Monday, September 29, 2014

Warne Marsh, John Lewis

I've posted a few tunes from Tristano and his students in the past. Here's one that was written by Warne Marsh, Dixie's Dilemma. A contrafact on Jerome Kern's classic All The Things You Are, the tune's title has a colorful and vulgar story behind it that I won't summarize here. As with most of the Tristano school's compositions, this one is beautiful, clever, and difficult.

It's all the more remarkable considering that both Marsh and fellow saxophonist Ted Brown play this composition on tenor saxophone, a real workout of the horn's altissimo range.

I've also decided to take a crack at Milestones, a composition written by either Miles Davis or John Lewis, depending on which source you believe. While original credit for the composition went to Charlie Parker, almost every contemporary source disagrees with this. But whether the actual author was Miles Davis or John Lewis remains a matter of some dispute, even among prominent writers. Feather (1949, p. 18), Yanow (2000, p. 76), Koch (1988, p. 103) and Tingen (2001, p. 29) credit Davis, while Giddins (1998, p. 340), Priestly (2005, p. 59), and Szwed (2002, p. 60) credit Lewis. Giddins includes elaborate anecdotal information about the recording session, and asserts that the tune was written "as a gift" from Lewis to Davis. So until I hear a compelling contradiction to this story, I'll go with Lewis as the author of Milestones.

As always, your input is welcome. Post a comment!

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Two Compositions by Dennis Sandole

(Hey everyone. On August 12th, we hit 20,000 views. Thanks for helping this blog grow!)

Dennis Sandole is a prodigiously influential figure in jazz history who is generally unknown; many jazz encyclopedias don't have entries for him.  Best known as having been a teacher of John Coltrane (beginning in 1946), Sandole was a skilled guitarist, innovative composer and deep musical thinker.

Dennis Sandole
I don't have any new information to add to the life story of Dennis Sandole, so I'll just recap what you can find with a quick Google search. Sandole was born in Philadelphia in 1913. Self-taught as a guitarist, he worked as a staff musician at MGM Studios in Hollywood for several years beginning in the 1930's. In the 1940's he returned to Philadelphia where he taught at the Granoff School of Music, founded by Isadore Granoff. During that period he appeared on recordings by the Tommy Dorsey and Charlie Barnet bands. He also performed with the Ray McKinley and Boyd Raeburn bands.

The Brothers Sandole, Modern Music from Philadelphia
Fantasy 3-209
In 1955, Dennis and his brother Adolph gathered an ensemble of top New York and Philadelphia musicians to record their compositions. Featured on the recording are Art Farmer, George Barrow, Teo Macero, Milt Hinton, and others. The recordings were released by Fantasy records, a major jazz label who also had released recordings of Dave Brubeck, Cal Tjader, and Vince Guaraldi. The Sandole recordings came out as a 10" record called "Modern Music from Philadelphia" (which was reissued on CD by Fantasy Records in 2001 as "The Sandole Brothers & Guests").

Sandole's only other recording as a leader looks to be a record called "Compositions and Arrangements for Guitar" (1958), also released by Fantasy, but this item appears to be fantastically obscure. Mike Callahan lists the album in an exhaustive Fantasy Album Discography, and the All Music Guide makes mention of it, but neither provide any other information. WorldCat doesn't list it, and the Library of Congress doesn't have it. I haven't checked Lord's Discography yet.

In any case, after the Fantasy releases, Sandole continued to be active as a teacher, but I cannot find any recordings on which he appears, either as a leader or as a sideman. In fact, no other recordings of Sandole were commercially available until 1999, when Cadence released a compilation of Sandole's various projects, including some extremely rare quartet recordings from 1958 with pianist Al Del Governatore, bassist Wendell Marshall, and drummer Frank Young. The fidelity is poor, but the compositions are stunningly original, and I think earn Sandole a spot alongside Charlie Parker, George Russell, Thelonious Monk, and Lennie Tristano as a major figure in post-war jazz.

Sandole's composition "Dark Bayou" was recorded by Charlie Barnet's Orchestra in 1946. He co-wrote the breezy "High On An Open Mike" with fellow Philadelphian Charlie Ventura, who recorded the tune with his orchestra in 1949 and performed it live. And in the 1960's, his compositions were featured on albums by Art Farmer and James Moody.

Among Sandole's students were John Coltrane, Pat Martino, Jim Hall, James Moody, Benny Golson, Michael Brecker, Stanley Clarke, and Matthew Shipp. He wrote at least two books, one of which, Guitar Lore, has been published. Sandole died in September 2000.

Here are two of Sandole's compositions. I'm working on several more which I'll post in the future.

Wayward Plaint was recorded by James Moody in 1964, and Michael Grossman recorded it in 1997. I'm not aware of any other recordings of the tune.

To my knowledge, the only recording of Monody is on the above-mentioned Dennis Sandole Project CD, put out by Cadence in 1999. It's beautiful and strange, as you'll find out if you play it.

Additional reading:

Matthew Shipp's recollections about his studies with Sandole.

- A powerpoint presentation called "The Unique Jazz Pedagogy of Dennis Sandole" by Thomas Scott McGill, which includes scanned images of Sandole's lesson assignments.

- A blog post by a trumpeter Bart Miltenberger who studied with Sandole.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Rhodes part on "It's About That Time"

Ahoy hoy! Earlier this summer, I received the following comment:

A close listen to the recording suggests two things: 1) there is some sort of core voice leading going on that is more or less the same throughout, and 2) Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea are each adding their own alterations to these core voices, and change these each time. So, without digging into the rich alterations used by Corea and Hancock, I think this is a close approximation to what they were working with:

(To download MIDI file click here.)

To hear the passage I listened to for this, begin at 4:57 of this video.

I'm not especially happy with the 4th chord, but I think the others are pretty close. I'm very interested to hear what other people think. Post a comment!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

George Russell - Part Two

I'm not keen on explaining myself to "The Internet", but I feel that a 14-month delay deserves a bit of background, especially when it bears directly on the subject at hand.

When I planned on doing a two-part feature on George Russell's compositions, I had already transcribed both "Lydiot" and "Ezz-Thetic". I had consulted various recordings of the latter, eventually settling on what I took to be the "definitive" version: the version on Russell's Jazz Workshop (rec'd in 1956). I also referred to his recording from a few years later entitled Ezz-Thetics (1961).

Russell's Jazz Workshop (1956)

But as I continued my research, I realized that there were many recordings of "Ezz-Thetic", and almost all of them were different in some key ways. I'll return to this point as we go along. Let's first get to the tune.

In a post from April 2013, I mentioned that Max Roach characterized modern jazz in New York as having an "uptown" and "downtown" school. The uptown school was defined by the crowd that included Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, and the downtown school was defined by Lennie Tristano and his various students (especially Lee Konitz and Warne Marsh). Of course, these schools were not homogenous and isolated; collaborations and sharing of ideas was commonplace. But they had their definite identities that can be heard in the music. (think about the difference between Miles Davis' "Donna Lee" and Lennie Tristano's "Wow"!)

George Russell's "Ezz-Thetic" was written in 1948, but it has a strikingly idiosyncratic sound, even compared to both the uptown and downtown schools. Tristano, Monk, and others experimented with dissonance, but not like this. Russell's melody stretches the harmonic structure of Cole Porter's "Love For Sale" to its limits, nearly tearing it to pieces:

(A lot of information that was available to the band on the recording date that is missing here. But this lead sheet should be enough to get you started.)

The composition is easily Russell's most well-known, having been recorded in 1951 for Prestige by a group led by Lee Konitz which included Miles Davis. (By the way, this recording is a great example of how the uptown and downtown schools worked together: Konitz, pianist Sal Mosca, bassist Arnold Fishkin and guitarist Billy Bauer were all Tristano-ites, and were working with Davis and Max Roach.) Russell himself recorded "Ezz-Thetic" at least three times, and versions also exist by Grant Green and Max Roach. In addition, the New York Contemporary Five (led by Archie Shepp) used the introductory statement of "Ezz-Thetic" as a sign-off to end their shows. Russell even wrote an arrangement for Charlie Parker and strings, but this was never recorded.

Russell's Ezz-Thetics (1961)

Transcribing "Ezz-Thetic" was challenging, not just because of the angularity of the melody, but because in each recording, there are slight differences made to the melody's notes and rhythms. For example, compare bars 5-6 of the version on Russell's Jazz Workshop and Ezz-Thetics recordings:

Ex. 1

with Grant Green's recording (Solid, rec'd 1964):

Ex. 2

Green's recording, which features saxophonists James Spauling and Joe Henderson, is different from Russell's in a number of other ways, and deserves a lead sheet of its own. As a second example, compare the last two bars of the bridge on three versions. First, the version from Russell's Jazz Workshop and Ezz-Thetics:

Ex. 3

Note the ascending 1-2-1 (semitone - whole tone - semitone) relationship in the second bar of the example, resulting in a downward major-3rd needed to return to the tonic. Next, the same two bars in Green's version:

Ex. 4

In this case, an ascending 1-2-2 (semi-whole-whole tone) relationship is heard. But this is jarringly different in Lee Konitz's version (The New Sounds, Prestige, rec'd 1951), in which he swaps the Eb and E(nat):

Ex. 5

On the Prestige recording, the head out consists just of one playing of the tune's A section, so we don't get to hear Konitz play this version of the bridge again. But if we fast-forward by 35 years, we can find another version recorded by Konitz in which he plays the same figure. (Ideal Scene, Soul Note 1986). If we wish to pursue the matter further, we can look to Konitz's duo record with pianist Harold Danko entitled Wild as Springtime. On both the alternate and the master take, Konitz (in unison with Danko) plays the figure in Ex. 5.

Such examples present us with some philosophical puzzles that are beyond the scope of this blog post, but which are partly responsible for the 14-month delay in its publication! One thing is clear: It's disingenuous to say that Konitz, Green, Henderson, etc. were all playing the tune "wrongly". (Especially when you consider that Russell himself wrote the bridge as Ex. 5 for his New York Band... see Live in an American Time Spiral, rec'd 1982) So the whole debate just seems a little dumb: try your best to respectfully represent the tune, whether you're transcribing it or whether you're playing it.

Lee Konitz, The New Sounds

So that's my excuse for the delay on part 2. Oh yeah, I also moved to Nashville, got a dog, and got married.

[In researching this blog post, I came upon the doctoral dissertation of Peter Kenagy, which provided very useful details about Russell's Jazz Workshop album. Thanks for your work, Peter.]