Top 50 JAzz Blog

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Codified Jazz Solo

Several improvised solos in the Basie band's "April In Paris" became codified.

Codification: when a solo is played almost exactly the same way on different recordings (or live), or when a recorded solo becomes well enough known to be orchestrated for either a section of the band or for the entire ensemble. You might call riffs 'mini-codifications.' 

Tommy Dorsey band's 1947 version of "Marie" features a well-known solo by Bunny Berigan (died in 1942) arranged for the entire trumpet section. (Starts at 1'36")

Orchestrated homages like "Marie" are well accepted as part of the arrangers art. However, while not quite a dirty little secret, soloists repeating worked out/famous solos is at least a bete noir; seen as not being in the spirit of continuously spontaneous creation that jazz people want to associate with this music. 

Is this the lingering aftershock of the Bop revolution, which moved jazz away from dance music and 'entertainment' into 'art' music?  In fact, the anti-commercialism aspect of jazz mythology predates the boppers by many years. In its 20's form it was a mythology much more driven by white jazz culture than black. i.e. "I have to play with this damned society band to make the bread but as soon as the gig is over I'm gonna go jam all night-hopefully, with some black musicians." (This dovetailed interestingly with the pressure record labels put on white bands to record "sweet" music and black bands to record "hot" even though, in practice, both colors played both kinds). 

That old devil commerciality, it was said, not only forced jazzers to play despised music, the money lust was such that bandleaders forced codified solos on reluctant musicians in order to mine every last gold shard from the vein opened up by a popular recording. 

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 (is a back-turning Miles a possible symbolic center of that shift?); the question of how much variation from melody-or from a previous solo-qualifies a performance as improvisatory. 

I invite readers 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. Tell me if you agree or disagree with the disreputability I say its reputation has acquired.
One of the Great Codifiers in jazz

You know, you can't write about Louis Armstrong, the man at the very top of the heap, without addressing codification. Give Thomas Brothers' recent book credit for doing that.


Andrew said...

One of my favorite examples actually comes from contemporary jazz: Don Sickler, arranging JJ Johnson's "Kelo" for TS Monk's sextet on the 1993 album Changing Of The Guard, actually transcribed and harmonized Johnson's solo from the 1953 record for the band! No YouTube clip but worth a ninety-nine cent download, in my opinion.

Steve Provizer said...

Nice example, Andrew. Sickler is also a fine player. What is particularly neat about that arrangement is that he has the band come in with some background riffs behind the piano solo that he wrote for the occasion and then they move seamlessly into JJ's solo.

rob chalfen said...

Red Nichols famously quoted Bix's solo on the Wolverine's record of Riverboat Shuffle on some dance band record in 1925 - Rex Stewart plays his Singin' the Blues solo for Henderson in '31. Trumbauer would compose his solos and play them the same on each take of a tune, Bix would always play it differently. In 1927 Victor A&R man Eddie King thought Bix's stuff too far out for Goldkette records ('uncommercial'), so Bix & Bill Challis would transcribe them & score it for the brass section!

King Oliver's solo on Dippermouth / Sugar Foot (1923-1926)became a set piece for him & was widely copied & orchestrated by others, starting with Louis with Henderson, 1925!

I found an example of a 1922 Leon Rappollo clarinet solo on a New Orleans Rhythm Kings side copied almost note for note by someone a couple years later.

Steve Provizer said...

Excellent info, Prof., as usual.

rob chalfen said...

and of course there's the original set-piece solo, so old it's right on the cusp of jazz, the clarinet obbligato for High Society (Porter Steele, 1903), supposedly adapted from a piccolo part from the original band orchestration by New Orleans clarinettist Alphonse Picou (but arguably also by Luis Tio Jr, and others), first recorded by Johnny Dodds with King Oliver 1923, and quoted as late as by Bird, live in the '50s

Brew said...

Yeah, there's one solo where even the great Cootie Williams didn't dare to change much: Ray Nance's ingenious improvisation on "Take The 'A' Train".

There is no other way than Ray's way, in the context of the original arrangement.

Now, what did Cootie alter? He blew Ray's notes, but veeery laid back ;)

-- It's on this wonderful album:

"The Popular Duke Ellington" - RCA (1966) .

Steve Provizer said...

Thanks, Brew. Certain stuff seems so _inevitable_ in retrospect that it's hard to imagine an alternative.