Midnight Donna’s Turnaround in Paris: anagrams, mirrors and the one bar ii-V

In the 2010 thriller movie ‘Shutter Island’, Leonardo DiCaprio plays Edward Daniels, a U.S. Marshal who is plagued by nightmares about an arsonist named Andrew Laeddis,  Later in the movie, in a plot twist I won’t spoil for you here, it is revealed that the names ‘Edward Daniels‘ and  ‘Andrew Leaddis‘ are anagrams of each other, created by a mysterious mastermind.  In other words, the two proper name/surname pairs share the same group of letters, and one was created by rearranging the letters of the other.  (To find out which name came first, watch the movie, or in a pinch, read the Wikipedia entry.)

Anagrams were a common interest among at least three great jazz piano masterminds: Thelonious Monk, Horace Silver and Bill Evans.  According to Robin D.G. Kelley’s biography  ‘Thelonious Monk: The Life And Times Of An American Original’, the title of the tune ‘Eronel’, usually attributed to Monk, is a reverse spelling of ‘Lenore’, the one-time girlfriend of one of the tune’s principal authors, the pianist Sadik Hakim.  (By Kelley’s account, Hakim wrote the melody with Idrees Sulieman and Monk later added some characteristic touches.)  Kelley also mentions Monk had a black onyx ring inscribed with the word ‘MONK’, which he liked to point out could be read as ‘KNOW’ when viewed upside down.  Horace Silver titled one of his compositions, ‘Ecaroh’, with a reverse spelling of his name, and also used the same word to name his publishing company.  Bill Evans named two modal tunes with anagrams of friends’ names: ‘Re: Person I Knew’ (Orrin Keepnews) and ‘N.Y.C.’s No Lark’ (an elegy for Sonny Clark).  Wordplay also continues to be a common form of humor among rank-and-file working jazz musicians (sometimes called ‘club date musicians’); it is not uncommon for ‘In A Sentimental Mood‘ to be referred to as ‘In A Semi-Mental Mood’.

It is only natural that these player/composers would title their songs with coded words, given that the musical language in which they composed and improvised, called ‘Bebop’ after the Dizzy Gillespie tune of the same name, was originally conceived as a kind of musical code, a private language which could only be spoken by those in the know.  In bebop, often the tunes themselves were musical puzzles, concentration exercises designed to separate the hip from the square.  In his biography Wail: the Life of Bud Powell, Peter Pullman notes that at Minton’s Playhouse, one of the venues where bebop was developed, the tune ‘Epistrophy’ (another Monk collaboration, this time with Kenny Clarke and Charlie Christian) ‘was one of the pieces used to keep the uninitiated off the bandstand’. (In this tune, Monk works a mind-bending variation on the 32 song form. Where most tunes with this form open with two identical, similar or contrasting eight-bar phrases, the first 16 measures of Epistrophy contain four-bar phrases arranged palindromically - A,B,B,A - which forces the improviser to ascend and descend a symmetrical harmonic ‘hill’ at the beginning of each chorus before they can reach the more traditional bridge and last A.)

There is a parallel between the way that bop players (or those influenced by bop) were sometimes inclined to build song titles out of alternate spellings of words and the way that they  often gave their melodic lines a cryptic aspect by using multiple ‘spellings’ or arpeggiations of chords.  In a number of Monk tunes, a short melodic figure is immediately followed by an altered repetition of it.  ‘Well You Needn’t’ opens with an ascending arpeggio of F major immediately followed by a descending one, and ‘Four In One’ opens with an ascending major blues scale followed by a descending one that comes within two notes of being an exact retrograde:  

A fun variant on these kinds of opposite-motion melodic lines are mirror exercises on piano, which have been discussed both by Harold Danko in a Keyboard Magazine column and Chick Corea in a recent online video ‘lesson’.  Chick’s video reminded me of how I discovered at one point that both Monk’s ‘Straight No Chaser’ and Tadd Dameron’s ‘Hot House’ can be harmonized with mirror (i.e. inverted) counterpoint.  (Other examples of ‘found counterpoint’ - countermelodies derived from an altered version of the original tune - include the Modern Jazz Quartet’s canonic version of ‘Bags’ Groove’, and Fred Hersch’s  canonic arrangement of ‘Bemsha Swing’; one or both of these led me to discover that the Dizzy Gillespie tune ‘Bebop’ also works as a canon.)

In contrast to the immediate reversals and respellings in the Monk tunes cited above, Jimmy Giuffre’s ‘Four Brothers’ and John Lewis’ ‘Afternoon in Paris’ both feature different spellings of the same chord within their first eight measures.  This abundance of arpeggiation is necessary because chords lasting only two beats occur frequently in these tunes, and in bebop, arpeggiation is a common strategy for melodically navigating two-beat chord changes. Most of the two beat changes in ‘Four Brothers’ and ‘Afternoon In Paris’ belong to one-bar major ii-V progressions.  A major ii-V progression is defined by two important characteristics: a minor 7th chord is followed by a dominant 7th chord, and there is the interval of an ascending fourth between the roots of the two chords.  In the Barry Harris system, the two chords in the one bar major ii-V progression (i.e. one where each chord lasts two beats) can be outlined with a single ascending seventh scale (using the ‘seven up’ pattern) or a single descending seventh scale (using the ‘seven down’ pattern).

Barry Harris’ scalar approach to the ii-V can be contrasted with the more intervallic, arpeggiated approach to the one-bar ii-V progression in the melody to ‘Four Brothers’, which navigates the one-bar major ii-V with a melodic pattern that might be called the opposite-motion arpeggio.  The A section begins with what could be called a ‘convex’ ii-V pattern (an ascending arpeggio of a ii chord voicing countered with a descending arpeggio of the V); and the bridge includes a ‘concave’ shape.

The one bar minor ii-V progression shares some of the same characteristics as the major ii-V, with two alterations: the minor 7th chord is now a minor 7 flat five (a.k.a. half diminished) chord, and the dominant chord has at least one alteration, a lowered ninth (i.e. ‘flat nine’), sometimes accompanied by or replaced by other alterations including sharp five.  Barry Harris‘ approach to the one bar minor ii-V progression is to apply the seventh scale from a major third below the root of the half-diminished ii chord, either with the ‘seven up’ pattern, or the ‘seven down’ pattern.  With the ‘seven down’ pattern, the last note in the scale is raised a half step to form what I refer to in another blog post as the ‘seven down to the third’ scale.

(This seemingly abstract approach to the minor ii-V is consistent with the many accounts of Monk’s description of the half diminished chord: according to Kelley, he always called the first chord in the introduction to ‘Round Midnight’ ‘C minor sixth with A in the bass’ rather than ‘A minor seven flat five’.  In this context, Harris is taking the same approach to the ‘minor sixth’ here as he takes to the minor 7th chord in the major ii-V.)

I have devised an exercise using one-bar ii-V licks, beginning with a lick based on the motive from the A section of ‘Round Midnight’, followed by the lick from the third to last bar of ‘Donna Lee’ (an example of a ‘convex’ one-bar ii-V pattern), a pattern adapted from ‘Afternoon in Paris’, and the Barry Harris turn around lick (which resembles the ‘concave’ pattern seen in the ‘Four Brothers’ bridge, but with more changes of direction and chromaticism).  Each lick is transposed down by whole steps through six keys.  I’ve titled the exercise ‘Parisian Cul-de-sac’, in honor of the great Bud Powell tune ‘Parisian Thoroughfare’ (I am equally a fan of Bud’s solo and trio versions as well as the arrangement by Jerry Gonzalez and the Fort Apache Band.)  The subtitle, ‘Midnight Donna’s Turnaround in Paris’, is a way to remember the order of the licks in the exercises, titled by their sources.

If you are interested in trying the exercise, a single line instrument (or single hand on the piano) can start at the top staff and play each part left to right, working down to the bottom.  I’ve included two versions, a ‘vocal version’ which should also work range-wise for saxophones, low brass and bass, and a ‘piano version’ which should also work for trumpet and flute.  In the piano version the left hand can accompany the right with two-note shell voicings (from DeGreg p. 23) in all staves except the third staff from the top, where the rootless voicings from Degreg p. 79 will also work.  The exercise also works as a canon; in both versions, once one player or group (or one hand of a pianist) has finished bar 8 of the top staff, a second player or group (or the pianist’s other hand) can begin the exercise when the first player, group or hand begins the second staff.  Once you learn the descending whole-step sequence I’ve written here, move it up or down a half step and take it through the other whole tone scale.

As always, I am open to comments of any kind, but I’d particularly like to hear any examples of anagram-like techniques being used by composers or improvisers, other anagram titles, mirror images in music, or any thoughts on my theory about the connection between bebop and wordplay.

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