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.

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!

Transcription: "Jackson" by Slavic Soul Party!

In my efforts to keep this thing going, I give you my transcription of "Jackson" by the great Slavic Soul Party! Transcribing this was a fun day for me. Coincidentally, this an open invitation to all Slavic Soul Party! members to double-check my work.

Jackson - PDF

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!

Here's to you, Dad.

A musical memoir for this Father's Day. My youth is drenched in the blues-inspired guitar rock that was in constant rotation in my dad's car and at home. Artists like Stevie Ray Vaughn, Jimi Hendrix, Albert King, Eric Clapton and ZZ Top can give a rough outline of his musical tastes from the 80s to late 90s. Classic rock staples like The Beatles, The Who, Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd were strictly forbidden, as they were deemed "too poppy" by Dad. As all young children do, I blindly agreed with Dad's position. The British Invasion and soul music would have to wait for me until my late teens when I moved out on my own.

Despite this, I still remember being exposed to a variety of good music living at home. Rock, blues, country and everything in between was played. But it was Dad's passion for the guitar solo that affected me in such a way that led to my pursuit for finding (and critically listening to) the perfect instrumental performance. Before I ever began to study music, I remember listening to SRV's Texas Flood endlessly, memorizing each note of every solo and the way it sounded. I would often sing it back trying to mimic with the right articulation. Anything was fair game because I was learning: Santana's "Oye Como Va", Clapton's "Layla", Hendrix's "Fire" and even (the forbidden) Jimmy Page's solo on "Heartbreaker". It was the kind of active listening that is required of any serious music student, and I can still sing most of these solos verbatim today.

I strongly recall evenings listening together with Dad to his old LPs and discovering all the cool music that he listened to in high school and college. I remember my excitement when I first heard Jimi Hendrix's "Gypsy Eyes" for the first time and my initial puzzlement at Buddy Guy's guitar style. There were also occasions when we took a timeout while woodworking in the garage to hear Albert King deliver another furious guitar solo ("Crosscut Saw" was always my favorite). These are memories that I still treasure and these days, I understand how great it must be to experience those moments with your son.

Dad's passion for music was always there, and it's proven to be a strong bond between us still. There are so many lessons and skills that the man taught me over the years, but I think this was the one that he never planned out. When I think of all the times I was chauffeured to and from band rehearsals or lessons or gigs or whatever else, Dad was more than happy to be there. Mom and Dad both were, really. I can't neglect my mom's constant support of my musical path. They loved to hear what I was doing even when they didn't like or understand the music I was pursuing in the same way that I did.

I'm sure that he was eventually won over (even just a little) by my involvement in jazz, ska and reggae music, too. Dad always had an open ear and an opinion of my practice sessions, recordings and live shows, for better or worse. That kind of communication meant a lot in those formative days, because he was my first critic of content and taste. It's because of my dad that I was able to find the path that I've been on for as long as I can remember.

Thanks Dad. I'm eternally grateful.