benson.   Benson recorded this in 1976 for his Breezin' album.   He also won a well-deserved Grammy for Record of the year  with this song. 

Earlier in the summer,  my piano teacher Ed and I played this as a four-hands piano number  for his adult piano recital.  We've started a little tradition of picking an unexpected up-tempo number  to arrange as a duet to end the recital with.  We usually have a minuscule time budget,  so we'll settle on an arrangement  and try to run through it once or twice before the recital.   This year  I came to him  with This Masquerade  because I thought we could have some fun with it.    The arrangement we decided on was Latin,  going into a fast swing,  then back to Latin.  It was fun!



For my blog arrangement,  I went in a somewhat different direction.  Unfortunately,  since this is most often covered as a guitar number or as a vocal,  there are not many good examples of jazz piano covers to listen to.  I found versions by Bobby Durham, Johnny Varro, Patrick Peronne, and Arnie Abrams that were somewhat helpful. I'm playing this as a Latin bossa throughout,  but with some of the following features:  

-  fast bossa.  I'm playing this at 138bpm,  
 - bass solo.  I have a bass solo in the first A section of the 2nd improv verse
 - I have extra congas and a synth layer during my improv solo  to add some sound differentiation between the verses 
 - alternate the ii-V harmonies a minor third down,  then back while playing over the same Eb scale during the vamp parts seems to give a nice Latin sound.
 -  extended out the measures between verses (from 2 to 4)  to give more room at this speed 138BPM  for transitions between parts.    


George Benson



Leon Russell






Saturday, July 11, 2015

Cavatina (From the Deer Hunter)

Cavatina is one of those magical instrumental pieces that can make a movie climb from just "very good" to "classic".   The emotional heft that this theme gave to "The Deer Hunter" made all the difference in the greatness of this picture  IMHO.

"Cavatina" is a 1970 classical guitar piece by Stanley Myers and best remembered as the theme from The Deer Hunter.

The piece had been recorded by classical guitarist John Williams, long before the film that made it famous. It had originally been written for piano but at Williams' invitation, Myers re-wrote it for guitar and expanded it. After this transformation, it was first used for the film The Walking Stick (1970). In 1973, Cleo Laine wrote lyrics and recorded the song as "He Was Beautiful", accompanied by Williams.


When I was was playing guitar,  this was a number that I always wanted to get around to.   Unfortunately,  I never did.   I have now taken the opportunity to attempt a nice arrangement for piano.   Since Cavatina is most famous as an acoustic guitar piece,  it is not often covered as a piano song.    So there were not that many versions for me to listen to  for good ideas.  I really have enjoyed listening to the solo arrangement by Monty Alexander,   and the group arrangement by Kent Wehman.   Really nice jobs.

I think the trick with doing a jazz arrangement of this song is that you don't want to completely kill   the emotional qualities of the song.    I heard a couple of treatments  that made this sound like just any other jazz tune,  and I don't like that at all.

The song is in 3/4 time, and my arrangement is a jazz waltz.   The first intro verse is rubato.    There is no repeat of the A section, however.    Just one A and one B section are played.   I thought it would be a little too boring to repeat the A section in the intro. On Monty Alexander's solo effort,   he skips the repeat of the A section,  but actually plays the B section twice.   Very interesting.

I then have the trio come in for a full second verse,   then repeat the A melody section twice before ending.    It is a pretty short song overall.

I try to use some jazz-ier substitutions without hurting the beautiful character of the song.

- E7#9  instead of Em7 when it follows the Cmaj7
- C7b9  instead of just C7 when it is in a ii-V going to Fmaj7
- In the B section,  instead of the plain Am7-D7 Gmaj7 change,  I use Am7/Cm7/F7/Gmaj7
- tritone substitution of Db7 for the G7
- I have an ending that uses a Fm7/Bb7/C69/Ab13 set of changes

There are a couple of other ones in there too.

The Deer Hunter




John Williams




Monty Alexander

Kent Wehman




Saturday, June 20, 2015

On A Clear Day


Recital season 2015.  Recital time is always problematic for me, because it means that I have to come up with a solo piano arrangement - and then be able to play it -  even though I'm generally not practicing a solo piano style throughout the year.

To get some inspiration this year I started listening to some of the tracks from Bill Evan's Alone album.    There are some truly incredible tracks on this record,  but I really became enamored with  the way he played On A Clear Day.

On A Clear Day is from the 1965 Broadway play, On A Clear Day You Can See Forever.    The music is by Burton Lane and the lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner.   Thanks to pop music renderings of this song by Robert Goulet and Barbara Streisand,   this is probably considered one of the schmaltziest songs in the vast history of American music.   But Bill Evans does a great job making the song into an excellent solo jazz vehicle.   The song has a nice melody line and plenty of interesting harmonic changes  that are modified and embellished to the nth degree by Mr. Evans.    He makes it into a song where you are very eager to know what he is doing to make it sound soooo good!    

I decided that I would try to create a solo arrangement of On A Clear Day that I could actually play. In order to get started,  I wanted to get an idea what the voicings and substitutions were that Evans was using.   Especially the extremely cool surprise modulation that he was doing at the end of the song.

As luck would have it,   I found not only a full transcription of his performance on the  Alone CD,  but a description  of what he was doing theory-wise at each point.   Just what I needed!

Unfortunately,   there were only a few things that I would actually be able to play and incorporate into my arrangement.    Most of it would be crazy to even attempt.  By I found that if I even took a left hand voicing and not what he was doing with his right hand,  or vice versa,  it was very helpful.  Some of the little voice movements he uses in between chords to make the song move along were also very helpful.     I included some of the snippets below that I tried to find somewhere to use ...

This transcription was most useful, however,  for the arrangement of the rubato introduction and the ending.   You see in that very last snippet how he modulates a few times starting with  Gbmaj7.  I did a very similar thing in mine.     He spends a considerable amount of time switching keys and playing in Eb.  I only do this for 2 bars or so at a time,  but he can make any of that stuff seem to work seamlessly.

This is a rehearsal take that I recorded  just before leaving for the recital. 



Our recital group with our wonderful teacher  Ed Mascari


Snippets from Bill Evan's Alone album performance of On A Clear Day







The very cool ending


Monday, April 27, 2015

Alice In Wonderland - Five Years Later

This is one of my all-time favorite jazz tunes, and hearing Bill Evans play this was definitely one of the songs that influenced me to try to pick up piano at such an advanced age.  I last attempted Alice in Wonderland back in 2010. The attempt in 2010 was actually my second attempt.  I believe that this was the first song that I asked my piano teacher Ed to teach me - before  I even knew the basic jazz chords on piano!

Here is the link to the second attempt from 2010.

Alice in Wonderland is the theme song composed by Sammy Fain and Bob Hilliard for the Walt Disney 1951 animated film Alice in Wonderland. The song plays during the opening and end credits.
It has become a jazz standard that has been performed by Bill Evans, Oscar Peterson, Dave Brubeck, and others. In his book The History of Jazz, Ted Gioia cites "Alice in Wonderland" as one of Evans's most beautiful performances, likening its "pristine beauty" to his "Waltz for Debby". Evans recorded it at the Village Vanguard which featured on his 1961 album Sunday at the Village Vanguard

There are a number of new techniques in this 2015 run at Alice.  As with the 2010 version,  I like some of the sound that Ben Paterson gets by using altered Ab chords over the ii-V's in C.   I also like the way that he uses modern drum  sounds  over the waltz mode.   I tried to use  both of those ideas here.   I'm also applying what are known as Red Garland block chords  to the Paterson harmonic idea. Red Garland block chords are RH octaves  with perfect fifths in between.

You should be able to hear liberal usage of Shearing chords  in the first and last verse.  This is where the  LH doubles the highest RH notes.  These are also known as "close position chords".   You will also hear various other harmonic substitutions throughout the song.

Fans of the incredible Bill Evans rendition of Alice are blown away by what he does on his second take at the Village Vanguard session recordings from 1961.    On this take (not on the first one),  he plays a flurry of high-speed four-note clusters where the improvised melody  is the highest note of the cluster,  and the rest flow down from there.  He plays it so crisply in time that it sounds like the height of jazz piano playing.  I attempt to throw some of the Evans clusters in  here too.

I hope you enjoy this 2015 upgrade!









Box.com link to Alice in Wonderland

Bill Evans


Ben Paterson




I also used a new recording technique for this song.   My recording method has always been to simply plop a little Zoom H2 recorder on the top of my upright piano  with the lid closed,  and press record.   That's it.   I'm sure this is an affront to anyone trying to make decent-sounding amateur piano recordings.   The H2 is nice  however,  because it will record  four channels  at the same time:  two stereo channels from the front mic,  and two channels from the mic back.  

For my most recent birthday, I received the  newer Zoom H4n  and a boom microphone stand.   The H4n has much more functionality than the H2,  and would allow me to connect in external microphones  and use those instead of the built-in mics that come with the unit.    The built-in mics  only record  one stereo channel,  so by themselves  they don't really sound as good as the H2  in my opinion.  

So  the experiment for Alice in Wonderland was to see if I could record with both devices simultaneously and mix them together.   In this way,  I be getting three stereo channels recorded with mics spaced apart over the open lid of the piano.  I also increased the recording audio quality to highest settings,  which results in the largest WAV files being produced.

Needless to say,  the mixing job took me at least twice as long as it normally does.   The resultant MP3 file is slightly larger too,  due to the recording quality.   I'm not sure that I like the result yet.   I think I need to experiment on a ballad that has more dynamic range to figure out the best way to do this - or if it is even a good idea in the first place. 

Zoom H4n


Zoom H2


Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Alter Ego

When I walked into my piano lesson a couple of weeks ago with the goal of working on All Blues,  my teacher Ed asked me if I had ever heard of this tune named Alter Ego.  I said that I hadn't heard of it,  but I was interested in why he asked.  He started explaining that he was considering working on an arrangement of it for his trio,  the Ed Mascari Trio.   This is a fairly new tune by jazz standards,  so it is not included in the Real Book of standards  to the best of my knowledge.  It hasn't been covered by a tremendous number of musicians either.   So maybe I can be forgiven for never having heard of it.

But as he was showing me the lead sheet,  it was dawning on me what an interesting and beautiful sounding song this is!   I saw right away that Ed had the chord voicings identified as being composed as upper structure triads.   Many of the chords in the song are m11.  To get this sound,  there are two triads used - a minor triad based on the root of the chord  played in the left hand,  and then a major triad played in the right hand a scale tone below.   So if the chord is Am11,  then an Am triad is played in the left hand, and a G triad is played in the right.    This gets you both the 11th and the 9th, and it is a very rich sound.  These kind of upper structure two-handed chords are used throughout.  

I just loved the idea of it.  Then Ed played both Kenny Barron and James Williams (the composer) playing arrangements of the tune,  and I was hooked.   I was particularly taken in by what Kenny Barron's trio did with this song on their incredible Live At Bradley's CD.   The trio made a latin number out of it,  but it was not your standard latin jazz treatment of a song.  Something was quite different about it.   


Barron's "Live at Bradley's" was released in 2002 with Ray Drummond on Bass and Ben Riley on Drums.   It may have actually been recorded in 1996  at that famous club for jazz pianists,  but I'm not really sure.

As one reviewer stated:

"The mood of contemplation continues with "Alter Ego," a piece by pianist James Williams that recalls some of the compositions of Herbie Hancock's Maiden Voyage period. It lends itself to Barron's impressionism and a building rhythmic intensity engendered by the quiet insistence of Riley's four-beat sticks on cymbals and rims."

I think this was the key.  In addition to the style of the piece being reminiscent of that Herbie Hancock period,  and Barron's incredible playing,  it was the four beat sidestick rhythm  that made this different from a regular latin number.

When I came up with my arrangement for Alter Ego,   I wanted to try to emulate that groove, and believe me it wasn't easy.   What makes the groove happen is a polyglot of styles,  where the drum style is really a Praise and Worship rock kind of beat,  and the bass is playing a samba rhythm.    When you put it together with the lush voicings and accents,  it starts to sound hip.  After a while was able to get my "band" to do this for me :-)

I had an idea for the intro too.  Kenny  did a  solo legato intro that I like (how could you not),  so I wanted to throw one of those in there.  But I also  thought of something else.  There are a number of lush elemental and passing chords that are played throughout.  I thought it would sound nice if I arranged these chromatically with some flourishes as an intro  leading into the first Am11.  I like the way it came out!

There is a short vamp in the beginning of the up-tempo part of the song.  I would have loved to play that for a long time like his trio does on the live recording,  but the song was already too long,  so had to keep it short....  






The composer, James Williams was born March 8, 1951 in Memphis, Tennessee. He began his formal piano studies at age 13, and earned a B.S. in Music Education at Memphis State University.  At 22, Williams moved to Boston to accept a teaching position at the Berklee College of Music. A year later, he joined drummer Alan Dawson’s group, which provided support in the Boston area for touring artists including Art Farmer, Milt Jackson, Sonny Stitt, Pat Martino, Jean Carn, Red Norvo, and Arnett Cobb. In 1977, Williams recorded his first album as a leader, played his first concert featuring his original compositions, and first met Art Blakey. That encounter ultimately led to James’s resigning from the Berklee faculty for a four-year, 10-album tenure with the Jazz Messengers. In 1984, Williams moved to New York, residing in Brooklyn and becoming deeply involved in the city’s musical activities, omnipresent in jazz clubs not only as a performer but also as a devoted listener. 

He was only 53 years old when he died.  Such a loss for jazz fans...  Since he was in Boston and Brooklyn  I would have thought that I would have heard of him before this.

James Williams released Alter Ego in 1984

Kenny Baron






James Williams





Sunday, March 1, 2015

All Blues

What can you say about All Blues?  This is one of the most recognized jazz numbers of all time.   It has probably influenced many a  musician to pick up his instrument for the first time.   It is also a somewhat controversial tune.   It is included on Mile's seminal Kind of Blue Album with  several modal jazz numbers such as Freddie Freeloader and So What.   This album was the centerpiece of Miles' modal phase of musical exploration.  So the question became,  was All Blues to be played as  a modal number in the manner of the others or is it to be treated more as a blues?  I've seen some pretty heated online discussions about this one.   I'm not going to pretend that I know the answer,  or if there really is one that matters.

I'll just tell you about my approach to playing All Blues for this blog post.  I wanted to use the very open spacing of the chords in the song to try out a concept known as "backdoor ii-V's". This is where you can play an alternate harmony that is down a major 3rd or up a minor 3rd from where the actual chords are.   I believe there are some other variations of this too.   All Blues is written such that most of the chords are just V dominant 7th chords.   I started by changing that so that they we are using the ii-V,  rather than just the V chords.    Then,  when I was soloing,   I would move my harmony either up a m3 or down a maj3  with both my left hand chords  and the linear solo.   The bass player was still playing over the regular ii-V's.

This yielded a kind of interesting sound,  and when I switched back to playing the regular harmony  it sounded like there were extra little resolutions happening.   It is something that I think I'll defintely keep experimenting with!

If you notice a couple of cheating quotes in the playing,  they are intentional  :-)  The beginning of my solo is a quote from one of the sax solos in the original All Blues.   Also the ending is my poor-man's theft from the ending done by a wonderful solo treatment of this song by a pianist named Larry McDonough.  McDonough himself is obviously doing a quote,  and I am doing a quote of his quote. How much lack of imagination can you ask for!







Miles Davis  Kind of Blue



Larry McDonough