Friday, March 31, 2017

Dexter Gordon - "Take the 'A' Train"

© -  Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.


Earlier this year, the editorial staff at JazzProfiles posted reviews of two newly released recordings by the late, iconic tenor saxophonist Dexter Gordon in Europe in the late 1960’s: [1] Fried Bananas [Gearbox GB 1535] and [2] Dexter Gordon: Both Sides of Midnight [Black Lion Records BLP 60103; ORGM-1062].


The distinguishing features of both these recordings was that they were recorded in performance in Europe, with European-based rhythm sections [that included some American expatriates], and all showcased Dex and the group stretching out over extended improvisations.


If this wasn’t a surfeit of riches, along comes a third recording by Dexter with these same distinguishing features in the form of ORG Music Group’s LP reissue of the Black Lion LP - Dexter Gordon: Take the ‘A’ Train [ Black Lion LP 60133; ORGM-2085].


In our commentary about  Dexter Gordon: Both Sides of Midnight we drew the distinction between “stretching out” [taking extended choruses] and “saying something” [playing a long solo that engages a listener’s attention because of the manner in which it is structured and its storytelling qualities].


Besides the technical mastery of the instrument that allows for the easy flow of ideas, why are Dexter Gordon’s extended solos so good?


The answer to that question lies in the late, great bassist, bandleader and composer Charles Mingus assertion that “You have to improvise on something.”


And in terms of that “something,” master Jazz musicians like Charles and Dexter Gordon knew that the better the melodic and harmonic basis for the improvisation the easier it was to take extended solos over them.


Interestingly, two of the tunes on Dexter Gordon: Take the ‘A’ Train are included with the 100 Jazz Standards in the eminent Jazz scholar Ted Gioia’s book The Jazz Standards A Guide to the Repertoire because not only are all Jazz musicians expected to know the melody and the chord changes to these tunes, they are also melodies that musicians find intriguing in the sense that they facilitate their ability to say something in the form of expressive and meaningful solos. They can play all day on the melody and chords of these tunes.


And that exactly what Dex, Kenny and NHOP do on But Not For Me and Take the A Train. Ted explains why this is so in the following excerpts from his definitive book


But Not for Me
Composed by George Gershwin, with lyrics by Ira Gershwin


“One of George Gershwin's most beloved standards, "But Not for Me" seems to find a new crossover audience every decade. Film makers love it—not only did the original Broadway musical (Gershwin's Girl Crazy from 1930) inspire three movie adaptations, but "But Not for Me" has regularly appeared in later hit films, including Woody Allen's Manhattan (1979), Rob Reiner's When Harry Met Sally (1989), and Mike Newell's Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994). The song even inspired its own movie, Walter Lang's But Not for Me (1959), which was one of Clark Gable's final efforts.


The song gained some traction with jazz players during the 1940's—Harry James even enjoyed a modest hit with his 1941 recording, which featured vocalist Helen Forrest — but Gershwin's composition was better suited for the cool jazz stars of the 1950's. Chet Baker may have lacked Ella's technique and range, but his 1954 recording of "But Not for Me" ranks among his finest moments in the studio, both for its quintessentially cool vocal and his lyrical trumpet solo. Four months later, Miles Davis recorded the song for his Bags' Groove album, and his two released takes find him playing it initially in a medium tempo similar to Baker's approach, while the second take is faster, and a better setting for his front-line bandmate Sonny Rollins. Ahmad Jamal delivered an appealingly understated piano performance on his live recording from the Pershing from 1958, which was one of the best-selling jazz albums of the period. The Modern Jazz Quartet and Kenny Burrell offered similarly subdued interpretations around this same time.


Most later jazz renditions of "But Not for Me" have kept to the cool ethos. But Coltrane offered a dissenting view with his 1960 recording from his My Favorite Things album. He incorporates his "Giant Steps" chord substitution scheme into the Gershwin piece, and the result is a case study in the advanced harmonic concepts of the time, worthy of inclusion in the curriculum of any jazz educational institution.


Dexter Gordon dispenses with the Coltrane chord changes but achieves a similar energy level on his 1967 recording in Copenhagen, an intense 15-minute outing on "But Not for Me" — including nine full tenor choruses that persuasively demonstrate why this saxophonist was such a formidable combatant at a jam session.”


Take the A Train
Composed by Billy Strayhorn  


Strayhorn had been working on the piece as early as 1939, but was hesitant about presenting it to Ellington because he feared that it sounded like the type of song that Fletcher Henderson, an Ellington rival, might use. … Ellington's decision to adopt the song as his new theme was validated by its immense success. His February 1941 recording stayed on the chart for seven weeks, and soon the tune was picked up by other bandleaders. ...


The hook in the melody stems from its willingness to land emphatically on the flat fifth — the most modern and unstable of the blue notes — in the opening phrase. The effect is jarring but in an uplifting way, and demonstrates that what most Tin Pan Alley composers might have dismissed as excessive dissonance could, in the context of the Ellington band, serve as the most memorable moment in a hit song. …


"Take the A Train" remains a favorite among musicians and fans, and has become so well known that many outside the jazz arena—from Charlie Watts of the Rolling Stones to the rock-pop band Chicago—have tried it on for size. Like other Ellington-Strayhorn standards, "Take the A Train" is often interpreted with reverent fidelity as a period piece, yet some have managed successful reconfigurations. Clifford Brown and Max Roach mounted a hot hard bop takeover of the tune in 1955, and even do a better job than the Duke at mimicking the sound of an actual train. Among the various solo piano versions, Michel Petrucciani's riveting boogie-woogie arrangement rises far above the usual cliches of that idiom, while Sun Ra's live performance in Italy from 1977 manages somehow to respect the original spirit of the composition while gradually layering on various avant-garde elements, eventually ending with a pedal-to-the-metal explosion that threatens to derail the proceedings. But no tour of "Take the A Train" is complete if it doesn't include composer Billy Strayhorn's own performance, captured in an elegant arrangement with strings from 1961.”


Mark Gardner, a frequent contributor to JazzJournal and other Jazz periodical as well as a significant contributor to Barry Kernfeld, ed., The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz, wrote the liner notes to  Dexter Gordon: Take the ‘A’ Train [ Black Lion LP 60133; ORGM-2085] and they provide some wonderful atmospheric detail as to what was going down with Dexter at the time these tracks were recorded.


“The upstairs room of a Birmingham suburban public house was the unlikely setting for my first encounter with Dexter Gordon. That was in the autumn of 1962 when the tenor saxophonist was freshly-arrived in Europe and ready to embark on one of the most productive and happy periods of his career. Clutching a glass of the local brew with no great relish, Dexter chatted affably between sets.


I remember we discussed Wardell Gray at some length, and Dexter smiled fondly as he recalled their intermittent association. He also reported having recently made some recordings with Sonny Clark which he felt were better than his earlier comeback albums.


On the stand, the six foot, five inch figure, sharply togged in houndstooth jacket, charcoal grey slacks and button-down shirt, galvanized that audience with some of the most potent playing any of us had heard. Dexter made a lot of lifetime fans that night.


Five years later, I caught up with Dexter again during a brief weekend gig he made in Manchester, at the behest of the Garside Brothers. Once again on those evenings, his work was electrifying, as Peter Clayton will confirm, since we both sat together spellbound by the power and majesty of Gordon's improvisations.


Just a few months earlier, Dex had been captured on several peak playing nights at his favorite Jazzhus Montmartre club in a series of sets recorded under the supervision of Alan Bates for Black Lion. The resultant performances were of outstanding quality.


They caught Dexter in expansive, relaxed mood in front of an appreciative audience. The Black Lions are undoubtedly among his finest European recordings. This was recognized when a brace of albums from the "Montmartre Collection" were released in the early  1970's and it was comforting to know there were more of that calibre where those came from!


In this new compilation, some 15 years later, here are some of the "more" from those exciting sessions in the Copenhagen venue which was Preacher Gordon's pulpit.


His companions were men with whom Long Tall Dexter felt secure. He had worked with pianist Kenny Drew in California during the mid-1950's, and they had later recorded together for Blue Note in New York and Paris. Close friends as well as being longstanding musical associates, their partnership flourished anew on the Continent.


Niels Henning 0rsted Pedersen was only 20 at the time of these dates, but Gordon regarded him as the best bass player in Europe, an opinion he probably still holds to this day. Actually, Niels Henning long ago became an international favorite, super soloist and a rock in any rhythm section he graces. The big Dane has more than confirmed Dexter's excellent judgement.


As for Al "Tootie" Heath, drummer and youngest of the richly talented Heath brothers, his propulsive work suited Gordon and meshed perfectly with the accompaniment of Drew and NH0P So in this quartet


A measure of the group's ease and unity of purpose is the fact that practically every performance is an extended workout, but as Dexter and Drew unfurl chorus after chorus of inspired and dramatic improvisation who notices the march of time!


As the recording begins, the leader cuts a surging swath through But Not For Me territory. The leader's style, evolved through such carefully selected influences as Lester Young, Charlie Parker, Don Byas and Ben Webster, also reveals that he closely listened to younger men like John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins. These ingredients were intelligently absorbed in a wholly personal framework. Tonally and rhythmically he is completely his own man, a proud, individualistic voice. But Not For Me contains archetypal Dexter with brilliant contributions from Drew and NH0P in deep examination of Gershwin's excellent progression. The long coda includes a number of throwaway quotations from Three Blind Mice and My Kind Of Love among others.


The other scorching item in this particular selection is an express version of Take The 'A' Train, a Duke Ellington chestnut well roasted by the saxophonist who maintains a musical outpouring that is positively majestic for nine incredible choruses. This is an object lesson in how to build a solo. Drew, whose clever paraphrase of Duke's own intro sets the scene, lays out for the opening brace by Dexter, but returns to prompt and probe. Gordon greets the pianist's resumption with a lick from "And The Angels Sing."


"Take The 'A' Train" is an essential piece of Dexteriana, a brilliant example of his colossal talent and artistic discipline. Listen to this solo 50 times and it will still surprise and satisfy.


Since the time of these recordings, Dexter Gordon has continued to flourish, making his mark as a sensitive actor in the movie Hound Midnight and recording prolifically. He re-settled in the USA during the 1970's and for the first time was signed by a major label.


However, I firmly believe that he performed at his peak in the 1960's and it is now clear that these Black Lion sessions are among his best works - full of vibrant energy and creative consistency.


I find it difficult to believe that the lean, lanky, youthful looking man I first met all those years ago is now a veteran in his 67th year. But with eyes closed and "Take


The 'A' Train" playing -  the years roll back as I'm once again in that smoke-filled pub lounge, and Dexter, knees shaking, and fingers flying is educating us all over again. And it was exactly the same, I'm sure, at the Montmartre as the hip Danes worshiped at the master's feet. We are privy to that experience on this invaluable set.”


Dexter Gordon: Take the ‘A’ Train is available in streaming, audio CD and vinyl formats from Amazon and other online retailers and it is also available through iTunes.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The Modern Jazz Quartet - "No Sun In Venice" [From the Archives]

© -  Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.


© -  Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

It didn’t last very long, but it was fun while it did.

Movies and TV series with Jazz scores written and performed by prominent composers, arrangers and Jazz combos were all the rage for a while.

Johnny Mandel’s score to the movie I Want to Live, Miles Davis’ themes and improvised sketches for  Ascenseur Pour L'Echafaud (Lift To The Scaffold, and one that has always been among my favorites, pianist John Lewis’ original film score to No Sun in Venice which he performs with his colleagues on The Modern Jazz Quartet No Sun in Venice LP/CD [Atlantic 1284-2].

A recent listening of this recording prompted me to do a bit of research about the group and how John Lewis came to write and record the film score in 1957.


I must admit that the cover painting by J.M.W. Turner [1775-1851], one of a series of famous Venetian oils he created about la serenissima, may have had a great influence on my purchase of this recording as I had never heard the music of the Modern Jazz Quartet [MJQ], nor had I seen the movie.

Thus began my enamorment with one of the most unique groups in the history of Jazz.

Gary Giddins provided this background on the formation of the MJQ in these excerpts from his masterful Visions of Jazz: The First Century:

Modern Jazz Quartet [The First  Forty Years]

“‘In creating, the only hard thing is to begin,’ wrote James Russell Lowell [Poet, Harvard Professor, Editor of The Atlantic Monthly]. For the Modern Jazz Quartet, the world's most venerable chamber group in or out of jazz, the beginning was a three-year trial. Few people in the early '50s would have entertained the idea that a small jazz band could flourish over four decades, bridging generations and styles. Big bands had proved durable in part because, like symphony orchestras, they could withstand changes in personnel, and because they counted on dancers to sustain their appeal. No jazz chamber group had ever lasted more than a few seasons.

When the MJQ first convened, American music was in one of its many transitional phases. The public's taste changed with frightening alacrity. A decade earlier, the country was jitterbugging to swing. After the war, bop ruled jazz, while big bands struggled for survival and pop songs grew increasingly bland. In 1952, there was talk of a cool school in jazz, while younger listeners were drawn to rhythm and blues. A couple of years down the road, there would be hard bop, soul, and rock and roll. Then the deluge: third stream, free jazz, neo-romanticism, acid rock, new music, fusion, neoclassicism, disco, original instruments, hip hop, grunge, and more.

Yet through it all, the Modern Jazz Quartet persisted and prospered. We do well to remember that the fortieth anniversary of the MJQ in 1992 was only the seventy-fifth anniversary of jazz on records, if we honor as genesis the sensationally successful 1917 Victor release of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band's "Livery Stable Blues” b/w "Dixie Jazz Band One-Step.” Thirty-five years later, on December 22, 1952, John Lewis, Milt Jackson, Percy Heath, and Kenny Clarke met at a Manhattan recording studio leased by Prestige Records and recorded two standards ("All the Things You Are" and "Rose of the Rio Grande") and two Lewis originals with exotic names: "La Ronde," which had its origins in a piece recorded by the Dizzy Gillespie orchestra, and "Vendome," which prefigured the merging of jazz and fugal counterpoint that became an abiding trademark of the MJQ. The records were widely noted, but less widely embraced. With Lewis spending most of his time working toward a master's degree at the Manhattan School of Music, the first session was — notwithstanding a gig in an obscure Greenwich Village bistro called the Chantilly — an isolated foray.

The world was a different place that chilly day. At the very moment the quartet cut those records, President-elect Eisenhower was at the Commodore Hotel a few blocks away, meeting with a group of Negro clergymen to whom he expressed "amazement" that discrimination was widely practiced; he promised to appoint a commission to study the matter, adding that he was determined to abide by the law even if every Negro in America voted against him. Also in the news: the Soviets accused the U.S. of murdering eighty-two North Korean and Chinese POWs; allied fighter-bombers strafed Korean supply depots; more than seven hundred protesters staged a rally for the Rosenbergs at Sing Sing; Sugar Ray Robinson announced his retirement from the ring. The New York Times''s music pages noted a concert by George Szell and Guiomar Novaes and two debuts by Stravinsky, but, as was customary, expended not a word on jazz or popular music, and devoted twice the space to radio listings as to television.

In jazz, 1952 is best remembered for the formation of the MJQ, but it was also the year Count Basie (a profound influence on Lewis) returned to big band music after leading an octet for two years; Gerry Mulligan started his pathbreaking quartet; and Eddie Sauter fused with Bill Finegan. Norman Granz took Jazz at the Philharmonic to Europe, where Dizzy Gillespie's sextet was also on tour. Fletcher Henderson died, and trombonist George Lewis was born. Clifford Brown went on the road with an r & b band, while John Coltrane played section tenor for Earl Bostic and Cecil Taylor matriculated at the New England Conservatory. Louis Armstrong had two hit records, "Kiss of Fire" and a remake of "Sleepy Time Down South"; George Shearing introduced his "Lullaby of Birdland"; Thelonious Monk recorded with a trio for the first time in five years. Charlie Parker didn't record in a studio, but he kept busy, performing "Hot House" with Gillespie on TV, leading his strings at the Rockland Palace and Carnegie Hall, and working Birdland with four musicians who, one month later, would make their recorded debut as the Modern Jazz Quartet.”

[Connie Kay replaced Clarke in 1954 and remained in the drum chair with the MJQ until his death in 1994.]

In reviewing the MJQ’s recordings from 1955-onward that have been released as CD’s on Prestige, Atlantic and Pablo Records, some of the qualities that make the Modern Jazz Quartet’s music unique are described in Richard Cook and Brian Morton’s The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed.:

“Frequently dismissed - as unexciting, pretentious, bland, Europeanized, pat - the MJQ remained hugely popular for much of the last 30 years, filling halls and consistently outselling most other jazz acts. The enigma lies in that epithet 'Modern' for, inasmuch as the MJQ shifted more product than anyone else, they were also radicals (or maybe that American hybrid, radical-conservatives) who have done more than most barnstorming revolutionaries to change the nature and form of jazz performance, to free it from its changes-based theme-and-solos cliches. Leader/composer John Lewis has a firm grounding in European classical music, particularly the Baroque, and was a leading light in both Third Stream music and the Birth Of The Cool sessions with Gerry Mulligan and Miles Davis. From the outset he attempted to infuse jazz performance with a consciousness of form, using elements of through-composition, counterpoint, melodic variation and, above all, fugue to multiply the trajectories of improvisation. And just as people still, even now, like stories with a beginning, middle and end, people have liked the well-made quality of MJQ performances which, on their night, don't lack for old-fashioned excitement.

The fact that they had been Dizzy's rhythm section led people to question the group's viability as an independent performing unit. The early recordings more than resolve that doubt. Lewis has never been an exciting performer (in contrast to Jackson, who is one of the great soloists in jazz), but his brilliant grasp of structure is evident from the beginning. Of the classic MJQ pieces -'One Bass Hit', 'The Golden Striker', 'Bags' Groove' - none characterizes the group more completely than Lewis's 'Django', first recorded in the session of December 1954.

The Prestige [The Artistry of the Modern Jazz Quartet]is a useful CD history of the early days of the band, but it's probably better to hear the constituent sessions in their entirety. Some of the material on the original two-disc vinyl format has been removed to make way for a Sonny Rollins/MJQ set ('No Moe', 'The Stopper', 'In A Sentimental Mood', 'Almost Like Being In Love'), which is a pity, for this material was long available elsewhere.

Connie Kay slipped into the band without a ripple; sadly, his ill-health and death were the only circumstances in the next 40 years of activity necessitating a personnel change. His cooler approach, less overwhelming than Clarke's could be, was ideal, and he sounds right from the word 'go'. His debut was on the fine Concorde, which sees Lewis trying to blend jazz improvisation with European counterpoint. It combines some superb fugal writing with a swing that would have sounded brighter if recording quality had been better. Though the integration is by no means always complete, it's more appealing in its very roughness than the slick Bach-chat that turns up on some of the Atlantics.

The label didn't quite know what to do with the MJQ, but the Erteguns [Ahmet and Neshui, brothers who emigrated to the USA from Turkey] were always alert to the demographics and, to be fair, they knew good music when they heard it. One of the problems the group had in this, arguably their most consistent phase creatively, was that everything appeared to need conceptual packaging, even when the music suggested no such thing. Chance associations, like the celebrated version of Ornette's 'Lonely Woman', were doubtless encouraged by the fact that they shared a label, and this was all to the good; there are, though, signs that in later years, as rock began to swallow up a bigger and bigger market share, the group began to suffer from the inappropriate packaging. Though home-grown compositions reappear throughout the band's history (there's a particularly good 'Django' on Pyramid), there are also constant references to standard repertoire as well and some of these are among the group's greatest achievements.

By the same inverted snobbery that demands standards rather than 'pretentious classical rubbish', it's long been a useful cop-out to profess admiration only for those MJQ albums featuring right-on guests. The earlier Silver collaboration isn't as well known as a justly famous encounter with Sonny Rollins at Music Inn, reprising their encounters of 1951, 1952 and 1953, which were really the saxophonist's gigs. Restored in a fresh mastering, it's clear how much Sonny was an interloper on an already skilled, tight unit. Most of the record is by the MJQ alone, including one of their delicious standard medleys and a brilliant reading of Lewis's 'Midsommer'. The two (live) tracks which Rollins appears on aren't entirely satisfactory, since he cannot make much impression on 'Bags' Groove', already a Jackson staple, and sounds merely discursive on 'A Night In Tunisia'. Overall, this set very much belongs to the MJQ.

Lewis's first exploration of characters from the commedia dell’arte came in Fontessa, an appropriately chill and stately record that can seem a little enigmatic, even off-putting. He develops these interests considerably in the simply titled Comedy, which largely consists of dulcet character-sketches with unexpected twists and quietly violent dissonances. The themes of commedia are remarkably appropriate to a group who have always presented themselves in sharply etched silhouette, playing a music that is deceptively smooth and untroubled but which harbours considerable jazz feeling and, as on both Fontessa and Comedy, considerable disruption to conventional harmonic progression.

Given Lewis's interests and accomplishments as an orchestrator, there have been surprisingly few jazz-group-with-orchestra experiments. More typical, perhaps, than the 1987 Three Windows is what Lewis does on Lonely Woman. One of the very finest of the group's albums, this opens with a breathtaking arrangement of Ornette Coleman's haunting dirge and then proceeds with small-group performances of three works - 'Animal Dance', 'Lamb, Leopard' and 'Fugato' - which were originally conceived for orchestral performance. Remarkably, Lewis's small-group arrangements still manage to give an impression of symphonic voicings.

Kay's ill-health finally overcame him in December 1994 and the following February, the MJQ issued in his memory a concert from 1960, recorded in what was then Yugoslavia, a relatively innocuous destination on the international tour. Whatever its historical resonance, it inspired (as John Lewis discovered when he auditioned these old tapes) one of the truly great MJQ performances, certainly one of the very best available to us on disc. It knocks into a cocked hat even the new edition of the so-called Last Concert. Jackson's playing is almost transcendentally wonderful on 'Bags' Groove' and 'I Remember Clifford', and the conception of Lewis's opening commedia sequence could hardly be clearer or more satisfying. Dedicated To Connie is a very special record and has always been our favourite of the bunch, ….”

Gary Kramer provides this explanation of the turn-of-events that brought about the occasion of John Lewis’ film score for No Sun in Venice in his insert notes to The Modern Jazz Quartet No Sun in Venice LP/CD [Atlantic 1284-2].


“In December 1956 the globe-trotting Modern Jazz Quartet found itself in Paris. Among the enthusiastic Parisians who flocked to St. Germain-des-Pres to hear the group was Raoul Levy, producer of the film And God Created Woman and other international cinema hits. Levy did not come over to the Left Bank merely to spend a pleasant evening digging jazz sounds, but to make John Lewis a business proposition. He was about to produce Sait-On Jamais, a film to star Francoise Arnoul, and wanted to know whether John would be free to write the background music and whether it would be possible to use The Modern Jazz Quartet to make the soundtrack.

John consented to write the score and worked on it assiduously during his scanty leisure hours while he and the Quartet were touring the United States in the first months of 1957. Despite the fact that some of the music was written in Los Angeles, some in Chicago, some of it in New York, the score has structural unity and a high degree of internal organization. It was John Lewis' first film score and represented a special challenge. As he put it, "Jazz is often thought to be limited in expression. It is used for 'incidental music' or when a situation in a drama or film calls for jazz, but rarely in a more universal way apart from an explicit jazz context. Here it has to be able to run the whole gamut of emotions and carry the story from beginning to end."”

Sait-On Jamais (a literal translation of which is One Never Knows) was released in the United States in 1957 as No Sun In Venice by Kinglsey International Pictures.

As I write this feature almost fifty years later, I still have not seen the movie. I noticed that it is now available on DVD, but at $60 bucks, I think I’ll pass.

However, in the intervening half century, I have listened to John Lewis’s score to the film many times and I highly recommend it to you.

The following video contains lots of the renown artist JMW Turner's iconic images of Venice as set to the Cortege track from John Lewis score to One Never Knows.

Connie Kay's use of triangles, finger cymbals, tambourines, open high hats and mallets on cymbals to create gong-like effects almost adds a forbidden sense of joy to this dirge.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Storytelling Ability - "Thinking in Jazz"

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.


I have yet to find a better book at explaining what goes into making Jazz than Paul Berliner’s Thinking in Jazz: The Infinite Art of Improvisation.

Perhaps one of the reasons this is so is the author’s exhaustive reliance on Jazz musicians to describe what’s involved in the process of improvisation and then to synthesize and categorize some generalizations from these annotations.

There’s nothing like knowing what you are talking about based on experience.

Storytelling Ability

“Once again employing the metaphor of storytelling, the jazz community praises such attributes as the suspenseful development of ideas and the dramatic shaping of sound. These represent values related to those described earlier: the artist's ability to tell personal stories and to convey emotion through music.

Trumpeter Thad Jones likens the experience of listening to Roy Eldridge's solos to "being caught up in a thrilling mystery novel that you can't put down."  Eldridge himself found a comparable model for performance in the playing of Louis Armstrong, who "built his solos like a book—first, an introduction, then chapters, each one coming out of the one before and building to a climax." Similarly, for Dizzy Gillespie, "superior organization"is what makes a great solo: "This leads into that, this leads into that."

When great artists explore ideas with the force of conviction, they mesmerize the audience by moving toward goals with such determination and logic that their direction seems inevitable, their final creations compelling.

Among the "hippest thing[s]" Wynton Marsalis's father showed him was a Coltrane solo in which the whole solo formed a beautiful melodic curve, "and the key points in the phrases he was playing all went in a line."

Greg Langdon compares the gradual acquisition of dramatic precision and skill in executing ideas to the experience of an aspiring baseball player who initially must learn "to meet the ball with the bat" but ultimately strives to learn "how to place the ball."

In musical terms, the first challenge is to "make the changes" by correctly negotiating the structure of a piece and complementing the logic of its underlying progression. Failed improvisations, whether of melodists or drummers tend to be "disconnected demonstrations of technique removed from the pieces form. After a minute, you wouldn't know where a guy was in the solo" I (drummer Art Taylor). One distraught pupil described his frustration at "getting stuck" within particular key centers, "playing up and down" their related scales but unable to figure out how "to get out of" the tonality of one and into that of another. Only after analyzing vocabulary phrases whose movements described key changes and absorbing their general characteristics could he begin to invent new patterns that met the minimal requirements of logical harmonic practice, improvising through progressions with steady streams of harmonically correct pitches.

The second challenge, akin to "placing the ball," is to achieve the expressive treatment of pitches by "breaking up" their streams into interesting ideas "thematically and rhythmically."

An additional aspect of a musical story's logic is the motivic development of material. The insistent intrusion of physical reflexes sometimes complicates this objective. One student remembers, for example, the laughter of players at his improvisatory slip when, at the conclusion of a solo, he inadvertently departed from the bebop figure he had been developing by playing a cadential Dixieland figure. Directives of the verbalized or singing mind that suggest a rigid use of vocabulary can also be a problem. Very early, [trumpeter] John McNeil discovered that "if you try to force something that you've learned into your solos, say a phrase that is real hip, it will sound really contrived, like it doesn't have anything to do with what you just played before it." To avoid the artificial ring of musical non sequiturs, Miles Davis cautions soloists to develop the ideas that enter their imaginations as they improvise rather than being overly dependent on preplanned patterns: "Play what you hear, not what you know," he advises.

While negotiating the practical challenges inherent in thematic maneuvers, improvisers consider various aesthetic issues. One thing [bassist] Chuck Israels notices in a player is "whether he hangs onto a motive long enough to follow his investigation of it, or whether he is just rambling from one thing to another." Naive notions about the search for new ideas sometimes obscure such considerations for novices and lead them to strive for radically different patterns from phrase to phrase. When this tendency deprived my early solos of coherence,

[Alto saxophonist] Ken Mclntyre taught me about melodic sequences. His direction subjected me, for the first time, to the discipline of using discrete melodic ideas as a solo's conceptual basis. Also, I was unaware of how effective subtle embellishments and slight variations on particular musical models could be in transforming them. Thus, I continued being concerned about sounding repetitious.
As I was absorbing Mclntyre's teaching, however, I realized that I had begun to create solos that were not static but unified and distinct. Not long afterward, at a jam session, a young musician familiar with my considerable limitations as an improviser expressed astonishment, "I never heard you sound so together. I'm
not sure what it was, but your solo sounded like something you might even hear on a record."

Too strong a reliance on repetitive devices can, nevertheless, render solos too predictable, bogging down a story. "You need repetition as a basic part of musical form, but what you want is both repetition and development," Israels says. "It's a matter of how much change you want and when you want the change in a solo. Artists are always juggling such things, either instinctively or analytically." In [alto saxophonist] Lee Konitz's view, contemporary learning practices that "overemphasize" sequences cause improvisers to err on the side of repetition, "sounding like they're playing out of exercise books. Two-five-one patterns are essential material certainly, but by itself, it doesn't lead to an organic kind of playing. It's a contrivance."

Similarly, after once composing a solo for students, [pianist] Barry Harris reconsidered its opening phrases, in which the second imitated the first in a different key. "No, let's change that," he remarked, as a prelude to performing a variation on the transposed phrase. "Sequences should not be so obvious." There are times, however, when mature soloists abandon their reservations about repetition in order to create specific dramatic effects. They may perform a short phrase continuously for several measures to create momentum and suspense within a solo, heightening the listener's expectation for change.

Whereas some features of a musical story's logic derive from the motivic relationships of successive phrases and from their complementary relationships to chords, other features derive from the general flow of successfully improvised lines, lines with a continuity of rhythmic feeling and "smoothness" in their contours. They convey an ongoing sense of melodic coherence produced by the adjoinment of especially complementary shapes. In contrast, the early efforts of youngsters to improvise produce characteristically "jagged" lines. They "still sound young" to the experienced artist. In the beginning, "I didn't have the incredible flow of ideas that the players I admired did. You mature into that," [pianist] Tommy Flanagan remarks.

Eventually, learners increase their control over the precise shaping of melodies, "rounding off their edges." In part, this entails figuring out how to extend vocabulary patterns effectively. "If you're putting two phrases together when the chords change, one thing has to flow into the other,"[tenor saxophonist] Harold Ousley says. [Trombonist] Curtis Fuller gratefully acknowledges Barry Harris's crucial role in teaching him and his young friends how to achieve this essential quality in their playing, "how to flow ... the hardest thing to learn." Ultimately, learners distinguish aesthetically pleasing possibilities for expanding melodic shapes that convey a sense of forward motion and momentum, rejecting other possibilities that by comparison would be awkward or illogical — "a fragmented series of things, a bunch of isolated fragments," as [trumpeter] Lonnie Hillyer puts it. Hillyer sometimes keeps "one simple thing" in mind with a solo, "playing it from beginning to end as one complete thing."

Jazz is "real linear music in terms of the way it goes forward," [drummer] Akira Tana says. "You're developing linearly whether you play a saxophone or the drums. Iunderstand more about this conceptually than I did three or four years ago." In the beginning. Tana could "embellish phrases rhythmically, but had no control over where they would end up." Similarly, a young trumpeter routinely "began his solos well, but they always seemed to fall apart very quickly." He could conceive interesting patterns before he began playing, but quickly lost their thread in performance.

Some artists compare the efforts of young soloists to those of children learning to speak. Although periodically producing actual words, correct word groupings, and even credible short sentences within stretches of garbled sound, they cannot yet consistently convey meaning."

Even for experienced jazz artists, control over such features remains a variable of improvisations. Tommy Flanagan "can't say when it became easy because it's still not easy. Sometimes, you still have days when you just don't feel right, like there's some kind of congestion, and the flow isn't there. You're just not playing clearly."

In evaluating the stories that improvisers tell, musicians also consider the overall range of compositional materials in use and their imaginative treatment. "In a good solo, there should be variety in rhythm, melody, form, texture, color, development, contrast and balance, and so on,"

[Pianist] Fred Hersch maintains. "Either that, or one aspect should be worked at so intensely that it transcends the need for all the others." Artists are vulnerable in the latter case, however, when they fall short of their goals. The musician quoted earlier criticizing a bass player for "finding all the common tones" in his solos and "driving them into the ground" adds: "I do it too, sometimes. I run out of steam, sometimes. Okay? I can play the sharp nine on a dominant chord and just sit there playing that and the flatted third degree of a blues for a chorus or two. But I don't do it forever, and at least I look for some rhythmic invention."

Concerned with comparable pitfalls, Barry Harris constantly critiques student solos when their emphasis on particular elements causes the neglect of others. At times, he reminds them to "break up the running of scales" with varied intervals, chords, and arpeggios. "Different intervals are what's pretty!" When student inventions lack harmonic nuance, Harris playfully exhorts them: "Remember to use your diminishes and your augmenteds." Harris, as often, emphasizes rhythmic variety: "Don't forget different rhythms. Rhythm is what's pretty!"

From moment to moment, changes as basic as those produced by introducing sustained pitches and rests within a solo's busier rhythmic activity can provide welcome contrast. Alterations as subtle as periodic repetitions of pitches within a scalar pattern can also be very effective, standing out from neighboring musical shapes. The same principle of variety is likewise found in broader gestures.

A case in point is the style of Booker Little, whose solos characteristically include high sustained vocal cries, short interjections of phrases with speechlike cadences and rhythms, long, rapid passages mixing complex scalar and chordal elements, and melodies with simple singable qualities often treated as sequences.

There are limitless aspects of performance to satisfy the music's insatiable demand for variety, and improvisers are open to them all. Carmen Lundy's accompanist offered invaluable advice about dynamics, reminding her that singing in a "whisper" could be as effective as "screaming to get your message across." Wynton Marsalis recalls, "A cat once came up to me after a solo, and said, 'Well, man, play low.' I said, 'Damn, that's valid. I really don't play enough in the lower register.'" Such feedback keeps improvisation’s infinite considerations before musicians, enhancing the dramatic qualities of their stories.

With criticism received or overheard, learners gradually become more discriminating themselves in their evaluations of players, able to distinguish those individuals whose handling of the language of jazz is sophisticated and varied, replete with clever turns of phrase. "When Tommy Flanagan plays, every note of his is saying something," Fred Hersch remarks. "He doesn't throw a note away. He has his own little language, and you listen for the subtleties in his playing as you would listen to the subtleties in a Mozart piece. Like the way Tommy might make a change of voicing here, a little change of quality, the way a melodic line will kind of halt at a certain moment and turn back on itself, the way he'll extend a little motive. Anybody who has a sense of musicality will hear what he's doing. He's just communicating."

A related concern is the pacing of ideas over an improvisation's larger course. "Does the solo's feeling sustain, mount, diminish, and change from chorus to chorus and within a chorus?" Chuck Israels asks. Reflecting a similar understanding, [guitarist] Emily Remler usually "does the old climb-up-and-come-down action—build and release, tension and resolve. That's a great thing," she asserts. In part, the acquisition of the ability to create increasingly sophisticated and longer musical patterns facilitates this process, thinking "in terms of whole choruses instead of two-bar and four-bar phrases," she continues. "Building the tension over a whole chorus and ending on the 'one' of the next chorus for the release are very typical things to do, but it takes a certain sense of maturity."

Mature soloists constantly balance such factors as predictability and surprise, repetition and variation, continuity and change, displaying the discipline to make choices among different possibilities and to work with them methodically throughout a performance. In one instance, Miles Davis confines one chorus of his solo on "Blues by Five" to the trumpet's middle register, featuring a short, repeated offbeat rhythmic figure and varying the timbres and inflec-

I lions of its restricted pitches. In another chorus, he shifts the emphasis from rhythm and timbre to melody, improvising longer, artfully shaped phrases and climbing slightly higher in range. In yet another, he provides contrast and excitement by leading his melody with an arpeggiated leap into the instrument's high register, gradually descending with intricate chromatic movements (ex. 8.25d). Improvisers also create climactic events in solos by gradually increasing the rhythmic density of their creations.

Before cultivating the mental rigor to handle varied musical elements within a solo successfully, measuring their application, young musicians meet frequent criticism for "trying to play everything they know all the time on every tune." [Trumpeter] Tommy Turrentine refers to "cats who jump out there like it's the last tune they'll ever play. They blow their load even before they're out of the second chorus. That's pitiful." Similarly, Barry Harris criticizes a young player for failing to allow his ideas to develop "organically," instead "forcing" the conclusions of solos with "screaming," contrived intensity. "Endings must come naturally," Harris insists. "You're supposed to let it happen, not just to make it happen like that."

Ultimately, just as jazz musicians differ in their abilities to imbue musical patterns with the subtleties of wit and emotion, they differ in their abilities to control and develop their ideas overall. Some are simply better storytellers than others, Carrying listeners with them through each stage, their solos begin with patterns having the character of "real beginnings," build to a climax, perhaps through a series of peaks, and close with patterns having the character of formal endings."

"Timeless masterpieces," exemplary solos are regarded as works of art equal to the compositions that serve as their vehicles (trumpeter Art Farmer). Some solos even surpass them. Barry Harris praises the young Miles Davis for "improvising his own song over the song he was playing," that is, for "playing beautifully, lyrically, not just playing lines." Similarly, many improvisers strive to create solos that, whether in theory or practice, lend themselves to repeated listening and performance. "You can create new melodies in your solo that can become the melody of a new song," [bassist] Buster Williams says. "I want my playing to have that kind of cohesiveness, that connection, that kind of syntax."

As described earlier, compositions sometimes actually do evolve from the player's own improvisation of solos, and occasionally instrumentalists adopt another player's recorded solo as the basis for a composition. Finally, the vocalese composer's creation of lyrics for improvisations reinforces the narrative features of invention, giving literal translation to the metaphor of storytelling for improvisation, showcasing the dramatic musical content of outstanding solos.”

To be continued ….