Drum Music


Paul Motian’s melodies for improvisation rarely took more than a page to notate, but that doesn’t mean that his scores weren’t detailed. Motian frequently used phrase marks; sometimes chord symbols. Occasionally there’s something to raise a smile, like the tempo indication “latin” on the lunatic “Mumbo Jumbo.”

Motian always encouraged maximum freedom from his fellow musicians. Every version of his tunes is quite different. To cite an example I know well, “Byablue” was recorded twice by Keith Jarrett, both solo and quartet. While I learned Jarrett’s version as a kid, a glance at the chart handed to me by the composer was a revelation. Now when I play “Byablue,” I base it off of Motian’s handwriting, not Jarrett’s interpretation.

Going to the source gives one more room to make a personal statement. It’s also just interesting to discover the composer’s original intention, at least when the composer is profound as Paul Motian. “Victoria,” recorded in memoriam by TBP on Made Possible, is much closer to the score than previous versions where the melody and harmony was controlled by Jarrett or Sam Brown.

Cynthia McGuirl, Paul Motian’s niece and heir, has 115 of Motian’s handwritten charts. Those of us that love Paul’s music have been encouraging her to publish the collection. My personal vote would be for a facsimile edition, but that’s not the only option. Typesetting would be OK if a good editor was involved.

Cindy also has Paul’s fascinating unpublished autobiography, his legendary gig book (all the gigs he did, plus what he was paid) and many historical photos. Material from this archive has been showing up on Cindy’s remarkable blog and podcast, Uncle Paul’s Jazz Closet. (I’m particularly taken by the shot of Paul in a sailor suit.)

A few professional publishers have been contacted about making a Motian folio. So far I’ve been surprised at the lack of interest, but I guess music publishers are in the same bind as other vendors: sales of books and music are way down across the board.

Cindy is considering self-publishing a limited edition of her Uncle’s compositions in 4 volumes, ordered by date and albums. She’s hoping that sales of the first volume would pay for the 2nd volume, etc. Cindy gave her permission to post the original lead sheet of “Byablue” as she sees it for the composition book.

Surely all of Motian’s fans and students would love an official Motian book of tunes…? “Byeblue” is here, if you look around on Cindy’s blog you’ll find “Fiasco” and “Abacus” (very interesting phrase markings on the latter).

69 thoughts on “Drum Music

  1. I would definitely buy these music books! Paul is the ultimate poet when it comes to composition. He has the minimum amount of notes and info to create a mood. So strong and free at the same time! I would prefer if it were facsimile and spiral bound. All the better to make it feel like he handed the music to you and you are playing the vanguard with him. To Paul! such a singular and beautiful player!

  2. I’d love to have a copy of his work, and I know my son also would love a copy. I knew of Paul as a drummer; my son introduced me to his compositions.

  3. I feel like a book of 115 facsimiles would be a first in the world of legendary Jazz musicians, no? I can’t think of a book of non-printed tunes by an artist as legendary as Paul in the world right now.

  4. Great idea. I vote for facsimile and I think a physical book would be better. Paul’s charts are really legible. I think it would be weird to look at this music on computer fonts. I also think some kind of crowdfunding would help. I would love to read the autobiography and look at the gig book!

  5. Regrettably never had the chance to see Paul but, of course, know his work well via the tremendous Jarrett “American” quartet.
    Then knocked out again by Paul’s playing on the disc he made with Charlie Haden and Geri Allen, especially on “Lonely Woman.”
    Best wished to have his compositions published.

  6. Well it seems that the demand for this sort of thing is unanimous.
    The music engraver nerd in me wonders: why did Paul put time signatures at the beginning of every staff line? Typically we only notate the time at the beginning of a piece and whenever the time changes. Thus, the 4/4 on the second and last lines are needed (having just come out of 3/4), but the rest are superfluous.
    An oversight of Paul’s part?
    Thanks for making even this one chart available.

  7. @Emil: Sorry, I was on road between Zagreb and Gdasnk and neglected comments for a day.
    Good question! I don’t know why Motian put time signatures at the beginning of every staff line. It’s not the case on other Motian charts. Is it a hidden message? Probably not, but I wouldn’t put it past him.
    At any rate, there are other mixed-meter tunes with no time signatures at all.
    My best guess is that he made only one fair copy of “Byablue,” the one he made while composing it. While finalizing the phrases he might have been torn between 3s and 4s for certain things, and the act of deciding was momentous enough for him to keep reminding himself of where he was. When he was done, he could have been like, “I didn’t need all those time signatures, but, on the hand, I guess there’s no need to rewrite it.”
    All this, I hasten to add, is pure speculation. I noticed this point too, though.

  8. To interpret music such as Motian’s, having the source material would be both grounding and freeing indeed.
    I would love to see a facsimile. Thank you Ethan!

  9. Some great ideas in the comments so far – PDF, crowdfunding, a “deluxe” edition with essays, etc. I’d love to see a fascimile edition with comments from musicians (ideally those that played the tunes with the composer) on each tune – maybe something about interpretation or pointing out a particular unique feature of a tune. In any case, I’ll definitely be checking out the Uncle Paul blog and awaiting publication of the scores in whatever form. PAUL MOTIAN!

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