I’m back with the second part of my trilogy on Bob Brookmeyer’s recording of Louisiana! This time we are going to look at Jimmy Giuffre’s excellent solo, that somehow manages to mix influences from swing, blues and country music.
Spotify: Bob Brookmeyer Quintet – Louisiana
In this solo Jimmy Giuffre shows what a varied tonal and timbral vocabulary he has. He effortlessly switches between bluesy riffs, warm melodies and complicated bebop phrases. And to top it all off he throws some country-sounding bends in there too!
The broad array of influences present here is something very typical of Giuffre, and if you enjoy that I would recommend that you check out some of the bands he has led. They frequently include Brookmeyer and Jim Hall, so you will hear more of them too. Jimmy Giuffre is an excellent and very interesting artist, so it’s sad that he is often overlooked.
A few things to note:
- Blues riffing à la Lester Young in bar 1-7.
- Long, slow phrases over several bars in bar 9-16. Riding on top of the rhythm section, letting them do the work of keeping it swinging.
- The legato lines in bar 12-13.
- Incredibly warm low notes in bar 14-15.
- Some kind of rhythmic effect in bar 20-21, 37 and 39-40. I’m not sure how this is done on the saxophone, but I would guess that it involves mashing the octave key (maybe some saxophonist can fill me in on this?).
- Country-like bends in bar 22-24 and 55.
- Locking into the rhythm section with quarter notes in bar 25-28. Note that the way he does it, with short notes on 1 and 3, is the exact opposite of how Brookmeyer does it in his solo (with short notes on 2 and 4).
- Involved bebop phrases in bar 29-36.
- Repeated motif in bar 41-42 and 43-44.
- Development of a rhythmic and melodic motif in bar 45-52. Listen to how Jim Hall joins Giuffre on this idea and plays a counter-rhythm on the guitar.
- Buildup in intensity over the last 12 bars, with some high Ab’s and eighth note lines.
This is the first part of a trilogy of posts that I will release over the following weeks. They are going to explore the three solos on Louisiana on the Bob Brookmeyer record Traditionalism Revisited. On this 1957 record Brookmeyer, Jimmy Giuffre and Jim Hall revive a number of songs from the 1920s and 30s and play them in a – for the time – modern way.
Spotify: Bob Brookmeyer Quintet – Louisiana
First out is Bob Brookmeyer himself, playing his valve trombone. I have included two versions of the transcription: One untransposed in the trombones native bass clef and one in treble clef transposed up one octave.
Probably the most obvious thing to note about this solo is how well composed it is. This might be a reflection of Bob’s great skill as a composer and arranger, because as I’m sure you know Bob Brookmeyer is one of the most influential jazz composers of all time. The way he improvises his solo is very reminiscent of how many great melodies are composed, with recurring motifs and a buildup in intensity over time peaking around bar 46-55, approximate of the Golden ratio.
Before we dig into the details of this solo I would like to say something about the way i have notated it. The quarter notes in this transcription is a simplification of the actual values of these notes. The actual note values are a bit more involved, but I decided to notate them like this for simpler reading. However, if you want to get a better understanding of how Brookmeyer plays the quarter notes you should look at this example:
Playing the quarter notes like this puts the emphasis on the 2nd and 4th beat, much like how the drummer does the same thing by playing full quarter notes on the cymbal on 1 and 3, and snapping the hihat on 2 and 4. This however is just a general rule of thumb for how he plays the quarter notes, and it’s not applicable on every quarter note in the solo.
Things to note:
- Big emphasis on unsyncopated quarter notes in the first chorus. See above to learn how to make them swing!
- Repeating motifs and variations. See bar: 1-3 and 5-7; 9-10, 11-12 and 13-14; 17-20 and 21-24; 25-26 and 27-28; 33-36 and 37-40; 49, 50 and 53.
- Great use of beautiful chord notes and tension notes. Something that is probably best learned by singing this solo to get a sense of how these notes feel and sound.
- Very involved eighth note phrases in bar 41-48.
- Blues-like riffing in bar 49-56.
- Rhythmic pattern in bar 57-60. This is essentially a rhythmic cell with the length of a dotted quarter note repeated over and over again. To easier learn that part, play just the accented notes ( > ) and then when you feel comfortable with that try to add the slurred notes in between.
- An increase in intensity just before the end of the solo. This gives a nice energy to the start of the next solo.
- For the most part a very singable solo, and even the harder parts can be mastered if you put some time into it.
This solo was recorded in 1939 and features Charlie Christian with the Benny Goodman Orchestra. The wonderful arrangement also includes a solo from trumpeter Ziggy Elman and a few entries from Goodman himself.
Spotify: Charlie Christian – Honeysuckle Rose
Charlie Christian was one of the early pioneers of using the jazz guitar as a solo instrument, but unlike his European contemporary Django Reinhardt he opted for the electrically amplified kind. It’s often said that Charlie Christian had a “horn-like” style of phrasing, and he actually said in an interview for Metronome that he wanted his guitar to sound like a tenor saxophone. Still, I believe that some of his trademarks are very directly tied to his choice of instrument, and more precisely to his unique technique.
My own theory about Charlie Christians arpeggios: As you can see in this solo Christian had a very unique way of breaking chords, often including big intervals like 5ths, 4ths and augmented 4ths. Most horn players would probably use 3rds (and the occasional 2nd or 4th) to break the same chords, because we mostly think of chords as stacks of 3rds. Charlie Christian however used a very special picking technique on the guitar, involving almost exclusively downstrokes, which meant that it was more natural to break chords across several strings than to play several notes on the same string. And since the guitar is tuned mostly in 4ths it is often easier to jump up a 4th or a 5th then to jump up a 3rd.
Whether or not he played like that for the reasons i listed above, it results in very unique and beautiful sounds. For that reason I would suggest that all kinds of instrumentalists, not only guitarists, try these sounds out. See what happens if you break your chords in a different way from what you normally do. You will find that the intervals themselves have a beauty to them and that the sound of a note is very much affected by what note or notes came before it. If you think about it, it’s not much different from the way that playing the same chord in different ways on a chord instrument affects the sound of the chord.
Other things to note:
- No legato. Strokes on each individual note except in bar 29-30.
- Plenty of blues riffing on the tonic.
- Very much emphasis on the beat, instead of on the off-beat. This is typical of early swing music in general.
- Very explicit phrasing. No hesitance.
- Chromatic leading-tones in bar 9, 12 and 22. This points ahead towards bebop in the way that it superimposes harmonic concepts over the written chords.
- Starting chords on the 4th beat of the bar before it. See 4th beat of bar 8 and 20.
- Difficult to sing, because of the large tonal jumps. Still worth a try!
To start this blog of I’m going to give you a real treat: my transcription of Lester Young’s glorious solo on You Can Depend On Me.
Spotify: Count Basie and His Orchestra – You Can Depend On Me
Not quite as well known as his take on Lady Be Good, this is still one of my favorite solos of all time. It features Prez in his absolute prime, and carries many of his hallmark qualities: a superb sense of melody and swing, legato phrasing, a venturous bridge section and above all the ability to come up with inventive details in the blink of an eye. A few things to note:
- Very singable. (In fact i recommend learning to sing the solo and sing it many times to learn it on a deeper level.)
- Mostly diatonic playing throughout. Very different from the contemporary Coleman Hawkins and the beboppers a few years later.
- The continuous air flow in bar 7 is a staple of Lester that has influenced pretty much all saxophonists after him, directly or through other saxophonists.
- The very surprising slides in bar 12.
- The only non-legato phrase is the one in bar 17-18, and therefore it makes for a great effect.
- Surprisingly starting the D9 phrase on the 4th beat of bar 21.
- Rhythmic permutations in bar 19-20 and 25-26.
- Liberal use of the augmented triad on dominants. This gives the harmonic sound of a V9(#5) or possibly – but less typical of the style – a V7(b9)(b13).