Sonny Rollins "The Freedom Suite"

I transcribed this in a weekend earlier this year as a favor to a friend for a performance. Honestly, I was very unfamiliar with it prior to his approaching me for the transcription job.

One thing that struck me was how conventional it sounds for 1958. Between Sonny, Oscar Pettiford and Max Roach, they play it all pretty straight. It's a melodic series of improvisations and Pettiford's presence (I feel) helps to keep it tightly confined and on track. There's very little stretching out, harmonically speaking, on this chord-less trio date which may strike many listeners by surprise, as it did me. This is what a lifetime of studying John Coltrane will do to your perspective if you aren't careful. We are chronologically removed from the outgrowth of Coltrane's massive harmonic risks so that something like "Freedom Suite" sounds tame by comparison. It's impossible to compare Coltrane's 1960s works (which often featured piano-less trio) to this.

I was refreshed to find a great recording full of the many melodic links and themes that Rollins so well-known for, so I highly recommend it. Throughout the entire 19-minute suite, however, I find myself listening to the drums more closely each time. Roach's melodic playing make this recording special with his weaving of time and interesting rhythms guided by a concentration on the melody above all. I've put my transcription here for all to enjoy, study and (hopefully) perform in the interest of keeping these experiments alive and well.

Freedom Suite - Score

Freedom Suite - Tenor Sax

Freedom Suite - Bass

Freedom Suite - Drums

I did enjoy a (very slight) hint of the famous "Giant Steps" chord progression in the opening improvisation section. While this pre-dates Coltrane's eponymous album by a year, it's interesting to hear the device as a neat little bebop trick before Coltrane expanded it so dramatically.

Favorite intros and codas

Composer Darcy James Argue sent out a tweet that piqued my interest over the past weekend. https://twitter.com/darcyjamesargue/status/457670302273912832

He then proceeded to retweet several great responses. I've listed as many as I can here for a quick reference; partly because I think that everyone should see the true value of Twitter, and partly because I am a lazy blogger who struggles to update with more original material.

There are several more great mentions that you can find in @darcyjamesargue's feed. I suppose the only major missing example would be Louis Armstrong's dramatic 1928 reinvention of "West End Blues".

I've made a (partial) playlist here for easy reference. Enjoy!

Miles, Mulligan and more

On February 10, I will again be performing Miles Davis' classic The Birth of the Cool organized and led by my dear friend Thomas Helton. This concert will be slightly different, however, in that it will feature three new arrangements by yours truly written specifically for the nonet. In addition to that, the second half of the concert will feature the various incarnations of the famous Gerry Mulligan Quartets.

Birth of the Cool
Birth of the Cool

This concert is being produced by Richard Nunemaker for the Houston Tuesday Music Club on Sunday, February 10 at Emerson Unitarian Church at 4pm.You can hear Thomas, Richard and myself discussing the concert on KUHF's "The Front Row" by clicking here.

Of the new arrangements, I chose to write three features, one each for alto saxophone ("Opus de Funk"), trombone ("Lament") and baritone saxophone ("Ghengis"). Here's a playlist of the concert, in backwards order:

"Opus de Funk" is really just a transcription and re-orchestration from the 1959 album, Art Pepper + Eleven: Modern Jazz Classics. While the original Birth of the Cool selections are wonderful, there isn't a straightforward blues among any of them. This recording has long been one of my favorites, with plenty of room for the alto to blow through the blues. That, plus the excellent arrangement by Marty Paich make this a great pairing to the original album (and great practice for me to learn how the unusual nonet instrumentation can be handled).

"Lament" is trombonist J.J. Johnson's well-known jazz ballad. I wanted to pay tribute to Johnson's presence on the original recordings and feature his talents as a great writer, since this ballad is truly one of the best written in the idiom. My arrangement sought to capture the "Gil Evans sound" heard most prominently on "Moon Dreams". There were many things to consider here: where to draw the  line on using dissonance, Gil's careful placement of voicing, the development of the main theme throughout the piece, and so on. It was a real challenge, as students of Gil Evans' style are surely aware.

Finally, I chose "Ghengis" from Gil's Guests written by the late, obscure multi-saxophonist Gil Mellé. Mellé was a bit of a renaissance man in modern music, he dabbled in various ensemble sizes and structures, had a strong interest in atonal music and unusual forms and was even a featured painter on several jazz LPs of his peers in the late 1940s. "Ghengis" is an unusual tune with an unusual construction. The melody itself is raw and atonally inclined, with several instruments providing a (somewhat) pointillistic melodic shape. While the tune is just a head arrangement, there is an obvious tape splice to include the improvised solos before returning to this head to end the piece. Mellé's baritone sax is front and center, however, and the original arrangement made for a great place to jump off and experiment with combinations and sounds within the nonet.

Enjoy the music and I'll see you at the concert!

Houston's jazz history

I've decided that something needs to be done to aggregate and organize all the information relevant to this city's expansive jazz history. Therefore, I'll start putting all the collected information that I can find in one place, and you can find it here: http://ryangabbart.com/music/houston-jazz-history/ I'll post the significant updates here on the blog, but I invite everyone to contribute submissions by either emailing me directly or posting a link in the comments section of the History page. Photos, articles, videos and interviews are welcome (and needed!). Eventually I'll be able to categorize and sort everything for quick access via search.

Can't talk. Busy.

It's been a busy semester, which may not actually make me special (no matter how much I think it does), but I'd like to take some time out to chart this fall's ups, downs and everything in between.  

Teaching

I'm still rehearsing the MSM Jazz Ensemble, but I've also added to my load with a music appreciation class this semester. Instructing a class is a lot of work, even my little class! While I never thought I'd be on the other side of the grade book, I have found it to be an enjoyable experience. Teaching students how to comprehend music has been an exhausting challenge, one that I hope I've been successful at. The learning curve has been difficult, though. Preparing lectures, organizing materials for presentation, handouts & guidelines for assignments, grading those assignments takes a lot more time than expected.

My big goal has been  to offer solid, practical advice on understanding jazz music as an art form. The ability to communicate one's thoughts are critical, and I only hope that I've sharpened some students' skills when it comes to expressing their opinions more clearly. It's a lofty goal, I know. But one that I'm interested in seeing accomplished, if only marginally. Between the classroom and the rehearsal room, I'm constantly telling people that they need to be clear in their message. My days are filled with a longing forclarity. This is most certainly a metaphor for my life, I just haven't pinpointed exactly what yet. Too busy.

There have been some great moments, however. My favorite comment from my class this semester has been from this listening journal entry (in reference to this video of the Stan Kenton Orchestra):

It's the first time I've seen a big band drop all of their instruments and sing together with June Christy. The sound is good but honestly the lyrics ruin the song I think. It's almost like they are complaining about all the cheap products in Mexico. Nobody likes a complainer. June Christy's voice is good though. Malaguena >Tampico

And my favorite quote from another jazz history class: "Jazz is more profound when it doesn't help pay the bills."

JAZZ: The Smithsonian Anthology

Speaking of jazz, history and jazz history...did you know that the Smithsonian Folkways label is releasing an updated collection of jazz recordings? It's about time, since their last update was nearly 30 years ago. With it, there is a revised track listing and several [drumroll] NEW recordings! There's a better representation of the last 60 years, especially, with a more diverse selection of cool, hard bop and avant-garde artists. It seems that they could have done a better job with newer material from the past 15 years, but I appreciate the inclusion of newer artists all the same. Maybe a completely new set featuring jazz music from 1970 and onward? Just a thought.

As part of their marketing campaign for the new set, Smithsonian Folkways has posted a jazz history listening test for all 111 tracks. If you're on limited time (like me) you can also take the shortened 25-track test. I'm pleased to say that I named all 25 fairly easy: usually identifying the artist better than the song title.

Infographic Madness!

The Beatles are the J.S. Bach of popular music. Their output is both prolific and incredibly influential. More than any other pop group EVER. Time well tell, but I'm fairly certain that I'm correct in this assumption. Which is why there are so many analytical and historical reports on the guys. As a musician, though, I get totally excited whenever I see study of their musical compositions, like this infographic:

Click to enlarge

Michael Deal did a great job of compiling several strains of information (from song keys to lyrics to collaborations) on the Beatles, resulting in this fantastic page of graphic goodness. For a complete musical analysis of their output, I suggest reading The Beatles As Musicians: Revolver through the Anthology by Walter Everett.

winter Project

I'm loving the recording of "Love for Sale" by the Miles Davis Sextet on The '58 Sessions album. Especially noteworthy is Cannonball Adderley's solo. I need to transcribe this and use it in an arrangement for big band. I've never spent a lot of time listening to The '58 Sessions, but if my Listening to Jazz class has done anything for me on a personal level, it's been a joyful revisiting and rediscovering of jazz classics.