Top 50 JAzz Blog

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Part One: Codification-A Dirty Little Jazz Secret?

One of the relatively unexplored corners of jazz-especially large ensemble jazz- is the extent to which solos have been codified. I see this codifying being done in 2 ways. The first is that soloists recreate a solo in performance that people have come to know through a recording. There are many examples in Ellington and Basie. The second way is that a well-known recorded solo is actually orchestrated for either a section of the band or for the entire ensemble. In fact, I decided to write about this when I heard the Tommy Dorsey band's 1947 version of "Marie" on YouTube. This later version featured Bunny Berigan's (died in 1942) well-known solo on that tune arranged for the entire trumpet section. It comes down to us through received wisdom that the impetus for this process is largely commercial; that bandleaders force it or at least encourage it in order to mine every last gold shard from the vein opened up by a popular recording. This is almost a dirty little secret and is seldom addressed in jazz writing-either academic or popular. Is that because it is "counter-mythology?" Seen as not in the spirit of continuous spontaneous creativity jazz people care to associate with our music? Many possible areas of exploration open up: the 'hipness' factor in jazz and its place in the larger cultural context; the shifting/evolving relationship between that factor and the desire to please an audience (Miles a possible seismic center of that shift?); the question of how much variation from melody qualifies a performance as improvisatory and the difference in our judgment of that between vocalists and instrumentalists... I'd like to open this up so that readers will help direct the flow of this conversation. I invite you to submit concrete examples of the process of codification as I have described it-or to cite other ways it has happened. Let's see how far back the process can be traced, examine contexts, compare examples and see what arises for further exploration.


rob chalfen said...

Bix Beiderbecke is a nexus in both directions:

When Bix was with Jean Goldkette Orchestra (1927), Eddie King, squaresville head of A&R at Victor thought him too far out, not a commercial sound, so radically limited his solos on record. In response, their arranger Bill Challis transcribed his solos & scored them for the trumpet section (Hoosier Sweetheart, et al.) The effect was sufficiently striking that they continued to use it later even when Bix got decent solo space with Paul Whiteman (Changes, 1928 eg).

Earlier, in 1925 Red Nichols had recorded a 1924 Bix solo note for note (Riverboat Shuffle) and arranged his solo on Davenport Blues (1925) for small ensemble (Red & Miff's Stompers, 11 Feb. '27), also paraphrased by an Adrian Rollini chart (1934).

Earliest known instance of jazz solo codification is George Baquet's clarinet set piece on High Society (Porter Steele,1901), adapted from a piccolo part. Adopted by Alphonse Picou as his signature solo, first recorded by Johnny Dodds for the Creole Band (1923), scored for reeds on an Armstrong record (1933).

rob chalfen said...

and of course King Oliver's set piece cornet solo on Dippermouth Blues (1923) which was played & scored verbatim well into the swing era.

Z.R. said...

I might have known. While you have admirably fulfilled the task of the reader as requested by yours truly, you have instead inspired a digression. Instead of the desired thematic laser focus, we are forced to dally in the untidy fields cultivated by the Hadron-istas...To wit, to what extent did the limitations of recording affect the live performances of musicians in the 20's? Did live and recording start to dovetail? What relation that to the change in styles-swing, bop, apres...Is there something to be said for the limitations imposed by such villains as A&R guys? I don't care to do away with the expansion of solos wrought by Trane (at the least, the most influential in this trend). BUT, there are aesthetic charms that aren't available in the longer forms. Brevity sometimes does turn out to be the sole of wit. Would Eldridge's "After You've Gone" be any better if they had another 5 minutes of recording time?

rob chalfen said...

in reverse ordure:
re Roy: well there are air chex, check em!

sure it was easier to cop soli when they were shorter, so what else's gnu? this is the realm of Da Single!

Trope: transition of jazz from oral/aural to literary tradition. Likely inflection point, when Charlie Christian's live Minton discs were released c 1944, likely earliest extended solo improvisations available on wax, too long to easily memorize. Transcriptions circulated.

Fans have always wanted to Hear what they Liked on the Record, so that affected performance.

But there's no question the compression of the form was conducive to eloquence.

Armstrong didnt get this kind of heat because he wasnt expected to turn out genteel parlor entertainments, negros were allowed liberties, if only to provide a musical 'jungle' to slum in...

rob chalfen said...

errata: re Nichols, "Jazz Me Blues", not "Riverboat Shuffle".

Miles: Why you got to play so long?

Trane: Once I get into it it's hard to know how to end

Miles: Take the horn out of your mouth

Chris Rich said...

This is interesting. I once had a conversation about with Roberta Singer back when she was the state Folklorist here, (1980's).

Field Musicologists have had problems identifying folk artists rising from the aural/oral transmission of sonic lore an contrast to 'revivalists' who play stuff they find on recordings.

For example, it can be a handful to figure out which Afro Cuban drummers learned from elders and the living corner of the idiom and which used recordings.

Boston has long been a scene for different revivalists from Balkan Choruses where no one is from the Balkans, Re-enactments of the Skillet Lickers, cajun bands and heaven knows what else and many are precious and somewhat sterile and self conscious.

rob chalfen said...

one part of the question is not directly answerable because there are pretty much NO live recordings of jazz from the '20s, (not til '31) so performance practice must be deduced from memoir & reports.

Alternate takes provide some evidence re spontaneity vs rote chorus. Bix: always different. Tram: same chorus. Pee Wee Russell: not even close.

Chris Rich said...

Certain Solos became a model to orchestrate. David Murray got a commission grant in the mid 80s to transcribe the complete legendary Gonsalves Diminuendo solo and make a big band piece of it.

Anonymous said...

What your commentary neglects is the fact that it was common practice for early jazz musicians to "settle in" to a solo -- that is, they would improvise until they came up with a solo that sounded "the best" and then continue to play that same solo for each subsequent show. Some even co-composed the solo with their bandleader (e.g. Lawrence Brown with Ellington.)
The idea that a "better" solo is one that departs from previous ones and is more "on the spot" was an aesthetic shift that developed during the early 1940s, and was embraced as a foundational aspect of bebop.
Be careful when ascribing "commercialism" as the corrupting factor of early jazz "art". It's a false dichotomy; the nuances of historical reality are much more interesting.

Z.R. said...

Lubricity ( Iike the salacious quality of that)-It is interesting to take note of what qualities of performance have become more or less esteemed through time-and the difference between what the audience prefers and what musicians respect. It seems to me that musicians, infra dig, have always loved surprises in a solo. Audiences, perhaps a bit less so. On another path, you have pure strength, which may have been a quality that coaxed/made/allowed a given listener to reduce expectations concerning creative variations. Both schools have had their champions through the decades. The "great men" I mention in the other posting could do both.

Anonymous said...

Ray Nance's famous solo on "A-Train" would be another example for a comprovised solo. Even Cootie Williams quoted it note for note in a later studio recording during the 1960's. But he played it *his* way by executing an extreme laid back phrasing, and so he made this solo clearly his own.

Bobby Hackett's beautiful cornet solo on "String of Pearls" comes to my mind as well. Harry James orchestrated Bobby's ingenious fills on Bill Finegan's arrangement of "Serenade In Blue" for five trumpets; and it's been told about a transcription / an arrangement of Harry's own solo on Red Norvo's blues in D-Flat "Just A Mood" for four trombones for Glenn Miller's orchestra. Alas, there isn't any recorded proof for that.

But here we have the other Harry's version of that very blues:

Just A Mood (1956)

With: Ben Webster, Ts, Harry ''Sweets'' Edison, T, Joe Mondragen, B, Larry Bunker, D, Barney Kessel, G, Jimmy Rowles, P ...

Let us continue with Louis Armstrong's famous introduction to "West End Blues". Bird quoted it note for note in his solo on "Cheryl" at the Christmas Concert Carnegie Hall in 1949; and it was Cootie Williams in a sparkling duet with Bud Powell who quoted the same intro, again in *his* way of course, five years earlier.

Z.R. said...

Thanks for the track There's no guitar on the recording and I assume it's Norvo on Xylophone...Quote from "Willow Weep For Me" stands out in Sweets solo. Quotes from songs themselves, and not from solos are, of course, a whole other sub-genre. I musta heard DIzzy quote "Laura" half a dozen times. Then there's intros and codas-"Confirmation" pretty much always carries Bird's intro. Dizzy stuck his "I Can't Get Started" coda on many tunes.

Anonymous said...

Yep, no guitar here, but Red of course, doing NOT that very code ... ;) Had just copied & pasted the info, coming from

I should have listened to the complete track before posting; but as often: I had to leave in a hurry.

That "Laura" quote is very common, because it fits almost everywhere ... if you know the tune of course. I will post the original "Just A Mood" with Harry James' great blues solo later on.

"Sweets" has his clearly identifiable codes, the typical blues lick he built in each of his solos. He developed that during his long stint with the Count. By the way, when we come to quotes: There is no solo by Dexter Gordon without a quote; the very same with Horace Silver. These two guys are the masters of quotation, I would dare to say.

Z.R. said...

It's interesting that you cite Horace and Dexter as prolific quoters. Offhand, I wouldn't have chosen them. Dexter, maybe. Partly it's because I admit I listen to Horace's horn players more carefully than I do to him-Blue, Junior, Carmell, Woody.

Anonymous said...

Yes, it were Horace piano solos at Birdland with Art Blakey, Lou Donaldson and Clifford Brown, and with Miles Davis, Monk, Bags etc. in 1954, where he quoted a lot of standards. If I recall correctly did he also quote "Laura" once or twice.

Steve Provizer said...

Yes, this is an old thread, but Bruno, I just heard Dexter playing It's You Or No One and he quotes up a storm, probably 6 tunes, including Laura-!