Two Hot 7 Transcriptions

I have transcribed Louis Armstrong’s playing on two Hot 7 recordings from May 1927 – ‘Wild Man Blues’, and ‘Potato Head Blues’.

Louis Armstrong – Wild Man Blues

Louis Armstrong – Potato Head Blues

I have transcribed Louis’ playing on the whole recording of each of these as it is also interesting to see what he plays in the ensemble passages. The other musicians on both recordings are Johnny Dodds (clt), John Thomas (tbn), Lil Armstrong (pno), Johnny St Cyr (gtr/bjo), Pete Briggs (tba) and Baby Dodds (dr). The addition of a tuba playing the bass line (generally on beats 1 and 3) really adds something to the ensemble, while Baby Dodds on drums doesn’t really add much except for the classic cymbal hit on beat 4 of the last bar. However, these two recordings are all about Louis, his virtuosity shining through and dominating in both tunes.

‘Wild Man Blues’ opens with a brief 8 bar ensemble passage, before Louis takes over with his solo. Throughout the solo (and Johnny Dodds’ clarinet solo after) the rhythm section play accompanying chords for two bars and then drop out leaving the soloist on their own for two bars. Louis switches seamlessly between a bluesy triplet feel and a faster double time feel (represented by the semiquavers in the transcription), gliding through different registers with ease. Despite the title, the form is not a 12 bar blues, but much of Louis’ playing has a bluesy sound to it (for example, the use of the ‘blue note’ C# in bars 14 and 26). Following Dodds’ clarinet solo an even briefer 4 bar ensemble passage ends the piece.

‘Potato Head Blues’ is also not a 12 bar blues and has a classic Dixieland feel to it. The opening melody is performed by Louis with the clarinet and trombone improvising counter melodies, up to bar 31 where a 2 bar trumpet break leads to a restrained and melodic 16 bar solo from Louis over a new set of chord changes. Dodds then solos over the chords of the initial 32 bar section, before a 4 bar banjo break sets up an explosive solo from Louis over stop time rhythmic accompaniment – this time, a chord played on the first beat of every other bar. This solo is regarded as a classic, and rightly so – Louis plays some beautifully melodic phrases coupled with exciting rhythmic ideas and complete control over his instrument. Then after 32 bars the rest of the ensemble steam in again and Louis powerfully leads everyone home in the final 16 bar section.

A note about the chord symbols in the transcriptions – I have tried to write the actual chords played on the recordings as accurately as possible, although in some cases there is some ambiguity when, for example, different musicians play different chords (for example, bar 25 of ‘Potato Head Blues’ where Louis outlines a concert G7 chord the note played by the tuba is a B flat). The chord symbols are approximations of what I think I hear going on which is why they might differ from chorus to chorus. One place I had a real problem was bar 126 where there doesn’t really seem to be a consensus amongst the musicians as to what chord they are playing – in the corresponding bar of the first section it sounds like a concert E7 chord so I have put this again in brackets.

I am starting to get an idea of some of the key elements of Louis’ playing. Here is a preliminary list (I will be going into more detail in future):

  • SOUND – what an incredible sound, and an absolutely ridiculous vibrato! I personally can’t get a vibrato anywhere near that, but it is coming along….
  • Rhythm – Louis generates rhythmic interest and propulsion from the juxtaposition of short and long notes, as well as syncopation. His short notes are very short, and the long notes often tinged with vibrato (something Woody Shaw also often does).
  • Generally higher use of arpeggios rather than scalic ideas
  • Common use of rips up to high notes

 

New Year

Wow, it’s been a while since my last post……… I graduated from college last June, and since then I have been pretty busy and not really had the time or inclination to do any more transcriptions or analyses. But now the new year has arrived, I have to decided to focus once again on this blog, and also to expand the scope to transcriptions of other musicians (not that I am finished with Woody Shaw, he remains one of my favourite players and I am looking to transcribe some more of his solos soon). One trumpet player I have wanted to study in more detail is Louis Armstrong, and I have been working on several transcriptions which will be posted soon.

In case anyone is interested, here is the project I submitted for my course (it is heavily based on ideas from this blog). The project was marked my the saxophonists Martin Speake and Mark Lockheart, and I was very pleased to receive a mark of 75% for it.

dissertationwoody

In Case You Haven’t Heard Transcription

Woody Shaw – In Case You Haven’t Heard

Here is a transcription of Woody’s solo on In Case You Haven’t Heard taken from the 1976 album Little Red’s Fantasy.The chord sequence consists of 4 lydian chords a minor 3rd apart with 8 bars spent on each chord. For the first chorus of his solo, Woody trades 8s with the drums, then 4s for the second chorus before soloing continuously for the final two choruses.

One interesting device Woody uses frequently is the use of the minor third over a lydian chord – for example, see bars 6, 20, 52 and 77. The sound he creates sounds in some cases more like a dominant flat9 chord based on the note a semitone lower than the root (for example, F#7 flat9 instead of G lydian). It is probable that the musicians discussed beforehand ideas to try out as when Woody starts playing notes outside the lydian scale the pianist, Ronnie Matthews, supports him with chords outside the lydian scale.

Woody also uses some more familiar pentatonic language, often using the II pentatonic scale (eg. E flat pentatonic over D flat maj7#11 at bar 1). He also uses pentatonic material to venture ‘outside’ the harmony – for example, at bars 116-119 he moves swiftly between G flat pentatonic to C pentatonic, then to B pentatonic and ends with E flat pentatonic. This is a very effective passage and shows the excitement that can be generated by a musician skillfully linking together different pentatonic scales.

Pentatonic Ideas

One of the things I have found intriguing about Woody’s use of pentatonics is the way he combines different pentatonic scales together in various rhythmic groupings. There has been much written about how pentatonic scales can be used over certain chords (for example, see Jerry Bergonzi’s Pentatonics book) – however, I have recently been thinking about situations where two pentatonic scales a certain interval apart could be used.

  1. Pentatonic scales a semitone apart - This is a classic device of ‘side-stepping’, creating tension by slipping out of key with the underlying harmony before resolving back in the home key. Woody uses this idea frequently – for example, see his solo on If where the entire solo is built around the juxtaposition of the ‘inside’ B flat pentatonic scale and the ‘outside’ B pentatonic scale. Pentatonic scales a semitone apart can also be used over a V-I resolution creating a tritone substitution – for example, a D flat pentatonic can be played over a G7 chord resolving to either a C or D pentatonic over the Cmaj7 chord.
  2. Pentatonic scales a major 2nd apart – These can be played over a maj7 #11 chord, the two pentatonic scales combined actually create a lydian mode (for example, C and D pentatonic scales create C lydian mode).
  3. Pentatonic scales a minor 3rd apart - These can be used over a dominant 7th flat 9 chord – for example, the linking of C and E flat pentatonics will include all the notes of the C mixolydian mode plus an Eflat (the flat 9). The four pentatonic scales coming from the same diminished axis (eg. C, Eflat, F# and A) can also be combined together in the same way the four triads from a diminished scale can be combined over a dominant chord. Finally, switching between pentatonic scales a minor 3rd apart can be a way of playing outside, superimposing a fresh set of chords.
  4. Pentatonic scales a major 3rd apart – It was Woody’s linking of the E flat and B pentatonic scales in tunes such as What Is This Thing Called Love and Rosewood that got me thinking about how various pentatonics can be linked together. In both cases, he uses scales a major 3rd apart to leap outside the changes, possibly influenced by the Giant Steps changes of John Coltrane. He also uses common tones to link the two scales together – for example, the major 3rd of the C pentatonic becomes the root note of the E pentatonic a major 3rd up. The idea can be extended to include all pentatonic scales on the same augmented axis (eg. C, E and G#).
  5. Pentatonic scales a perfect 4th apart – Woody also uses this idea frequently as these two pentatonics combined create a very strong dominant – tonic effect, strongly outlining a tonality. Sometimes this outlined tonality fits with the underlying harmony, sometimes it doesn’t.
  6. Pentatonic scales an augmented 4th apart – These can be combined over a dominant chord, alternating between a simple, unaltered dominant sound and a heavily altered tritone substitution sound.

This covers all possible combinations as pentatonic scales a perfect 5th apart have already been covered talking about those a perfect 4th apart, those a major 6th apart by those a major 3rd apart and so on. All of these combinations have their uses, and I have been practicing the ability to link scales together at will and in a variety of rhythmic groupings as Woody did. I do, however, still have a lot of work to do to get these down.

The Legend of Cheops and Rosewood Transcriptions

Woody Shaw – Rosewood

Here are two transcriptions from the 1979 album Rosewood. Both tunes have long forms with several different sections, and Woody only takes one chorus on each tune. The Legend of Cheops is by Victor Lewis and for the most part has a samba feel to it. The opening section is in concert A, or B major for the trumpet – this is a very difficult key to play in but Woody copes with ease. In fact, the B pentatonic scale appears to be one of Woody’s favourites and he uses it in several of the solos I have transcribed (for example: If, What Is This Thing Called Love and Zoltan). He also spices things up a bit by inserting C naturals (eg. bar 16) and G naturals (eg. bar 18). Woody’s playing in this opening section is a mixture of strongly diatonic, pentatonic material and chromatic scales.

From bar 41, the start of the next section,  Woody does not venture outside the changes for the rest of the solo. Instead, he concentrates on constructing smoothly flowing, melodic lines, often using pentatonic scales but using them in an inside manner – for example, the I pentatonic over a I chord (as heard in the first 40 bars) can be heard at bars 41, 65 and 86, and the II pentatonic over the I chord can be heard at bars 57 and 85. Woody uses the pentatonic scales in an extremely melodic way. His time feel is, as usual, spot on, and I should make a special note of the phrase he plays between bars 52 and 56. This is an exquisite phrase and shows his complete mastery of articulation, as well as the ability to navigate wide intervallic leaps at speed with ease.

The tempo on Rosewood, this one of Woody’s compositions, is again very fast, and his articulation and speed of fingers is astounding, particularly on the semiquaver passages. A fast tongue is essential to playing the wider intervallic leaps employed by Woody, and Woody has developed his tonguing ability to outstanding levels. I am not sure if he is maybe using double tonguing – however, this would also be incredible as double tonguing large intervals is extremely hard.

As with The Legend of Cheops, much of the material is based on pentatonic scales. He uses pentatonics in some of the standard usages – for example, I pentatonic over a I chord (bar 4), V pentatonic over a I chord (bar 8), II pentatonic over a I chord (bar 13), and IV pentatonic over a sus chord (bar 25). But he also uses pentatonics as a means of playing outside. In bars 38-40 he uses chromaticism to switch from C pentatonic down to B pentatonic, then down again to B flat pentatonic, resolving with and F and G over the D-7 chord at the start of bar 40. Then over the Aflat maj7 chord in the next bar, he sets up to play a phrase using the E flat pentatonic scale, only to again use chromaticism to switch to B pentatonic, implying A flat minor – however, he still manges to ensure he resolves correctly with a C natural for the A-7 chord in bar 42. Bar 53 is also interesting – here he starts off playing using the B pentatonic scale, switching up a semitone to C pentatonic on the 4th beat, only for this new scale to become an inside sound as the chord moves to D-7 at the start of bar 54. This is another example of the anticipation of a change of chord, seen already on several other occasions in other solos I have transcribed. Bars 62 to the end are also very effective – here Woody plays almost exclusively notes from the E flat pentatonic scale over shifting chords. The scale is consonant with each chord except for the passing chord of A7sus, and creates a stable frame of reference on top of the shifting harmonies underneath.

Things for me to work on:

  • melodic use of pentatonic scales, using simple applications such as the I pentatonic scale over a I chord
  • mixing strongly diatonic material with chromatic lines
  • faster tongue and finger speed, and an improved time feel (maybe experiment with double tonguing fast passages)
  • shifting between pentatonic scales a semitone apart through the use of chromatic material
  • chord change anticipation
  • use of one consonant pentatonic scale over shifting harmonies

NOTE: Due to a complaint from Victor Lewis, the composer of ‘The Legend of Cheops’, I have removed the transcription of Woody’s solo on this tune.

What have I been practicing?

Here is an idea of some of the things I have been working on in my practice, and ways in which I need to develop further.

  1. Sound – Woody’s sound is one of the things that attracts me most to his playing. I have been playing long note exercises, really focussing on the sound I am making. My aim is a full, fat sound in all areas of the instrument. I have also been working on vibrato exercises and gradually I hope to include more vibrato in my playing. I have also been attempting to include a wider range of articulations and inflexions into my playing. The way for me to tell if these exercises are helping my sound is to record my playing and I hope to be doing this with a band very soon.
  2. Time/feel – I have been working a lot with a metronome on the Herbert L. Clarke Technical Studies book, trying to increase the speed and regularity of my fingers and tongue on basic scale and arpeggio exercises. I feel my articulation has improved since I started working regularly on these exercises, but I still have some way to go until I can match Woody’s articulation skills. My aim is to slowly keep on notching up the metronome markings once I have mastered the previous mark, and to keep on pushing myself by playing at fast tempos. I had a gig in Liverpool last week with the band Marley Chingus which was a real workout for me as they like to play tunes at incredibly fast tempos – however, attempting to play at fast tempos is part of the process of improving and I feel it was very beneficial for me.
  3. Pentatonic scales – I have been working with Jerry Bergonzi’s Pentatonics book, trying to gain fluency with the various patterns he mentions and working out in which contexts various pentatonic scales can be used. I have also been practicing the ability to link together pentatonic scales a certain interval apart in various rhythmic groupings, and I have been studying various contexts where these linked pentatonic scales could be used – I will go into this in more detail in a future post as my ideas are still crystallising. Again, I feel I have improved in this area and pentatonic scales are now an essential part of my improvisational vocabulary. I now need to gain even more fluency, especially when linking scales in irregular rhythmic groupings.
  4. Outside playing – I have been attempting to play outside the harmony a lot more than I used to, and I have been trying out a few ideas, with mixed results. This is the area where I need to put in the most thought in the upcoming weeks and months. The pentatonic approach seems to be to be a fruitful one, especially the linking together of scales a minor or major 3rd apart. I also need to try out the idea of using bebop language in an unconventional manner, as Woody did on his solo on Zoltan. To judge my improvement in this area I really need to record my playing and then transcribe what I played, analysing it to see what I did in what context, and picking out the ideas that worked best to develop further.

Zoltan

I had a really great tutorial with Martin Speake yesterday in which we looked in depth at Woody’s tune Zoltan from the Unity album. I had been having trouble working out the chords for the middle 8, but with Martin’s help I have managed to work them out. Here is a lead sheet for the tune:

Zoltan

The tune opens with a march like theme taken from Zoltan Kodaly’s Hary Janos suite. This theme is a prime example of the lydian sound heard when the pentatonic scale based on the II is played over the I bass note – in this case, D pentatonic over C. The second theme of the tune, marked A on the lead sheet, switches to a latin feel but is harmonically similar, switching between a D pentatonic scale over C to a C pentatonic scale over B flat. This tune is in AABA form, and the solos are over this form. The B section is also comprised of lydian chords which appear fairly straight forward in the head – however, I was later confused by what Woody was playing in his solo. Here is a transcription of the solo:

Woody Shaw – Zoltan

(Warning: this solo is at B flat trumpet pitch, ie. one tone higher than it sounds)

What confused me was the fact that Woody was clearly playing phrases using bebop language outlining the chord of Eflat7 (concert) where I had reckoned the chord to be Gflat maj7#11 – see bars 17 and 49. However, Martin helped me to realise that the chord is still Gflat maj7#11, Woody is just superimposing fresh harmony on it. Here is an example of Woody using bebop language in the ‘wrong’ key to create a fresh sound. Joe Henderson also does this is his solo but in a more ‘inside’ manner – if you listen around 3’38 on the track he can be heard playing F7 bebop language over the chord Eflat maj7#11. Martin and I then proceeded to try out this idea on all of the lydian chords in the tune – firstly, Joe Henderson’s inside way using the bebop scale starting a tone above the root note (Woody also uses this idea – see bars 13 and 37), and then Woody’s more dissonant way using the bebop scale starting a minor third below the root note. In both cases, familiar bebop language is used in a different context to how it is normally used.

Woody does a few other interesting things on this tune. He consistently uses the A pentatonic scale over the Cmaj7#11 chord – this scale mostly fits but there is a clash between the C in the bass and the C# in the scale. In fact, the only time he uses the conventional approach to lydian chords seen in the head – using the pentatonic scale based on the note a tone above the root – is at bar 81 where he plays Aflat pentatonic over Gflat maj7#11 (concert pitches). This solo shows that Woody was not content to use the conventional pentatonic approach, he wanted to explore and discover new ways of incorporating dissonance. It also shows his respect for jazz language of the past and a willingness to incorporate it in fresh situations. There is much in this solo for me to explore further.

Song of Songs (1972)

This album was Woody’s follow up to Blackstone Legacy, and features Emanuel Boyd on flute and tenor sax, Ramon Morris and Bennie Maupin on tenor saxes, George Cables on piano and keyboards, Henry Franklin on bass and Woodrow Theus II on drums. All four tunes on the album are composed by Woody, and he is beginning to develop his own compositional voice. The music is generally pretty avant garde and reveals the influence of several key musicians.

The influence of John Coltrane can be heard in the extended sections of collective, free improvisation over drones, especially in the first tune, Song of Songs, and the last tune, The Awakening. This tune also morphs into a funk groove which sounds very similar to the type of music being made by Miles Davis during this period. The Goat And The Archer, the second tune on the album is loosely based on a blues structure in F concert, although the actual chords being played are constantly changed by the musicians in a manner reminiscent of the tune If from the album Unity (see post below). The third tune, Love: For The One You Can’t Have is a beautiful tune which fits in neatly with the evolution of Woody’s compositional technique. I need to transcribe this tune, as well as others, to try and see what principles he used and developed when composing.

More Transcriptions

Here are two more transcriptions I have done:

Woody Shaw – You Stepped Out Of A Dream

Woody Shaw – If

You Stepped Out Of A Dream is taken from the 1986 album Solid, and whilst it is not a particularly adventurous solo harmonically, it is still a very impressive solo. Woody’s sound and sense of melody on the solo are fantastic, and his time feel is impeccable. He uses a lot more scalic passages than he did as a younger man, and the big intervallic leaps are becoming less evident. Woody uses several sequences in the solo to great effect – for example, bars 1-4, 15 and 57-58. The use of pentatonic scales is sometimes evident – for example, bars 79-80 – but they are less key to Woody’s approach to improvisation than they were a few years earlier. This is a more mature and more melodic improvisational style, one less focussed on ‘outside’ playing and large intervallic leaps.

Woody’s solo on the Joe Henderson blues If, taken from Larry Young’s Unity album, is a very interesting solo. The chords I have put on the solo are some standard blues changes – however, neither Woody nor Larry Young stick to a distinct set of changes, and I have put these in as a reference only. For much of the solo, Woody jumps between two pentatonic scales – B flat major and B major. The B flat pentatonic scale creates an inside, bluesy sound, and can be played over the whole chord sequence without ever really sounding dissonant. The B pentatonic scale is used as a contrast as it doesn’t really fit with any of the underlying harmony. Woody switches between the two scales at will and uses the dissonant B pentatonic scale on all sections of the chord sequence, the only consistent aspect being a consonant resolution at the end of each chorus. I really like the way he varies rhythmically how he links the two scales together, only rarely allowing the change to fall on a barline. This is a novel way of playing on the blues – Woody takes two scales, one consonant and one dissonant, and juxtaposes them to create tension and release. The fruits of such an approach can be seen in his later recordings, and this is a key idea I need to incorporate into my own practice.  This is a truly masterful solo, and Woody was only 20 years old at the time!

Horace Silver – The Cape Verdean Blues (1965)

In the years 1965-66 Woody was a member of the Horace Silver Quintet, and this was his first recording with the group. The other members of the band at this time were Joe Henderson on tenor sax, Bob Cranshaw on bass, Roger Humphries on drums, and of course Horace Silver on piano. J J Johnson also guests on trombone for three numbers. This album was recorded only a month before Woody and Joe Henderson played on Larry Young’s Unity, and the music is far more straight-ahead. Woody proves himself to be a fine hard bop trumpet player – just as on Eric Dolphy’s Iron Man he sounds at times like Lee Morgan and at others like Freddie Hubbard. However, most of his solos contain relatively conventional changes playing. His playing is often bluesy too, especially on the slower numbers. The only tune on which he explores more adventurous harmonic territory is the second tune, The African Queen.

I think that at this time Woody was pursuing various experimental ideas about harmony and improvisation (as shown by his playing on Unity a month later), but he felt the Horace Silver Quintet was not the place to try out these ideas. For one thing, Silver would have been 37 in 1965, 16 years older than Woody, and had already established himself as a big name in the jazz world. Whereas Woody, a young 21 year old, was still finding his way as a musician, and will have wanted to play in a style fitting with that of his band leader, saving his experimental ideas for sessions with more forward thinking musicians such as Larry Young.