Percy Heath “Blue Haze”

Two choruses of a perfect bassline from one of the most important bassists of the 1950s.  The control, evenness, and quality of his sound along with immaculate note choices and  the virtuosity of playing at a slow tempo set this line apart.

Percy discusses this session, along with the influence of Walter Page on his approach in this essential interview from an interview with Artist House Music:

This transcription is included in the book Progressive Jazz Double Bass Repertoire, found at this link.

Blue Haze

Ravings on Twin Peaks “The Return” Episode 8 and Penderecki’s “Threnody”

It is a rare encounter with art that leaves an audience member at once recognizing the music/image as being highly effective, yet also so original, unusual and confounding that you really aren’t sure what exactly it was that you’re talking about in the first place. Such it is with episode 8 of Twin Peaks “The Return”, aka season three. Of all the many things to speak of, the use of Krzysztof Penderecki’s “Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima” as the viewer is taken into the center of an atomic test blast stands out as one of the most striking moments in television.

CHAOS-LYNCH

Penderecki’s Threnody seems to defy its own definition (song of lamentation for the dead). Surely the piece is more representational of the incomprehensible chaos and death associated with the atomic atrocities at Hiroshima than reflective of those that grieve for those that suffer(ed). The music seems beyond fear and loss, containing perhaps the most devastating and sustained dissonances in western orchestral music.

As a Westerner it is especially difficult to describe the context this piece places itself in. The music, let alone the events, are constructed by the reader as a distant, from afar mental recreation of what must have happened there. Even with military films of atomic blasts, and the gruesome news reels of the aftermath, anyone who wasn’t on the ground really doesn’t know what the bomb looks/sounds like up close. If the listener connects this music to the event then that inconceivable surely is reflected in the extreme dissonance of the orchestra.  This is music that could never be mistaken for something pleasant, yet it is moving in it’s uncompromising attack on tonality and tradition. It is as if Penderecki has found a way to partially compensate for the listener’s lack of direct contact with history through his undeniably brutal sonorities.

Similarly, Lynch’s imagery has little to comfort the viewer. The opening black and white, innocent text and countdown are violently disrupted not by the sound of  the blast (which is eerily absent) but by the flash of light and the sudden shock that accompanies the beginning of the music. The alien landscape emerges as we (or at least the viewer’s point of view) is hurled toward and into the mushroom cloud, quickly loosing sight of earth as we enter into the maelstrom.  The viewer is subjected to several minutes of visual chaos, with little continuity or conception of the images.   The viewer loses all context of where we exactly they are, how they could be there, why they would be there in the first place. The unanswered questions abound, leaving no footing to contextualize the unpredictable use of texture and color. Similarly, Penderecki’s music has no key, meter, or even obvious pitch content by with to understand the violent and unpredictable shifts in dynamics.  The montage is an onslaught of visual chaos in concert with all that is sonically damned.

mother-e1498463456678My own experience of this scene (and the entire series) caused me to give up any of my own feeble pursuits of what these images and sounds might “mean” within the context of history or this series. I though later that there seem to be two paths to choose from when thinking about much of Lynch’s work here, either 1) try to invent explanations the story which have no definitive resolution or meaning, or 2) give up the pursuit all together (if you can) and accept that you are along for the ride. The beauty of episode 8 is that choice has been made for you.

“Yes I Can, No You Can’t” by Lee Morgan

My nomination for the funkiest groove created by a jazz artist in the 1960s.  From the 1965 Lee Morgan album The Gigolo, here is a transcribed score for the lead off track “Yes I Can, No You Can’t”.  Bob Cranshaw’s line in the first 8-bars is played with such an incredible depth it is almost eerie, and when compared to the vamp at the end you realize how remarkable this opening really is.  This intro alone is worth the price of the album, but the rest of the track is on fire as well.

The piano part is a work in progress.  Obviously some notes are quite difficult to hear, and my intuition regarding these things is still developing.  Please add thoughts on Harold Maybern’s part in the comments below!

lee-morgan-the-gigolo-f3lee-morgan-the-gigolo-r1Yes I Can, No You Can't1

 

 

Yes I Can, No You Can't2Yes I Can, No You Can’t2Yes I Can, No You Can't3Yes I Can, No You Can’t3Yes I Can, No You Can't4Yes I Can, No You Can't5Yes I Can, No You Can't6Yes I Can, No You Can't7

Musings on “Scrapple From The Apple”

Students ask so much better questions than we “experienced artists” could ever think of; the ones that are especially simple, obvious, and the most important are usually the ones that we never fully consider until our answer might have the ability to help someone else.  For this and many other reasons the act of teaching is vital for personal development.  Sometimes in our arrogance we subconsciously assume that we already know the answer so we don’t bother even asking or investigating that question in the first place.  (I’m reminded of a quote from Kaufman’s excellent “Wired To Create” that describes exceptionally creative people as those that come up with the better questions, the better problems, rather than the better answers and solutions.) This week totally kicked my ass last with a question regarding the tune “Scrapple From The Apple.”

“How do I work on improvising over this?”

Of course this question was asked everybody was running out the door, including me, so I had about 30 seconds to try to answer. I think whatever I said was long-winded, rushed, and probably not very inspiring, hence the reason for this do-over in the form of a blog.  It won’t be 30 seconds, and will definitely be long winded, but hopefully this will be a good start and as direct as it needs to be.

1) Check out the recordings!  They are amazing!

There are some versions of this tune I really love, and it’s those in the groove they contain the foundation of why we do this.  I love the version Charlie Parker recorded back in the 1940s, as well as recordings by Dexter Morgan, Blue Mitchell, the Keith Jarrett Trio, and Tom Harrell among many others.  I think if you were practicing from the perspective of, “what are they doing? How are they getting this sound?” You’ll always be inspired and motivated to continue deepening your room and chops on a tune like this. If you are practicing from a more intellectual place, out of a pressure or duty to put something together perhaps for a performance, you just won’t be able to joy and excitement is easily felt on these recordings.  I know it is an obtuse thing to say, but try to find the vibe and play from that always.  By the way, a little research reveals that it was based on an old standard written by Fats Waller called “Honeysuckle Rose.”

2) Know your melody and scales, COLD!

If the basic building blocks of this song, i.e. the melody and scales inside of it, are not so together that you can play them easily without much effort, then anything else you try to do is going to be almost impossible.  (Improvisation is either easy or impossible right?)  Issues that come up usually involve us making the tune harder than it needs to be.  We do this by isolating small parts, trying too play too fast, or attempting to play things in time when we are still struggling to find notes, fingerings, and basic phrases.   Work through the melody, slow and so that you can feel the phrases, home tomorrow, beautiful harmony contained within the line, and all the instrumental and physical techniques and sensations you need to play it out of time.  That starts to feel effortless then putting it into tempo can be the easiest thing in the world.  That is unless you are still working to get it out of your horn.  Always practice from a place were you definitely feel challenged, but you also feel immense satisfaction because you are playing at least 80% of the music without much effort.  Then, practice becomes an endless joy rather than a grim duty.

Take the same approach basic skills involved in the song. In this case there are a few Mixolydian scales, a major scale, and the often-overlooked harmonic minor scale.  This is where, if you have practiced your major scales on a regular basis, we reap the payoff.

scrapple-from-the-apple-etude

3) Work through somebody else’s improvisation as an etude.

There are a million books and teachers in the world that can spend countless hours giving us important knowledge about scales, theory, harmony, the history of bebop, rhythm, technical information on the most detailed level, and ideas for practice for a dozen lifetimes.  You can obtain a great majority of this knowledge intuitively if we use a master solo as an exercise.  I’ve included the Charlie Parker solo below as an example.   Obviously, in this case the tempo on the recording might be too fast for many of us to play initially, but that’s ok.  Playing through even a few phrases very slowly Will allow all of the advanced rhythmic and harmonic elements experience directly first, rather than explained.  Adding the theoretical stuff to the sound is easy; working from the other direction is much more difficult and often leads to a unique brand of jazz mental illness where musicians ignore their intuitive knowledge of the music and try to shoe horn it in to an theoretical idea that flattens the music and belies what they actually hear.
scrapple-from-the-apple1
scrapple-from-the-apple24) Blow!

Use small sections of the tune and improvise, using small parts of what you have learned from the above.  What sounded good?  What made you stop and ask, “What is THAT?”  This is where you discover, and adapt preexisting melodies and lines to your own musicality.  This is the fun zone 🙂

I love Bird’s solo, because it makes so much musical sense, yet is complex and makes me dig in my ears and head for why it is so logical to the ear, if not always to the brain.  Take his solo on the bridge in m. 11-13 as an example:

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Why does this sound so good to me? Breaking it down into some parts we can see hear that the first part of the phrase uses a really slick turn centering around the F#-G-F#-E, then descends the scale.  While he is using notes from the A Mixolydian scale,  when we listen closely we and hear what  notes  fall on the beat, we discover the sound is closer to E Dorian (E-7), the “important minor” that is tucked inside our dominant/Mixolydian sound:

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Much like all of the G-7 sounds contained in the first 4 bars of the melody, this “scale inside the scale” is the jumping off point for the beginning of the line. It certainly sounds different than starting on the root of the chord!  He then connects this line to the 3-5-7-9 arpeggio of the A7 chord, really outlining the sound of the chord clearly, but also spilling over the bar line into the next measure. Bar lines are like rules: made to be broken!

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Here are just a few of the many “movements” through this tune: playing off the “important minor” (5th of the Mixolydian), connecting the 3-5-7-9 arpeggio, and being able to play within and over the bar line. That should be more than enough to practice in one month let alone a week or a day!  Of course if the notes of the parent A Mixolydian scale are sketchy, lack certainty or confidence, or have some technical issues yet to be worked out, then the above is totally impossible. If you own them however, then it is completely easy and fun to play and work this stuff up because it sounds really good and you can’t stop playing it.

5) Play time!

Once you have gotten some phrases under your belt, it’s time to groove and really feel why all of this harmonic stuff is amazing;  It’s connected to the beat!  For example: put on a drum machine, a recording of the tune, a metronome clicking on beats two and four, a loop, or an app such as the amazing “Drum Genius” and play your improvisation in time, really feeling the pulse and where your notes fall, whether the upbeat or the downbeat, inside or over the bar line. Feel the rhythm’s that you are creating as they relate to this external reference.

6) It’s not about you.

Listen to your place in the tune, how you relate to the musicians, and make the solo not about you but all about them. Make the people or sounds you are playing with sound good; now and always. People listen to music more often not just to learn something about the musicians who are playing, but rather to discover and feel something new about themselves. This isn’t about you, which I know sounds strange if you are the one who steps up to a solo mic to take a solo, but tap into the experience of it feeling so good when you play to make the people around you sound good rather than worrying about what people think about “your” playing.

Way too many words, but hope this helps.  Practice and let me know what you come up with!

Two Choruses of Mastery: Johnny Hodges “All of Me” 1963

A recent transcription taken from the album “The Great Paris Concert”(1963) by the Duke Ellington OrcheTheGreatParisConcert.jpgstra; the Johnny Hodges feature on the standard “All of Me.”  The arrangement is only two choruses (plus a tag) and is sublime in its development, dynamic, subtle use of harmony and repetition, form, articulation, patience, swing, and highly developed blues playing.  Check out the shapes he uses to articulate various dominant chords, adding natural 9ths to create color and contrast, and the long form terraced dynamics that so effectively build to the arrangement’s climax. Ellington’s orchestration is perfect in it’s support and minimalism, matched perfectly with Hodges improvisation and seamlessly blending the two into a single musical impulse.

all-of-me

all-of-me-2-hodges-1963all-of-me-3hodges-1963

The Bob Cranshaw Project pt.1

This series of blogs will be covering material related to a project I’m calling “The House That Cranshaw Built: Bob Cranshaw, the 1960s, and Blue Note Records”  which will outline the 100+ recordings Bob did for Blue Note records, as well as every recording he participated in at Rudy Van Gelder’s Englewood Cliffs studio.  While his 50+ year relationship with Sonny Rollins is arguably his most visible discographical entry, and the depth of collaborators goes far beyond what is included in this corner of his career, his contributions to the Blue Note catalog and the community or artists it represented are some of his most influential work and contributed significantly to the defining of jazz in that decade.

His first entry in this discography is the album “Little Johnny C” by Johnny Coles.  The full personnel and track listing is below.  The tracks “Jano” and “Heavy Legs” stand out for the driving on top and aggressive grooves created by Cranshaw with both Walter Perkins and Pete LaRoca, as well as the remarkable Joe Henderson improvisations. The evenness of his sound, bounce, and pointed linearity of his bass lines don’t sound like anyone else from this period and contribute a singular character to this record. His ensemble playing on the beautiful “So Sweet My Little Girl” is the definition of supportive, rhythmically as well as helping stabilize the intonation of the ensemble upon his entrances.

Little Johnny C

Englewood Cliffs, N.J., July 18, 1963
Johnny Coles (tp) Leo Wright (as,fl) Joe Henderson (ts) Duke Pearson (p) Bob Cranshaw (b) Walter Perkins (d)

Tracks:
Little Johnny C
Hobo Joe
Jano
So sweet my little girl
Heavy legs*
My secret passion*
So sweet my little girl*

*Englewood Cliffs, N.J., August 9, 1963
Pete La Roca (d)