Sonatinas and other two-sided stories

The word ‘Sonatina’ is used to describe a variety of pieces for the piano.  Some of these pieces, such as the first movements of Muzio Clementi’s Sonatinas Op 36 numbers 1 and 2, the first movement of Haydn’s Sonatina in G Hoboken XVI: 8, and the first movement of Beethoven’s Sonatina in F, are microcosms of sonata form.  (Click on any of the four links in the last sentence to hear the pieces mentioned.)  They contain the contrasting first and second themes introduced in the opening exposition section, as well as the development and recapitulation sections that can also be found in longer sonata-form pieces like Mozart’s Sonata in C K 545.  These short sonata-form pieces can be compared to traditions in other art forms that depend on contrast between two characters with sharply articulated differences.  The scores I would recommend most highly for the Haydn and Clementi sonatinas mentioned above can be found at – here are links to Haydn and Clementi collections available there.  Various other scores can also be found at

The two-person comedy team is a long tradition in North American popular culture in which two performers play off the contrast between their voices, body types, and/or personalities.  Laurel and Hardy played the same pair of characters – the thin, quieter man and the large, louder man – in their many films.  As radio comedians Bob and Ray, Bob Elliott and Ray Goulding used the contrast between Elliott’s smooth interviewer voice and Goulding’s more garrulous, animated voice to create scenes like The History of the United States.  For me, duos like these model the kind of sharp contrast that makes for good storytelling both in a comedy routine and a piano piece.  (These two examples also point up the historic lack of gender balance in the comedy world, which is beginning to be challenged by female comedy teams such as the star-studded one in the latest Ghostbusters film.)

While the contrast between the first and second themes in a sonata-form piece can be compared to the contrast between the members of a comedy duo, a parallel to the way a sonata-form piece evolves can be found in the tradition of the short story and its antecedent, the fable.  Aesop’s fable The Hare and The Tortoise begins with short statements from both the antagonistic Hare and the serenely confident Tortoise, and continues through the ‘rising action’ of the story where they race each other.  The hare gets ahead in the race and becomes so confident of victory that he decides to take a nap, while the tortoise persists at his slower pace, eventually passes up the sleeping hare, and wins the race.  When the two meet up again at the end of the race, the roles of the two characters are reversed: the taunter and the target of his sarcasm become the vanquished and the victor.  A somewhat longer story involving two characters can be found in O. Henry’s short story ‘The Gift of the Magi’.  In this story, a fretting wife and a busy husband attempt to surprise each other with Christmas gifts, but the result of each one’s efforts ends up foiling the other’s plans.  The structures of both of these stories contain parallels to the development and recapitulation sections of a sonata-form piece.

In the Clementi Sonatina Op. 36 number 1, the overall descending, intervallic motion of the first theme is contrasted by the ascending, scalar motion of the second theme.  The first movement of Clementi’s Sonatina Op. 36 no. 2, as well as the first movement of Haydn’s Sonatina in G display these same types of contrast between their first and second themes.  In the Beethoven Sonatina in F Major, a descending scalar first theme is contrasted by a second theme based on a intervallic pattern of descending thirds connected by ascending scale motion.  If you are learning one of these pieces, I would suggest both consulting a high-quality recording of the piece, such as the recording of the Beethoven Sonatina by the mid-twentieth century British pianist Solomon, or any of the videos to which I linked in the first paragraph, to study the way these performers create musical contrast between the two themes of the piece.  It might also be helpful to study the comedy sketches and short stories mentioned above for ideas about character contrast in other art forms.  For those who have an interest in other kinds of storytelling, it could be helpful to come up with a story of your own to parallel the musical story in the piece, such as Anthony Burgess did with the Mozart G minor symphony in his book On Mozart: A Paean to Wolfgang.  One of my students who was studying the Clementi sonatina op. 36 no. 1 and also had an interest in theater named the two themes in the piece ‘Jumpy’ and ‘Runner’, as though they were characters in a play.  Learning and performing a sonata-form piece, even a shorter one such as those cited here, is an opportunity to find the story within the music and bring it to life in your own way.

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‘Making the changes’ on short forms, part 1: Liza Jane

‘Liza Jane’ is a North American folk tune that is a standard in the repertoire of New Orleans jazz.  It has been performed by musicians from pianist Ramsey Lewis to trumpeter Wynton Marsalis.  It is an example of the strong African influence in New Orleans music, as the B section of the tune (usually sung with the words ‘Oh Eliza, little Liza Jane’) is very similar to the African tune ‘Funga Alafia’ (also known as ‘Fanga Alafia’), which is described in the notes of a recent choral arrangement as being Nigerian in origin.  The two tunes are even sung together in another recent choral arrangement.

In most versions I’ve heard, including a recent one by The Preservation Hall Jazz Band, ‘Liza Jane’ is essentially a one-chord tune.  In that version, tenor saxophonist Daniel Farrow takes a solo based entirely on the major scale (in my transcription here it is transposed from the recording’s key of E flat to F major, to match the other examples in this post):

The version by the Ramsey Lewis Trio skips the traditional A section of the tune and creates a 32 bar AABA form where the A is the traditional B section from ‘Liza Jane’ and the bridge is a progression moving from D minor back to F.  In the first chorus of Lewis’ solo, the piano and bass both stay with the F7 chord throughout the A section; in the second chorus (which begins around 1:30), his left hand begins to vaguely imply a different chord in the fifth measure, and Eldee Young on bass reacts to the implication in m. 7-8.  What is most interesting to me here is the way Lewis’ choice of notes cannot be interpreted as coming from a single scale. 

My own arrangement of the tune is below.  In the scale outline I’ve added to the tune suggests improvising with a ‘left hand call, right hand response’ approach and using two scales that Lewis uses in his solo, the F ‘major blues’ scale (the major pentatonic scale plus the flatted third) and the F seventh scale.  




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‘Making the changes’ on short forms, part 2: Polly Wolly Doodle (a musical cousin of Iko Iko)

I was going to make this a post about the New Orleans standard tune ‘Iko Iko’, but then realized it is a copyrighted tune, so I decided to go with ‘Polly Wolly Doodle’, which uses the same chord progression and is in the public domain.  As it turns out, ‘Polly Wolly’ was recorded by two prominent jazz vibraphonists, Red Norvo and Terry Gibbs; the Gibbs version features a great solo by a pianist named Alice McLeod, who would later marry John Coltrane and become Alice Coltrane.  In any case, this progression allows you to focus on dealing with just two chords, F (or F7) and C or (C7), otherwise known as the ‘tonic’ and ‘dominant’ chords in the key of F.

The arrangement of Polly Wolly Doodle below is based on a version I recorded with Chris Dorman, a Vermont singer-songwriter who is also a gifted performer of children’s music.  The rhythmic pattern in the left hand is what musicians in the Latin traditions (Latin Jazz, son, salsa, etc.) call ‘3-2 clave’, although in those musics the pattern is played on a pair of wooden sticks while the chord instruments play a different pattern known as guajeo or montuno.  When this pattern is used as part of a chordal accompaniment pattern in a rock context, it is often called the ‘Bo Diddley beat’ after the singer and guitarist Bo Diddley who used it in a number of classic guitar parts.  The scale outline shows three different ways to approach the progression and suggests a way to use part of the ‘Bo Diddley beat’ in the left hand as a ‘question’ and answer it with melodic phrases in the right hand.  This idea is taken from my transcription of Henry Butler’s solo on ‘Some Iko’, a tune based on the New Orleans standard ‘Iko Iko’ he recorded with trumpeter Steven Bernstein.  A link to ‘Some Iko’ and my transcription of the beginning of Butler’s solo can be seen in my post on Butler’s visit to UVM.

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‘Making the changes’ on short forms, Part 3: When The Saints Go Marching In

This arrangement is inspired by Louis Armstrong’s 1938 version of the tune.  It can be practiced along with that recording by listening to the spoken introduction (in which Armstrong introduces himself as ‘Reverend Satchmo’), counting through the trombone statement of the tune and the four-bar interlude that follows it, and then playing along with Armstrong’s vocal.  In the arrangement the first vocal chorus is followed by a saxophone solo by Charlie Holmes.  In the piano arrangement below, after the melody statement, I’ve suggested some ideas for improvising your own solo by suggesting a group of notes to work with for each of the three chords in the progression as well as some ideas about converting the call-and-response phrasing in Armstrong’s vocal rendition to a left hand-right hand conversation on the piano.  This approach can also be used on other instruments by leaving space to  listen for the new chord change rather than playing through it.  After one or more choruses of solo, return to the head to complete your performance.  For more on the fascinating cultural history of this song (as well as a transcription of a solo Wynton Marsalis took on it at UVM), see my post American Tunes.  I also used a somewhat altered version of the progression from ‘When The Saints’ in a tune of mine called Twists and Bends, with the expert help of Caleb Bronz on drums, Colin McCaffrey on guitar and bass, and Amber deLaurentis on backing vocals.


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Terry Town Line – a melodic line based on ‘I Could Write A Book’

‘Terry Town Line’ is a bop line I composed based on the changes to ‘I Could Write A Book’ by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart.  The tune is dedicated in part to my mother, Roddy O’Neil Cleary, who for a number of years taught at Marymount College in Tarrytown, New York (which is a stop on the Hudson Line of the Metro North railroad); ‘I Could Write A Book’ is one of her favorite songs.  The spelling of ‘Terry’ in the title is a nod to master trumpet and flugelhorn player, composer and educator Clark Terry, with whom I had the honor of playing when he visited the UVM Jazz Studies Program in the early two-thousands.  I have to credit Dr. Alex Stewart for bringing Clark Terry to UVM, which led to my opportunity to play with him.  Terry played with both the Count Basie and Duke Ellington Orchestras, as well as Bud Powell, Thelonious Monk and many other jazz luminaries, and led many of his own groups, including a wonderful quintet with valve trombonist Bob Brookmeyer (one of their tunes is mentioned in my post on improvising in the dorian mode.)  I also discuss Terry’s playing briefly in my post on Stefon Harris and at more length in a post on piano comping in small combos.  If you learn only one thing from this post, I hope it inspires you to check out the music of Clark Terry, a vast and wonderful treasure trove spanning much of jazz history.

I also wrote ‘Terry Town Line’ because ‘I Could Write A Book‘ is in a four-year cycle of audition pieces for the Vermont All State Jazz Ensemble, and so I periodically teach students who audition how to interpret this melody and improvise on its changes.   When I begin working with students on standard tunes, I always ask that they learn the original melody (the duo version of ‘I Could Write A Book’ by Fred Hersch and Dawn Upshaw is a gorgeous interpretation of the original melody at a ballad tempo) as well as a melodic outline of the progression using scales and patterns.  My current outline for ‘I Could Write A Book’ can be heard here; the recording also includes extra choruses of bass and drum accompaniment so you can practice playing the outline or improvising on your own.  (Students auditioning for Vermont All State Jazz Ensemble need to purchase a copy of  Jamey Aebersold book ‘All Time Standards’ and use the chart for ‘I Could Write A Book’ found there; photocopies are not accepted in the audition.)

A crucial next step in learning any jazz tune is to listen to interpretations of the tune by master improvisers; to my knowledge, the Miles Davis version of ‘I Could Write A Book’ from ‘Relaxin’ with the Miles Davis Quintet’  is the main reason the tune has become considered a jazz standard.  (The Quintet’s arrangement of the tune is an early example of how Miles began to stretch standard song forms: each solo on the form ends with an ‘extended turnback’ that adds twelve bars to the form.  The Gm7-C7 | Fm7-Bb7 progression in m. 29-30 of the tune is first played as written and then stretched to twice its length and played three more times, followed by a two bar break for the next soloist.  While this harmonic cycling is a harbinger of the vamp-based soloing that would later reach epic proportions on the albums Miles Davis In Europe and In A Silent Way, it is not a standard part of the way jazz players play the tune, and so it is not included in ‘Terry Town Line’.  I do recommend Luca Bragliani’s analysis of the Miles Second Quintet’s use of vamps on ‘Miles Davis in Europe’ as an introduction to how Miles’ use of vamps developed.)

‘Terry Town Line’ is partly based on melodic fragments which I’ve borrowed from Clark Terry’s composition ‘Perdido Line’ and adapted to the progression of ‘I Could Write A Book’.   (The link in the last sentence is to an Ellington version of ‘Perdido’ which begins with ‘Perdido Line’; Terry lists it as a distinct composition in his autobiography.)  I was inspired to use the process of basing a melody on both existing melodic fragments and an existing progression, after discovering that (as I describe in another post) Benny Harris appears to have composed ‘Ornithology’ by borrowing phrases from Charlie Parker’s melodic vocabulary and using them as the basis for a melody on the changes of ‘How High The Moon’.  I find that with master player/composers such as Parker and Terry (as well as skilled musical adapters like Harris), there is a natural overlap between improvisational and compositional vocabulary; for instance, the lick I use in m. 15-16 of ‘Terry Town Line’ shows up not only in ‘Perdido Line’ (near the end of the bridge) but also in Louis Armstrong’s solo on ‘Hotter Than That‘ and Miles Davis‘ solo on ‘Oleo‘ (from the version on ‘Miles Davis and the Modern Jazz Giants’.)

It is clear that Benny Harris intentionally used the chord progression of ‘How High High The Moon’ and licks from Charlie Parker’s melodic world to compose ‘Ornithology’.  The two tunes also create nearly perfect counterpoint when played together, although it is less clear whether Harris intended ‘Ornithology’ to be used this way.  On most recordings of ‘Ornithology’, the two tunes are not played simultaneously, although this has been done a recording by Pete Rugolo and a choral arrangement I did of the tune.  I emulated ‘Ornithology’ in designing ‘Terry Town Line‘ as a countermelody to ‘I Could Write A Book’, but in my solo piano recording of ‘Terry Town Line’ , I followed the common performance practice of ‘Ornithology’ in not playing the tunes simultaneously.  Pianist Billy Taylor’s comments quoted in a 2011 paper from Current Research in Jazz suggests that contrefacts (tunes based on existing chord changes) were sometimes used as countermelodies in live playing situations.  (Karrin Allyson’s recording of ‘Donna Lee/Indiana‘ shows that ‘Donna Lee‘ also works as a countermelody to ‘(Back Home Again In) Indiana’, the tune from which the ‘Donna Lee’ changes originate.)

I hope you enjoy listening to and (hopefully) learning to play or sing ‘Terry Town Line’ and (perhaps) using it as a countermelody for ‘I Could Write A Book’ or a source of ideas for improvising an eighth-note-based bop line on the tune’s changes.  My solo piano recording of ‘Terry Town Line’ uses a stride approach in the left hand, but this is only one of many possible chording approaches.  I would suggest that pianists begin by learning the melody up the octave (as I play it on the head in) with block chords in the left hand (rather than stride.)  A few notes on the charts for the tune, which are below in the four standard transpositions: the chords in parentheses are passing chords that I typically use only on the head, and the small notes at the end of the coda show a background line which a second player could play if there are two melody instruments.

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Talking and taking the words away: a visit from Stefon Harris (The State of the Blues, Part 2)

In a recent master class with my students at UVM, Stefon Harris talked about the connection between language and melody in an improvised solo.  While discussing the performance of a student group, he said: ‘The details of rhythm are connected to the way that you speak.  You’ve heard people say that music, it’s a language and we’re communicating with each other when we’re on stage…well, it literally comes from language.  So when I’m playing, for example, I’m always talking…sometimes people think that I’m singing, but actually I’m talking and I’m taking the words away.’  He then demonstrated this by first speaking in scat syllables, then mixing them with English words: ‘ba-da du da-da, du-du da-da, du da-da…you understand, da-dl-ah?  Oh! Now you see my phrasing…’  He then used the vibraphone to add pitches to his spoken scat syllables.   During this quick demonstration Harris made his instrument mimic his own voice laughing and asking the question ‘whaaaat?’ with a rise in pitch.  (Making instruments laugh is a long tradition in jazz; Mr. Harris’ laughing vibraphone reminded me of Clark Terry’s trumpet laughs in solos such as ‘Incoherent Blues’, which have been echoed more recently by his former student, Wynton Marsalis.)

Harris then asked the student group on stage to play a blues with him, during which he played a solo in which his phrasing on the vibes was guided by his simultaneous vocalizations (or perhaps the other way around, or perhaps both.)  After a few choruses, he stopped and said: ‘I’m not playing the rhythm, I’m not thinking the triplet, I’m just talking, I’m telling a story.  So when you do hear a melody, it should be connected to that type of fluid communication.’

A rising inflection evoking the pitch pattern of an inquisitive speaker also makes an appearance in a solo by Harris that I have been studying with my improvisation class at UVM.  It’s the third and final chorus of his solo on Harry ‘Sweets’ Edison’s D flat blues ‘Centerpiece’ from the Rodney Whitaker album ‘Ballads and Blues: The Brooklyn Sessions.’  (With Stefon’s permission, I have included my transcription of this solo below.)  In this chorus, Harris brilliantly uses a number of basic elements from what I call ‘the improviser’s toolbox’: varied uses of a repeated motive (the same two beat idea is used in m. 2 and 5, but on two different beats and in two different registers), referencing the original melody of the tune (in m. 4), and ‘making the changes’ i.e. using new notes ‘made available’ by a particular chord change, as he does in m. 9 and 13, where he uses notes that are not part of the pentatonic-based pitch collections he employs in m. 1-8.  One of the most challenging tools to use in the improviser’s toolbox, space, is demonstrated by the full measure of rest in m. 6.  (One of my students is working on transcribing the rest of this solo, so I’ll be adding the earlier choruses soon.)  In light of his comments from the master class, it is also clear that Stefon is not employing each of these techniques in some isolated, abstract way, but that they come from the deep connection his phrasing has to speech and movement.

Before the discussion of the connection between spoken language and melody, Stefon began his comments on the performance of my student’s trio by discussing the connection between full-body movement (i.e. dance) and rhythmic awareness in musical performance.  He said: ‘When you played the intro the first time I noticed that you weren’t really moving your feet.  And the thing is rhythm, it’s primarily connected to coordination.  It has nothing to do with triplets and sixteenth notes or anything like that, it’s like, can you rub your belly and make your hand go that way, right (pats head)?  So it starts with this idea of can you move your body…(taps foot on 2 and 4 and vocalizes syncopated rhythms)…you see what I’m singing is so connected to the way I’m moving my body (here he drew out the word ‘body’)…you understand, it’s a whole body experience, it starts with how you move first…so before you play this intro I want us to become a unit by tapping our feet together…and actually tapping is too polite.’  Here he had the trio stomp their feet together in time to the tempo of the song.  After this exercise the students did indeed play the song with more rhythmic connection.

Stefon’s comments reminded me that I (like many piano teachers) suggest that my students not tap their feet while playing the piano, as it adds one more task to the already complex multitasking of playing the piano with both hands.  This advice was handed down to me from a number of my teachers, and I think it can be helpful in the context of trying to simplify various aspects of a piece while practicing, in the same way one works to find the simplest fingering for a passage or practices one hand separately.  However, Stefon’s comments and his demonstration at the master class reminded me that swing feel, or indeed any dance rhythm, in music is always an expression of a wider cultural phenomenon that includes the physical act of dance.  He reminded me that certain kinds of moving before playing and certain kinds of moving while playing can improve a musical performance.  Stefon’s way of having the students move together before playing together resulted in a more rhythmically connected performance.

Stefon was also encouraging and yet persistent in requiring the students to not only listen to one another, but leave space in their playing to react to one another’s improvised ideas.  This was a great reminder that while music, like any form of communication, requires everyone to contribute ideas, it is also requires everyone to leave space: not just space to take a breath before your own next idea, but space to hear the ideas of others, so you can say (or play) something that shows you have been listening and supports a collective conversation (rather than an isolated monologue.)  Stefon’s work in getting students to listen and react to one another reminded me that listening is not simply waiting quietly for someone else to leave a space you can fill with your own ideas, but actually taking in and considering the ideas of others enough to be able to reproduce, rephrase or react to them yourself.

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Harmonic Moss, Part 5: The ‘B’ form voicing of the minor ii-V-i progression

The voicing which Phil Degreg calls the ‘B form’ of the minor ii V i progression starts with a clear demonstration of why Thelonious Monk referred to the minor 7 flat five chord as a ‘minor sixth chord with the sixth in the bass’.  The voicing of the minor seven flat five chord shown here is also, with a different bass note, a root position voicing of a minor 6th chord.  The example of a melodic pattern that outlines the voicing is adapted from Charlie Parker’s solo on the big band version of What Is This Thing Called Love (the first six notes are my addition).  Another pattern which outlines this voicing is m. 13 to m. 16 in Tadd Dameron’s ‘Hot House.’   The minor ii-V-i pattern shown in #5 can also be combined contrapuntally with the ‘Donna Lee’ pattern in the previous post.

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Harmonic Moss, Part 4: the ‘A’ form voicing of the minor ii-V-i progression

The previous posts in the ‘Harmonic Moss’ series dealt with various voicings, scale outlines and various melodic patterns for the major ii-V-I progression. Although I have another post, ‘What Is This Scale Called?’, which deals with scale choices over the minor ii-V-I progression, specifically with reference to two Charlie Parker solos on ‘What Is This Thing Called Love’, the next two posts deal with voicings for the minor ii-V-I and ways of relating scale choices and melodic pattern to them.

This voicing is the one Phil Degreg refers to as the ‘A form voicing’ of the minor ii-V-i, but it can also be referred to as the ‘off the 7th’ voicing, in other words, the one where the rootless three note voicings for the ii chord (which is typically a minor 7 flat five) and the i chord (which is conventionally expressed as a minor 7th chord but can also be a minor 6, minor 6/9 or a minor-major 7th chord) both have the seventh degree of the chord on the bottom of the voicing. One pattern that correlates with this voicing is m. 20-21 of the Miles Davis-Charlie Parker tune ‘Donna Lee’. (Although Charlie Parker actually plays the third note and fifth notes a half step higher than shown here, the version I have used, which is consistent with how the tune has typically been published and played, reflects  a more ‘inside’ scale choice.) In step 4 of the sheet below I suggest this pattern as one of those that I suggest practicing in one hand with the ‘A form’ voicing of the minor ii-V-I in the other hand.

Besides ‘What Is This Thing’, other jazz standard tunes in which two-bar minor ii-V and/or the four bar minor ii-V-i occur at least twice include Luis Bonfa’s ‘Black Orpheus’, Deitz and Schwartz’ ‘Alone Together’, Dizzy Gillespie’s ‘Woody N’ You’ and ‘A Night In Tunisia’, Kosma and Mercer’s ‘Autumn Leaves’, Victor Young’s ‘Stella by Starlight’ and ‘Beautiful Love’, Toots Theilmans’ ‘Bluesette’, Harry Warren and Gordon’s ‘There Will Never Be Another You’, Jerome Kern’s ‘Yesterdays’ and George and Ira Gershwin’s ‘Strike Up The Band’.

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Harmonic Moss, Part 3: Route 37, a voicing-based melodic line

This melody line  combines patterns from the posts on one-bar ii-V progressions (‘Give it up for the root (position pattern)s‘ and ‘Midnight Donna and Reets in Paris‘)  and with those introduced in the posts on longer ii-V-I patterns (Harmonic Moss Parts 1 and 2 and Six Degrees of Bud Powell, part ii-V-I).   The written left-hand comping models the concept of creating a conversational approach to a two-chord progression by using left hand voicings as ‘bookends’ for an intervening right hand phrase, as well as the concept of using rhythmic placement of chords to accent melodic anticipations (i.e.places where the melodic line lands on the next change a half beat or more before the appearance of the chord symbol and/0r the arrival of the change in a quarter note bassline, a very common occurrence in a bop line.)   A rough recording of the tune can be heard here.

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Simple Paris Dancers: a bop-style rhythm changes

‘Simple Paris Dancers’ is a melody line in the bebop style on the ‘Rhythm Changes’ progression.  I encourage you to check out the charts below along with a recent recording of the tune by my quartet Birdcode.  It is through-composed, in other words, although the chord changes in the first, second and fourth eight-bar sections (which jazz players refer to as the first, second, and last A sections) are quite similar, the melody is different in each section.  ‘Rhythm Changes’ refers to the chord changes from the George and Ira Gershwin tune ‘I Got Rhythm’, which has been used by jazz players in many eras as a harmonic basis for original compositions. The changes used in my tune reflect the more harmonically intricate approach that bop player-composers like Charlie Parker (in ‘Anthropology’, ‘Shaw ‘Nuff’ and many other tunes) and Benny Harris (in ‘Crazeology’, aka ‘Bud’s Bubble’, aka ‘Little Benny’) took to the form. This contrasts with the approach of swing-era players who tended to look at the progression as a series of larger harmonic regions; one example of this is Lester Young’s solo on ‘Lester Leaps In’.

My tune is based on the bop rhythm changes outline.  I am posting only the recording of the outline and not notating it in keeping with Barry Harris’ practice of teaching jazz theory concepts by ear and without staff notation. (We do assemble the line slowly in class and use a kind of rap to aid with memorization of it.) In order to give a complete performance of ‘Simple Paris Dancers’ or any other rhythm changes tune (in other words, a performance that includes an improvised solo), it is helpful to practice some sort of melodic outline of the progression using scales (as in the pre-bop rhythm changes outline we study), or arpeggios, or a combination of both as in the bop rhythm changes outline. Practicing the outline should help with giving you an understanding of the melodic and harmonic context of rhythm changes, both conceptually and in terms of physical memory. For pianists, the scale outline helps map out the B-flat major topography of the progression. Although the scale outline is fairly repetitive, it is intended to prepare you for improvising on rhythm changes in the same way that running laps around the perimeter of a playing field warms you up to play a game. It familiarizes you with the landscape in which you will be playing (largely B flat major, but also the 7th scales in D, G, C and F) and the general pace at which you need to move through the landscape (eighth notes). It also models the 7th chord harmony of the progression through its ‘7 up and down’ patterns which emphasize the structure of the chords by stopping short of the octave and the concept of leaving space in solos with the rests at the end of each scale.

The title of the tune refers to three of the tune’s melodic sources. I began composing this tune as an eight-bar example for my improvisation class to show how the Shaker hymn tune ‘Simple Gifts’ has the same basic harmonic and phrase structure as ‘I Got Rhythm’ and can be converted into a jazz line by adding swing eighth notes, the bop rhythmic approach of emphasizing upbeats as well as beginning and ending most phrases on upbeats (two instances of what Hal Galper calls ‘forward motion’ in a melodic line), and bop-style chromaticism (or what Barry Harris calls ‘half-steps’.) I’ve revised the tune a lot since it started life as a class example, but the remnants from ‘Simple Gifts’ of its bar 1 (‘tis a gift to be simple, tis a gift to be free’) and bar 9 (‘when true simplicity is gained’)  can still be seen in the corresponding measures of my tune. ‘Paris’ refers a part of my tune where a pattern from John Lewis’ ‘Afternoon in Paris’ makes an appearance, and ‘Dancers’ refers to a pattern from Duke Elllington and Billy Strayhorn’s ‘Dancers In Love’. Both of those patterns are also discussed in my post Give It Up For The Root (Position Pattern)s! It also uses in m. 3 what pianist and educator Barry Harris calls the ‘turnaround lick’ (which can be found in the tune Reets and I by the trumpeter Benny Harris); in m. 10 it uses what Barry Harris calls the ‘4 lick’ (which can also be found at the end of Charlie Parker’s ‘Shaw Nuff’ solo), and throughout the bridge it uses the half step between the root and the 7th of the ‘seventh scale’ (a.k.a. mixolydian scale.)

A live duo recording of ‘Simple Paris Dancers’ that I made with mandolinist Jamie Masefield can be heard here.  I welcome comments of all kinds, including your favorite tunes and solos on the rhythm changes progression (tunes in the Real Book that use it include ‘Anthropology’, ‘Cottontail’ and ‘Dexterity’, but rhythm changes tunes have also been recorded by artists from Nat King Cole to Phish) or thoughts on practicing scale outlines. I’d also consider posting recordings of ‘Simple Paris Dancers’ being performed solo or with accompaniment of any kind; you’re encouraged to include a chorus of your own solo as well. 

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