Conversation Pieces, Part Two: Carla Bley and Horace Silver

Many great improvisers, in addition to creating extended solos in which they are the main melodic voice, are also masters of the musical dialogue known as trading.  (This is discussed in detail in an earlier post.)  As I mentioned in the last post, another kind of dialogue occurs within many great piano solos, in which the pianist’s left and right hands carry on a conversation with each other.

‘Ida Lupino’ by Carla Bley and ‘Silver’s Serenade’ by Horace Silver are two more tunes which lend themselves to piano solos with a conversational improvising approach.  As with the previous examples by Charles Lloyd and Joe Henderson, the chord progressions of both these tunes consist mostly of chords lasting two measures.  There are links below to transcriptions of  Horace Silver’s piano solo on ‘Silver’s Serenade’ (from the album of the same name) and Paul Bley’s solo on ‘Ida Lupino’ (from the trio record ‘Ramblin’) which demonstrate two different conversational approaches to piano improvising.  (Recordings of both tunes are available on iTunes, and a chart of ‘Silver’s Serenade is in The Real Book Volume Two, Sixth Edition.  My exercise on ‘Ida Lupino’ includes a chart of the melody.)

Paul Bley’s version of ‘Ida Lupino’ on the ‘Ramblin’ album is one of the earlier versions of many recordings he has made of this tune.  The solo on this version begins with a conversational approach and then moves on to more overlapping of the left and right hands.  In the first eight bars of his solo(click on the link to see my transcription of this section), Bley’s opening strategy is to have the right hand play simple melodic phrases over the held chords in the left-hand vamp and then rest when the vamp is active again.  Bley’s approach in this section is largely limited to the G major scale, avoiding the differences between the chords in the vamp.  The rest of the solo seems to be harmonically free – Bley’s left hand leaves the G pedal point and bassist Steve Swallow follows the improvised changes with remarkable intuition.  It is interesting to note that Bley’s solo on his version of the tune from the album ‘Closer’, recorded a year before ‘Ramblin’, has a very similar opening.  This suggests that Bley was taking a semi-compositional approach to soloing on the tune, keeping some elements of his solo and changes others from version to version.  Carla Bley’s current husband Steve Swallow has mentioned in an interview that he does this with some solos and thinks many other great players do as well.  The interview includes Carla Bley as well, who also makes interesting comments on her evolution as a soloist.

My exercise on the vamp, which is in the middle of an arrangement of the tune (click here for page one and two) begins with a simplification of Bley’s one-scale approach, but moves on to scales that emphasize the harmonic motion within the pedal point.

Horace Silver’s solo on ‘Silver’s Serenade’ begins with left hand chords that are lined up with the beginnings of right hand phrases and works through a number of choruses toward a cleaner separation of chords and melodic phrases.  In the sixth chorus (click the link to see a transcription on which I collaborated with my student Kazuha Kurosu), lightly questioning left hand chords are crisply answered with bop-style melodic phrases in the right hand.  This chorus also includes two musical quotes that are seamlessly woven into the melodic line: the motive from Fats Waller’s ‘Honeysuckle Rose’ seems to be  foreshadowed in m. 3-4, is fully revealed in m. 5-6 and then is concealed within the phrase at m. 9-10, as if being drawn back into the bubbling musical subconscious that it came from.  At m. 13 a phrase from Bud Powell’s ‘Dance of the Infidels’ is also deftly placed at the end of the ii-V-I phrase that begins at m. 11.  I don’t think there’s a way to practice this kind of inspired, split-second borrowing; instead, I think it shows how deeply Horace Silver had internalized these two great tunes.  My exercise combines Silver’s left hand voicings with the basic right hand scales for each change or group of changes.

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5 Responses to Conversation Pieces, Part Two: Carla Bley and Horace Silver

  1. independent says:

    Thanks so much for the post!

  2. Braggion Riccardo says:


    I’ve just discovered your blog and it’s for me a treasure of ideas and analysis, I love Paul Bley, especially his work in the sixties.

    Best Wishes from Italy Riccardo

  3. tgcleary says:

    I confess I’m going by the dating on iTunes, which lists the version on ‘Turning Point’ as being the first (recorded in ’64 but released in ’75, they say). I agree with you, that drifting from the G drone at 1:43 is an eye-opening moment. He makes a similar harmonic move in the intro to the ‘Open, To Love’ version, which I’ve also transcribed and may post at some point. And yes, that transition back to the head…quite a magical move. Thanks for the comment!

  4. Ah, he recorded it later w. Haden and Motian also and earlier (probably what you’re referring to) on The Turning Point. I’d completely forgotten about that… I worked at IAI for a bit

  5. First a question: You say this version of Ida is the 3rd. I’ve always figured it to be the 2nd (Closer ESP disk 1st and Open to Love ECM 3rd…) Is there a version between this and the ESP disk?

    As far as sheer coversationality (not between hands but the conversation between Bley and whoever he’s talking to in his head) for me nothing tops the phrase 1:43-1:52. Also on a less conversational but musically and quietly epic are the 2 chords at 2:28 and 2:30 to get back to the head… Wow!

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