Monday, December 17, 2012

Two Tunes by Don Ellis

Hello everyone!

Dec. 17th 2012 marks the 34th anniversary of the death of the trumpeter Don Ellis. A 1956 graduate of Boston University's music composition department, he began his career playing trumpet in the Glenn Miller (Ray McKinley, cond.), Charlie Barnett and Maynard Ferguson bands. In the late 50's he recorded with Charles Mingus and in the early 1960's joined George Russell's influential sextet. It was also at this time that Ellis began recording as a bandleader, releasing three albums between 1960 and 1962.

His first, called "How Time Passes", borrows its name from the title of an essay by Karlheinz Stockhausen. The album was recorded in early October 1960 and featured a top-tier rhythm section of pianist Jaki Byard (who also doubles on alto sax), bassist Ron Carter and drummer Charlie Persip. Here are two tunes from this album:

Don Ellis - Sallie

A very lyrical melody, which could easily have words written to it. Note the casual way in which the dissonant F and D are used in the final B major chord. The influence of George Russell is palpable throughout this album, and especially in this bar.

My apologies for the switching between the keys of B and Cb. I try to let the melody lead the way when I transcribe, but if I hold to that exclusively, sometimes the melody demands a double-sharp chord symbol or something outlandish like that. I also find that mid-tune key changes can be distracting. I have tried to make the tune as readable and intuitive as possible. If someone has suggestions to make this clearer, I'm all ears.

Don Ellis - A Simplex One

 A tune which betrays a heavy Thelonious Monk influence. The progression near the end borrows from the harmonic progression of John Coltrane's "Giant Steps", which had only been known for about two years when "A Simplex One" was recorded. The two melodies may be played separately or simultaneously. The second melody may be an experiment with a 12-tone row idea.

Ellis' later work is much more well-known than these early records. In 1965 he formed the Don Ellis Orchestra, which stunned the audience at the 1966 Monterey Jazz Festival. By the late 60's the band had garnered a following among younger audiences, playing at many colleges and making a famous appearance at the Fillmore West alongside the Quicksilver Messenger Service. Ellis had also become involved in recording soundtracks, contributing to the soundtrack of Roman Polanski's "Rosemary's Baby". In 1972 his Orchestra recorded the soundtrack to the hit film "The French Connection", and continued to perform widely. In 1975, Ellis suffered from a heart attack which set him back quite considerably, although he was performing again by 1976. After continuing to have heart problems, Ellis stopped playing drums with his Orchestra, and eventually stopped performing altogether. He suffered a fatal heart attack on Dec. 17th, 1978.

Don Ellis 1934-1978

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Faruq Z. Bey

Faruq Z. Bey passed away on June 1st, 2012. I'm reposting this in his honor, and I'm working on some other transcriptions which I will post in the coming weeks.

Faruq Z. Bey - After Death
Originally posted Oct. 20th, 2009

A very influential figure in the history of jazz in Detroit, Bey was the involved with the Tribe collective in the 1970's. He led Griot Galaxy throughout the 1980's, a group which received fairly wide acclaim. The band sounded like a meeting of mid-70's Miles Davis and Sun Ra: brief ostinato-driven compositions giving way to intense modal/free improvisations. This particular piece was an important part of Bey's repertoire, both with Griot Galaxy and later with the Northwoods Improvisers.

The song appears on:

Griot Galaxy - "Opus Krampus" [CD Reissue]
Northwoods Improvisers w/ Faruq Z. Bey - "19 Moons"
Northwoods Improvisers w/ Faruq Z. Bey - "Infa'a"

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Marion Brown / Ornette Coleman

Hey everyone -- It's been a while. Grad school is no walk in the park. But fortunately I've been keeping up with my tune transcribing, for various shows and groups. Here are a couple new ones:

Marion Brown - "Capricorn Moon"

A nice little tune, used as a vehicle for extended modal/free solos (the album version is more than 20 minutes long). This is the opening track on The Marion Brown Quartet (1966), featuring trumpeter Alan Shorter, drummer Rashied Ali, and bassists Reggie Johnson and Ronnie Boykins (from Sun Ra's band). Bennie Maupin also plays on the album, but is not on this track.

A few towering figures often define the New York jazz avant-garde of the 1960's: John Coltrane, Albert Ayler, Ornette Coleman, Cecil Taylor, Pharaoh Sanders... we often forget about figures like John Tchicai, Don Pullen, Alan Silva, Bill Dixon and Marion Brown, who were engaged with similar lines of inquiry: new ways of approaching improvisation, and new ways of blending it with composition. ESP-Disk' is an indispensable source for documentation of this very important musical scene.

Ornette Coleman - "Street Woman" 

Recorded in the early 70's, released on Science Fiction (1972). This album is a hodge-podge of elements tossed together, and slow-cooked to perfection. We hear many of Ornette's frequent collaborators like Charlie Haden, Ed Blackwell, Billy Higgins, Don Cherry and Dewey Redman, as well as a few fairly uncommon collaborators. For example, trumpeter Bobby Bradford, and New York Philharmonic trumpeters Gerard Schwarz (1973-1978) and Carmine Fornarotto (1962-1994). Additionally, two tracks feature the remarkable singer Asha Puthli, in some of her earliest recordings (she can also be heard on Peter Ivers' Take It Out On Me, and she has numerous excellent solo albums). Poet David Henderson can be heard on the title track. The album's production team is to credit as well, for they help to create the strange aural space that much of the album possesses. Engineers Stan Tonkel, Russ Payne, and producer James Jordan: props. James Jordan, also produced Coleman's Skies of America, as well as his most recent release Sound Grammar (check out this blog's very first post for a transcription of "Jordan" from this album)

Also, I haven't forgotten about "Splashdown"! In fact, it's almost done. I just need to figure out the weird keyboard/bass interlude... In the next post, I'll share a couple transcriptions of tunes by Giuseppi Logan, to me one of the oddest figures from the ESP-Disk' scene.