Friday, May 31, 2013

George Russell - Part One

George Russell (1925-2009) is one of the most important figures in 20th century music. As a theorist, his Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization introduced the concept of chordmode, which synthesized horizontal (linear) and vertical (chordal) pitch organization into a single principle. A similar principle had already been known to Western theory since the Baroque period, but Russell articulated it in terms of contemporary jazz practice, at a time in American history when Baroque music theory would have been inaccessible (for obvious reasons) to many practicing jazz musicians.

The LCC was first published in 1953, but only a handful of copies were made. It saw a second, more prolific printing in 1959, at a time when more and more colleges were hiring jazz musicians as faculty members. Russell's chordmode idea influenced David Baker, whose student, Jamey Aebersold, would later build a publishing franchise out of the idea.

As a result, Russell's ideas became and remain the cornerstones of contemporary jazz education, although this contribution of his is seldom recognized, and few (if any) of his compositions have entered the "standards" repertoire.

Russell was also an inspired composer and arranger. In the late 1940's he wrote large ensemble works for Benny Carter, Dizzy Gillespie, Ella Fitzgerald, Charlie Parker, and Artie Shaw. Throughout his life he wrote and directed many major works, and led various small groups in America and Europe. In 1969 he joined the faculty at Boston's New England Conservatory of Music, a position he held until 2004. He received three Guggenheim fellowships (1969, 1972 and 1980), six NEA fellowships (1969, 1976, 1979, 1980, 1981 and 1985) and a MacArthur fellowship (1989).

As a pianist, Russell had a probing, rhythmic style, highly inspired by Duke Ellington and Thelonious Monk, and somewhat reminiscent of the early Cecil Taylor.

George Russell - Lydiot

To my knowledge, the first recording of this tune was on Russell's 1960 large ensemble recording Jazz in the Space Age. It was recorded again the following year on his sextet recording Ezz-thetics. The two versions are slightly different; this transcription is from the latter source. It's a pretty typical Russell tune, a sort of Schoenbergian post-bop line.

I'm not too sure about the chords. I listened carefully to Steve Swallow's basslines and Russell's chords, and this is what I came up with. As always, feedback is welcome.

I'm working on a transcription of Russell's composition "Ezz-thetic", which I'll post next time. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Wayne Shorter - Face of the Deep

Wayne Shorter - Face of the Deep

This song is transcribed from Shorter's fourth Blue Note LP, The All Seeing Eye. Recorded in one day (October 15th, 1965), the record featured his most ambitious composing and arranging to date. Shorter's record-buying audience would have gone straight to this from 1965's Speak No Evil (recorded in December 1964); a huge musical leap, even considering the "missing links": The Soothsayer and Etcetera. I call these "missing links" because although these were recorded in March and June 1965 (respectively), they apparently weren't released until 1979 or 1980.

The material on The All Seeing Eye was written for septet. The group featured Shorter, trumpeter Freddie Hubbard, trombonist Grachan Moncur III, alto saxophonist/flautist James Spaulding, and a rhythm section of pianist Herbie Hancock, bassist Ron Carter and drummer Joe Chambers. (Wayne's brother Alan Shorter replaces Hubbard on the final selection, "Mephistopheles", a tune which was also recorded on the Marion Brown date which the JTA previously featured.)

Therefore, this transcription should be considered a "piano reduction" of whatever the actual score may have looked like.

This transcription is a collaborative effort between myself and Michael Malis, a pianist, composer and teacher living in Detroit. Mike's a good friend of mine -- we were both students of Geri Allen at the University of Michigan. You can learn more about him by checking out his website. Thanks for the collaboration, Mike! (For the record, Mike did the initial transcription. I made some edits, which Mike agreed with.)

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Lennie Tristano, Wally Cirillo & Claude Thornhill

Hey everyone

Today the JTA just hit a milestone: 10,000 hits! That's pretty cool, considering I've done practically nothing to promote this page. I'm happy that so many people are finding it useful and interesting.

Here are a couple new charts to celebrate: two from the Tristano camp and one from Claude Thornhill's book.

Also, don't forget: The Jazz Transcript Authority is based on an open-source model, which means you can feel free to contribute your own transcriptions of tunes. Just email them to You can also feel free to point out corrections that you feel should be made to the transcriptions which I've posted, kind of like a peer-review site. The goal is to come up with the most accurate transcription possible, and that's easier when multiple sets of ears comb through these tunes. Please post comments with your suggestions if you hear something differently than me.

Billy Bauer - Marionette

(Update Sept. 2015: I just learned that this tune was written by guitarist Billy Bauer, not by Tristano. I apologize for the error.)

Tristano and his students/bandmates wrote so many good tunes that are hardly ever played today. Yet Tristano was, even in his day, regarded as a major figure in the modern jazz movement (Max Roach called Tristano's group the "Downtown School", while the group around Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie was the "Uptown School") I think it's because few people ever take the time to transcribe them, and whatever transcriptions exist circulate very slowly, if at all. Even the tunes included in the 2nd Real Book Vol. II ("Lennie's Pennies", "April", etc.) have failed to become standards. In any case, here's one of his more well-known sides, taken from his influential May 1949 session.

Wally Cirillo - Transeason

One of the many unique contrafacts to come out of the Tristano school. This one is based on "All The Things You Are", a tune which Charles Mingus was particularly fond of manipulating in various ways. I don't know much about Wally Cirillo, but I do know he was a student of Tristano's. The sole recording of this piece is from January 1955, with Teo Macero playing tenor saxophone, Mingus playing bass, and Kenny Clarke playing drums. Oddly enough, although the melody of the tune is in Bb, the solo section modulates back to Ab, the standard instrumental key of "All The Things You Are".

Claude Thornhill - Snowfall

While technically it's spring, we're still getting through the last of our cold weather here in Michigan and I fully expect one more massive blizzard before springtime bliss. Just play this tune, it'll get you through the remaining cold days. (And don't transpose it either! C'mon, shed your altered dominants and have some fun.)