Monday, May 4, 2020


Here is another non-Herbie Hancock post.

"Countdown" is from John Coltrane's record, Giant Steps. Coltrane and his group recorded the album in May and December 1959 and it was released the following February. The song "Countdown" includes Coltrane on tenor saxophone, Tommy Flanagan on piano, Paul Chambers on bass, and Art Taylor on drums.

Coltrane started with the harmony and form of "Tune Up," a tune by Eddie Vinson although often attributed to Miles Davis. "Tune Up" follows a sixteen measure form and cycles through a ii V I's where each I chord is a whole step lower than the previous. Measure 13-16 break the pattern before the form restarts. Coltrane inserted the falling major third modulation patterns from the tune "Giant Steps." The added chords make the overall harmonic rhythm of the song faster.

After a drum introduction, Coltrane launches straight into his solo. The head melody only appears at the end of the recording. Taylor accompanies Coltrane for the first four choruses. Then Flanagan joins their duet starting in the fifth chorus. Chambers adds the bass for the melody at the end.

Lots of sources discuss key centers that lie a major third apart and Coltrane's interest in them and application of them within the jazz world (see the title track "Giant Steps" as well as the Rodgers jazz standard "Have you Met Miss Jones?"). For this post check out how frequently Coltrane relies on a simple four note pattern to get through all of the rapidly moving chords. Look for scale degrees root, 2, 3, 5 either ascending or descending. In the following image the ascending instances are highlighted in green and the descending instances are highlighted in yellow. Coltrane's solo is positively replete with this variations of this root-2-3-5 pattern.

The following is a complete transcription of Coltrane on "Countdown" without any highlighting.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Oleo (Keith Jarrett)

Yes, this blog centers around pianist Herbie Hancock. Some posts include transcriptions of horn players that solo on the same tune. For this blog these inclusions contextualize the recording. This writer assumes that anyone that is here for the Herbie transcriptions and analysis would probably also enjoy other transcriptions and analysis.

On that line of assumption, this post contains brief analysis and a transcription of pianist Keith Jarrett soloing over the Sonny Rollins rhythm changes tune "Oleo."

My Foolish Heart is live recording by Keith Jarrett with his regular rhythm section of Gary Peacock on bass and Jack DeJohnette on drums. It was recorded in July 2001 at the Montreux Jazz Festival and released six years later in 2007.

Keith launches straight into eighth-note based lines on this solo. The comparatively brisk tempo of this recording brings a degree of intensity to the improvisation. Keith maintains this degree with his solo rather than scaling things back in his first chorus and builds intensity from that point.

Any perusal of uptempo rhythm changes reveals soloists frequently reducing the harmony of each eight measure A section to simply Bb and then more precisely spelling out the harmony on the B section with the chain of dominant seventh chords. On this recording, Keith plays lines that indicate him following harmony that changes mostly every two beats in the A sections. He does not reduce those parts of the form to simply Bb. This occurs throughout all nine choruses of Keith's solo.

Also worth pointing out is a substitution that Keith uses to conclude the bridge. In place of the last two measures of the B section, which usually follow a dominant function, Keith inserts a chromatic ii V.

F7 | F7 || or C-7 | F7 ||


C#-7 F#7 | C-7 F7 ||

This alteration is particularly evident in the third and fourth choruses (m87 and m119).

Another worthwhile aspect of this solo remains how Keith plays with the placement of his lines. At the beginning of his third chorus, Keith displaces the harmony and delays everything by one quarter note. See measures 67-68. The lines are arpeggiating descending chromatic minor seventh chords and change on the second and fourth beats of the measures instead of the first and third.

Last, the group makes a tiny error with the form and skips an A section. This happens in the seventh chorus. This deserves a mention not to diminish Keith or the group's artistry but rather for thoroughness.

And here is a full copy of Keith's solo. They maintain comparatively strict copyright control over the recorded audio thus the posting without a link to listen. Enjoy.

Portions of this content were originally published on 29 April 2016 on youtube.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Toy Tune

Now to explore a Wayne Shorter composition and Herbie's impact on it. "Toy Tune" appears as the third track from Wayne Shorter's record Et cetera. The album was recorded on June 14th, 1965. For anyone keeping track of the timeline, this would be about two years after Herbie joined Miles Davis' band - in the spring of 1963 to record Seven Steps to Heaven - as well as only the second Wayne Shorter record with Herbie on the piano bench (the other was Speak No Evil which was recorded almost six months prior). Unfortunately, Et cetera was not released until 1980. In addition to Wayne and Herbie, Cecil McBee and Joe Chambers complete the quartet on bass and drums for this album.

Wayne Shorter composed four of the five tracks on the album; "Barracudas (General Assembly)" by Gil Evans remains the only exception. "Toy Tune" stands out from the other songs because of the tempo and swing. "Et cetera," the title track has a straight-eighth/broken groove feel, "Penelope" is a ballad, "Barracudas" is in 6/4 time, and "Indian Song" is in 5/4 time. "Toy Tune" contains a driving medium swing feel in 4/4 time.

"Toy Tune" follows a 28 measure AABA form where the B section is only four measures in length. Wayne's compositions favor atypical forms and lengths (not 12m or 32m). On the recording the quartet plays the head once, Wayne solos for four choruses, then Herbie solos for three choruses, and then the play the head once to finish. This post includes full transcriptions of both Wayne and Herbie's solos. Analysis of specific instances in Herbie's contributes to the overall tonality interpretation.

Here is a chart for "Toy Tune"

An investigation of every solo and composition by both Wayne and Herbie and how they contextualize an interpretation of "Toy Tune" would certainly be worthwhile. However, in the interest of brevity this post will draw conclusions only from the composition and two solos. Hopefully this correctly analyzes the primary information rather than risk a well-intended extrapolation that subjectively favors certain musical patterns and improvisatory devices.

As a composition, "Toy Tune" is mostly in the key of A major. The majority of the notes in the melody belong in the A major scale. The most frequent and longest held pitches are A, C# (or the enharmonic equivalent of Db), and E. Those three notes form an A major triad. On the other hand, there remain instances with notes that step outside the A major scale. In the first measure of the [A] sections the D# on the downbeat can be explained as an accented passing tone to E and the Bb on the and of beat three can be explained as a quick chromatic upper neighbor tone.

Later, in measure three of the [A] sections, the F natural occurs on a weak beat (the and of two) and is surrounded by two pitches from the A major scale (G# and C#). This F natural may also indicate that Wayne approaches this tune with Amaj7#5 as the tonic sound. In measure five of the [A] sections, another F natural occurs. It still arrives on a weak beat (either the and of two or on beat two). Wayne likely thought motivically with measure five mimicking the third measure of the [A] section only with different underlying harmony and slightly different rhythm. After the F natural in measure five, the melody continues with C#, a quick lower neighbor of B, then C#, D, and a held out E. All of those pitches that conclude the [A] section phrase belong to the key of A Major.

One of the strongest pieces of evidence supporting these three tonal centers lies in the harmonic rhythm and how Wayne and Herbie solo over the form. The third and seventh measures of the [A] sections as well as the third measure of the [B] remain instances where the chord receives four beats as opposed two or even one. The longer duration persuades the listener that those are tonic.

Music theorist Steven Strunk pointed out the importance of root motion in Wayne Shorter compositions. He described when the chord suffixes do not provide an obvious tonality the bass motion takes priority in establishing a tonality. 1 Thus for the head, an accented chromatic upper neighbor (Bb) precedes the tonic (A) and then another chromatic upper neighbor (F) precedes a dominant sound (E) that leads to (an admittedly unstable sounding) tonic in the third measure (Amaj7#5).

Bassist Cecil McBee plays notes suggesting slightly different harmony when comparing the [A] sections of the head and the solos. In the first two measures of the head, Cecil plays Bb, A, F, and E in homophonic rhythm with the sax melody and piano chords. Later, in the solos for the same two measures of each [A] section, Cecil walks quarter-note-based bass lines thinking Bb, A, C, B, and a full measure of B.

While Cecil approaches these two measures differently, Herbie does not. While he does not play exactly the same voicings in each instance, he plays similar enough ones to argue that Herbie continues to think the same sound even though Cecil plays a different note. It either sounds like four constant structure minor 9 chords, as in the solos, or like two minor 9 chords followed by two sus 9 chords in the head.

Following a similar analysis as before, the solos bass motion contains the same accented chromatic upper neighbor (Bb), then tonic (A), then a different chromatic upper neighbor (C), and an extended ii-7 chord (B-7) before landing on the Amaj7#5 in measure three. Even considering these differences, A still remains the prominent choice for tonic.

One counterargument to the A major analysis may be to hear the tune in A minor. E7alt strongly pulls to A-9 in m8-m9 and again in m28-m1 (albeit with an accented passing chord (Bb-11) on the downbeat). Those also occur at the terminus of one phrase and the beginning of the next. Later in m18-19 of the [B] section a minor ii-7b5 v7alt targets a C dim7. Chord qualities aside, that root motion would clearly indicate a temporary tonicization of C, the relative major of A minor.

To refute the A minor analysis, consider the extremely short duration of the A-9 at the beginning of the [A] sections, chord qualities that do not truly indicate a ii V I in the relative major, and most of all, the preeminence of C#'s (Db's) in the melody.

Regarding Wayne and Herbie's solos, they both favor quoting or referencing the melody from the head in the first two measures of each [A] section rather than playing phrases that flow through those measures. Wayne's third chorus particularly exemplifies this. First a short descending phrase spills into the third chorus (m57). The descending fourth of the main pitches as well as the abrupt ending of this phrase on beat two relate it to the head melody. Then Wayne leaves m65-66 completely empty while the rest of the band references the head melody. Last, Wayne directly quotes the head melody (m77) playing it one octave higher than it occurs in the head.

Wayne Shorter third chorus on "Toy Tune"

Those same two measures at the beginning of each [A] section interrupt the phrasing in Herbie's entire solo even more decisively. The only instance where Herbie plays an idea through them occurs at the beginning of his third chorus. While this example remains the best example of phrase variety it still connects to the main melodic/rhythmic motif from the head. Herbie leaves the first measure of his third chorus empty (m169) and in the next measure (m170) Herbie starts a phrase on the second eighth-note triplet in the first beat. This results in sounding like a rapid answer to the rhythmic motif of the head melody. Then Herbie continues this phrase for two measures and thus achieving some phrasing variety over this part of an [A] section.

Herbie Hancock third chorus phrase variety.

Examining only Herbie's solo, a few instances stand out as suggestions for how he hears Wayne's tune. The first occurs during his opening chorus. Beginning in m116 and continuing into m119, Herbie plays a descending motif and repeats it three times with pitch variations and slight rhythmic adjustments. Starting halfway through m116, he plays C Ab Gb, all as quarter notes. Then in m117 he plays F# D A and then in m118 A F C (this time with F and C as eighth notes). Last, in m118, and starting on beat two rather than halfway through the measure, Herbie plays the last iteration of this motif with C A and E before allowing the whole idea to blend into a descending eighth-note triplet idea.

Beginning of Herbie's solo and descending motif.

Comparatively simple in rhythm, these four motifs also spell out harmony in a concise manner. The notes in the second, third, and fourth motifs build D, F, and A- triads all in second inversion. D and F are both major 7 chords directly from the recurring harmony in the song and in a similar harmonic function, the notes of an A- triad fit over an Fmaj7 chord. The notes in the first motif (C Ab and Gb) do not form as strong of an intervallic shape as a triad but still reflect attention to the harmony on the downbeat of m117 (Gbmaj7).

The next eight measures of Herbie's first chorus represent a microcosm of techniques he uses in the remainder of his solo. First there's an angular idea that relates to the melody (m121-122). This idea also combines descending step-wise motion with perfect fourth and fifth intervallic leaps.


Second Herbie plays a two and a half measure scalar phrase based on eighth-note triplet ideas. Herbie plays groupings of six eighth note triplets where the second is tied to the third and the fourth is tied to the fifth. This rhythm alternates the duration of notes: short-long, long-short, short-long, long-short. Combining this rhythmic idea with scalar motion allows a wide variety of fundamental or coloring pitches to land on strong or weak beats. Herbie finishes the triplet idea in m126 with two beats of Dmaj7 material.


Herbie plays this same scalar rhythmic idea over the first two measures of the bridge during his last solo chorus (m185-186)

Last, Herbie plays sixteenth note bebop lines over G-9 and Fmaj7. In particular, Herbie employs the half step and then at least four note ascending arpeggio melodic shape in many other instances in this solo (m135-136, m137, m138, m139, m140, m148, m157, m159, and m167).

These three improvisation approaches - angular melodic shape that references the melody, scalar material (frequently with eighth-note triplet syncopated rhythms), and sixteenth-note based bebop shapes - constitute the majority of Herbie's solo. When this happens, Herbie employs either an idea that links to the melody of the tune (m141, m149, m177, and m189) or a specific motif (m153-156 and m179-m184).

The bridge of Herbie's second improvised chorus (m157-160) present a clear example of quality substitution. After concisely playing through the first four chord changes of the bridge (F-9, Eb-9, D-7b5, and G7) Herbie substitutes a Cmaj7 (m159) where the regular chord is a Cdim7. Sharing a common root, these two chords remain vastly different sounds since one possesses a major third and perfect fifth where the other lacks. Herbie's substitution pointedly contains three instances of the perfect fifth and two instances of the major third. He even plays both as an interval on the downbeat of the measure (with a D# grace note preceding) as if to leave no doubt as to the chord quality changing. A quick comparison of the bridge improvisation throughout the rest of the recording reveals this quality substitution as a clear choice. Herbie exploits a listener's expectation with this phrase.

Furthermore, this quality substitution corroborates the position of an overall A major tonality. C is the relative major of A minor. Analyzing the whole tune in the key of A minor would mean that the listener interprets the bridge in the middle of Herbie's second solo as helping establish the tonality. Simultaneously that same measure in the other two choruses of Herbie's solo, the previous four choruses of Wayne's solo, as well as the heads that bookend the tune all confound the tonality. C major in the bridge occurs once out of eleven total instances. Therefore a listener hears it as a quality substitution in relation to the overall key (A major) rather than as evidence of some other tonality.

Here is the full transcription of Wayne and Herbie's solos on "Toy Tune" presented in the same order as the recording.

1 Strunk, S. 2005. "NOTES ON HARMONY IN WAYNE SHORTER's COMPOSITIONS, 1964-67". Journal Of Music Theory 49 (2): 301-332. doi:10.1215/00222909-010.

Friday, February 10, 2017

First Trip

This post expounds on one of the single best piano feature trio recordings ever. “First Trip” appears as the third track on the 1968 album Speak Like a Child. A septet album, it includes Thad Jones on flugelhorn, Jerry Dodgion on alto flute, Peter Phillips on bass trombone, Ron Carter on bass, and Mickey Roker on drums. The album specifically features Herbie as a soloist, composer, and arranger. He takes the only solos, wrote five of the six tunes, and arranged the horns for the melodies. “First Trip” distinguishes itself as the only trio track on Speak Like a Child.

As a composition, “First Trip” follows the common 32 measure AABA form and is in the key of F major. Ron Carter penned the tune. He arguably wrote it as a reworking or almost a contrafact over the Thelonious Monk composition “I Mean You.” Both tunes are in F and follow the 32 measure AABA solo form. However, “I Mean You” contains a riff interlude and the tunes possess slightly different harmonic rhythms. In the A sections, both “I Mean You” and “First Trip” start and finish on the tonic. Their harmonies also first change to Db in the third measure. “I Mean You” returns to the tonic on the seventh measure though whereas “First Trip” returns to the tonic on the eighth measure.

Here is a chart for Thelonious Monk's "I Mean You."

And here is a chart for Ron Carter's "First Trip."

“First Trip” also makes an appearance on the Joe Henderson record Tetragon. They play it as a quartet though with Joe Henderson on tenor sax, Kenny Barron on piano, Ron Carter on bass, and Louis Hayes on drums. For Tetragon, “First Trip” was recorded September 9, 1967 and a little more than five months later, “First Trip” was recorded for Speak Like a Child on March 6, 1968. Both albums were released in 1968 though. Aside from lacking a saxophone, Herbie’s version is played quicker (quarter note = about 176 compared to quarter note = about 120 on Tetragon).

With no introduction, Herbie's trio plays the tune starting with the pickup notes for the melody. After the inhead, Herbie takes a solo for seven choruses. Neither Ron Carter nor Mickey Roker get specific time to solo on the tune. After Herbie’s seventh chorus, the trio proceeds in playing the outhead and a brief ending before the tune concludes. At about six minutes in length, “First Trip” allows Herbie to stretch out on the tune and play a lot of ideas.

One of the first ideas worth highlighting happens in the beginning of the second chorus (measures 66-73). In measure 67, Herbie starts a motif that eventually morphs into a polyrhythm. He plays an Ab above the staff, followed by the Bb (an upper neighbor tone), and then the same Ab. Then Herbie moves the motif down a fifth, up a minor third, and then down another fifth. In these two measures, each part of the motif follows the rhythm of a quarter note followed by two eighths.

By measure 69, Herbie adjusts the rhythm and plays an all-eighth-note idea for four measures. As Herbie does frequently, this idea implies 3/4 time while playing a tune in 4/4. Restarting the idea every three beats accomplishes this. Looking closer though, within each three beats there lies two smaller phrases of three eighth notes each. These smaller phrases are comprised of a principle note, an upper neighbor tone, and then the principle note again. The first smaller phrase is E and F#. Then Herbie moves down a fifth - like before - and plays A and B. The third phrase here is D and E. Herbie then alternates between the second and third phrases until the idea concludes.

Implying 3/4 while playing a tune written in 4/4 works out cleanly every three measures. Basically, starting a phrase with this goal on the downbeat of a measure and playing it for three measures will mathematically lead to another downbeat. Sometimes a musician will continue to imply 3/4 time at this point for a longer idea. In the above instance, Herbie plays only three more beats of the same pattern before changing and arpeggiating a D#-7 chord with his right hand line.

Herbie’s careful method of arriving and departing from the 3/4 polyrhythm shows an advance understanding of melodic phrasing. Herbie disguises the idea. Instead of

line - line - line - line - IDEA THAT IMPLIES 3/4 TIME - line - line - line

Herbie linked the polyrhythm idea to a previous phrase, played it three beats longer than would work out cleanly, and used that melodic momentum to continue into and arpeggiated idea.

Herbie plays the same four notes for almost three measures. Instead of analyzing the precise alteration these notes imply, the best explanation lies in Herbie allowing the rhythm and repetition of the idea to take priority over the exact pitches.

Next, the beginning of Herbie’s third chorus deserve analysis. He introduces a riff in the last measure of the second chorus that spills into the first measure of the third chorus (m97-98). For the two note pattern, (Eb C Eb C Eb), he places the notes rhythmically so that the Eb’s sound a dotted quarter note apart from each other. For the next sixteen measures, Herbie develops this motif and explores different syncopations.

In measures 99 and 100, Herbie plays a variation of the original motif. First, this variation only contains four notes instead of five (either C Eb C Eb or B Eb B Eb). Second, this variation starts on the lower note instead of starting on Eb. Similar to the original motif, the Eb’s still sound a dotted quarter note apart from each other. However, the Eb’s show up on the and of beat two and on beat four.
Measures 101 and 102 start out as a somewhat predictable variation of the original motif. The pitches this time are Bb and Eb, the Eb’s start a dotted quarter note apart from each other, and occur on the and of three and on the first beat in m102. That measure 102 though includes a specific moment that breaks the pattern where the motif bounces down to Bb and then back to Eb on beat two instead of on the and of two. Herbie set the listener up to expect the next Eb to occur a dotted quarter note later and then plays it an eighth note earlier than expected.

The next iteration of the motif starts with an eighth note pickup into measure 103. Herbie alternates from Eb down to Bb and then back for five total notes. While the middle and last Eb’s are rhythmically a dotted-quarter note apart from each other the first and middle Eb’s lie a full two quarter notes apart.

Through measure 103, Herbie gives the listener five versions of the motif. Between the first and second motifs, Herbie changes the starting beat. Between the second and third motifs, Herbie only changes the lower pitch. The fourth and fifth phrases start on different beats, changes pitches, and show Herbie adjusting the rhythm within the motif. For the fourth motif, Herbie truncates the beginning part of it so that the Eb’s occur sooner; for the fifth motif, Herbie lengthens the same part so that the Eb’s occur later than both the fourth motif as well as the earlier iterations.

Measures 104 and 105 sound like they could be a phrase that shifts out of the exploration of the motif from measure 97 and 98. However, instead they prove only a short break because by the last eighth note of measure 105 Herbie returns to developing the motif. Measures 106 and 107 show Herbie trying two other variations of motif that alternate between Eb and C for pitches.

Measure 108 shows Herbie settling on a variation of the motif. He plays this rhythmic variation almost four times before finally concluding his exploration (the fourth time ends completely different). Herbie continues adjusting the lower of the pitches for these final variations while upper Eb’s remain constant. Herbie also maintains the same syncopation pattern. This iteration follows the pattern of the first three pitches coming off the beat (so the and of one, the and of two, and the and of three in measure 108) and then the last two pitches of the pattern falling on the beat (so beat four of measure 108 and the downbeat of measure 109). Altogether the phrase occupies five beats before starting again. The 4/4 time signature continues throughout the entire song though so this five beat phrase starts on the downbeat of measure 108, then the second beat of measure 109, then the third beat of measure 110, and last the fourth beat of measure 111.

Herbie links the string of motif iterations to the remainder of the solo in measure 112. The phrase starts as a further development of the earlier motif. While the pitches changed to C and F, the rhythm and shape of the phrase contribute to the connection. By the end of measure 112 though, Herbie plays a chord-tone-derived shape that completely differs from the earlier motif.
All of that merely to explain what Herbie's right hand plays at that point of his solo. Herbie's left hand also deserves analysis at this point though. These sixteen measures exemplify three common left hand comping techniques for jazz piano. These techniques include first a direct answer to the right hand and second an intentional chatter against the right hand line. Both of the first two techniques occur on opposite beats from the right hand. The third and last technique is where the left plays homophonically to emphasize certain notes from the right hand.

Measure 98 includes includes a clear example of the first technique. This occurs immediately after Herbie first introduces the right hand motif. There are three full beats of rests before the motif returns again in measure 99. On the and of beat three in measure 98 Herbie injects voicing for F7#9. In addition to the amount of rests between motif iterations, Herbie also accents this chord and plays it louder than others. These both contribute to this left hand comp sounding like a direct answer to the right hand.

Measures 104, 106, and 107 show Herbie using the intentional chatter technique. There remains smaller gaps between the right hand phrases and Herbie does not accent these chords as much. Rather than considering these left hand chords superfluous they reveal a constant awareness of the rhythmic pulse in both right and left hands.

Measures 110-112 best show Herbie using the last technique. Here Herbie plays the left hand in the same rhythm as the right hand. The hands using this homophonic texture emphasizes notes from the motifs. In measures 110, Herbie plays a voicing of G9 in his left hand as the right hand motif concludes on the pitch A. Then the next iteration of the motif starts. Herbie plays a voicing for C7#9 in his left hand with four of the five pitches in this motif iteration. The one solitary note occurs in measure 111 and that Bb only happens for an eighth note. While this unaccompanied Bb breaks the pattern, consider the analysis of the right hand motifs where the Eb's occur a dotted quarter apart and that by this point in Herbie's exploration of the motif he employs a five beat phrase. The last iteration of the motif, that begins on the and of beat four in measure 111, again shows Herbie playing chords in his left hand in the same rhythm as the right hand. Herbie uses voicings for C-9 and F9(13) to emphasize notes in the right hand motif. As the right hand improvisation in measure 112 evolves and pushes beyond the well-explored motif the left hand also leaves behind the clear homophonic comping technique.

Herbie continues with more swinging lines and tasteful rhythmic ideas. The end of the fifth chorus into the sixth chorus (measures 182-196) contains another motif that Herbie develops similar to earlier. While it contains more repetition than the motif at the beginning of the third chorus, Herbie still adjusts the pitches to fit the underpinned harmony of the tune. The first four iterations of this motif all start on the third beat of the measure. However, the fifth one starts on the second beat (measure 190) and the sixth one starts on the first beat (measure 192). The rhythms within the phrase and the overall shape remain the same for the fifth and sixth iterations. Thus, Herbie moving the phrase a beat earlier twice creates rhythmic interest.

Another highlight-worthy moment occurs between the sixth and seventh choruses (measures 225-226). Arguably, the previous six choruses of piano solo contain more than enough for a suitable performance. Mickey Roker even switches from playing time on a ride cymbal to a two-feel pattern on the high-hat cymbals similar to what he played for the head of the tune. Herbie even plays the exact same melodic pickup phrase to lead into the head melody. However, and this may or may not have been a mistake, Herbie played those pickups a full beat early. The eighth-note triplets happen on beat three instead of beat of four and thus he arrives at the the pitch F on beat four instead of the first beat of the out head. Regardless of the potential mistake, Herbie carries on, playing a seventh solo chorus. Also, the group quickly reverses any slight drop in energy or intensity. Herbie continues with rhythmic ideas that explore various syncopations and longer eighth-note/eighth-note triplet lines. The last measure of the seventh chorus though (measure 257) does contain the correct rhythmic placement of the melodic pickup phrase.

Here is the full transcription of Herbie on "First Trip."

For comparison and further listening, here is a link to Herbie and Ron (with Billy Cobham instead of Mickey Roker) revisiting "First Trip" at a live concert in 1983. 

Monday, January 16, 2017

The Sorcerer

Although Wayne Shorter writes some sweet tunes, it's about time that this blog tackles another one of Herbie's.

The first recording of "The Sorcerer" shows up on the Miles Davis record, The Sorcerer. That track was recorded on 17 May 1967. This is the familiar Miles Davis' second great quintet and the personnel includes Miles Davis - trumpet, Wayne Shorter - tenor saxophone, Ron Carter - bass, and Tony Williams - drums.

Ten months later, Herbie recorded "The Sorcerer" again for a (mostly) trio record called Speak Like a Child. This album retains Ron Carter on bass but adds Philadelphia's Mickey Roker on drums. Speak Like a Child was recorded in two days on March 7th and 9th, 1968.

Many other recordings of this tune exist. Herbie played the tune in the 1980's with the second iteration of his VSOP quintet (Wynton Marsalis, Branford Marsalis, Ron Carter, and Tony Williams). More recently, it was the opening track of Herbie's 2002 release Directions in Music: Live at Massey Hall that featured Michael Brecker, Roy Hargrove, John Patitucci, and Brian Blade.

To limit potential confusion, from here on the version of "The Sorcerer" from the Miles Davis record will be referred to as the first and the version of "The Sorcerer" from Speak Like a Child will be referred to as the second.

On the first recording, rather than have a specific soloist explore the tune after the head melody Wayne Shorter and Miles Davis trade eight measure phrases. When Wayne and Miles are finished trading, the band plays the head melody twice as an interlude. Then Miles, Wayne, and Herbie all tag the ending of the tune and repeat the last melody fragment over eight measures. When Herbie plays the last melody fragment for a second time it signals the end of the tag and the beginning of the form for his solo.

Here is a link to the first recording. Herbie's solo begins around 3:15.

Herbie then proceeds to solo for five choruses before the head melody returns. Herbie solos with single note lines while his left hand punctuations remain barely audible. This stylistic approach bears many similarities to the tune "Prince of Darkness" (the opening track of the Miles Davis record The Sorcerer).

To grossly over-generalize, normally when jazz musicians improvise over a tune they use melodic language generated from the tune's harmony. Playing the root, third, fifth, and seventh of each chord in a tune explicitly states the harmony. With 'good' rhythm, it's arguably an effective improvisation method.

Instead of explicitly outlining the tune's harmonic progressions for each chord Herbie varies his melodic content. Sometimes he will spell out a particular harmony. However, more often he will pass over that part of the form without the specific notes that reflect the tune's chords. Herbie even sometimes plays two, three, or four measures before landing on a note that clearly originates from the tune's harmony.

Herbie varies his melodic language with two devices. First, he uses octatonic scales (also known as diminished scales). They are built using an alternating whole step-half step pattern. Diminished scales are symmetrical in nature and lack the same quality of being 'at rest' that major scales possesses.

The second device is quality substitution. Quality substitution as an improvisation technique possesses many complex subtleties. However, it can also be as simple as playing a major triad instead of a minor triad. One of Herbie's most common quality substitutions include mixing up minor seven chords (R, b3, 5, b7) and minor major seven chords (R, b3, 5, 7).

Here is a complete copy of Herbie's solo on the first recording.
Now onto the second recording...

Herbie plays the head melody twice at the beginning of the song and twice at the end. Ron Carter and Mickey Roker play completely accompanying roles; there is no bass solo or trading with the drums. Herbie even plays a type of shout section reminiscent of big band recordings towards end. This occurs over the first eight measures of the form for the final three solo choruses.

Herbie takes a total of fourteen choruses. Contrary to the first recording, Herbie uses chords throughout this solo in both hands. Jazz pianists have the unique opportunity to have a dialogue not only with the bassist and drummer while improvising but also between their hands. The left hand can provide an answer to a phrase, or amplify a high point of a phrase by accenting a note while the right hand plays.

Here, this blog needs to further give credit where credit is due. I transcribed this second recording after I finished the first. I even started to add Herbie's tasty left hand comping rhythms. I was eager to then share my work; however, saxophonist and educator Remi Bolduc did so first. His youtube video provides a detailed transcription of not only Herbie's right hand lines but also includes Herbie's left hand comping and Ron Carter's bass lines.

Here is a link for Remi's work:

Go ahead and replay that video.

Our transcriptions were not identical matches. However, this blogger possesses no interest in getting in an internet argument over a few rhythms or notes.

Herbie's use of rhythmic displacement in the eighth and ninth choruses standout when compared to the first recording. This displacement generates a lot of tension. For example, leading into the eighth chorus Herbie introduces a motif that he continues through the next six measures, while he adjusts the notes to fit the tune's harmony. The motif first appears in measure 126 as eighth notes. Then it appears again in measure 128 at the end of the seventh chorus with a sixteenth-note ornament added. Then there are four beats of rests where the same motif could have been played again. In the second measure of this chorus, Herbie plays the motif again with the same rhythmic placement, only the top two notes have changed. Next, Herbie plays the phrase with the same rhythmic placement as the first two instances but he changes the sixteenth note ornament to an eighth note triplet idea. The fourth, fifth, and sixth examples of this motif are all displaced rhythmically from the first three examples and recur every three beats. This briefly implies a 3/4 meter.

Here is a transcription of that instance. The double bar line indicates the end of the seventh chorus.

m125 - m136 of Herbie on "The Sorcerer" from Speak Like a Child

Then, leading into the ninth chorus, Herbie starts another motif and again displaces it rhythmically. In the transcription of the first part of the ninth chorus (below), this motif starts in measure 144.

m141 - m152 of Herbie on "The Sorcerer" from Speak Like a Child

In both the eighth and ninth choruses the pitches of these motifs follow an ascending pattern. Also, in both instances of rhythmic displacement Herbie generally decreases the amount of beats between recurrences of the motifs. One exception occurs in the ninth chorus (measures 148-149 of my transcription above) where he allows two full beats to pass between phrases that were only separated by one and a half beats.

Last, Herbie uses constant structure patterns in both recordings of "The Sorcerer."  In the first recording this idea begins on the downbeat of measure 61, four measures before the fifth chorus begins.

m57 - m68 of Herbie on "The Sorcerer" from Miles Davis' The Sorcerer

I suspect that the last note in measure 61 (F) was intended to be a G. Considering it as G, Herbie plays four measures of running eighth notes that arpeggiate different seventh chords. Furthermore, except for the the fourth seventh chord Herbie outlines all constant structure minor seventh chords. In order, they include A-7 G-7 | F-7 Eb-maj7 | C#-7 B-7 | A-7 G-7 |. Some of the notes from this pattern relate to the tune's original harmony. It makes more sense though to consider them all as part of this constant structure minor seventh chord idea. Each minor seventh chord, regardless of whether Herbie arpeggiates it ascending or descending, has a root one whole step lower than the previous chord. When Herbie plays the notes Ab F at the beginning of the fifth chorus it becomes clear that he finished the constant structure pattern that he had in mind

Similarly, in Herbie's solo on the second recording he plays a constant structure minor seventh pattern while exiting the twelfth chorus (measures 207-208 below). This pattern is six minor-seventh chords played as eighth-note triplets over two measures. Since four notes comprise each minor seventh chord, playing this pattern as eight note triplets implies the larger rhythm of half note triplets in those two measures. Rhythm aside, this constant structure pattern follows the root motion in ascending half steps rather than descending whole steps as in the first solo.

m201 - m216 of Herbie on "The Sorcerer" from Speak Like a Child

If you are thirsting for more Herbie on "The Sorcerer" here's a link for another burning live version.

Herbie Hancock VSOP 2 (1983)

And for thoroughness, my transcription of Herbie's solo on "The Sorcerer" from Speak Like a Child follows. 

*Originally published under a pseudonym on 25 February, 2014.