Monthly Archives: February 2013

Sam Rivers (For Grandma)

This week I’d like to share some music my grandmother liked.  She died suddenly last week, at age 86, when her health rapidly declined after a minor injury got infected.  My mother was with her in her last few days and the rest of the family was able to say goodbye to her, so seeing them at the funeral this weekend was less a somber occasion than a happy reunion.

I never knew my grandmother to enjoy jazz (aside from Glenn Miller), but once when she heard me playing Sam Rivers’ classic album Fuchsia Swing Song she remarked how good it was.  I take this as more proof that Sam was a first rate genius.  Here are a couple of my favorites of his.

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I love the chord changes for “Cyclic Episode”.  In 16 short bars it passes through 11 of the 12 minor-7 chords.

Fuchsia Swing Song

Speaking of chord progressions, you may notice this one is based on “Night and Day” without the bridge.

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Little Abi

After leaving Coltrane’s group, Elvin Jones spent much of the next 15 years touring with pianoless combos.  In 1972, however, he made time to record Hollow Out with bassist Gene Perla and pianist Masabumi Kikuchi at Rudy Van Gelder’s studio.  The album features five of Kikuchi’s original compositions and plenty of group improv.  I think the melody sounds especially good on tenor sax.

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Mooch Too Early

I have been a fan of the Respect Sextet since being introduced to their music by a friend from Rochester in 2003.  Their album The Full Respect has never been far from my CD player.  Their music is energetic, surprising, and often funny.  Case in point:

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As you may have guessed, this is the RS mashup of Bird’s “Moose the Mooche” and Bill Evans’ “Very Early”.  These two tunes have been practiced ad nauseam by aspiring sax and piano players (piano great Kenny Werner says he once spent an entire summer shedding “Very Early”).  Together they become a bebopper’s nightmare, contorting an already difficult melody over a chord progression that gets less and less predictable as the form goes on.

Still, the Respect Sextet seems to handle the task with ease, propelled in no small part by drummer Ted Poor, who I have heard backing Ben Monder, Chris Potter and Cuong Vu in recent years.  Ted is also a member of self-described “lungcore” group Jerseyband, another personal favorite.

A pair of love songs

Well, it’s Valentine’s day again!  Like it or not, it’s one of the few chances you get during the year to put an actual dollar amount on the love you feel for another human being.  Because let’s face it, the day itself doesn’t bring people closer together.  You probably don’t love a person any more today than you do on the 13th or 15th of February.  Like so much of life it comes down to advertising.  People who have a product to sell want you to believe that you pay a social or personal price for not buying it.  I know most people are rational about the meaning of Valentine’s day, but woe is the man who fails to acknowledge it in some way.  We would do well to just change the name to “Chocolate Day”.  Significant others still get gifts, unattached people don’t feel lonely or stigmatized, everyone gets that coveted serotonin rush.  Doesn’t Chocolate Day sound nice?

Anyway, my contribution to the festivities will be a couple of “love” songs, the first from the pen of George Gershwin.

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This chart is based on an Erroll Garner version I had on cassette tape.  He recorded the tune more than once but I remember this take really captured the essence of Erroll’s style: his warmth and humor, the way he made virtuosic playing seem so easy, never losing that swinging feel.

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Here’s a tune I transcribed a few years ago off a John Coltrane reissue called Stardust, recorded with Wilbur Harden on trumpet and the flawless rhythm section of Red Garland, Paul Chambers and Jimmy Cobb.  “Love Thy Neighbor” was written by the team of Harry Revel and Mack Gordon (Mack also wrote one of the great love songs of all time, “At Last”).

Fly With The Wind

Staying with my wintery theme, here’s a song I’ve wanted to play live for a long time.

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The middle staff here is the cello line given to Kermit Moore, one of my favorite string players.  I added the vamp at the end of the form to serve as an interlude between solos and possibly a drum solo leading into the last A.  On the studio version the track fades out, but on the bandstand I would end on the pentatonic line just before the B section.

Ron Carter and Billy Cobham are in fine form on this record, and this tune is a highlight.  The trio and strings swirl around the flute of Hubert Laws like shifting winds, and the tonal center moves around during the song too.  I have heard pieces of this album sampled on more than a few hip hop tracks.

Miro Day

I spent a couple long hours shoveling out my neighbors’ and my house today.  With 25 inches of snow on the ground, that’s hundreds of cubic feet.  By the end my hands were shaking and my back was sore, so I went straight from one of the tortures of winter to one of the joys of winter: hot chocolate and Dave Brubeck!

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On his album Time Further Out Dave closes side one with this cool blues, and opens side two with a faster recap of the theme before Joe Morello takes an extended drum solo.  In the liner notes he says the whole album was inspired by Joan Miro’s paintings, which search for new meanings in old familiar forms.

This reminded me of a video I took out of my local library long ago.  A small excerpt featured Duke Ellington’s trio playing this blues while Miro himself looks on, leaning against one of his sculptures in a courtyard.  I have written out the main theme here, which two years later became “The Shepherd Who Watches Over The Night Flock”, part of Duke’s Second Sacred Concert.

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So there you have it.  Two very different blueses dedicated to Joan Miro.

Snow Day

I spent the whole day stuck indoors, watching the snow pile up.  Two inches, four, eight, sixteen and counting.  I have power and heat but my weekend gigs have been canceled because of the storm.  With my newfound free time I went through my vinyl collection, listening to albums I haven’t heard in a while, reminiscing about the snowy night I bought my first jazz record.

I started by choosing albums at random, but once I put on Thelonious Monk’s Alone in San Francisco I knew his music would be the soundtrack to my day.  I haven’t found good lead sheets for the tunes here, so I took some time to get them on paper.  The first is from that same solo record.

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There is a short version of this blues in one of my fake books, but Monk plays the theme twice, the second time displaced two beats.  It also features one of his trademark whole tone runs in bar 16.

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Boo Boo’s Birthday is classic Monk.  The rhythms and melody are cheerful but odd and jarring.  Notable about this tune is the 5 bar bridge, which brings the form to an abrupt halt just when it sounds like it’s going somewhere else.  This is from Underground, released in 1968.  It seems to have been the style in the late 60s to feature rooms full of junk on your album covers, like one of those “I Spy” games.  I appreciate the work that must have gone into staging that photo in a fake bomb shelter, but it has nothing to do with the music.  I’d prefer just a tasteful closeup of Monk in a funny hat.

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Brake’s Sake is one of those Monk songs I rarely hear played or discussed.  It’s a good example of how he uses moving chromatic lines to complement the melody.  This head just wouldn’t sound the same without Butch Warren’s rising bassline driving it along.  Also, despite my version claiming a tempo of 140, it’s more fun to play at around 200bpm. 

Monk often said the bridge is the most important part of a composition, but I find this one more incongruous than most.  Maybe that’s why this song has fallen off the radar while a very similar tune like Green Chimneys is still a standard.