I’ve been thinking on the power of influence in music. As “mature” musicians/artists, we often talk about “finding our voice” and having something unique to say in our music. The truth is, it’s difficult (although not impossible) to be completely original.
I’m not the first person to discuss this concept, but the more common route is to internalize and synthesize the unique-ness of others that moves you musically. This can often be overt, like copying the language tendencies of a specific musician. In other cases, I’ve experienced it more naturally as a result of repeated, intense listening.
I can think of many instances during my growth as a musician where both cases were true – hours and hours of copping Freddie Hubbard’s articulation, or Bunky Green’s phrasing. In composition, my tunes are often a reflection of what I may have been listening to at that time– be it Kenny Garrett or Bela Bartok. In most cases, I don’t realize the influence until much later, when I listen back and the connections are obvious.
When Dave Douglas’ The Infinite came out in 2002, I was already fairly familiar with his music. A classmate hipped me to John Zorn’s Masada in my first year of college and I made it a musical priority to buy his recordings as a leader. In addition to his skill as a trumpeter and improviser, I was impressed by his ability to lead and write for such diverse groups. He hasn’t slowed down at all since, continuing to be prolific and on the cutting edge of Improvised Music.
The Infinite is the first studio album by the Dave Douglas Quintet, which features similar personnel to Dave’s quartet (Chris Potter, James Genus) with the addition of Clarence Penn on Drums and Uri Caine on Fender Rhodes. The Inside of the Album states “An Infinite Thank You to Miles Davis” and there is certainly a noticeable influence from Miles – particularly the later and transitional periods of Miles’ second quintet. The album is mostly original compositions, although Dave also covers/reworks Miles, Rufus Wainwright, Bjork, and Mary J. Blidge beautifully.
What really struck me compositionally in The Infinite is how Dave wrote for the Fender Rhodes. Rather than treating it like a different sounding piano in a largely harmonic function – Dave opted to write for the instrument’s unique qualities – often treating it as another voice capable of sounding simultaneous notes than a “comping” instrument.
Subsequently, a number of the tunes on the album, feature non-specific harmonic “shapes” that take advantage of the Rhodes’ timbre (a quality that I joke about often – make a claw shape with your hand and press it to the Rhodes – it will sound great!).
For Example, listening to the title track The Infinite, Dave writes three note shapes for the Rhodes over a bass pedal G that are used in the introduction and A section of the tune.
There are a few interesting compositional devices at work here. The first is the Pedal G (Pedal Point). Pedals are a great tool in composition as they allow you to create tension and release with the stable element of the Bass Note – creating a sense of consonance through repetition. This is a compositional exercise I have students work on often, also modifying it to include a stable upper note in voicings. Of course, this requires another shout out to my man, the Modal Yoda, Ron Miller. Dave opts to use open-ended three-note groupings that don’t necessarily have a definitive harmonic function (at least in the typical tertiary sense). He’s not just writing chord changes and slashes for the Fender Rhodes.
The first voicing in tandem with the G bass note is harmonically ambiguous – there is no third or seventh. You could argue theoretically that it could be some type of sus function with the 9th and 5th. The 3rd, in addition to other extensions, is open to interpretation.
The second shape is a fourth structure from the b7. This shape expands greatly from the first in distance covered and the intervals between the notes. I’ve opted to represent each of these harmonic shapes out of time in the example, but the second one lasts longer than the first and is set-up as a resolution rhythmically. Given that there is a b3, b7, and b13 – I hear this clearly as Aeolian (natural minor).
The third “shape” is the only triad of the group – a major triad from the 5th in first inversion (D). Again, there is no third stated in this chord. In context, I tend to hear this as containing the b3 (Bb) given what precedes and follows it – implying a Gmin(maj7). However, Dave uses this ambiguity to great effect in the melody, landing on the natural third (B) on beat one (although he plays Bb often in his solo).
The fourth and fifth shapes (voicings) imply an Aoelian sound to me, although again, Dave uses the open-ended sonority to create some interesting melodic movement with the tenor and trumpet – using a b9 (Ab) in the first instance and E natural (minor 9th against the Eb in the Rhodes) in the trumpet melody (example below).
I’m not sure if the final “shape” is really implying anything at all, other than being an interesting sound that is so well suited to the resonance and timbre of the Rhodes. I do think the influence of the surrounding material still hints to some form of minor-maj7, and there is the structural integrity of the fifth interval and an interior second, that is set-up by the previous “shapes.” Again, it feels and sounds as though it was written specifically for the instrument and wouldn’t have the same effect on the piano, which can really be said for everything in this tune and album. It’s the first time the G is doubled, with the F# right below it and the addition of the fourth (C).
I think the beauty of composing in this manner is that you’re creating freedom by being specific. The Keyboardist (Uri Caine) isn’t creating his own voicings based on a given chord symbol, yet there is so much freedom for the improviser, and in effect the comping instrument, because it could be interpreted and approached from a number of ways.
For myself as a writer, this was a light bulb moment and a way to get me out of the compositional limitations of melody-chord jazz composition and understanding that you don’t always need to have a specific name or function for everything you write. It makes perfect sense, as there is an abundance of great music within and out of the jazz idiom that employs similar approaches.
Listening back, there are a number of tunes I’ve written that have the influence of The Infinite and other Dave Douglas compositions. Dave has since switched to piano in his quintet and I think his newer compositions reflect a shift to the unique qualities of that instrument. Although I have continued to synthesize influences and develop my compositional style, I’ll still find myself opting for shapes when it feels necessary and accepting that sometimes I’m just hearing a sound and not necessarily a specific harmonic function.
Ultimately what makes improvised music fun is that balance between the specific and interpretive.
I’ve had a few people ask me about one of my compositions from a few years ago, entitled The Hadron Collider, that I wrote for the Frost Jazz Sextet while studying at the University of Miami. There are a number of concepts I was experimenting with at the time that are evident in the piece, including the mixture of ambiguous harmonic shapes, counterpoint, and through-composed devices. I’ll follow this post with a fun exercise in compositional self-analysis on The Hadron Collider.
I’m also working on a few instructional articles for jazz improvisation, based largely on my visualization research and suggestions for practice.
Thanks for reading and tell your friends!
Video of Dave Douglas’ Quintet performing The Infinite in 2003. Slightly faster and different than the record, with Rick Margitza on Sax, Uri Caine on Rhodes, James Genus on Bass, and Clarence Penn on Drums.
I have some questions on visualization out to Rick right now - who I’ve heard is a synesthete. I wonder what colors were experienced on this particular tune/performance?
I wrote briefly about Brian Lynch’s visual experience in “Tilting the Tonic Plane” and the relationship between harmonic relationships and visual dimensions that he experiences when improvising. Household of Saud, like a number of Brian’s performances, lends itself well to traditional academic analysis, as Brian is very clear and concise as an improviser in employing specific harmonic, melodic, and rhythmic approaches.
I transcribed the solo on trumpet, which certainly isn’t rare for me, but I’ll often use the piano when transcribing. Brian’s improvised solo lent itself well to transcribing with the horn in my hands, as it feels very natural and logical to play on the trumpet.
When I’m transcribing anything and not on a time crunch (which is rare these days – I was scribbling out the horn lines to James Brown’s “Living in America” minutes before leaving for a gig the other night), I like to spend at least a day listening to it on constant repeat. I’ll usually start the solo transcription the next day. In my opinion, I’m much more familiar with the solo this way and more likely to hear the phrases in their entirety.
I do recall that the speed of my transcription picked up considerably around the second chorus of Brian’s solo. It may have been due to familiarity with listening, but I also recall the experience of my fingers naturally going to the same spots (notes) that Brian played. I brought this up in one of his interviews:
(Speaking of the tendencies of improvisers)Sure, there are certain tendencies. I had a similar experience transcribing this (Household of Saud) particular solo- after awhile you start to hear where things are heading.
“Right, there are typical things that kind of fall under the fingers in certain places.”
I’m glad you said that. I was sharing this transcription with a fellow trumpet player the other day and we both felt that the solo just lays well and feels very natural to play on the trumpet.
“I think it’s a matter of them being composed of fairly conjunct intervals. There is nothing too angular in this particular solo. It’s definitely coming from an approach tone and enclosure type of style.”
Taking a look/listen to the solo, there are a number of instances where Brian uses specific devices to play “outside” harmonically that also have a corresponding dimensional visual experience. Many of these instances are also logical from a playing and theoretical standpoint as they are set-up and resolved through traditional voice-leading approaches.
On the B7alt. at the end of the first chorus, Brian plays a descending eighth-note line (repeated in both octaves) that outlines a B diminished structure on beats one and three. The chromaticism and voice-leading in the line sets him up to land on an Eb against the Emin11 chord at the top of the second chorus. Brian uses this harmonic tension to “oscillate” between Eb and E minor (Dorian) before ultimately landing on the Db/C# in measure 35. This pitch also happens to be one of the two shared pitches between the two modes a half-step apart (the other being the Gb/F#). This is a common device in playing “outside” – using shared pitches of two unrelated scales or structures to move outside the stated harmony. When I was studying with Greg Gisbert, he called this “pivoting,” and it’s something you can clearly hear in the playing of McCoy Tyner and many others. I’ll have a post exploring some of the strategies for pivoting and playing “outside” in the near future.
Brian uses this same “oscillating” effect in the second chorus to create harmonic tension heading into the B section of the tune.
In our initial interview, Brian mentioned that visualization is usually more prevalent and easily activated in his rhythmic approach, which may stem from his expertise in Latin music. Playing in a polyrhythmic manner has the visual experience of “whirling objects” and “geometric shapes” which can appear on a plane or axis dimensionally while improvising. Musically, Brian described this effect as creating “cross beats” against the rhythmic pulse. There are a number of examples of cross beats in jazz performance, such as the 2 against 3 feel often found in jazz waltzes (dotted quarter emphasis in 3/4), the ground rhythm, clave, etc.
Since Household of Saud is a more traditional, straight-ahead type of composition and performance, Brian opted to employ an eighth-note based rhythmic approach. However, there was one instance where a melodic and rhythmic motive created a visual experience of “tightening the circle.”
In the third chorus of his solo, Brian outlines three note groupings, ascending in half-steps and creating rhythmic accents of half-notes against the general whole note pulse. The first three pitches of the corresponding keys (G, Ab, A, Bb, and B) appear in two different configurations of order, creating a “cell” of five half-notes with corresponding melodic shapes. He then continues up in half steps every beat, with ascending chromatic quarter notes and ends the phrase with two eighth notes.
“Well, let’s look at the beginning of the third page (fifth measure of the third chorus) for instance. There is kind of a “closing up” type of effect there (sings line). So there is that effect that you’re tightening up the circle there.”
Right, so you’re accenting and playing those groupings against the pulse.
“Yes, and I’m also going up in half-steps there, then the half-step motion tightens up at the level of the quarter note, instead of the half note at the end of the phrase. So I’m going up in half steps every two beats, then at the end I’m literally going up half-steps every beat.”
This creates an overall rhythmic pulse that “tightens” through the accented overall rhythmic values of half-notes, then quarter-notes, and finally an eighth-note ending.
Stay tuned for upcoming posts on visualization in practice, pivoting, and some compositional analysis. In the meantime, I have a busy week ahead, performing with the Nashville Jazz Orchestra this weekend at the Franklin Jazz Festival, and Chris West and the Junkyard Horns at the Head Jamz festival Thursday night. Off to practice…
Here’s a video of Household of Saud from Brian Lynch’s Unsung Heroes Vol. 1. This is the same performance from the album and was the selected solo for Brian’s portion of my research.
Below is the transcription. There are a few obvious instances of “outside” playing that were described as dimensionally “off-axis.” Detailed self-analysis to follow.
Ron Miller’s The Lieb- written for saxophonist Dave Leibman.
I’ve been thinking of writing a post about Ronnie and his music for awhile now. Ron was the original jazz composition teacher at the University of Miami and an important influence for a number of musicians that spent their formative years practicing and hanging out in the Foster building. I was lucky enough to take his Jazz Composition 1 and 2 courses during my graduate degree, shortly before he retired. This summer I taught a course entitled “Modal Jazz Workout” at the Nashville Jazz Workshop (a wonderful institution worthy of its own praise-filled blog post), using Ron’s descriptions and strategies for understanding modes.
Ron’s books, Modal Jazz Composition and Harmony Vol. 1 and 2, are required reading for anyone interested in writing in the modal style of Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Joe Zawinul, numerous ECM-affiliated composers, and those influenced by similar sources. I can’t state enough how his approach to naming and recognizing modes helped me as a composer and musician, particularly with internalizing the emotional qualities and brightness/darkness of specific modes.
In this specific tune, you hear great use of the Aeolian sound in the longer “plateau” sections (written in chord form as min9b6, 6th mode of major, or natural minor). Ron describes this modal sound as “romantic” in his textbook, and I have a similar emotional response hearing it. The 9th is a really important extension in the chord, as it clarifies the Aeolian-ess of the chord (without it, you could hear it as 1/3).
When the harmonic rhythm speeds up, there are a few interesting chord/mode qualities, starting with the C/Db and Dd/D - diminished. Every time I hear that chord quality, I imagine Whit Sidener saying “7 over 1.” He follows it with the relative “brightness” of Ab13sus (Mixolydian) and Gmin7b5 - natural 9.
The Locrian nat.2 (also called Locrian #2, and Aeolian b5) is the sixth mode of melodic minor. In this case, Gmin7b5, natural 9 would be from Bb melodic minor. I suppose it could be said for a number of harmonic situations, but it’s always interesting to hear what quality of the 9th someone opts to play on half-diminished chords. In a modal context, I hear the natural ninth, although you could certainly argue that in specific harmonic contexts, such as a minor ii-V, the flat-nine is common practice. I’ve even seen this create a little controversy in a certain faculty group I used to perform with.
Ultimately, The Lieb, like many of Ron’s compositions, is beautifully structured and constructed. I would highly suggest checking out his music and his books if you’re a composer looking to implement modal language into your writing in any format, particularly in media-based composition (film, video games, etc.) where composers are increasingly using longer “modal” sections to assist in the visual narrative.
You can check out Ronnie’s music, books, and computer programs at his website.
In my previous post I covered the relationship between written notation and visual experiences while improvising – specifically the two-dimensional aspects of pitch and time that we associate with written notation. Again, I would argue that this is a good starting point to “wrap your head around” the connections between visual and aural elements: how we organize them, combine them, etc.
In discussing “space” and objects, we typically use two-dimensional models (i.e. adding diagonal lines to squares to create three dimensions on paper). We live in a recognizable, three-dimensional world (height, width, and depth). If you’re into Einstein and further physic study, you might know that time constitutes a fourth dimension, which can be affected by gravity (affecting “space-time”).
That brings me back to music. Much like science is way of describing observed phenomenon, our system of western notation is a way of describing or approximating what should be heard in music. Is it possible to have other types of models (however abstract) that include additional dimensional relationships?
In his interview for my dissertation, trumpeter Brian Lynch described visualizing a third dimension while improvising related to harmony. Playing material “outside” stated chord changes has a corresponding visual element of shifting to another dimension – what Brian describes as playing “off-axis.”
It’s interesting that the terms we often use for playing material different from the consonant and standard practice approaches for harmonic and formal structure can also be visual or location descriptors - such as “side-slipping” or “outside.” Brian experiences a visual “tilting of the tonic plane” while improvising “outside” harmonically.
Much like a physicist may have a difficult time conveying multiple dimensions to a reader on a sheet of paper, Brian’s visual experience can be a little tricky to describe in written form. However, imagine you’re walking or moving down a tunnel straight in front of you. The forward momentum is time moving as you are playing, interacting with the rhythmic pulse. Moving up and down in this tunnel could be pitch and register. Now, let’s say you decide that on Emin7 chord currently being played, you’re going to play E Dorian (an “inside” harmonic choice) but then start playing F Dorian for an “outside” effect.
To Brian, this would have the effect of moving slightly off to the side. There is still forward momentum, but we’ve shifted away from the “tonal plane” created by the harmonic structure of the tune (solo section, etc).
To explain this experience in performance, Brian selected his trumpet solo on the Charles Tolliver tune Household of Saud, from his recent record – Unsung Heroes Vol.1 (which received a five-star rating in Downbeat and is a great album paying tribute to the under-appreciated trumpet greats.)
The example below is Brian’s opening phrase.
With the exception of some chromaticism for voice-leading and enclosures, Brian is fairly consistent in outlining the E Dorian sound for the first ten measures, while also hinting at melodic structures that would be tonally related, such as the Eb diminished structure (or B7b9 starting from the third) in measure six. The first instance of side-slipping or leaving the E minor modal sound occurs in measure ten on beat four, emphasized by the Bb, or b5 in relation to the current chord. Lynch feels that by landing on that particular pitch as a tension, and playing a durational accent, he is initiating a corresponding visual element related to the three-dimensional experience of playing “off-axis.” Although the melodic material following that durational pitch (Bb) could be traditionally analyzed as outlining a Bb7 and Eb7 (a half-step and tri-tone shift away, respectively), Lynch experiences the harmonic and melodic tension visually.
“I’m thinking more Bb7 there (sings the line), then more of a short Eb7, eventually getting back to the E minor through a couple of chromatic turns. I think that’s a good place to discuss, because I think you could find a number of different places in my solo where I would use that sort of strategy of emphasizing something more or less a half-step up from a certain important or preceding pitch. I think that is something that I do experience inside my head visually as some kind of tilting of the tonic plane.”
I asked Brian if there was any outside influence or experience that may have affected his visual experience. He mentioned a significant interest in abstract art, which he discovered around the same time he started getting serious about music. For Brian, the two have become intertwined. For example, viewing a piece of art by Kadinsky could have the aural effect of “hearing” the later music of John Coltrane (and vice-versa).
Brian specifically mentioned the piece Nude Descending Staircase (1912) by painter Marcel Duchamp as “fracturing the pictoral frame the same way one would fracture harmony.” The sharp angles and dissolution of perspective in modern art correlated to Lynch’s visual description of improvisation in angles, shapes, planes, and dimensions.
I highly suggest that you check out Brian Lynch’s music and listen for similar instances of “off-axis” playing and try to visualize the dimensional shift. Brian is also heavily involved in education and has a great website with thoughts and tools for improvisers. He was recently named the new professor of jazz trumpet at my Alma Mater, the University of Miami Frost School of Music.
I’ll be posting a video and transcription of Brian’s performance on Household of Saud in its entirety. In the meantime, check back soon for some non-dissertational posts on music and what I’ve been up to lately.
I mentioned in Tim’s recollection of his I Hear A Rhapsody solo that there were instances of real-time transcription during the performance. In other words, he visually experienced his solo as being notated on staff paper as he was playing it – similar to sight-reading music. Your eyes follow the music as you’re playing it, and in many cases you may be simultaneously looking ahead.
This was a unifying experience with the three initial subjects of my dissertation, each with a slightly modified visual description.
I think it’s rare these days to meet a professional jazz musician who isn’t adept at sight-reading, and it’s increasingly rare to find musicians that play purely “by ear” and don’t read music at all. It could stem from band programs and music education. I would also argue that it’s an expectation linked with professionalism - sight-reading changes on the fly, reading in concert pitch, and reading the music down on the gig (particularly for those musicians who make a living in “commercial” realms).
Ultimately, we are often stimulating our ears and eyes at the same time – actively creating connections – even if we don’t realize it.
Brian Lynch used dimensional terminology to describe his visual experience while improvising. I’ll note first that Brian described his visual experience as requiring an “activator.” For him, the genesis of the experience exists in a “gray area.” In some cases, he may activate it by opting to play a certain collection of pitches and rhythmic values (“shapes” if you will) at the beginning of the solo. In other cases, it may activate due to the musical gestures of the rhythm section or outside sources.
Brian described the transcription/notational aspect as “notes unrolling on a spool – left to right” when improvising. He also described a two-dimensional relationship where the vertical axis denotes pitch and register, and the horizontal axis is time and duration. These dimensional relationships are very similar to traditional music notation.
Brian also used the term “tonal field” to describe arrangements of pitches existing as a structure. In this case the vertical arrangement is more important than the horizontal aspect of time passing.
When you’re talking about vertical relationships in a two-dimensional sense – we talked about how pitch could be a vertical relationship, but time and duration could be a horizontal one. You also mentioned how the vertical element could be location in a “tonal field.” What do you mean by tonal field?
“Let’s say you’re thinking about a mode, and the field would be the unordered set of pitches.”
So when you say unordered, do you mean not in a scale or structural form?
“If you’re thinking vertically, you’re probably seeing the pitches that are more or less strung from top to bottom, like the beads on a necklace that are being held from the top and hanging down. They are ordered in a sense, but you’re thinking about the patterns that could be created. An arpeggio would be every other bead out and a pentatonic would be certain patterning. It’s something I’d like to get more into than something I currently do, but also thinking of rhythmic arrays in the same sense.”
(Shape derived from collection of pitches - without a horizontal element - time)
Brian described playing double time as “visual formulas” – segments of notes that tend to go together naturally. Instead of individual notes unrolling left to right, the “formulas” are groups of notes that are often indicative of a certain improviser’s style.
“It’s just a longer segment of notes that go together naturally. They may have been at some level rehearsed or put together. I think that everyone gets to some type of typical formations that are typical of their playing. You’ll find that when you’re transcribing anyone, from Coltrane to Freddie Hubbard, or Kenny Dorham on down. When you transcribe your tenth Kenny Dorham solo, you can almost sing along with the solo, the same thing with Bird (Charlie Parker), because you know that this part usually comes after that part, or something similar.”
Additionally, Brian used the term “inter-textuality” when describing the improvisational language or style or specific improvisers, which can also have a corresponding visual shape. “Intertextuality” is a term typically used in literature and refers to text taken from an outside source. Brian used this term interchangeably with “lexicons” to describe playing in the style of another improviser.
“I think what I was going for in using that term was to reference juxtaposing different improvising lexicons (or sub-lexicons) in the course of an improvisation. For me, side-slipping, for instance, is not just a device in itself but also seems to denote for me a change in style. Moving from “inside” to “outside” can feel like moving into a different era. Maybe “intertextuality” wasn’t the most precise term to use, but I think it does have a use. I think of the lexicon of Charlie Parker or Fats Navarro as a text, just as I think of the lexicons of Freddie Hubbard, Woody Shaw, McCoy Tyner, “Chocolate” Armenteros and all the other influences as texts. Going from a classic strict bebop lexicon (which I immensely enjoy working within) to a “out” harmonic thing or a Afro Cuban way of rhythmically displacing the note objects is like the traditions conversing or the “texts” talking to each other.
Does the above have any relationship to visualization (in my process)? I think it does in where the “text” gets retranslated or abstracted in the thought process even the interplay of lexicons becomes a play of shape against shape.”
For example, take the “lexicons” of trumpeters Clifford Brown and Woody Shaw. You could argue that Clifford’s style is more directional and conjunct, while Woody’s is more angular and disjunctive visually.
(from Daahoud - Clifford Brown)
(from The Moontrane - Woody Shaw)
Jason Palmer described a similar visual experience as being instrumental in his early development as an improviser. Jason is the only trumpet player in my initial study with absolute pitch. He visualizes notation in concert pitch (not transposed for Bb trumpet). He also mentioned that transcribing other musicians early in college created a connection where he would visualize their material notated on staff paper in certain musical situations.
“I think it relates to the transcription part of development and what I’ve come to do now. I think that when I was learning the language to this music, I spent a lot of time transcribing solos and I would actually learn it by ear first – then I would write it down. For some reason, I was able to connect what it looked like on paper to what it sounded like and felt like in my playing – having the instrument in my hands.
So whenever I improvise, I try to relate what those notes look like interval wise on paper and how it would feel, and how I could relate that to what I was trying to play – like in the playing of Kenny Dorham. If I was trying to imitate somebody, I would try to relate that to their playing by looking at it on paper.”
In other words, musical decisions have a relationship to what others may have played in similar situations. Recalling that information has a visual aspect, appearing notated in its entirety. Jason can then opt to play the phrase in its complete form or modify it as he performs it. This effect also works in real-time, as notational cues from the musicians he’s playing with, or as an active listener.
Of course, Jason and Brian’s visual experiences while improvising go much deeper than that. Brian also visualizes in three-dimensions in relation to harmony. Like Tim Hagans, both mentioned the physical aspect or pre-feeling of certain passages as important in performance. I’ll cover those at some point as well.
Although experiences of visualization can be very personalized and abstract, I’m interested in how notation works with memory in all musicians. I’ve found that visualizing the sheet music has been effective as a short term solution on gigs where I’ve had to memorize the music, often on very short notice. For those who memorize concertos, is there a cross-over where the visual aspect of memorization is replaced by aural memorization? It’s something to ponder.
I was pleased when Tim Hagans chose his solo on I Hear A Rhapsody for the analysis portion of our interviews. Since I was working under the parameters of an academic paper for a music performance degree, I knew that there needed to be an analytical component to the dissertation. Plus, I felt it was important to have some type of easily understood (at least to musicians) means of comparison to what is effectively a very abstract and personalized concept (visualization).
Transcribing an improviser’s take over a standard can be very enlightening. They are employing their personal language over a familiar framework. In Tim’s case, it’s evident that there are a few musical concepts and decisions that are very important to maintain the integrity of the tune, despite the liberties he often takes with the harmony.
I should say first that although Tim recalled a strong activation of the visual experience, at the time of our interview, this performance was about 15 years in the past. Tim stated that he vividly remembered playing the solo, but only recalled a few visual experiences.
“The Visualization happens more in the act of doing it.”
Tim points to a number of hallmarks of this tune as being very important when improvising. The first is the Cb found in the melody of the A sections (fifth measure) over the Fmin7(b5). The song is basically in Eb major and the ii minor would typically be Fmin7, a Dorian sound. However, the Cb in the melody dictates the b5, and should also be observed in improvising over the form.
“Now the F minor b5… It’s (I Hear A Rhapsody) a tune basically in a major key… It just happens to start in minor. So a ii chord in a major key does not usually have a b5. If anything, the chord that precedes the V of ii, based off the iii diationically, would have a b5 (In this case, G minor7 b5). The ii minor rarely has the b5, but in this case, it’s a melody note. So the b5 needs to be there, and in this case, it becomes the b9 of the V chord (Cb on the Bb7).
I hear many players disregard that when they’re playing on this tune, and they play a F minor there, which would have the C in it. That’s not the vibe of the tune. So there are some definite things that I like to play on every chorus. So if you go through every instance of that F minor7 b5, you’ll likely find that Cb, because it is something I like to go to.
Of course on the ending, we don’t really end it. I just hang that Cb out there. I don’t really finish the melody – let the listener resolve it to F on their own. (Laughs).”
The Cb is used extensively throughout the performance, often over the corresponding Fmin7(b5) chord, but also delayed or used as a tension note in other areas. Tim also pivots between Bb and Cb above the staff in a number of areas, particularly in his eighth note lines, which has a certain vibrancy transposed on the trumpet.
This unique harmonic element also has a corresponding color association.
“So the F minor b5 is this green-ish, blue-ish F thing that I see and the Cb – the flat keys tend to be darker hued – but the Cb is this brownish-black thing. That’s just how I see it. Of course, emotionally and physically – which is different than talking about the colors, although they are related – it feels a certain way to play a Cb in that particular situation.”
For Tim, another important harmonic element of this tune - and performing on tonal compositions in general - is outlining key pitches on chords that may feature some type of secondary function. One example is the C7 in measure four of the A sections, or the V of ii. The seventh of that chord (Bb) is diatonic to the home key of Eb major, but the third (E natural) is not. Tim finds that by playing the E natural, he establishes the secondary function and can explore the color and emotional properties of the altered extensions.
“On a tune like this there are a couple of really important things that I want to point out in every chorus. I take a lot of liberties with the harmony and people may think I’m not coming from the bebop language – there are certain very traditional things that I’m kind of a stickler about. So I’m always trying to bring those out in my playing…
In this particular tune, the V of ii – if we’re talking about being in Eb (concert) here, or in F in the trumpet key – looking at the top we have C minor, then a ii V to Eb. C minor and Eb are so similar that I want to make sure I land firmly in Eb, playing something very indicative of Eb major. So the next chord is the V of ii, or C7. The chord after that, as a point of reference, I think of being F minor 7 (b5) going to Bb7. To me, that is a very interesting “happening” specific to this tune, where you have a V of ii, and I always try to play the E - the 3rd. This is something I listen for when people play the Blues – because so many people blow off the V of ii. The 3rd (of the V of ii) is the one note that first of all, tells you that you’re not on a diatonic vi chord – in this case a C minor chord, but with the 3rd and 7th (of the C7) – the Bb is diatonic to the overall key, the E is not.
By playing the E, that allows you to theoretically add all the wonderful alterations and extensions on a V chord. If you play a Ab on the C7 without playing the E first, it just sounds like you’re playing a diatonic note. The ear relates it to the key of Eb, so we’re waiting around on the Ab until it resolves to the G on the Eb chord.
If you play the E first, the Ab suddenly sounds like a b13, it sounds like a non-diatonic note to Eb, because it’s been made to sound interesting by the E. Of course, you don’t have to play the E first, you could play the Ab first and then the E which in retrospect would make the Ab sound interesting.
So on secondary dominants, I always try to get the third in there. You could probably go through all the C7’s in here (the transcription) and find an E in many of them. It’s the same thing going to the bridge with the D7 altered. A lot of times, I’m likely playing a F# in there.”
Tim also describes a real-time transcription effect while playing longer phrases with a clear up and down contour. He recalls experiencing these phrases visually as notated on staff paper as he played them. As I explained in the “Colors and Contours” post, Tim often visualizes an abstract version of notation with color, notes, and contours on the template of staff paper. Interestingly, each of the initial three subjects in my dissertation experienced some form of real-time transcription while playing. Brian Lynch described it as “note’s unrolling left to right” and Jason Palmer (the only initial subject with perfect pitch who visualizes in concert key), pre-visualizes entire notated phrases for himself and the musical gestures of others in real-time.
(one of Tim’s real-time transcribed/notated phrases. Both instances were longer, contoured phrases)
There is still a large amount of material left to cover on Tim’s experience and interviews. However, in the interest of variety, I’ll be focusing next on real-time transcription and the dimensional visualization of trumpeter Brian Lynch.
Thanks for reading.
(Chris West Group - Tenor throwdown with Jeff Coffin and Don Aliquo)
One of the best things about working in Nashville is the wealth of great musicians.
Yes, there is a saturation of singer-songwriters and open mic nights. And yes, there is a lot of country music.
There is also a (recovering) studio scene and some world class instrumentalists out there working, creating new music, and building audiences. A vast majority also happen to be really great human beings.
I’ve been getting called for more work lately - much of it diverse and uniquely rewarding - including some live gigs with saxophonist Chris West. Chris and I have been wrapped up in a few projects in the past, but it’s nice to be performing his original music with a killer band. We’ll be at 3rd and Lindsley this Friday performing as “Chris West and the Junkyard Horns.” Come on out if you’re a Nash-Vegas local.
I’ve been ruminating on the term balance lately. Balance in practice, music, and life. I find that being involved in making music - and I mean just about any type - activates all the peripheral elements of creativity and focused problem-solving. I find myself writing (music) more lately, and thinking of all the people I want to play with and how I can become musically involved with them. I also find myself more aware of my playing, working on rounding out all the rough little edges and focusing on the minute details. It’s rewarding and challenging at the same time - finding balance between the creative element that attracted me to music and the professional aspects of being successful.
There are a number of musicians in this town who play with a sense of balance - striving for excellence, creativity, and making music with joy. I’m working every day to surround myself with them.
I’ll have some more announcements forthcoming about what I’m up to musically, but I haven’t forgotten about the crux of this whole project - the visualization research. I’ll have Tim Hagans’ self-analysis and discussion of his I Hear A Rhapsody solo up in a few days.
Thanks for reading.