The State of The Blues, Part One: Helen Sung’s solo on C Jam Blues

This is the first in a series of posts featuring transcriptions I’ve done of contemporary jazz pianists soloing on the blues progression.  Sometimes in the work of contemporary players such as Fred Hersch, Brad Mehldau and Ethan Iverson (who studied with Hersch), it can seem as though the Horace Silver-Wynton Kelly tradition of conversation between left hand chords and right hand melodic phrases in a solo is becoming a thing of the past, even when playing over more standard progressions.  This thought led me to search through the tundra of modern jazz piano playing for examples of contemporary players using left-hand voicings in a conversational style.  I have found that plenty of players still use this approach and manage to sound modern at the same time.

In the first two choruses of her solo on C Jam Blues (from the version on her album reConceptions), Helen Sung adeptly uses a mixture of three-note rootless voicings (for example m. 1-6), two-note guide tone voicing (m. 10), smaller cluster voicings (m. 7 and 19) and, starting in the second chorus, McCoy Tyner-style perfect-fifth ‘bombs’ in her left hand.  This comping supports and converses with a right-hand line that seamlessly weaves together crisp Wynton-Kelly style phrases (as in m. 2-9) and brief but pungent excursions like m. 10 and m. 13-14 that slip away from the harmony and imply harmonic extensions and alterations.  Sung’s playing swings hard throughout, from the morse-code simplicity of the head to the exploratory and virtuosic conclusion of the solo beyond the choruses shown here.  Sung’s work as a recording artist and composer is well worth checking out, including her albums ‘Going Express’ and ‘Helenistique’ (which includes a great version of ‘Cottontail’.)  (Note: This transcription was posted with Helen Sung’s permission.)Helen Sung solo on C Jam B

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2 Responses to The State of The Blues, Part One: Helen Sung’s solo on C Jam Blues

  1. Profile photo of tgcleary tgcleary says:

    Thanks for the comment, Eugene. I agree, Helen is great at playing edgy and modern but in the tradition at the same time. Certainly there are no slouches in the rhythm section.

  2. Eugene Uman says:

    Hey Tom, thanks for this – she sure is swinging hard (with a great rhythm section too). I love her slick juxtaposition of tri-tone subs in mm 10 and 15-16. Nice job on the transcription.

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