Monday, March 12, 2018

Black Coffee

12 bar blues with an 8 bar bridge

A lady vocalist at the Sunday jazz jam thoughtfully provided a chart, from a fake book, for “Black Coffee.” In another era it might be described as a “torch song” - familiar repertoire. But we stumbled through the backup, failed to give her audible clues to where it was going, and part of the problem was the irregular layout on the page required to accommodate the lyrics, missing staff lines that made low Ab and F look like Fb and D, no “D.C.” and 1st and 2nd endings were not clearly marked. A few moments study before we plunged into it could have saved all of us some grief. And we should have checked her key. The chart was in F, and looking at YouTube videos before writing this: Sarah Vaughan in Db, Ella Fitzgerald - key of C.

It’s important to remember that a chart is nothing but an aid to memory, a guide, a road map. Written music requires an artist to understand, interpret and deliver an emotional interpretation, somehow intuiting and even improving upon the composer’s intent. Check out author Carole King, honored at the Kennedy Center, as Aretha Franklin starts into “Natural Woman” - that’s what I’m talkin’ about! The point is, don’t be slavishly bound to the written representation - the chords are but a guide and there are elements of melody open to interpretation in the worlds of jazz, pop, rock and blues. Here’s some analysis I wish I had done before attempting Black Coffee the first time!

The blues scale is defined as 1-2-b3-4-b5-5-b7-1, and yet the “one chord” often contains a natural 3. That’s where art comes into play, reconciling the juxtaposition of 3 and the “blue note” b3. The initial chord of a blues may be I7, or a minor chord, or a dominant 7 with #9 - it can even be a major triad or a I Maj7 as in some of the more harmonic jazz blues. The move from I7 to bII7 is not uncommon as a vamp or element of the chord progression. Stormy Monday Blues with great guitarist Wayne Bennett interpreting T Bone Walker is a quintessential example of the use of bII in the blues.

Back to Black Coffee, the passing chord at the end of bar 4 slides down a half step to the IV9 in measures 5 & 6. IV9 can also be thought of as minor i6 over the 4 of the key as root - minor sixth chords are a mainstay in the jazz and blues idioms. Then it’s back to the I - bII “vamp” feel in measure 7. Measure 8 shows a I7+9 again which then moves down a minor third to a VI7+9 - this begs for a chromatic root movement - or perhaps one could use I-bVII down to the VI7b13 that occurs naturally in the key. The function of the VI chord here is to set us up for a “jazz blues” cadence, the ii-V in measures 9 & 10. Out of the several options we have for realizing a ii-V, the composer chose to keep the iim7 sound for two measures while the bass moved to 5 of the key in measure 10.

Trying to read the composers intent, on the piano I wouldn’t play all the sharp nines, just use the 7th-3rd tri-tones in the left hand to realize the parallel I-bII chords. The melody and solos - just play the blues. The blues scale always works against I, IV7 and V7 - don’t bother to analyze why! The 13th chord on beats 3-4 of measure 4 seems unwieldy - parallel 9th chords from bV to the IV9 could work, too. Bar 5 & 6, the (I7) blues scale against the im6 (over 4 in the bass), and the blues scale continues to work until the minor third root movement down to VI7. Almost any VI7 alt scale will offer a delightful dissonance that could resolve to IV Lydian in measure 9 (against the vanilla of the ii), and using the blues scale against the V7sus sound of bar 10 brings us right back home to the I chord destination in measure 11.

After landing on the I, the 1st ending featured a turn-around, although most recordings just use the I-bII vamp here. The move to VI7 on beats 3-4 of bar 11 could be done chromatically. The ii on beats 1 & 2 of bar 12 moves quickly to a C7 “alt” (which could be considered an inversion of bII Lydian dominant). Repeat the 1st 12, and the 2nd ending finalizes the return to the tonic before the accent chord on beats 3-4 of what is now measure 24. One could easily realize measures 23-24 as I7-IV7-I6-bV7 augmented. Or use I7-bII7-I7-bV7. Looking at my block chart, "B1" is way too complicated - instead, use the key changes of "B2." The lead-in bV chord (beats 3-4, bar 24) is actually a bIII in the new key.

The principles in this well-written blues are fairly universal. The modulation up a minor third to go to the bridge, and the two places where I moves down a minor third employ a principle known as Lender’s Rule. I first heard about this in a lovely book that discussed the writings of Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn - I wandered into the library and found this detailed technical discussion of “who wrote what” - and it takes an almost forensic analysis to figure out what part of an arrangement came from each man. Even some wholly original Strayhorn tunes were credited to Ellington because he won the rights in a poker game or on a bet! Strayhorn often modulated by minor thirds, or even a tri-tone (3 whole steps), which is a distance of two minor thirds. Lender’s rule states that because a dominant chord with a flat nine lends itself to a diminished scale, there are four roots possible. For example, the scale for C7b9, C-C#-D#-E-F#-G-A-Bb can be used against roots C, Eb, Gb (F#) and A. Hence the most sonorous modulations go to bIII, bV (#IV) and VI.

So the Bridge starts on the ii chord of the key that’s up a minor third. Pause a moment to digest that - to “metabolize it!” We’re moving from the I chord of the home key, going up a third (m3 understood in that phrase), and when we get to the new key we’re landing on ii, setting up the key with good old ii-V-I, except that in relation to the old key (where the song started) it’s iv-bVII7-i minor. It’s good to realize the root movement from I to the ii of bIII is up a fourth but it would be patently wrong to continue with that logic. Look at how complicated B1 gets - we’re leading ourselves in the wrong direction - the chord roots make even less sense as we go along the errant path. If a song seems too complicated, we’re probably not onto the organization scheme. It’s always based on the same principles. To the tune of Wilson Pickett’s 634-5789, it’s 4-7-3 6-2-5-1! We’re always looking ahead, leading to the next downbeat, concluding a phrase, or playing up to the one. The joy and the challenge for us is to use the same tools, but to develop individually different approaches and answers within ours agreement on the tonality. We converse within a language. Like James Baldwin said, “The blues is a conversation, it’s not an argument.”

That’s a lot of text just to get to the bridge - which is strikingly in quite a different mood, and starts in a new key up a minor third. Here we go, we’re in the new key now: ii chord-dominant chord, surprise chord vi. Then vii half-diminished to III7b9 - or is this a V7 of the old key? Yes it is, we’re back to the old I chord - play it real pretty, now! That’s the first four of the bridge. Looking ahead, we’re going to modulate again. This time the key only moves up a half-step, measures 5-6 of the bridge are simply ii-V, I-vi. When modulating a half step up using a ii-V-I, the root movement from I of the old key is up a minor third - Lender’s Rule again - a pleasing root movement. We continue on with a parallel ii-V action, the 8th measure of the bridge drops down a half step compared to bar 7 and takes us back to the original key. And it’s a vanilla ii-V (does it have to be vanilla?) that sets up the return to the I7-bII7 vamp.

Da Capo - return to the head. Play the final A section, and conclude - create a Fine [
fi'ne or fine’ ?]. Or use the first ending to go back around again through the whole form. If invoking the D.C., measure 43 is a logical place for a I6, followed by some kind of a turn-around. If finishing the tune, maybe use the second ending and delay the I6 to bar 44, stopping short of the "pivot chord." A A B A in a “blues with a bridge” will be 12, 12, 8, 12 for a total of 44 measures. Sections start with: bar 1, bar 13, 25, 33. Sections are 1-12, 13-24, 25-32, 33-44. IV chord on the 12 bar blues measure 5, measure 17 etc... bla bla bla - there should be some kind of reward if you’ve read this far! And no, I don’t get paid by the word! I don’t get paid at all. But I have an "SSA grant" that makes my nut and allows me to do this!

Friday, February 16, 2018

Naima a Latin groove

This arrangement has been "stage tested." Unlike the original recording - there are no pedal tones! The bass progression and chord inversions are the result of careful consideration. A little rehearsal and the intention of the arrangement will become clear. Discussion is in the key of Ab. Block chart references Roman numerals - note there many chords on the flat scale degrees, i.e. bIII, bII, bVII, bVI. Whether they are dominant chords or major, their accompanying scales will have #4 - with the exception of the bIIIs in the bridge - Ionian with 4 as an "avoid note." The bridge could be thought of as a temporary modulation to bIII.

The last 4 bars of the A section ("cadence") are used as an intro and as a tag at the end. The first two chords are basically dominant 7b5 (7+11) chords, the melody is on the 13th. They could be voiced as "slash" chords: AMaj7+4/B and GMaj7+4/A.
The verse, letter A, starts with a Bbm7 (ii chord in Ab) that could be voiced as a Db triad over Bb in the bass - melody on C would be the 9th of a Bbm or Maj 7 of a Db chord. The second chord, GbMaj7b5, could also be considered as Ebm69/Gb, a bit of experimentation should yield the best inversion(s) for this one. Last 4 of the A section was used for the intro.

The bridge merits some discussion. First, the harmonic rhythm is sped up. The first 6 bars took 12 measures to realize in the ballad version. BMaj7 can be voiced as Ebm7/B, the Bb7 might be realized as a Bb13 (AbMaj7b5/Bb) - whatever "lays" best on your instrument. Measure 5 of the bridge, E7b5 (Lydian dominant) supports a high C# (13th of an E7), a DMaj7b5/E would work. The E7b5 is an accent chord, foreign to the progression, it doesn't, lead to another chord, so the goal is to "relax" back to the BMaj7 in bar 6.

Measures 7-10 of the bridge are back to the original harmonic rhythm (borrowed from the ballad version). The Fm7 (melody is on the 9th) inversion is maintained for two measures while the bass walks up to Bb. Drums (and other percussion) buoy things up with accents under the Bbsus, two eighth note pick-ups and long sustain on the Gb13 "surprise" chord. (EMaj7b5/Gb? Press roll bar 9?) Backing up for a moment: the bass anticipates the Bb ("an" beat of 4 in meas. 7) and remains on tempo in bar 8. Bar 9 could be 8 eighth notes on the root - and a ninth eighth note would mark the downbeat of measure 10. Then the whole orchestra gives up a grunt ("huh!") on beat two of measure 10. Drum pick-ups return us to the last A...

Simply repeat A A B A until solos are done, repeat the melody and continue on to the "Coda" which consists of a tag (repeat the last 4 two times) - and then there's a series of 3 plagal resolutions (church style IV - I), and a ritard to the final I chord. Drums control the ending!

Thursday, February 15, 2018


Miles Davis or Bill Evans? There has been much conjecture over who composed Nardis, but Evans himself allows that it was Miles who wrote it, even though it is more a part of Bill Evans' discography. Some of Bill Evans' titles were anagrams: NYC's No Lark = Sonny Clark (try a Sonny Clark station in your Pandora!), Re: Person I Knew = Orrin Keepnews (founder Riverside Records). My guess is that Nardis is simply "Sidran" spelled backwards (pianist/vocalist Ben Sidran). I visited to research the authorship. It was "jazz song of the week" in post #124, Jan. 13, 2012, a fascinating read.

At first glance it seems like a crazy hodge-podge of chords. The concluding major chord moving to minor on beat 4 of the next to last measure makes one wonder, is it supposed to be Middle-Eastern? But, apparently it's from Miles' modal period, so let's do a quick analysis and determine a best approach to playing this captivating tune.

My guess is that it's in Phrygian mode, based on iii of the key. The move from iii to IV, measures 1-2 is reminiscent of  "The World Is A Ghetto" by pop R&B group War. The VII chord in bar 3 is V of iii, with the I chord of the key sounding a lot like bVI of the iii chord in measure 4. Then 5 through 8 are still modal: vi-IV-III-iii. The major III chord in bar 7 is a classic use of a "surprise chord."

The bridge is vi-IV-vi-IV followed by ii-ii/V-I-IV. Another way to characterize the whole song would be to treat the Phrygian iii (which serves as a tonic) as though it were a minor i. Normally, it's preferable to think of minor key pieces in relation to their relative major because one rarely encounter unfamiliar progressions as minor harmony often transits to relative major. But just for fun, here's how Nardis translates if we make the Phrygian chord our root i:

                i-bII-V7-bVI    iv-bII-I-i    (rpt. 8)  
bridge:  iv-bII-iv-bII   bvii-bvii/bIII7-bVI-bI

Treating  iii of the key as if it were i introduced a minor bvii and several awkward chord shifts that don't confront us if we just relax and play in the key. After all, that's what modal is all about!

The rhythmic punches throughout the tune are very important for underlining the melody. Don't make it too complicated - a slow count, 2 beats per measure makes the quarter note anticipations into simple upbeats, and eighth note anticipations are simply a small omission from sixteenth note patterns. There's a triplet figure on beat 1 in bar 7 that could also be thought of as a quarter note shake or "turn" - helping us realize that measure 7 is merely a basic quarter-half-quarter syncopation, or eighth-quarter-eighth if counting in cut time.

The Masquerade Is Over

Please don't confuse this with George Benson's "This Masquerade." This is from the Great American Songbook, and there are many great recordings of The Masquerade Is Over. Nancy Wilson did it as a ballad with the Cannonball Adderley Quintet, and it has been recorded by Sarah Vaughan, Carmen McRae, Etta James, Aretha Franklin, Al Jarreau, Jimmy Scott, even George Benson - and this is not a comprehensive list! Instrumentally it's known as an alto sax tour de force: Sonny Stitt, Jackie McClean, Lou Donaldson, Sonny Criss among my favorites. Tenor players Gene Ammons and Ike Quebec did it, too.

In the late '50s Blue Note released jazz 45s (in addition to 33s) and many recordings featured Ray Barretto on congas. Lou Donaldson's Masquerade Is Over was one of them - always on the play list in my buddy Bill's '54  Buick, a two door hardtop with a "rake." Before 4 track tape, and before 8 track tape, you could have a 45 player in your car. The records played upside down and as each one finished, the spindle "keepers" opened just long enough to allow the record just played to drop down on a catcher tray. Coincidentally, one could find cookie cans at Walgreens that held 45s perfectly with just the right amount of margin around the edge. Passenger in charge of programming...

Masquerade Is Over was recorded in either F or Eb by the alto players, and I would guess that vocalists were all over the map when choosing their key, so here's the chart in Roman Numerals. There's a version by Lou Donaldson out at YouTube with his solo neatly transcribed!
Full title, (I'm Afraid) The Masquerade Is Over, is an A A B A form but it's 16-16-8-16. The first 12 of the A section are the same every time but the last 4 change, so there's 1st, 2nd and 3rd endings (3rd written as a Coda). If one simplifies all the ii-Vs to just the dominant chord, breaking the song into 4 measure chunks, here's what you get for the first 12:

    I-III-II-I7    IV-VI-II-V    I-I7-IV-bVII. 
     (remember bVII can "relax" back to I.)

First ending is a iii-VI-ii-V turn-around. 2nd ending has a quick iii/VI-ii/V in measures 29-30. The minor iii in measure 13 and 29 is a "substitute for I." 

Measures 31-32 rest on the tonic and a VI7 on the last two beats of bar 32 sets up the bridge that will start on ii. Note the bVII on the last two beats of bar 31 - sometimes added by convention to spice up the return to I. It could be voiced as minor iv/b7. Alternately the last two beats of 31 could be bVII-natural VII, a chromatic return to the I in bar 32.

The first 4 bars of the bridge can be simplified to V7-VI7-V7- Major I (again by ignoring the minor 7th chords preceding the dominants). Then in a surprise move the 1st chord in bar 5 of the bridge is a #iv half-diminished, a tritone away from the I. In the original key the second half of the bridge starts out #ivb5/VII - iii/VI9 - vi/II7 - ii/V to return us to the I of the A section. It can also be thought of as a sudden modulation to II Major: quick ii-Vs on VI7-V7-I7 in the new key followed by a quick ii/V in the original key.

The "Coda" (3rd ending) is similar to the 2nd ending but the I chord is more conclusive. With the 16-16-8-16 format, the very last measure becomes bar 56 - optionally a quick ii/V starting the song over for soloists or a final return to the melody. If there's a tag at the end, measures 53-54 would repeat. Ultimately, it's easier to play than describe, but sometimes it pays to zoom out and look at the overview.

Monday, February 12, 2018


Horace Silver

Although Horace wrote and recorded Peace as an instrumental in Bb, there is a wonderful vocal version by Lonnie Liston Smith. Donald Smith's vocal is splendid, and it was necessary to move to the key to C to accommodate his low G at the end of the piece.

The L. L. Smith version features a split keyboard allowing a string "wash" to complement the vocal, creating a 70s fusion feel. A lovely ballad with a great message - Horace wrote lyrics to many of his songs even though they were recorded instrumentally by his combo.
I've puzzled over exactly what is the guiding harmonic thought on the rubato beginning and the ending chord that allows the F# on the I chord (C major). My workaround is to simply use Bm/G (G Maj7) for the intro and ending chord. It might be considered as Cmaj7b5 but I think G Maj7 works OK.

The song is 10 measures at a slow tempo. At first glance one wonders, "how can I possibly remember this?" But after a few repetitions it becomes an easy and fun piece to play. I find it advantageous to look at this song in two measure segments:
After the initial rubato chord, letter "A" starts in the key of C major. The vocal pickup leads to an F natural, and the first chord is the vii of C major followed by an E7 altered dominant (V7 of vi minor) on beats 3 & 4. In measure 2 we get an Am7 followed by an Ab7. In the key of C that Ab7 would be a Lydian dominant leading down a half step, and instead we get a "surprise" chord to start measure 3.

Measures 3 & 4 feature a quick modulation back to C major after a short visit to Db major on the first two beats of bar 3. Beats 3 & 4 are a quick ii-V going back to C major in bar 4. The ii-V looks like it's going to resolve to Cm because it's vii-III7alt of Eb (relative major of C minor) and the C major chord of measure 4 is again a "surprise" chord.
The bass moves up a half-step to start measure 5 on a C#m9, beats 1 & 2, followed by an F#13, beats 3 & 4. The C#m9 could be voiced as E Maj7/C# and the F#13 could by voiced as E Maj7b5/F# - the only moving tone between those two chords would be B natural to B flat (A sharp of the F#13).
Measure 6 can be played several ways. First time around use a descending bass line B-A#-G#-F# under a B major I chord. Second time stay on B two beats then use the same descending run B-A#-G#-F# as eighth notes. A third method, behind solos, don't use the walk down...

Measures 5 & 6 were in the key of B major. Measure 7 is a modulation to Eb major. The F half-diminished is like a ii chord in Eb minor (vii of Gb) , but the choice of Bb13b9 leads nicely to an Eb69 for a I chord - again, a surprise chord. The listener was set up for a modulation to Eb minor but instead receives a lush Eb major. After a long slow 8 bars all that is left is to modulate back to C major.

Magically, in measure 9 we can evoke a vii-III7alt in the key of Eb (Dm7b5 --> G7alt), 2 beats on each chord, and then we're back home to C major as a surprise chord (instead of C minor). And we choose C Maj7 to represent the I chord for the four beats of measure 10 - although C6 or C69 could also work to define the "home" chord.

The last time through do a rubato repeat of measure 9 with fermatas over the Dm7b5 and G7alt chords. Follow the singer carefully, it's a long descending run to a low G! Then use Bm/G as the last chord. Peace!
By the way, these charts are saved as jpegs, and they can be easily downloaded.