The World According to Keitho

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Posts Tagged ‘be-bop’

Glass Enclosure

Posted by keithosaunders on December 17, 2016

It took me almost half a year but I finally finished it – a piano transcription of Bud Powell’s Glass Enclosure. It was such painstaking work that two to four bars would take 40 minutes at which point I’d either be out of time or exhausted. The middle section, in which many of the measures contain a different chord for every beat, was particularly thorny. I’m confident I have accurate melody and harmony, but with the lower fidelity of 50s recordings I can’t be certain of the voicings. They are very close, though, and the genius of the piece is evident.

Glass Enclosure was written in 1953 shortly after Powell had been released from Creedmore State Hospital in Queens. According to a 1996 article in Atlantic Monthly written by Francis Davis, Bud, who had an ongoing engagement at Birdland, was kept locked in his apartment during the day by his manager, who was also his legal guardian. One day producer Alfred Lion, the co-founder of Blue Note records, came to Bud’s apartment and heard him working on new material. Glass Enclosure was the most striking of the songs he heard.

After living with this piece for 6 months my level of awe for Bud Powell has increased, if this is possible. The way I see it Bud’s repertoire can be divided into four distinct categories. There are compositions such as Dance of the Infidels, Wail, and Bouncing With Bud which are brilliant, as well as accessible to mortals.

Then there are the through composed pieces that are somewhat inaccessible, such as Glass Enclosure, Sure Thing, and Un Poco Loco. There’s also Tempus Fugit, which you can blow on, but is ultimately a giant pain in the ass. The thing is, even if you learn these tunes, what are you going to do with them other than attempt to play them as much like the original as possible?

In addition there are Powell’s reworking of standards such as I Should Care, Over the Rainbow, and Polka Dots and Moonbeans. These are so personal to him he may as well have composed them.

Then there is late Bud which still contains some gems such as John’s Abbey, Time Waits and Cleopatra’s Dream.

I believe that there is a legitimate case to be made that because of his compositions and the debt that every subsequent pianist owes him, Bud may have been deeper than Bird. At the very least they’re on par.  See for yourself.

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Audrey

Posted by keithosaunders on October 28, 2016

Lately I’ve been fascinated with how Bud Powell deals with the 1st, 2nd, 7th, 8th, 11th, & 12th bar of the blues. He goes out of his way to find the major 7th. It’s almost like a giant ‘fuck you’ to the blues but it works, and some levels it’s bluesier than what we’re used to hearing. It’s a personal and striking statement.

I believe that generation – Bird, Monk, Dizzy et al – thought of those bars more as major chords (or 6th chords) than dominant 7ths. The next generation – Horace, Wynton Kelly, Mobley, D Byrd – played over dominant changes, but not the be boppers. (at least to my ears) The exception would be the slow blues, which Bird was a master at. I don’t know how much the Kansas City influence v Bud’s New York upbringing plays into that.

I recently transcribed this solo — it’s amazing as all of Bud’s solos were, but this one I found to be unusually quirky and great. After all these years of listening to him I still can’t believe how effortlessly he stays in the center of the beat even with all of that double time.

 

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The view from the piano bench

Posted by keithosaunders on June 10, 2010

With the impending move to San Fran my mood has taken a turn to the south.  It’s hard enough trying to rent our apartment while organizing our move west, but all of a sudden, in an ironic twist of fate, I’m having my busiest June ever gigging almost every night.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining about this plethora of gigs.  Just that it will be hard to go from crazy-busy to sitting by the phone.  

That being said, here is a small sampling of my hit parade of gripes.  Think of it as a premier in how-to-deal-with-muscians 101.   

The majority of songs that I play are 32 measures long.  Sure, there’s the odd Cole Porter 64 bar marathon such as In The Still of the Night, but for the most part the songs are fairly concise.  I am almost never more than 31 bars from a natural ending point.  Now let me ask you something:  Why in the world would you want me to stop in the middle of a song, when in mere seconds I can reach the end?  Are you a fan of resolution?  If so, then LET ME FINISH!  I’ll be happier, and you may not believe this, but so will you.   

Now here’s something:  Even though the area around my piano is lacking four walls, a desk, and a phone, this space constitutes my office.  What would you do if I walked into your office while you were on a business call, and made a request to invest in penalty-free annuities?  I thought so.  Look.  You can talk to me.  I’m not a delicate genius that requires absolute silence while I’m playing.  (Keith Jarrett)  You just need to find the right time to do so.  Here’s an idea to get started:  Between tunes.   

Finally:   If you insist on talking to me while I’m playing please do not be offended if I do not talk to you.  You see, contrary to what you may believe, my fingers are actually moving in a prescribed order — I’m not just wiggling them in time.  Making music requires concentration.  If you frame your question so that a simple yes or no will suffice, then sure…I’ll answer or nod.  But if you come over in the middle of a song to discuss quantum mechanics, don’t get your hopes up.  

My office

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Hank Jones on practicing

Posted by keithosaunders on June 2, 2010

I just heard a replay of a great interview of Hank Jones done by Fresh Air’s Terry Gross.  The interview was done in 2005 when Hank was 87 years old.  He sounded sharp as a tack and if you didn’t know his age you might think he was in his 40s or younger.

Towards the end of the interview Terry asked Hank if he still practiced and he assured her that he did.  “I don’t see how anybody could do without practicing.”  She asked him what he practiced and he said that he ran scales and worked on material, both new and old.  He said “I try to be conversant with the piano.  You have to be on good speaking terms with the piano or the piano will rebuff you.”   

What a beautiful quote.  It’s no wonder he was the most elegant of pianists.  Even if I had never heard him play I would have realized that this was someone to be reckoned with.

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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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