Category Archives: Uncategorized

‘Blue Mercy Line’: doubletiming bop language on a I-IV vamp

Blue Mercy Line is a tune I composed on a chord progression in the key of A which could be described as A7-D7 or I7-IV7.  I wrote this tune as an exercise in using the melodic language of Charlie Parker, … Continue reading

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‘You have to take a breath’: Bertha Hope’s inspired internal conversation (State of the Blues, part 9)

Recently I’ve been lucky to have connected with the great pianist and composer Bertha Hope.  She has recorded three stunning albums as a leader, ‘In Search of Hope’ (1990) , ‘Elmo’s Fire’ (1991),  and ‘Nothin’ But Love’ (1999).   Her first … Continue reading

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Afternoon River Bop: a line on the changes to Eddie ‘Cleanhead’ Vinson’s ‘Tune Up’

‘Tune Up’, by the alto saxophonist Eddie ‘Cleanhead’ Vinson, is one of a number of tunes which Miles Davis claimed to have written but which were actually composed by others.  Other tunes in this category include ‘Four’ (also by Vinson), … Continue reading

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One Time Only (in memory of Ellen Powell)

In memory of my friend, mentor and musical colleague, the great Vermont jazz bassist Ellen Powell, I wrote ‘One Time Only’, a tune based the changes of the jazz standard ‘There Will Never Be Another You’. Here’s a link to … Continue reading

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Tonight these chords belong to me: a history of the ‘Cherokee’ progression

British bandleader Ray Noble published his tune ‘Cherokee’ in 1938.  The tune begins with a chord progression that could be described as I – I7 – IV – iv – I.  In this progression, the tonic chord becomes a dominant … Continue reading

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Ellavolution: Ella Fitzgerald’s Evolution as an Improviser

Many thanks to Professor Judith Tick, a music historian at Northeastern University, for providing the inspiration for this post. Most of the transcriptions shown here were commissioned as research assignments for her forthcoming biography of Ella Fitzgerald; the idea of … Continue reading

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‘Sideslipping’ in clave: Arturo O’Farrill’s solo on ‘Blue State Blues’ (State of the Blues, part 8)

Arturo O’Farrill is an amazing pianist and composer who has had a long recording and performing career and recently released his first album on Blue Note records, ‘Dreaming In Lions’. He is also the son of a legend of Afro-Latin … Continue reading

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An excerpt from Harvey Diamond’s solo on ‘Tenor Madness’ (State of the Blues, Part 7)

Harvey Diamond is a Boston-based jazz pianist who has played with artists including Dave Liebman, Sheila Jordan and Art Farmer and two bassists I’ve also worked with, Harvie S and Jamie MacDonald. Diamond was a student of the legendary, idiosyncratic … Continue reading

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Emulate, Assimilate, Innovate, Part 3: echoes of Billy Strayhorn’s ‘Rain Check’

On December 3rd, 1941, the Duke Ellington Orchestra made their first recording of ‘Rain Check’, a composition by Billy Strayhorn, who had joined the Ellington organization as staff composer and arranger less than three years earlier in January of 1939.  … Continue reading

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A history of the ‘Autumn Leaves’ progression (with ‘Paul’s Question’, a tune on the changes of ‘Autumn Leaves’)

Two of the most iconic jazz versions of Autumn Leaves combine the tune’s melody and chord progression with a rhythmic figure idiomatic to jazz sometimes called the ‘Charleston rhythm’.  This title relates the rhythm to the James P. Johnson composition … Continue reading

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