Interviewer: What other interests do you have?
Monk: Life in general.
Interviewer: What do you do about it?
Monk: Keep breathing.
from a 1971 interview
At his11/26/45 recording date for Savoy, his first session as a leader, Charlie Parker produced 3 of his best known and most influential solos, Now’s the Time, Billie’s Bounce, and Koko. These 3 recordings have challenged and inspired generations of alto saxophonists, and to learn these solos is an essential part of learning Bird’s language. That particular day in the studio was also the source of many folk tales, thanks to Teddy Rieg’s casual paperwork, Bird’s loose concept of leadership, and the haphazard research that used to be acceptable in jazz criticism and scholarship. The actual story of that day is fascinating (see here for more details) and much more music was recorded besides the 3 most famous tracks.
Which brings us to Meandering. Several weeks ago a colleague – Marc Phanuef – played me a fragment of a gorgeous Bird solo that sounded like it might be on the changes of “Embraceable You.” Marc says the mystery snippet was used in the background during the Charlie Parker section of Ken Burns’ Jazz documentary. Where was the rest of this great track? After a little research we were surprised to discover that the recording was “Meandering” from the 11/26/45 session that we thought we already knew very well. In order to fully appreciate this solo we needed to hear it outside of it’s usual context as a ‘lesser’ outtake next to the monumental Koko, Now’s the Time, and Billie’s Bounce. Clearly it’s a wonderful full chorus of Bird at his heartfelt best; an artistic achievement well worth studying.
Yes, the track is an out-take for good reasons. It’s apparently a loose rehearsal rather than a finished performance, and the changes that Dizzy is comping at the piano don’t always match the harmonies that Bird implies during his solo. (In the final turnaround in the last two measures of Birds’ chorus, Bird, Dizzy and bassist Curly Russell all go in different harmonic directions before landing together at the top of the next chorus.) And then there’s the brutal cut in the fourteenth measure of the piano solo – ouch!
Here’s a PDF of Bird’s Meandering solo written out for alto sax. (The chord symbols describe the changes Dizzy is comping and they don’t always match Bird’s harmony.)
Hope you enjoy listening to it and playing it as much I do!
For a variety of reasons I’ve been playing the alto sax less often during the last year, so I decided to check out some master alto players for inspiration. To start, here’s an outstanding performance by Benny Carter playing lead alto on the sax soli in his 1944 arrangement of “I Can’t Escape From You”. Here’s a transcription of his part to the sax soli chorus if you’d like to play along.
Benny Carter in 1944
The big band had been Carter’s full time project since 1940, and would continue as such for only another 2 years. Big bands have never been a stable business venture and the war years were especially hard on traveling groups. The band had been active on the West Coast since November of 1942 while Carter split his efforts between being a full time bandleader and starting a career writing for Hollywood. At this May 1944 recording session for Capitol Records he’s at the top of his game.
“I Can’t Escape From You”
This composition by Leo Robin and Richard A. Whiting, was in the air as pop song since Bing Crosby sang it in the 1936 movie “Rhythm On the Range”. Artie Shaw, Dexter Gordon, Errol Garner and others recorded the tune; check out Carmen McRea’s 1957 version if you’d like to hear a great jazz version of the lyrics.
Carter’s arrangement starts with an intro that slides from Eb to Gb and back in 6 wild measures. He fits so much harmonic interest under the lyrical lead melodies in such a short intro! Next, unison trombones start the statement of the main melody. Rather than proceed in the usual fashion through the form of the tune Carter only gives us the first half, with a 4 measure interlude vamp where we would expect to hear the bridge.
The interlude sets up a fantastic chorus harmonized for 6 saxophones, with Carter’s lead on top of the 5 man section. This sax soli is a great example of Carter’s superb alto playing, his state-of-the-art arranging skills, and first class team work from his sax section. If you’re playing along with the recording try to emulate his finesse and the ease with which he plays the dynamics and articulations that make this performance come alive. I didn’t notate all of the articulations; listen to the recording and match what you hear.
After the sax soli, the chart modulates to Ab for a classy ensemble chorus with solo spots for Carter and pianist Gerald Wiggins. Then a short coda and done.
Here’s a nice little tune from the 1960s that could use a little more attention. “Each Time I Think Of You” was co-composed by Duke Pearson and Donald Byrd, and was recorded at the May 1961 session for Blue Note Records that produced Byrd’s album, “The Cat Walk.”
The tune is a 40 bar medium-up swinger with A-B-C-A-D structure, a little unusual, with lovely bebop melodies throughout. It starts and ends in Ab major but modulates through B, A and C major along the way. This lead-sheet shows the 2-horn harmonies that Donald Byrd and Pepper Adams play, but listen to the recording to appreciate the supporting fills that Duke Pearson plays around the melody at the piano – they add so much to the personality of the song.
In Pepper Adams’ Joy Road, Gary Carner’s annotated discography of the baritone saxophonist, bassist Laymon Jackson recalls that drummer Philly Joe Jones was a last minute sub picked up on the way to Rudy Van Gelder’s recording studio. You’d never know it from the fantastic job he does catching all the right kicks to support the melody and the soloists. Pepper Adams takes 2 great choruses, followed by Byrd and Pearson with 1 each. The horn soloists then trade eights with Philly Joe, then it’s back to the head and out.
Here’s the recording.
There’s a recording of a radio broadcast of Cannonball Adderley’s Sextet performing at the Five Spot in NYC in 1965 that I’ve been enjoying for a while. The band (Cannonball on alto, Nat Adderley on cornet, Charles Lloyd on tenor and flute, Joe Zawinul, Sam Jones, Louis Hayes on piano, bass, drums) is ON FIRE. They play their usual hits but also some material from their latest album, selections from the Broadway show, Fiddler On The Roof. I recently went back to it to listen specifically to Louis Hayes on drums, and I want to share one track with you.
But first, some background:
I’m checking out an ongoing dialog between Ethan Iverson, John Halle, Allen Chase and others based on an article written by Halle for Jacobin. My read of this conversation (and I only skimmed a lot of it) is that Halle finds the Jazz community’s politics to be superficial, so it’s no wonder many find Jazz to be culturally irrelevant. One specific battleground for this argument is Joe Henderson’s 1967 recording of “Without A Song.” Halle chides Henderson for playing a song that has such awful, racist lyrics, and posits that this choice undermines Henderson’s political statements from the same era such as his albums “Power To The People” and “If You’re Not Part Of The Solution You’re Part Of The Problem.” In response, Iverson eloquently describes the multidimensional, kaleidoscopic issues and feelings that a Hard Bop tenor player might process when choosing a standard to play in the year 1967: politics, melody, Trane’s death, alternate changes, Billy Eckstine, alternate lyrics, beauty, simplicity, contrast, nostalgia, record sales, and so much else!
Let’s leave that whole hairy topic alone for now and get back to Louis Hayes. In his description of Joe’s “Without A Song” Iverson gives the drummer a strong but qualified compliment: ” Mr. Hayes is one of the greatest bebop and hard-bop drummers, but no one thinks his major virtue is flexibility. [On this track] Hayes plays like a man possessed! For me it is Hayes’s best performance on the album.”
So this got me thinking. Perhaps Hayes didn’t choose to challenge himself by playing on the freer, avant-garde gigs that were blossoming in Jazz at that time, but certainly there are other ways of demonstrating flexibility and imagination in music. So here’s an example of just that, Hayes playing a little outside of the Hard Bop comfort zone on the Adderley Sextet’s live version of Jerry Bock’s “Chavalah” from the Broadway show Fiddler On The Roof. It’s a Joe Zawinul arrangement, a 6/4 bolero, that essentially just repeats the melody 5 times. No improvised solos, minimal original composition, just Louis Hayes building the groove over the course of four 10 measure phrases, then pulling it back to let us down gently on the 5th repeat. Of course Zawinul’s orchestration for the sextet is brilliant but I’m hearing Hayes’ flexible, imaginative groove as the absolutely essential ingredient that makes this performance work so well. Enjoy!
Back in the late 90’s and early 00’s I played many gigs with the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra, based in Washington DC. In those days their budget allowed them to bring in some players from out of town for a few days of rehearsals and performances at the museum. Trombonist Sam Burtis was a steady member of the group, and we would often carpool. Sometimes Joe Wilder would be on the gig too; we’d pick him up at his apartment building on Riverside Drive early in the morning on our way to the 1pm rehearsal in DC. He’d step out into the sunlight lugging a huge heavy suitcase (“I’m just bringing some camera gear”), and he’d ALWAYS be dressed in a jacket and tie. That was his personal dress code, even for 5 hours of sitting in the car.
And those 5 hours would be filled with great stories. A lot of happy stories about working in the Lucky Millinder band, travelling with the Basie band, stories about his family, about his colleagues from years of work in the NYC recording studios and television business. And a lot of not-so-happy stories about his time in the Marine Corp in the late 40’s- before integration, about helping to break the color line in the Broadway pit orchestras, and countless difficult episodes with small-minded bandleaders and music businessmen.
Joe was ALWAYS even tempered and gracious, and he carried himself through life and through music with the highest integrity, but he was very sensitive too. He might tell a 40 year-old story about a disgustingly selfish bandleader and you’d hear some real anger in his voice. But then you might meet him on a casual swing dance gig – and he’d have a plate of home-baked cookies to share with the band.
His professionalism, his collegiality, and the brotherly warmth he brought to every gig made a lasting impression on me and I’m greatful to have known him him.
More info about Joe here and here. This looks like a great book.
More info about the memorial service here.