Lots of great vocabulary in this short excerpt from Hank Jones over the A section of Charlie Parker’s tune Confirmation. Major ii-V, minor ii-V, chromatic approach tones, and more! (Listen to Hank Jones play it on the album Bop Redux)
A great tune to learn, and a great pianist to study. Enjoy!
What a great idea, and well executed. Quoted Studios takes interviews from notable people in many disciplines and sets them to animation. Their mission, according to their website, is to “preserve and re-imagine the American interview.”
We’re starting a new series here at TheJazzLanguage.com: Intros & Endings. Up until now, the majority of the posts have been solo transcriptions that represent the language of jazz improvisation.
Another important characteristic of the jazz language is the way tunes are arranged. Listening for how artists begin and end their arrangements gives you a sense for how their musical vocabulary relates to the broader jazz idiom.
To begin the series, here is the ending Oscar Peterson’s Trio plays on Night Train from the album of the same name.
You may recognize this as the “Count Basie Ending” featured on classic Basie band tunes like Splanky and Broadway.
For Oscar Peterson’s version, the sound is created by the combination of Ray Brown’s bass in the low end and Peterson’s two-note voicings in the upper range of the piano.
This sound is a great contrast to the “typical” Basie ending that is played solely by the piano and represents the complementary relationship between the bass and piano in this trio.
Using The sound
To apply this in your own arrangements, pay attention to the relationships between the notes played and the key of the tune.
In this case, the tune night train is in the key of G major, and you’ll notice that the bass in playing G in three different octaves.
The essence of the piano part is the top line that starts on C (a fourth above G) and moves up by half steps to C#, then D. Combined with the bass part, this has the effect of providing tension-resolution to the home key of G.
The lower note of the piano part, an E, fills out the harmony. Combined with the upper note, it implies the chords C major, C# diminished, and G major 6, respectively.
Hank Mobley tends to be a polarizing figure. He was famously called the “middleweight champion of the tenor saxophone” by jazz critic Leonard Feather positioning him between “heavyweights” such as John Coltrane and Coleman Hawkins, and “tonal lightweights” like Stan Getz and his ilk.
Feather clarified his position in the 1968 Mobley bio for Blue Note:
Hank is the middleweight champion because his sound, as he once put it himself, is “not a big sound, not a small sound, just a round sound” and because, while fads and fancies change, he has remained for some 15 years a consistently successful performer, working almost exclusively as a sideman except on records, and retaining a firm, loyal following.
As I listened to Mobley for this transcription, the word that came to mind to describe his sound was unencumbered. Putting aside tonal characteristics, I find his vocabulary to be firmly based in the bebop idiom, rhythmically inventive, and original.
In his current Blue Note bio, Mobley is credited as a pioneer of the hard bop sound, described as “jazz that balanced sophistication and soulfulness, complexity and earthy swing,and whose loose structure allowed for extended improvisations.”
Applying those descriptors to Mobley’s sound seems fitting to me: sophisticated, soulful, complex, earthly, swinging.
Here is Hank Mobley soloing over his own composition, This I Dig Of You.
The tune Duke’s Place is the opening track from the 1961 LP Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington: Together For The First Time. The melody is probably better known as “C Jam Blues,” which is the original title of the instrumental version recorded by the Ellington band in 1942. (The track is currently available on the album The Great Summit which also includes material recorded at the same time but originally released separately.)
I have heard that Thelonious Monk’s unique piano style was influenced by Duke Ellington, and listening to this solo I can hear the connection. In particular, I enjoy Ellington’s use of motivic development and use of space.
He begins each chorus with a short, sparse idea and that grows and changes bit by bit. Notice the use of the half-step motive in the first twelve bars and the repeated use of the F sharp – G pattern in the second twelve.
Looking at the notated version, it seems like there are at least as many rests as there are notes, and you can hear the spaciousness in the recording. The melody really breathes in a way that is foreign to most piano players.
Red Garland was the pianist for Miles Davis’ group that became known as the First Great Quintet. Stylistically, he is known for his block chord style, but for this week’s transcription we will look at an example of his virtuosic 8th-note lines.
The album Relaxin’ With the Miles Davis Quintet was one of several albums the group recorded for Prestige between 1956 and 1961. This excerpt is taken from the beginning of Garland’s solo on the tune Oleo (a popular “Rhythm Changes” tune by Sonny Rollins).
Things to note:
most of the solo takes place below middle C on the piano
frequent use of enclosing chromatic notes. Chord tones are often approached from above and below by chromatic neighbors.
I have placed brackets around a few notes where the connecting notes are not heard clearly and probably not played at the recorded tempo. My instinct is that these are the “intended” notes but the tempo does not allow for them to come out cleanly.
Garland often plays four or more measures of solid eighth-notes without rests, but when he does rest, it feels just right.
The bridge section of the musical form known as “rhythm changes” is a perennial improvisatory playground. The harmony commonly follows a cycle of dominant chords, each resolving down a fifth (or up a fourth), and the tension created by this progression provides fertile ground for melodic inventions.
This week we will look at the the way Bill Evans uses harmony and rhythm to create a unique statement on the bridge of Sonny Rollins’ tune “Oleo.” (This recording is on the album Everybody Dig’s Bill Evans (1958) featuring Sam Jones on bass and Philly Joe Jones on drums).
In a typical Bb rhythm changes tune, the bridge begins on D7 and continues to G7, C7, and F7 before resolving back to Bb. Evans takes advantage of the nature of the whole-tone scale and tritone substitution to complete this cycle using a descending half-step motion.
Once you are comfortable with the sound and feel of the harmony, it’s time to move on to the…
The hallmark of developed rhythmic improvisors is the ability to freely cross the estabilished bar lines and still create a musically complete phrase. Bill Evans uses a common technique here that can be understood as a repeated three-beat phrase over several bars of 4/4 time.
The brackets identify the three-beat riff and you can see that it takes three full measures of 4/4 before the pattern begins again on beat one. Evans adds additional rhythmic material for variety, but begins another three-beat phrase in bar 5.
Make sure you can feel these rhythms between the hands before you continue.
Putting It All Together
Here is the complete pattern that Bill Evans plays on the bridge to Oleo. Note that if you learned the rhythm above, the right hand is now split between the higher cluster of two notes and the lower single note.
The moral of this story: never underestimate the power of rhythm in creating unique and exciting musical statements.
Vijay Iyer, speaking with Christopher Lydon on the Open Source podcast:
When we say [music is] a conversation, that’s being employed as a metaphor. When we think linguistically about conversation we think about the transmission of information. But that’s not all that conversation is. What it is first is music, which is to say it’s a way of harmonizing with one another. So using the conversation metaphor for music is a little bit backwards to me, because really music came first. That’s the sound of us being together. That’s what music is. So conversation is inherently musical, because it’s about harmonization with another person, it’s about grooving with another person, it’s about improvising. It’s all those things already.
Iyer turns the traditional language metaphor on its head by saying that spoken language mimics music, not the other way around. If I were looking for a definition of “jazz” in the 21st (or any) century, I’d say he’s on to something here.