The World According to Keitho

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Prescription for aggravation: One chord a beat.

Posted by keithosaunders on March 25, 2010

I like chord changes as much as the next guy.  In fact, I probably like them more than the next guy, hard-bopster that I am.  Give me a song such as the original Milestones or All Gods Children Got Rhythm and I am right at home and in my element.  

There is one thing, however, that I have never been comfortable with — playing one chord change per beat.  Fortunately we musicians don’t encounter this potentially thorny situation that often.  The song that immediately comes to mind is Randy Weston’s Hi-Fly, whose 4th bar consists of E7+9 Eb7+9 D7+9 G7.  Up until then you have been in ii-V heaven, effortlessly churning out your hippest D minor licks.  All of a sudden – BAM – you have to think.  GOD DAMNIT. 

What to do?  Do you double up and run 16th notes?  You can do that at a medium tempo, but any faster, unless your name happens to be Sonny Rollins, things are going to get dicey.  So you try to run an eight-note line but you soon discover that negotiating those chromatic changes is about as fun as cleaning behind the refrigerator.   OK, so you think about framing the chord and cycling on down but how many times can you get away with this? 

The song that has sparked my one chord a beat rumination is Phineas Newborn Jr’s Sneakin’ Around.  It’s a medium tempo groover with an incredible melody mostly centered around, you guessed it, D minor.  Trouble ensues in the 7th and 8th bar:

G7   F#7 F7| E7 A7 D-   |

/  /    /   /         /   /      /  /

Now that’s a thorny two bars.  You’ve got chromatic dominant 7th moving down one chord a beat starting in the middle of one bar and ending in the middle of the next.  Come on! 

Sneakin' around is on this great record!

I have to admit, though, Phineas plays the hell out of it, seemingly without breaking a sweat.  You hear it time and again with the musicians of that era.  There was a caliber that existed that was off the charts.  Not only could they play the hell out of the blues and I Got Rhythm, but they could negotiate the trickiest of harmony. 

Clifford Brown had some of the most difficult songs.  Brownie Speaks is altered rhythm changes played at break-neck speed.  A jagged, boppish melody and extremely difficult changes.  Don’t you know he cuts through them like butter.  The Jazz Messenger’s albums are full of songs that are hummable and melodic, but many of them are awkward to play over.  You would never know it by listening to Lee Morgan, Bobby Timmons, and Hank Mobley.

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2 Responses to “Prescription for aggravation: One chord a beat.”

  1. David Rood said

    On those chromatic progressions, I like alternating tritones:
    Over these chords in the comping
    G7 F#7 F7| E7 A7 D-
    I solo on
    G7 C7 F7| Bb7#9 A7b9 D-

    Basically riding the D through a dorian-natural-harmonic minor progression.

    It’s outside, and it’s easy to overdo, but it makes for some useful leading. Provides some tension-resolution when done on a single bar here or there in Tunisia’s A section, too.

    • Hi David,

      I loved your comment and will try your suggestions. When I posted in this topic I was hoping that I would evoke a few comments such as yours. I am always curious to hear other pianists takes and to learn how they get around certain passages.

      Coincidentally on tonight’s gig I played Bobby Timmon’s Dat Dere, another song that employs one chord per beat. Since these are minor ii-V it makes for an easier time. You still have to think a little further in advance than normally, however!

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