The Sixth Sense: major and minor sixths in the improvising of Thelonious Monk and Ella Fitzgerald (Emulate, Assimilate, Innovate part 5)

The melody of Thelonious Monk’s blues Misterioso is based entirely on ascending major and minor sixths.  For most of the tune, Monk maintains perpetual motion by building ascending sixths off ascending and descending three-note major and minor scales.  The last phrase is a series of ascending sixths built off the notes of an ascending five-note F major scale.  This two-level ascension, ending on the unstable 7th of the dominant I chord, has the sound of a question.  Monk used Misterioso not only as a ‘head’ or theme to bookend melodic improvisation on its chord progression, but also as a ‘lick’ or motive in his improvised solos, including his solos on the original recording of Straight No Chaser (another of his blues compositions that focuses resolutely on a single melodic concept), a live 1963 version of Misterioso and his solo on Take 1 of Bags’ Groove from the Miles Davis album of the same name.  Leave a comment in the comment section if you can find the timings in either of these Monk recordings where Monk quotes the melody of Misterioso in his improvised solo. 

An example of taking Misterioso to the innovate level can be found in Fred Hersch’s solo on the tune from his recent duo version with Enrico Rava.  

Other jazz standards with melodies that prominently feature the ascending major and minor sixth include Billy Strayhorn’s Take The A Train, which opens with ascending and descending major sixths in m. 1-2 that are quickly balanced with consecutive descending and ascending minor sixths in m. 6-7, and Rodgers and Hammerstein’s ‘Surrey With The Fringe On Top’, which builds over its first six measures to an ascending major sixth.  This can be clearly heard in the version by Sonny Rollins from the album Newk’s Time, in which he performs the tune as a duet with drummer Philly Joe Jones.  The ascending sixths in both these tunes have a sense of optimism which is reflected in the lyrics.  In Something To Live For, Walter Van de Leur quotes Strayhorn explaining that the tune’s lyrics – ‘You must take the A Train to get to Sugar Hill way up in Harlem’ – celebrate a subway line that had recently been constructed around the time of the tune’s composition.  Although many vocal versions of ‘A Train’ substantially alter the melody, including those by Ellington singers Joya Sherill and Betty Roche, the version by Ella Fitzgerald with the Ellington Orchestra stays closest to the melody as published and instrumentally played (as usual and as with her versions of many tunes, Fitzgerald is dependably faithful to the composer’s intentions.)  In Oscar Hammerstein’s lyrics to ‘Surrey’, a turn-of-the-century cowboy named Curly enthuses to a prospective date, Laurey, about a different mode of transportation: ‘Ducks and chicks and geese better hurry / when I take you out in the Surrey / When I take you out in the Surrey With The Fringe On Top’.

The disappointment felt by the speaker in the lyrics to the 1929 song ‘Mean To Me’ (‘Mean To Me / why must you be Mean To Me / gee, honey, it seems to me / you always leave me cryin’) is reflected in the repeated descending sixths of Fred E. Ahlert’s melody. 

Ahlert’s descending sixths achieve the same effect as the signature descending tritone that punctuated the depressing punchlines of Rachel Dratch’s character Debbie Downer on Saturday Night Live.  Ella Fitzgerald had an interesting history with ‘Mean To Me’ that seems to have begun in 1958 when she quoted an altered version of it as part of her solo on ‘St. Louis Blues’ from Ella in Rome: The Birthday Concert.  The quotation appears in the ninth chorus of her solo, which begins with a quote from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s ‘It Might As Well Be Spring’.  In the ‘Mean To Me’ quotation Fitzgerald transposes the lower notes of Ahlert’s descending sixths up a diatonic third so that the descending sixths becomes descending fourths.  Although it can be challenging to hear an echo of the original in Fitzgerald’s altered quote, Fitzgerald scholar Katchie Cartwright still identifies it as a Mean To Me quote in her article ” ‘Guess These People Wonder What I’m Singing’: Quotation and Reference In Ella’s Fitzgerald’s ‘St. Louis Blues’ “.  To use Clark Terry’s term, Fitzgerald seems to have started her relationship with this tune in the ‘innovate’ stage. 

One could say that Fitzgerald’s ‘assimilate’ stage with Mean To Me came during her iconic version of How High The Moon from the 1960 album Ella In Berlin.  Fitzgerald’s 1960 solo reprises the three choruses of solo from her 1947 version, revises some of that material, and adds five more choruses as well as an extensive coda.  One of the 1960 revisions is a phrase in the third chorus where she begins by quoting Duke Ellington’s Rockin’ In Rhythm as she did in the 1947 solo.  In the earlier version this phrase stays well within the scope of four measures, but in the more athletic 1960 version, Fitzgerald continues this phrase past the fourth bar, ending with what is arguably a three-note quote of Mean To Me.  Leave a comment in the comment section if you can identify the timing in the videos when either of these Mean To Me quotes appear (they are shortly after the timestamp to which the links lead). 

One might say Fitzgerald reached the ’emulate’ stage with ‘Mean To Me’ when she made her first recorded version of the entire tune on Ella Swings Brightly With Nelson Riddle in 1961.  On this version, she incorporates first the original form of the melody she briefly quotes in the 1960 How High The Moon, and shortly after, the alteration from her St. Louis Blues solo.  While the musician’s axiom ‘fake it ’til you make it’ aptly describes Fitzgerald’s famous forgetting of the lyrics to Mack the Knife during her Berlin concert, which became one of her best-known and best-loved recordings, it would rarely if ever apply to her treatment of melodies, as she routinely learned melodies with great accuracy and based her variations on knowledge of the original, rather than improvising out of a need to fill in missing information.   Her history with ‘Mean To Me’, on the other hand, might be summarized with a variation on that axiom: ‘quote it ’til you own it’. 

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A swingin’ dialogue: two choruses of Emmet Cohen’s intro solo on Joe Lovano’s ‘Big Ben’ (State Of The Blues, #11)

Below is my transcription of the first two choruses from Emmet Cohen’s intro piano solo from the version of Joe Lovano’s tune ‘Big Ben’ played on Episode 56 of the YouTube series Live From Emmet’s Place.  Cohen’s solo follows a long tradition of piano solos that precede the opening melodic theme or ‘head’ in jazz recordings. Other great intro piano solos include Duke Ellington’s opening solos on the versions of Take The A Train and Perdido on Ellington Uptown, Count Basie’s opening solo on One O’Clock Jump, and Sir Roland Hanna’s piano solos with the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra at the beginnings of Jones’ Second Race and Jerome Richardson’s Groove Merchant.  On a live version of Groove Merchant from 1968, Hanna turned his solo into a mini-history of jazz piano up to that point. 

Like Hanna, Emmet Cohen seems to have a limitless amount of jazz history at his fingertips.  A recent concert he played on the UVM Lane Series featured tunes by Jerome Kern (‘Nobody Else But Me’), Willie ‘The Lion’ Smith (‘Finger Buster’), Arlen and Harburg (‘Over The Rainbow’), Vincent Youmans (‘Tea for Two’), Horace Silver (‘The Back Beat’), Ray Noble (‘Cherokee’), an original rag from his latest album (‘Spillin’ The Tea’), and Wayne Shorter’s ‘Footprints’ (in honor of the master composer and saxophonist’s passing.)  The concert concluded with an encore of Ellington’s ‘Satin Doll’ which Cohen and his trio mates, Philip Norris on bass and Kyle Poole on drums, put through a mind-bending series of rhythmic transformations.  Although the tune list was weighted toward the earlier half of the twentieth century, Cohen’s playing showed a deep awareness of the vocabulary of pianists from the latter half of the century, including Bud Powell and McCoy Tyner. 

Cohen’s solo on Lovano’s B-flat blues ‘Big Ben’ is simply swingin’.  It has a masterful balance of motion and rest as well as a balance of rhythmically pushing forward and laying back.  Here’s my transcription of his first two choruses, starting from the pickup phrase at :16 in the video, followed by some analysis:

His first chorus (m. 3-14), like the first chorus of Wynton Kelly’s first solo on Pfrancing,  has three short, simple and cleanly articulated melodic phrases, each punctuated by chordal comping.  (Harry Woodward’s transcription of the Pfrancing solo can be seen in my post Leading With The Left.)  Cohen’s first phrase is a seven-note quote from Kaper, Juhrmann and Kahn’s ‘All God’s Children Got Rhythm’, in which the melodic rhythm of the phrase is shaped to match the deep swing pulse provided by Poole on drums and Russell Hall on bass.  Although Cohen’s reshaping of the rhythm is spontaneous, I would suggest that it is three alterations he makes to the more downbeat-oriented way the tune is often played, for instance in the wonderful version by Sonny Stitt with Bud Powell on piano, that that kicks off the solo with a swing feel well fitted to the groove of Lovano’s tune: the way he delays the start of the phrase to the third beat – immediately signaling relaxation – and lands the third and fifth notes of the quote on the ‘and’ of four.  Cohen’s second phrase is reminiscent of the 1940 hit ‘Playmate’, a tune quoted by Oscar Peterson in a live version of C Jam Blues that has become ubiquitous on YouTube, and of Ravel’s Bolero.  While these resonances may be unintentional, Cohen’s phrase, like the two melodies to which it bears a resemblance, conveys an unhurried vibe through its diatonic and easily singable nature; it also contrasts the ‘All God’s Children’ quote in being largely stepwise. Cohen concludes the first chorus with a two-handed comping phrase leading into the G7 chord, followed by a simple stepwise ascending line the main melody of which stays within the B flat major scale. 

Cohen’s second chorus moves toward longer melodic phrases.  It begins with a descending scalar figure that contrasts the ascent at the end of the first chorus.  This is followed by a five-note phrase that recalls Charlie Parker’s ‘Ko Ko’ solo, bookended by left hand chords.  Cohen concludes the second chorus with a phrase that ends in a quote from Horace Silver’s ‘Doodlin’, but impressively, the quote arises organically and spontaneously out of a phrase that begins with Cohen’s own deft use of bebop language to ‘make’ the G7 change.   For me, this recalls Silver’s own quote of Honeysuckle Rose on his Silver’s Serenade solo, discussed in my earlier post Conversation Pieces, Part Two.

I mention these quotes and resonances not to imply that quotation in improvised solos is an essential skill, but to note how, in a completely natural and unforced way, Cohen uses quotation as a tool to create a concise, spacious first chorus with a three-phrase approach, which is an essential skill for all jazz improvisers, and a second chorus that builds toward longer phrases, another important technique.  Cohen also models throughout these two choruses what George Colligan, in an article on Horace Silver’s piano solos, calls ‘hand-to-hand conversation’.  In Cohen’s solo, the dialogue occurs mostly through the right hand leaving room for the left hand to respond to its lines, or the left hand finding the room to respond; one passage in which the right hand responds to the left is at m. 19-20 (the ‘Koko’ quote).  This dialogic approach leads to some of the more concise and economical playing that I’ve heard by Cohen, who is known for thrilling virtuosity.  Cohen’s left hand comping is every bit as historically erudite as his right hand improvising: he intersperses a preponderance of three and four note rootless voicings with one five voice shell extension (at m. 10), a smattering of two-note guide tone voicings in the second chrous and a number of single note and octave ‘answers’. Other highlights of the rest of Cohen’s solo (which I encourage anyone to transcribe and send to me as an addition to this post) include a third chorus beginning with a phrase that has become known as ‘The Lick’ due to a series of YouTube videos documenting its use by various players and a sixth chorus where Cohen uses a variation on the ‘Bird Blues’ progression that bassist Hall follows without missing a beat.

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Emulate, Assimilate, Innovate, part 4: Taking the fifth – melodic phrases using perfect 5ths

The ‘Cool Blues’ lick was a phrase Charlie Parker used in multiple improvised solos, including his March 1946 recording of Yardbird Suite and his May 1947 recording of Cheryl.  In February 1947 he recorded an entire composition titled ‘Cool Blues’ which was based on the lick and which gave the lick its title. The jazz blogger Peter Spitzer makes a persuasive case that Parker borrowed the first part of the lick from Georges Bizet’s opera Carmen.  One factor that points to Carmen as a likely source is that Parker also quoted from the opera’s most famous aria, ‘L’Amour est un oiseau rebelle’ in solos including one on a big band version of Cole Porter’s ‘What Is This Thing Called Love?’  I would argue that the second half of the lick is one of many innovations Parker and other bop players made on the opening motive from Fats Waller’s Honeysuckle Rose.  It is the variant of Honeysuckle Rose that appears in measures 5 and 8 of Parker’s blues ‘Bloomdido’ and the second chorus of Parker disciple Wardell Gray’s solo on his blues ‘Twisted’. The ascending perfect fifth interval figures prominently in the end of the lick as Parker played it, which features the fifth followed by an ascending minor third and a descending perfect fourth.   This last pair of intervals is also the opening of Illinois Jacquet’s ‘Flying Home’, a very well known piece in the time just preceding Parker’s rise to prominence, when he was absorbing the influence of swing era saxophonists, Lester Young in particular, but not only Young. This makes the last two notes of the lick Parker’s only original contribution to the lick (other than his ingenious conscious or sub-conscious amalgamation of these three sources.)

A video by jazz YouTuber Simon Fransman splices together a number of uses of the lick by Parker and his contemporaries including trumpeters Howard McGhee, who uses it on a solo from a live version of the Parker tune ‘Now’s The Time’, and Fats Navarro, who uses it on a live version of ‘Ornithology’ with Parker.  Fransman also includes excerpts from solos by more recent players such as trombonist Conrad Herwig who incorporates the lick into a solo on ‘Georgia On My Mind’.  Fransman’s survey also includes the 1990s rap songs ‘Jazz Thang’ by Gang Starr, which briefly samples the lick, and ‘Southern Comfort’ by Down South, which makes the lick a repeated feature of its groove.  Other solos from around Parker’s time where the ‘Cool Blues’ phrase is used include the solo by saxophonist Sonny Rollins on a recording of the tune ‘Professor Bop’  by vocalist Babs Gonzales (which was the 19-year-old Rollins’ first recorded appearance) and Sammy Davis Junior’s scat solo on a duet with Ella Fitzgerald on the Gershwin tune ‘Swonderful from the Ed Sullivan Show I encourage you to listen through one of the original recordings I have linked to in this paragraph (other than Cool Blues and Southern Comfort, where the lick is used repeatedly) and leave a comment in the comment section indicating the timing in the recording where the Cool Blues lick is used.  A further question is: does the soloist use the lick more or less in its original form (i.e. as it appears in ‘Cool Blues’ and the Parker solos linked above), or if not, how many notes from the original lick does the soloist use before finding an innovation that fits the lick into its new context?

Probably the best known recording of the jazz standard Afro Blue, composed by Mongo Santamaria, is the recording by the John Coltrane quartet from Live At Birdland.  In a recent recording by Wayne Wallace and Michael Spiro with La Orquestra Sinfonietta, the arrangement adds an intro to Santamaria’s tune that includes two different Toques (rhythms) and Cantos (songs) from the Cuban Santeria tradition addressed to the deity Obatala, with a piano interlude in between them. The second Canto (starting around 2:07, just after the piano interlude) includes a four-note motive that matches the opening of Afro Blue, and so seems likely to have been the inspiration for the jazz tune.   The section opens with the four-note motive, but it is used once more in that section of the intro. I encourage you to listen to Coltrane’s statement of the melody to Afro Blue, which takes up about the first minute of his recording, and leave a comment in the comment section if you can find the timing in the Spiro/Wallace recording where the second use of the four-note motive occurs.

Coincidentally, the same four note phrase that Santamaria quoted in ‘Afro Blue’ also appears near the beginning of the melody in ‘My One And Only Love’, a ballad that Coltrane recorded with vocalist Johnny Hartman on an album released the year before Live at Birdland.  While Coltrane and Hartman’s recording is the authoritative jazz version of the tune, partly because of the way Hartman conversationally interprets the melodic rhythm, the four note phrase that the tune has in common with Afro Blue and the Obatala chant can be heard somewhat more clearly in the recording by Paul McCartney with Diana Krall on piano, particularly in the second A section where the lyrics begin ‘the shadows fall’.  I encourage you to listen once again to Coltrane’s melody statement on Afro Blue, and leave a comment in the comment section if you can find the timing and lyrics in either the Coltrane/Hartman or McCartney recordings of ‘My One And Only Love’ where the four-note Obatala/Afro Blue motive occurs in that melody.  

John Scofield also briefly uses the four-note Afro Blue/Obatala motive in his solo on Herbie Hancock’s arrangement of Scarborough Fair. I encourage you to listen through this interesting arrangement and leave a comment if you can find the timing in the video where Scofield uses this motive.

Having the Obatala/Afro Blue motive firmly in your ‘mind’s ear’ is a good preparation for listening to the epic and iconic solos on the Coltrane ‘Afro Blue’ by McCoy Tyner on piano and Coltrane on soprano saxophone.  While Tyner’s solo follows the basic outline of the tune’s chord progression with much use of the harmonic ‘side-slipping’ (or ‘chromatic planing’) technique that he pioneered and which was a hallmark of his style, Coltrane’s solo is on ‘open F minor’, a prolonged F minor tonality enlivened by Coltrane’s melodic explorations, Tyner’s moving chord voicings within that tonality and drummer Elvin Jones’s explosive and expansive rendering of a swing 6/8 groove. 

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Leading with the left: Blues solos by Tommy Flanagan and Wynton Kelly that use hand-to-hand conversation (State of the Blues, part 10)

In a Keyboard Magazine article from 2011, George Colligan uses the term ‘hand-to-hand conversation’ to describe an aspect of Horace Silver’s style on piano. He demonstrates this with an example from Silver’s solo on ‘Cape Verdean Blues‘ where Silver alternates between right hand melodic lines and left hand chords, mirroring the phrase structure of the head. While I encourage you to listen to the original recording via the link in the last sentence, the specific example from the article can be heard by clicking on ‘EX. 2’ at a Soundcloud page of examples from the article.

I have found that hand-to-hand conversation (which I also call ‘dialogic phrasing’) is a crucial skill for jazz pianists that is often overlooked in discussions of jazz piano techniques. I have heard both Marcus Roberts and Mulgrew Miller mention in workshops with students that is important to find ways to not always play with both hands simultaneously, and more recently I read comments from adjudicator who, along with a good deal of otherwise positive feedback, advised a talented auditioning jazz pianist to ‘decouple’ the hands when taking a solo. I think it is helpful to add that piano is one of the few instruments in jazz (other than drum set) where listeners can hear the distinct sound each hand makes, and hear these different sounds as being in conversation with each other. Thus, while there are many important hands-together techniques that jazz pianists need to learn, it is also important to learn the skill of hand-to-hand conversation.

In developing technique, pianists have to contend with a number of kinds of physical inequality present in the human anatomy. There is a natural inequality of fingers: the first, second and third fingers are naturally more independent than the fourth and fifth. Pianists often practice exercises to work toward increasing the independence of the fingers that are naturally the least independent. Also, pianists who are not naturally ambidextrous – which is to say most pianists – begin their studies of the instrument with one ‘weak’ hand that is naturally less agile than the ‘strong’ hand.

The various piano-playing styles that can be seen in different jazz eras, and among different jazz players in the same era, can be seen as differing responses to the natural inequality of a ‘weak’ left hand and a ‘strong’ right hand. Stride pianists gave the left hand a role that is at least equally challenging to that of the right (and sometimes more challenging) by combining the role of the bass and chord instruments into one limb. In the small group playing of pianists like Bud Powell and Thelonious Monk, the left hand begins to occupy a middle ground between the range of the walking bass line (generally below D3 on the piano) and the melody. These players often used two note ‘shell’ voicings that combine a root or 5th on the bottom with one other chord tone, usually the 7th or 3rd, on top. Sometimes these voicings were expanded to ‘compound tenths’ in which one more chord tone was added, for instance the third above a root-seventh shell. (For more on this style, see my transcription of his solo on ‘Buzzy’ in my post about the influence of his playing on Wynton Kelly’s.) Although some of these players (particularly Monk) played in a stride style as well when playing solo, the newer approach to chord voicing led to improvised solos where the right hand played a more active and chromatic line, mirroring the lines improvised by horn players in the bop era, and the left hand was often much less active than a stride player’s left hand, leaving to bass players, guitarists and drummers the role of being the tune’s metronomic heartbeat.

Sometime in the early to mid 1950s, jazz pianists, I would argue under the influence of players like Erroll Garner, began to move their chord voicings slightly higher in the left hand range of the piano, build them in smaller intervals, and began to alternate root position voicings with ‘rootless’ voicings that combine the two essential notes (the 3rd and the 7th) with one or two additional notes, often ‘upper structure’ notes like 9ths, 11ths and 13ths. Red Garland and Bill Evans, playing in Miles Davis’s mid-century small groups, were among the first and most prominent players to adopt this style of chord voicing, while taking a more sparse rhythmic approach to chord playing than Garner, who often played his close-harmony voicings in insistent quarter notes.

The solo transcriptions below are collaborations with three of my UVM jazz piano students, Alex McPhedran, Harry Woodward and Matthew Fisher. We transcribed solos by two players, Tommy Flanagan and Wynton Kelly, who were slightly younger than Evans and Garland. Kelly took over the piano chair in Davis’s band when Davis abruptly fired Garland, and Kelly alternated with Evans for a time in that chair. Their best known game of musical chairs is the album ‘Kind of Blue’, where Evans plays on most of the tunes and Kelly plays on ‘Freddie Freeloader’, taking a notable and iconic piano solo which is arguably better known and more influential than any of Evans’s solos on the album. Although Flanagan did some brief and little-known recording work with Davis, his better-known earlier recorded work includes trio albums like Overseas and albums like ‘Jazz Lab’ by Donald Byrd and Gigi Gryce and ‘Incredible Jazz Guitar’ by Wes Montgomery. Both Kelly and Flanagan’s left hand approach featured mostly the higher voicings heard in the left hands of Garner, Garland and Evans with occasional use of the lower shell voicings that were so prominent in the improvising of Monk and Powell. In the solos below, Flanagan and Kelly also occasionally break the higher voicings down to two note ‘guide tone’ voicings (often just the 3rd and 7th), or sometimes just a single note.

In contrast to the Horace Silver excerpt cited by Colligan, where right-hand melody ‘questions’ or ‘calls’ are followed with left-hand chordal ‘answers’, Flanagan and Kelly carry on a hand-to-hand conversation with left hand chordal ‘questions’ and the right-hand melodic ‘answers’. While the left hand sometimes continues comping underneath the right hand ‘answers’, I think it is also useful to practice these solos with the entire right hand line but only the left-hand chording that happens in the breaks of the right hand lines. This facilitates playing the solos (simplifying is often a good initial practice strategy) and also emphasizes the dialogic nature of the solos.

On his recording of Charlie Parker’s ‘Relaxin’ at Camarillo’ from the 1996 album ‘Sea Changes’, Tommy Flanagan opens his solo with a series of two-bar phrases where left hand changes on the downbeat are followed by short, spacious right hand phrases. It is interesting to contrast this opening to the opening of Flanagan’s solo on ‘Relaxin” from the trio album ‘Overseas‘, recorded nearly forty years earlier in 1957, where Elvin Jones’s energetic brush work inspires a more dense right hand line from the younger Flanagan. While in his 1957 version Flanagan finds hand-to-hand conversation later in the solo, in his 1996 version, despite playing with the equally energetic support of Lewis Nash on drums and Peter Washington on bass, he had the courage to begin by leaving enough space to make an inner dialogue audible.

The 1961 Miles Davis album ‘Someday My Prince Will Come’ is from a transitional period between his ‘first quintet’ with Red Garland on piano that is heard on four of his iconic ‘apostrophe’ albums (Cookin’, Relaxin’, Workin’ and Steamin’ with the Miles Davis Quintet, all released between 1957 and 1961) and his ‘second quintet’ with Herbie Hancock on piano that first appears on the album ‘E.S.P.’ in 1965. On his first solo from the F blues ‘Pfrancing’, shown below in a transcription by Harry Woodward and myself, Wynton Kelly uses a spacious approach that mirrors the increasing concision of Davis’ playing while still using bebop chromaticism such as that heard at measures 9 and 21-22. In an unusual move for a Davis small-group arrangement, Kelly solos at two other points in the recording, following Davis’ solo, when he echoes Davis’ use of a wider melodic range and ‘outside’ playing, and following Paul Chambers’s bass solo where he incorporates more double-timing. Where Davis and tenor saxophonist Hank Mobley stake out very different stylistic territories in their solos and seem not to be influenced by each other, Kelly is arguably the most responsive soloist on this recording, incorporating more ideas from his immediate surroundings than his bandmates.

In his solo on the shorter version of ‘Joe’s Avenue’, recorded in July 1960, Wynton Kelly arrives at a more dialogic approach in the second chorus of his solo on the AABA form of the tune (in which the A section is the twelve-bar blues progression in B flat). In a mysterious twist, the melody, harmony and form of ‘Joe’s Avenue’ is identical to that of the tune ‘Scotch and Water’, credited to pianist Joe Zawinul on a later recording by cornetist Nat Adderley with Zawinul (on the 1961 album ‘Naturally!’, which features Kelly appears on other tracks.) While the title ‘Joe’s Avenue’ sounds like a mishearing of ‘Joe Zawinul’ (in his opening monologue on the recording of Zawinul’s iconic Mercy, Mercy, Mercy, Cannonball Adderley pronounces the ‘w’ in Zawinul like a ‘v’), the fact that Kelly’s recording came first suggests that he could be the composer of the tune. In contrast to another available take of ‘Joe’s Avenue‘, where Kelly’s soloing becomes more ornate toward the end, on this shorter take, Kelly hits a conversational stride near the end of his solo, clearing out space at the beginnings of his right hand phrases so that his chords can clearly be heard as questions. Rather than more traditional solo trajectory of sparse to busy, Kelly increases his use of space later in the melodic story. (See below the transcription for more examples of this kind of solo.)

Other solo choruses that show players arriving at a greater use of space later in a solo include Miles Davis’ third chorus in his solo on Red Garland’s ‘Blues By Five’, Art Farmer’s third chorus on ‘Cool Struttin’ from the Sonny Clark album of the same name, Herbie Hancock’s third chorus on ‘Autumn Leaves’ from ‘Miles Davis in Europe’, Keith Jarrett’s third chorus on ‘Autumn Leaves’ from ‘Live At The Blue Note’, and Kelly’s solo on the version of Wes Montgomery’s ‘Four On Six’ from ‘Smokin’ at the Half Note’. In contrast to Flanagan’s more right-hand-heavy solo on ‘Four On Six’ from the version on ‘Incredible Jazz Guitar’, on ‘Smokin’ at the Half Note’ Kelly builds his solo toward a second chorus where he uses hand-to-hand conversation on the quick ii-V changes in Montgomery’s progression, which is built on the chord progression to George Gershwin’s ‘Summertime’, to which Montgomery adds number of passing chords.

this blog post copyright 2022 Tom Cleary

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Broken Heart for Sale: a tune based on the changes of ‘All of Me’ and a glossary of melodic root position chord patterns – also, a history of the ‘All of Me’ chord progression

The song ‘All of Me’ by Seymour Simons and Gerald Marks is a jazz standard which has been recorded by countless artists. Two versions which show the multiple possibilities the tune contains for improvisers are the studio version by Count Basie and his Orchestra, where Basie’s relaxed, minimalist approach to the melody alternates with aggressively swinging horn passages, and the somewhat faster version by Ella Fitzgerald arranged by Nelson Riddle, which features one of Fitzgerald’s classic quote-riddled scat solos (among the tunes she quotes here are ‘The Sailor’s Hornpipe’, ‘The Irish Washerwoman’ and ‘Heart of My Heart’). For some thoughts on where the opening chords to ‘All of Me’ may have originated, as well as some later tunes that have similar opening chords (including compositions by Robbie Robertson, Thelonious Monk, and one I wrote for the Mike Gordon band) see the last paragraph of this post.

‘Broken Heart for Sale’ is a tune I composed based on the chord changes to ‘All of Me’, partially inspired by Fitzgerald’s allusive approach to constructing a new melodic line on the tune’s changes.  It uses melodic vocabulary from a ‘Glossary of Melodic Root Position Chord Patterns’  (a.k.a. GOMRoPChoP) that I developed as a tool to help students familiarize themselves with the basic jazz chord types by hearing them in the context of a strong melodic line:

The melody of my original tune is an effort to demonstrate the ‘innovate’ stage of the ’emulate, assimilate, innovate’ process that Clark Terry describes as being integral to the development of improvisers.  While I borrow the opening gesture of ‘I Can’t Get Started‘ in the first measure, I rhythmically recontextualize by starting it on the downbeat of beat three (it originally begins on the ‘and’ of 3).  I also precede it with a 3 note descending pattern.  In m. 5, I borrow a melodic gesture from Israel ‘Cachao’ Lopez’s ‘Malanga Amarilla’, but I transpose the first note down an octave, remove a repeated note, use the flat 9 rather than the original natural 9, and remove the tail of the phrase.  Other melodic phrases from the GOMRoPChoP that I use in ‘Broken Heart for Sale’ include m.5 from ‘I Thought About You‘, Camille Thurman’s solo on ‘Sassy’s Blues’, the ‘crazy music’ lick from ‘Moody’s Mood for Love’ (i.e., James Moody’s solo on ‘I’m In The Mood for Love’), ‘Later For You’ by Elmo Hope and ’26-2′ by John Coltrane.

Here is a link to my keyboard video of ‘Broken Heart For Sale’.  While this is an instrumental version, I also have lyrics to the tune and hope to add a vocal version soon.  After playing the head, which is accompanied with three note root position voicings, I begin my solo with a ‘melody scrabble’ approach, spontaneously reorganizing the pitch collections in each bar of the tune.  In my second chorus of solo, I switch to using rootless voicings, which results in my right hand soloing moving to a higher register.  Here is a link to the playalong I created for the ‘Broken Heart’ video which you can use for practicing the tune, and a link to a recording of a scale outline that models a ‘hand to hand conversation’ approach to coordinating LH ‘chord questions’ and RH melodic ‘answers’. A downloadable chart for the tune with piano voicings is below:

I would recommend learning ‘Broken Heart for Sale’ in the following ways and in this order:

1) learn to play the chord voicings from ‘Broken Heart’ with the melody of All of Me.  I’d recommend first memorizing the melody in your RH from a lead sheet and reading the LH voicings from my chart, and then memorizing both melody and voicings (while noticing how the melody clearly outlines the progression.)  While it is important to learn the melody of All of Me as notated in published charts, it is also crucial to listen to interpretations of the melody by great jazz performers, particularly the versions by Count Basie and Ella Fitzgerald mentioned above.

2) learn my composed melody to ‘Broken Heart for Sale’ as an exercise in building a melodic line out of chord-based melodic patterns.  Work on following the melody with a chorus of ‘melody scrabble’ improvising, as I do in my solo. 

‘All of Me’, which was published in 1931, begins with a I-III7-VI7-ii progression – the tonic major chord followed by two dominant chords leading to the minor ii.  Jule Styne seems to have borrowed most of the progression of ‘All of Me’ for his 1942 tune ‘I’ve Heard That Song Before‘, a title which could be a reference to the borrowed progression.  The opening chords of ‘All of Me’ might have been borrowed from two hit songs that preceded it, ‘Five Foot Two, Eyes of Blue (Has Anybody Seen My Gal?)‘ by Joe Young, Ray Henderson, and Sam M. Lewis, published in 1925, and ‘Please Don’t Talk About Me When I’m Gone‘ by Bee Palmer, Sam Stept and Sidney Clare, published in 1930.  The progressions for these two tunes begin with the same I-III7-VI7 progression heard in ‘All of Me’, but with each chord lasting only one measure rather than the two measure changes heard in ‘All of Me’.  In the two earlier tunes, the first three chords are followed by a dominant 7th II chord; ‘All of Me’ uses a minor ii chord at this point, which is clearly outlined in the melody. While the speaker in the lyrics of ‘Five Foot Two’ describes the features of a missing sweetheart (‘Five foot two / eyes of blue / but oh, what those five foot could do / has anybody seen my gal?’), the lyrics of  ‘Please Don’t Talk About Me’ could be read as telling the other side of the story, giving voice to the thoughts of a departed lover (‘Please don’t talk about me when I’m gone / oh, honey, though our friendship ceases from now on’).  It seems likely that Thelonious Monk borrowed the A section of ‘Five Foot Two’ in 1951 for his tune ‘Four In One‘, the title of which seems to be a reference to ‘Five Foot Two’.  The opening chords of ‘Five Foot Two’ also appear at the beginning of Robbie Robertson’s ‘Ophelia‘, which like ‘Five Foot Two’ describes a missing woman.  I used the ‘Five Foot Two’ / ‘Please Don’t Talk About Me’ chord progression in a tune called ‘I Miss My Mind‘ which I wrote and performed during my time with the Mike Gordon band.  I would occasionally use ‘Four In One’ as an intro to the tune, as on this live version from Pawtucket, RI.

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Wall, cardboard and paper pianos as practice tools

In 1947, the great jazz pianist and composer Bud Powell was sent to Creedmoor State Hospital, ‘one of the largest and most highly populated psychiatric facilities in New York State at the time’, writes Powell biographer Peter Pullman in Wail: The Life of Bud Powell.  A story from that time indicates how challenging it is for any musician, and particularly one of Powell’s caliber, to be involuntarily confined without access to their instrument.  Pullman writes that “a visit, which has been recounted in a number of printed sources, was supposed to have been made by Elmo Hope. The tale has Powell pointing to the wall above his hospital bed, where he had drawn some piano keys. ‘What do you think of this new tune that I’ve written?’ Powell supposedly asked, as his fingers struck the keys on the wall.” 

Two years into his time at Creedmoor, on February 23, 1949, Powell was given a day pass to do his first recording session as a leader.  Although Powell had had little access to a piano at Creedmoor, he had participated in a show performed at the institution by current inmates and community members called “The Rodeo Minstrel Revue of 1949”, an event for which Pullman writes that hospital administrators had ‘held up Powell’s release’.  Pullman also deduces that Powell’s likely found a way to include some of his original tunes in the show, because when he arrived at the recording session he ‘came prepared with four original compositions…he had cleverly used his Minstrel Show rehearsal time to practice his repertoire and work on the improvisations.’  One of those original compositions was ‘Celia‘, dedicated to Powell’s daughter whose birth he was not able to attend, as she was born during his stay at Creedmoor.  Pullman writes that ‘this hopeful, vernal melody had been composed during the previous year’s hellish incarceration.’  It seems likely, then, that ‘Celia’ may have been the tune that Powell silently played for Elmo Hope using the piano keys he drew on the wall of the institution. 

The story of Powell drawing piano keys on the hospital wall and playing them is one of a number of accounts I’ve found of both professional and aspiring pianists drawing silent keyboards as a way of continuing to practice.  A New Yorker article by Demetrius Cunningham describes his practicing on a homemade cardboard piano, which made it possible for him to become the accompanist for a prison choir.  In a BBC profile, pianist Andrew Garrido tells of how practicing along with recordings on a paper piano got him through the first five grades of the Royal Academy of Music piano curriculum and began a career that eventually led him to study piano in a conservatory.  In these times when the occasional need to quarantine is a fact of life, these stories remind us that musicians who find creative solutions through which they can continue practicing can both make the conditions they face a bit more bearable and move their musical progress in new directions.

If you are quarantined without access to a piano or keyboard, but you have access to a printer, you could download and print out the two attached keyboard jpgs that can be found below.  Fold over or cut off with scissors the left-hand 8 and 1/2 inch side of the jpg titled ‘Keys 2’ (the one with F on the left side) and attach it to the right-hand 8 and 1/2 inch side of Keys 1 (the jpg with C on the left side) with scotch tape if possible or masking tape on the upper and lower edges where the pages come together. 

Another option is the Virtual Piano Keyboard at On this keyboard, white keys C3 to E4 on the virtual keyboard correspond with the  keys for letters Q,W,E,R,T,Y,U,I,O,P on the alphabetic keyboard.  On the numeric keys, 2,3,5,6,7,9 and 0 correspond to the black keys for that range.  The middle and lower rows of alphabetic keys correspond to black and white keys from F4 to Bb5.  On Virtual Piano, the ‘sustain pedal’ (usually played with the right foot on an actual piano) is a button above the piano (next to buttons marked Letter Names and Keyboard Marks).  The sustain pedal is automatically ‘on’ when the page loads, so you’ll need to click on this to turn it off (so it goes grey rather than white.)  The sustain on Virtual Piano is an odd effect not really the same as the actual pedal.  I recommend having Google metronome open in another window set to a slow tempo. If you turn on the Letter Names button on Virtual Piano, it will display letter names on the keys, which may be helpful.  Navigating Virtual Piano via the QWERTY keyboard is quite different from navigating the piano keyboard, but it has enough similarities that it creates a useful virtual modeling of the keyboard.  Here’s a video where I played one of the pieces from my beginning piano class on Virtual Piano.

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‘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, specifically his B flat blues ‘Bloomdido’, as a source of ideas for improvising on the I-IV progression that is often used for solos on Josef Zawinul’s ‘Mercy, Mercy, Mercy’.  This type of progression can also be heard in the middle section of ‘In A Silent Way‘, Miles Davis’s early, extended experiment in electric instrumentation,  Eddie Harris’s solo on Les McCann’s ‘You Got It In Your Soulness’, and the solo section of ‘Jessica’ by The Allman Brothers.  A similar progression also appears near the end of Mike Gordon’s tune ‘Another Door’, which I would often solo on during my years playing in his band (2008-14).  This video of the end of the tune at Chicago’s Park West shows both how much fun I had playing in that band and how much trouble I had being adequately heard over the din of its stage volume. The I-IV progressions in these tunes also bear a resemblance to the imin7 – IV7 progressions heard in Herbie Hancock’s ‘Chameleon’ and Pink Floyd’s ‘Breathe’. 

Cannonball Adderley’s original version of ‘Mercy, Mercy, Mercy’ is, along with Duke Ellington’s ‘Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue’ and Ramsey Lewis’ version of ‘The In Crowd’ and ‘Hard Day’s Night’, one of the classic jazz recordings including audience participation.  In the liner notes for a later Adderley album, Michael Cuscuna mentions that ‘Mercy, Mercy, Mercy’ was recorded not in a club but in a recording studio with an invited audience and an open bar.  Josef Zawinul’s solo on Wurlitzer electric piano alternates between moving in eighth notes and moving in short bursts of sixteenth notes.  The relaxed groove of the recording derives from the way Zawinul alternates between these two note values just enough to maintain a sense of forward motion in his solo. 

In solos on later versions of the tune, like Tom Scott’s solo on the version of ‘Mercy, Mercy, Mercy’ from the tribute album Cannon Reloaded, longer strings of sixteenth notes become a vehicle for introducing bebop melodic moves, such as ‘enclosing’ or ‘surrounding’ scale steps with chromatic neighbor tones and adding half steps on upbeats between scale steps.  Scott’s solo clearly shows the influence of Charlie Parker; my idea in composing ‘Blue Mercy line’ was to go directly to Scott’s likely source, Parker’s improvising as shown in the transcriptions from the ‘Charlie Parker Omnibook’, for ideas on how to construct a bop-style melodic line on a I-IV vamp.  I studied ways that Parker melodically navigated the change from the I7 to the IV7 chord during the blues progression in ‘Bloomdido’, and integrated them into a new melodic line over a I-IV vamp. 

I originally conceived Blue Mercy Line to be played at the tempo of ‘Mercy, Mercy, Mercy’, and I performed it that way several times.  After my friend bassist Paul Rogalski (of the band Mojomama) posted a bass-and-drum groove on Facebook in the key of A, I realized ‘Blue Mercy’ could also work at this tempo, which is similar the tempo of ‘Another Door’.  The recording posted below features Rogalski’s virtuosic popping and slapping on electric bass. 

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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 husband was the legendary bop pianist Elmo Hope. Hope and his close friends Thelonious Monk and Bud Powell hung out and practiced so often together than they became known as ‘The Three Musketeers’, and while Hope is lesser known than Monk and Powell, his influence is continues to be heard in jazz today. Tenor saxophonist Archie Shepp dedicated a composition to him, and his music has been recorded by vocalist Roberta Gambarini as well as pianists Benny Green, Brad Mehldau and Tigran Hamasyan.  As I mention in my blog post Musical Neighbors, I consider both Elmo and Bertha Hope to be part of the ‘Three Musketeers Collective’ along with Bud Powell, Thelonious Monk and Mary Lou Williams.  Her second husband was the bassist Walter Booker, who plays bass on all of her albums; he died in 2006.  Since then, Ms. Hope has continued to perform and compose, including a recent concert of Elmo Hope’s music at the Jazz Museum in Harlem. 

I was also fortunate to have Bertha Hope work with my student jazz ensemble at UVM in an online coaching session this past spring. My group performed tunes by Ms. Hope including ‘Gone To See T’ (a tribute to Thelonious Monk), ‘Book’s Bok’ (which she mentioned includes her variation on the changes to Bobby Hebb’s ‘Sunny’, which I discuss in an earlier post) and Elmo Hope’s ‘De-Dah’. Here is a screen shot from the Q&A section of the workshop, taken while Bertha was in the process of answering a question by audience member Irene Choi, ‘What is jazz to you?’ As Irene remembers, Bertha’s answer began: ‘as Duke Ellington put it, ‘It Don’t Mean A Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing’. The picture captures some of the wonderful interaction in the workshop between the students’ inquisitiveness and Ms. Hope’s deep knowledge.

Before Ms. Hope worked with my combo, I transcribed her solo on the title tune from ‘In Search of Hope’, which she co-composed with Walter Booker.  I find it to be a great example of what George Colligan terms ‘hand-to-hand conversation’.  In an interview shortly before the workshop, I had the chance to ask Ms. Hope whether she thought carrying on a conversation between left-hand chordal comping and and right-hand melodic improvising.  Her answers, transcribed below from our conversation, are an elegant demonstration in words of concepts that her solo demonstrates in music, including breathing, listening and taking time to shape phrases deliberately. 

” [Pianist and educator] Ronnie Matthews said to me, ‘contrary to public belief, always let your right hand know what your left hand is doing’.  You know the old saying ‘don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing’? [Perhaps the original source of this saying is the Gospel of Matthew Chapter 3, verses 6 and 5: ‘But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.’]  Musically, that doesn’t work for the piano.  You have to always let one hand inform the other, so that they’re engaged in a conversation.  Sometimes there are blocked chords, you know, you play a chorus of locked hands, or a single line, and it’s kind of an internal conversation that you have with yourself, the two parts of the brain that are handling your fingers and all that information.  And I think that’s what individualizes people’s playing.  I don’t have any really hard and fast rules about it.”

I mentioned that a common challenge for developing and aspiring jazz pianists, particularly right-handed ones, is getting a conversation going between the left and right hands, because it is so easy for the right hand to take over.

Bertha continued,  “And part of that is because they have so much to say!  They’re so intense.  You have to stop and think about breathing when you talk to people.  While you’re listening, you’re breathing.  Even inside of your own conversation, your own delivery, you have to take a breath.  So breathing while you play, into your phrases, is a very important thing to try to get your students to manipulate while they’re learning how to improvise.  Breathe!  What is this next thing you want to say?  Are you delivering run-on sentences that don’t go anywhere?  Do you have something in mind about where you end and where you begin something else?  Are you just so intense about keeping your hands on the keyboard that you play something that doesn’t have any real meaning, that doesn’t satisfy you enough so you keep going, keep going, keep going?  So you have to stop and think about…just the way a singer has to stop and think about a meaningful breath so that the words have continuity.  The instrumentalist has to think the same way.”

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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), ‘Solar’ (by guitarist Chuck Wayne), the ‘old ‘ ‘Milestones’ from the sessions with Charlie Parker on tenor sax (by a number of accounts, composed by pianist John Lewis) and ‘Blue In Green’ (by pianist Bill Evans).  In a live recording by Vinson, the tune is played as a sixteen-bar form, starting with three ii-V-I progressions the keys of which descend by whole steps, followed by a phrase where the V and I chords in the key of Bb (F7 and Bbmaj7) are bookended by the ii and V chords in the key of D (Em7 and A7). Miles Davis recorded the tune twice, first a 1953 version for the album Blue Haze, followed by a 1956 version for Cookin’ with the Miles Davis Quintet. In the Blue Haze version, he makes what appears to be his only contribution to the tune, extending it to a thirty-two bar form; I borrowed this progression for my original tunes which are shown below. 

Below you will find links to videos and sheet music for two different versions of my tune ‘Afternoon River Bop’, which borrows phrases from tunes by (in order) Miles Davis and Gil Evans, Arthur Hamilton, Miles Davis (a different tune) and John Lewis.  ‘Afternoon River Bop #1’ makes each chord change a separate ‘question’ with a separate melodic ‘answer’, and is somewhat more approachable in terms of technique.  The video for ‘Afternoon River Bop #1’ also includes a demonstration of a scale outline for the progression, which I have also included a notated version of below. In the video I also play a slightly different melody and use mostly root position voicings rather than the rootless chord voicings shown in the chart. In ‘Afternoon River Bop #2’, I have more chromatic phrases that melodically connect the ii-V chord pairs (Em7-A7, Dm7-G7, Cm7-F7).  These phrases are ‘bookended’ by chord voicings on either side of the phrase.  ‘Afternoon River Bop #2’ works particularly well as a countermelody to ‘Tune Up’. 

Link to video of Afternoon River Bop #1

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One Time Only (in memory of Ellen Powell, with a short history of the progression to ‘There Will Never Be Another You’)

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’. One measure of the influence of this tune on jazz musicians are the tunes that have been written by jazz composers on its progression, including Horace Silver’s Split Kick and John Scofield’s Not You Again.

Here’s a link to a video of my solo piano rendition of ‘One Time Only’. Like the vocalist and pianist Shirley Horn, Ellen was committed to exploring slower tempos, including ballads and slow Latin jazz feels like bossa nova, so ‘One Time Only’ is a slow bossa. (I wrote about Horn and transcribed one of her rare but highly swingin’ piano solos in an earlier post.) The melody of ‘One Time Only’ is inspired by some beautiful phrases Ellen played in a solo on a recording we made together; a link to that recording and a transcription of the solo is below. In building a new melody out of the phrases of a player whose improvising I admire, my model is the lesser known trumpeter and better known composer Benny Harris, who built his tune ‘Ornithology’ out of Charlie Parker phrases (see my blog post on that tune), repurposed a phrase from Bud Powell’s tune ‘Strictly Confidential‘ in his composition ‘Reets and I‘ (also originally recorded by Powell), and built ‘Crazeology’ (a.k.a. ‘Little Bennie’) out of phrases by Powell and Dizzy Gillespie.

As a side note, it is interesting to note that both Billy Joel’s ‘New York State of Mind’ and Paul McCartney’s ‘Yesterday’ begin with chord progressions that seem to be excerpted from the opening of ‘Another You’. As Joel mentions in an interview with Judy Carmichael, he studied briefly with the great jazz pianist Lennie Tristano, who had ‘Another You’ in his repertoire and recorded it a number of times, including this version from the mid-1950s. In an interview with Stephen Colbert, McCartney mentions that some of his earliest piano playing was accompanying family singalongs where ‘all the old aunties’ would sing ‘all the old songs’. Given that he mentions specifically songs as old as ‘When The Red, Red Robin Comes Bob, Bob, Bobbin’ Along’ from 1926 and ‘Chicago (That Toddlin’ Town)’ from 1922, it seems likely that ‘Another You’, which was published in 1942, might have been included, as we can assume the singalongs he was playing for were likely in the early 1950s.

‘One Time Only’ was inspired by Ellen’s solo on her tune ‘Good Dog, Want A Cookie?’, which we recorded for a compilation CD by local jazz players who played in the 1997 Discover Jazz Festival. It was produced and engineered by Joe Davidian and his father Rich Davidian at their home studio. Rich has also made a wonderful video for the tune featuring pictures of Ellen’s dogs, to whom she was very devoted, particularly Elsa and Muffin.

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