Riffs (fourth set)

DTM “Riffs” are quick, unedited stuff for my NEC students who I’m teaching remotely.

Third Set  Modal jazz vs. bebop, includes Dexter Gordon, Woody Shaw, Kenny Wheeler, Keith Jarrett, Barry Harris, Sonny Stitt, Cedar Walton, Clifford Jordan, Stan Getz, a.o.

Second Set  Bill Evans, Richard Teitelbaum, Leroy Jenkins, Herbie Hancock a.o.

First set  Dicky Wells, Lester Young, George Gershwin, Duke Ellington, Mary Lou Williams, Wallace Roney, a.o.

Gary Burton and Keith Jarrett, Fortune Smiles, 1970



Keith Jarrett turns 75 today. For some he is the greatest living musician, the “Vladimir Horowitz of jazz.”

A tenet of my teaching is simply: There are no new ideas, just fresh ways to put together old ideas.

Jarrett ranks with Thelonious Monk, Bill Evans, McCoy Tyner, Art Tatum, and only a few others in terms of a readily identifiable sonority. Smoke and mirrors surround his characteristic “glow.” When I asked him directly about this, Jarrett fell back on the old saw, “You play what you hear.”

EI:  What about touch, and touching the piano?

KJ:  What about it?

EI:  You’re someone that gets a certain sound out of the piano. That’s your sound. No one else gets that sound, and I know it’s not the piano. It’s not like you have one special piano. You get that sound; it’s on your earliest records, on whatever instrument, I think even some uprights in some cases.

KJ:  Forgetting the musical content for a moment, if a musician is working on his or her voice, he or she is trying to match what he hears in his head with what he hears when he plays. The only explanation for that difference in sound coming out of the piano is that.

Sonority aside, Jarrett is just like anybody else, he found fresh ways to put together old ideas.

Gary Burton and Keith Jarrett is not a disc I return to often — honestly, for all his incandescent genius, the Jarrett discography has more than its fair share of duds — but there’s one track that is unique in the literature, “Fortune Smiles.”

The Real Book I grew up with included the chart of “Fortune Smiles,” which I suspect is totally accurate to the composer’s original sheet and supplied by Burton himself, part of the same care package containing other Burton pieces reproduced in the Fifth Edition.

fortune smiles.jpg


Jarrett plays and intro and outro based on the “B” section. This music — both the composition and the piano performance —  is a pianistic appropriation of the Woodstock era of folk rock/singer songwriter.

Jarrett recorded pieces by Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell with Paul Motian, who drummed for Arlo Guthrie at Woodstock. A large number of early Jarrett compositions are informed by this style, and he even dared to record a whole album singing and playing guitar, Restoration Ruin. (Talk about a dud…)  I joke that Jarrett’s famous Köln Concert is Joni Mitchell’s Blue played by a classical virtuoso. That isn’t the whole story, of course, but that joke contains a grain of truth.

The “A” section is the latest style of modern jazz-rock circa 1970. It’s fairly middle-of -the-road. If I saw the chart of the “A” section of “Fortune Smiles” without knowing it before, I couldn’t guess if it was by Keith, or Burton, or Chick Corea, or somebody else writing that kind of thing at the time. (The bassist on the date, Steve Swallow, has written more durable music in this genre than most.)

Burton solos on the “A” and “B’ sections, which is fine, but things get notably more interesting in the piano solo, which jettisons the song for a free jazz freakout. WHAT! The first time I heard this, an electric current went straight through my body. (It is easy to draw a line from this moment to various tracks recorded by the Bad Plus.)

Jarrett plays at a high level during this free moment of “Fortune Smiles” and the band (Swallow and Bill Goodwin) has good musicians, but Jarrett is most inspired at this kind of thing when joined by his American Quartet of Dewey Redman, Charlie Haden and Paul Motian.

“(If the) Misfits (Wear it)” from Fort Yawuh is what I’m talking about. Piano solo starts at 2’40”.


At it’s best, the American Quartet is some of the greatest music of the era. Pat Metheny suggested it was the group that took over the mantle of the John Coltrane quartet. I wouldn’t go that far, but it certainly informs of what I loosely think of my peer group, not just Bad Plus but Bill McHenry, Ben Street, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Mark Turner, Guillermo Klein, and so forth. We all LOVE that band. If you are studying my peer group, the American Quartet will give you some of the references.

In my academic role, I would stress that all the members of the American quartet were interested in really old music as well as really new music. Dewey Redman was an old-school Texas tenor, an R ‘n B honker. Charlie Haden was a hillbilly country bassist. Paul Motian played clunky swing-era drums. (Tom Harrell told me he thought Motian sounded like Baby Dodds on Bop-be, the quartet’s jazziest record.)

Jarrett himself played Bach and Beethoven, of course, but Keith is also one of the few modern jazz pianists to write a novelty rag, something next door to Scott Joplin, Zez Confrey, and Earl Hines. (Jaki Byard and Roland Hanna are two others that are on this “modern stride” continuum with Jarrett.)


Keith, Dewey, Charlie, and Paul learned old music, they learned the latest music (notably Ornette Coleman’s approach — indeed, Ornette himself is unthinkable without Charlie, and for the record, Keith got a lot of that tradition from fellow pianist Paul Bley) and then they put together stuff from all those sources in a relaxed and contemporary way. Sounds easy, no?

Riffs (third set)

(Quick, unedited stuff for my NEC students who I’m teaching remotely….second set of “Riffs” here…first set of “Riffs” here…)

Thanks to Mark Stryker, who I’ve been brainstorming with concerning almost all of the albums below…


JazzTimes has a poll of the greatest jazz albums from the 1970s. 50 have been chosen by the general public.

There’s a lot of great music there.  Ornette Coleman’s Science Fiction is just about my favorite album of all time, and Charles Mingus’s Let My Children Hear Music is a rare example of large-scale ambition in jazz producing a masterpiece. But –it depends on how you look at it — not so many of these LPs are “no-frills, straight-ahead, acoustic, small group, swinging jazz” as compared to the previous two decades.

Recently I’ve been thinking of the differences between bebop and modal jazz. In the ’70s, the rubber really meets the road as the older generation comes to terms with the legacy of John Coltrane. One of Dexter Gordon’s celebrated albums is Homecoming, live at the Village Vanguard in 1976. (It’s on the list.) While everyone in the band is comfortable with bebop, a big part of the ethos is modal.

Indeed, Homecoming is Woody Shaw’s band with a guest leader. They even play a couple of Shaw tunes.

One of Shaw’s earliest dates as a sideman, Larry Young’s Unity (1965) with Joe Henderson and Elvin Jones, is one of the great albums of all time and remains a definitive document of the Shaw melodic and harmonic concept. A lot of harmony I might have jokingly chastised in a lesson as “jazz school harmony” — lydian vamps, polychords, moving pentatonic patterns — comes from Shaw and perhaps especially from Unity, but in this original 1965 iteration the material is funky and charismatic.

On Homecoming Shaw overshadows Gordon as a virtuosic soloist on complex material, yet Gordon’s warm presence also gives the music a theatrical heft that isn’t always present on Shaw’s own 70’s LPs from the same era.

Shaw’s Little Red’s Fantasy (1976) is a tight quintet session that shares musicians and repertoire with Homecoming. Lesser–known alto saxophonist Frank Strozier is fleet and charismatic on Little Red’s Fantasy, Shaw is also very strong next to Strozier, they are a perfect combination — yet I also miss the thrill of Louis Hayes burning it up with Dexter at the Vanguard on Homecoming.

Compare Strozier to Gordon on “In Case You Haven’t Heard.” Strozier is comfortable in a way that Dexter isn’t, but, then again, the way Dexter plays long slow melodies might be reminiscent of Lester Young in his late years.

At any rate, Shaw’s modern tunes aside, Homecoming is not really Dexter’s finest hour. The first tune is “Gingerbread Boy,” a fast B-flat blues.

On Swiss Nights Vol. 1 from 1975 (a year before Homecoming) the first tune is “Tenor Madness,” a fast B-flat blues.

There’s no comparison, “Tenor Madness” is much better.  If you don’t dig Dexter on “Tenor Madness” here, I’m not sure what to say.

Naturally, Dexter Gordon is an improvisor. However, when he’s blowing, Dexter is also reciting a special repertoire, often called “language” in jazz parlance. On “Tenor Madness” his language is bebop and blues, especially the kind of big band blues he played with Billy Eckstine and Lionel Hampton in the ’40s. On “Gingerbread Boy” he keeps that going but also includes quite a few more Coltrane-isms, perhaps as a way to fit in with Woody Shaw. (Indeed, the very first melody of Jimmy Heath’s “Gingerbread Boy” is a familiar modal cliche.) In this era Dexter also played Coltrane’s famous song “Moment’s Notice” and used Coltrane’s pedal-point arrangement of “Body and Soul.”

Dexter wasn’t the only acoustic master assessing Coltrane in such a visible way. At the top of the decade, Lee Morgan’s wonderful Live at the Lighthouse (1970) with Bennie Maupin, Harold Mabern, Jymie Merritt, and Mickey Roker is a seriously modal affair, with long vamps and many pentatonic patterns, a sound radically different from the hard bop Morgan was playing a decade earlier. Two years later. Elvin Jones’s Live at the Lighthouse (1972) with Dave Liebman, Steve Grossman, and Gene Perla is modal and pentatonic but — unlike Morgan’s date — there is also this kind of post-Woody Shaw, post-Joe Henderson, post-Larry Young Unity lydian/polychord thinking.

I’m a little surprised that neither of these Lighthouse discs made the first cut for the JazzTimes poll, but an even more surprising omission is Kenny Wheeler’s Gnu High (1975). This famous record represents ECM at the label’s best, a date that literally wouldn’t have haven’t happened without the organizational know how of producer Manfred Eicher. (In general there cannot be a discussion of ’70s jazz without a discussion of ECM.)

Wheeler and Wayne Shorter might be the most lyrical composers of modal music, writing unforgettable pentatonic shapes over a shifting landscape of pretty harmony. (Both Wheeler and Shorter love the modal landscapes of English composer Ralph Vaughn Williams.)

On Gnu High it is a band of masters, and all four players navigate the material with a kind of loose, fervent virtuosity. There is hardly any bebop punctuation, all the language in the solos is modal.

Wheeler’s “Smatter” is popular, it is almost something that can be called at a jam session.




You may be surprised I’m calling “Smatter” modal music. What I mean is that each vertical harmony has accompanying patterns and scales that lack a “tonal” implication.

Jarrett complained about the music of Gnu High in his biography, saying, “I had a lot of trouble trying to deal with playing those kinds of changes….sometimes the structures were so inorganic and fully described that I wanted to make them something with round sides…and they would have these vertical messages every beat or two.”

Jarrett certainly did play these changes: Indeed, for me, this date is a highlight of the Jarrett discography.

But Jarrett’s also on to something. Wheeler is a great composer — for my money, a greater composer than Jarrett — but the surface of compositions in the “Smatter” vein can easily turn placid and airless. Attractive vertical sonorities can be placed next to each other without any deeper binding qualities like tonality or folkloric rhythm.

I’ve seen a lot of college jazz composition that looks just like the chart of “Smatter.”

Getting back to “Tenor Madness” played by Dexter Gordon (the same year that Gnu High was recorded): The composition doesn’t exist on paper, not really…or if it does exist on paper, it’s just on scratch pad with no chord changes. Even the composer is up for debate, as most people know it from the Sonny Rollins record, but it actually appears as “Rue Chaptal” from an earlier side by Kenny Clarke.

To play “Tenor Madness” (or whatever it’s called) you need to know the language of bebop and the blues. You’ve got to have your repertoire together.

To play “Smatter,” you kind of don’t need to know the language of bebop and the blues, you just need to stare at the sheet. In fact, keeping the chart of tunes like “Smatter” in front you at all times is common practice, even for professionals on a high level gig. This mirrors European classical music. When a star soloist plays older tonal music, they are expected to have the music memorized. But if the music is atonal, then sheet music on the stand is allowed.

Barry Harris is the antipode of modal jazz. Everything Barry plays swings. His notes swing partly because Barry is closely involved with the interplay of dissonance and consonance in tonal music. When I say “bebop punctuation,” I mean any bar of Barry Harris.

(One vast oversimplification: Dissonances are accented, consonances are dialed back. There’s no way to bring that kind of tension and release to “Smatter” without resorting to extreme measures. Kenny Wheeler manages to give the harmony a coarser grain through heraldic sonority and wildly asymmetrical phrasing. )

Barry always sounds great. He was killing it in the 1950s, he’s still around and handing out lessons. But 1970’s Barry is notably prime Barry, and unlike the voters of JazzTimes, I couldn’t make a list of top ’70s records without including some Barry Harris. If I had to pick one trio date, I might go for Live in Tokyo (1976) with Sam Jones and Leroy Williams. Of course Barry comes from Bud Powell, Barry recites that kind of language during his improvisations, but he also has marvelous melodic freshness in his spontaneous line. The piano improvisations on the Tokyo session are something else.

Barry Harris and Sam Jones is a wonderful combination. Total grease. In general you can tell if somebody really knows something about ’70s jazz if they know to mention Sam Jones. In the ’70s, the bass was much louder than on earlier jazz records, and this doesn’t show every bassist in an equally positive light. Leroy Williams was Barry’s drummer of choice from 1969 until now, they feel upbeats together in a very sensuous way.

Barry and Sam join Sonny Stitt on a few classic ’70s dates, including Constellation with Roy Brooks and Tune-up with Alan Dawson.

Sonny Stitt is another giant. I like Stitt more and more over the years. Nobody can miss Dexter Gordon, he’s just too awesome, but Sonny Stitt and Barry Harris are for the connoisseur. Barry is perhaps more personal, Stitt is more literal. Still, Stitt is a king of bebop and the blues. If you think you can’t learn something from Constellation you simply don’t know how to listen to it yet. Last night I was particularly struck by the ballads. “It’s Magic” and “I Don’t Stand A Ghost of a Chance” seem beamed down from the outer regions of human expression.

From Tune-Up, Barry is especially inspired, with definitive lyrical improvisations on “Blues for Prez and Bird,” “Groovin’ High,” and “I Got Rhythm.” Both discs have superb examples of uptempo rhythm changes, which remain the ultimate test of a bebopper. One can play modal language on rhythm changes up to a point, but eventually there needs to be some bebop snakes in there for the music to flow correctly.

Stitt had little to do with modal music. In fact, Miles Davis repeatedly complained about the way Stitt played on “So What” during a long 1960 tour: On the A sections, Stitt plays the light and shade of D minor and A dominant, while the correct way to play is on the dorian scale. That’s the whole reason why Miles wrote “So What,” to look for those fresh modal sounds.

For make no mistake, modal music was fresh, and that language had to be mastered in order to participate in good company. Biting the Apple is a great 1975 Dexter Gordon session with Barry Harris, Sam Jones, and Al Foster. (In my opinion this is a greater record overall than Homecoming.) Dexter includes a version of “So What” changes called “A la Modal.” The “latin” intro comes from “Soy Califa” on Dexter’s classic 1962 LP A Swingin’ Affair. (Some modal jazz is deeply informed by Afro-Cuban traditions, and it is worth remembering that an architect of modal jazz, George Russell, wrote the important large scale composition “Cubano Be, Cubano Bop” in 1947.)

Barry plays well on “A la Modal,” but I don’t know if he really believes in that concept. Another pianist — also aligned with Sam Jones —  that needs to be included in a discussion of ’70s jazz is Cedar Walton. For many, Eastern Rebellion (1976) with George Coleman, Jones, and Billy Higgins is a touchstone. Walton and Coleman play a natural mix of modal and bebop language in their solos. Indeed, they even play the chain of suspended sequences of Coltrane’s “Naima” with a dance beat: Modal is here for a swinging good time.

When improvising, Cedar’s modal patterns are somewhat literal, at least when compared to his lines on rhythm changes or the blues. Something similar might be said of George Coleman (who is certainly also very, very great).

In what may be a minority opinion, I prefer Cedar with Clifford Jordan, who understood modal music but also allowed in more surreality and strangeness than George Coleman whether the music was bop, modal, or the blues. One of Jordan’s best albums is The Glass Bead Games (1973). Two quartets — Stanley Cowell, Bill Lee, and Billy Higgins or Cedar Walton, Sam Jones, and Billy Higgins — offer a marvelous document of a kind of post-Coltrane black music that honors the Aquarian Age yet still has tough hard-bop roots. In a way, Glass Bead Games can be heard as a concerto for Billy Higgins, who is simply extraordinary on every track.

The Cedar Walton – Sam Jones – Billy Higgins trio became known as “The Magic Triangle.”  If you are interested in swing you need to know about this rhythm section. There’s quite a few discs of them backing Clifford Jordan, including a lot of Steeplechase albums from a European tour. A looser studio document than Glass Bead Games is The Pentagon with Ray Mantilla added on percussion on two tunes and excellent recorded sound. There are also fabulous live sets with other master drummers filling in for Higgins: Tootie Heath (Half Note) or Louis Hayes (Live at Boomer’s Vol. 1 and 2.)

One of the biggest jazz stars of the era was Stan Getz. Captain Marvel (1972) is on the JazzTimes list. Getz was very influenced by Chick Corea, and Captain Marvel is essentially Return to Forever before Return to Forever. (Stan fronting Return to Forever on Captain Marvel bears comparison with Homecoming, where Dexter fronts the Woody Shaw-Louis Hayes quintet.) Even more than Kenny Wheeler’s “Smatter,” Corea’s “500 Miles High” is something that can be called at a high-level jam session. While “500 Miles” is comparatively tonal compared to “Smatter,” Stan Getz still has to draw on the Coltrane language to blow on it.

I never listen to Captain Marvel. I listen to The Master, yet another incredible straight ahead disc from 1975. (People who say straight ahead jazz was dead in the mid-’70s just don’t have the right records.)  The Master is a working band of tough young turks, Albert Dailey, Clint Houston, and Billy Hart. Like Frank Strozier, Albert Dailey is a less familiar name, but he was really great. (For whatever it’s worth, Dailey’s a cappella outro on “Lover Man” from The Master made an impact on my personal aesthetic.)

On The Master, Getz offers Corea’s hip arrangement of an old Harry Warren song, “Summer Night,” which intersperses a tonal section in C minor with a modal vamp in E flat minor. (Corea did something similar to Kurt Weill’s “This is New” on his first session as as a leader, Tones for Joan’s Bones (1966) with Woody Shaw and Joe Farrell, still one of Corea’s best jazz dates.)

The feel of “Summer Night” is not that different from another standard on The Master that connects C minor and E-flat minor, Branislau Kaper’s “Invitation,” a melody that entered the modern jazz parlance thanks to Joe Henderson rendition on Tetragon. The slow harmonic rhythm of “Invitation” is perfect for using modal language.

On “Lover Man,” the big F dominant in bar 5 (always played everywhere else) is replaced by F minor 11, a nod to modal thinking.

Stan improvises his pretty melodies throughout all three standards, Dailey has a kind of soulful glitter, Houston and Hart swing out.

Stan Getz used Chick Corea as a resource to stay current. Astonishingly, The Master includes a tune by signature ECM artist Ralph Towner, “Raven’s Wood,” recorded with Glen Moore in 1973. It’s a nice piece and the band plays it in high style. Indeed, Stan’s playing here, in this modal, even eighth-note concept, strongly reminds me of a modern tenor hero like Joshua Redman or Mark Turner.

Just for fun: 10 more discs from the 1970’s I really love that haven’t been mentioned yet above nor appear in the poll:

Keith Jarrett BOP-BE Of all Jarrett, I love Keith’s American Quartet best, and this is their jazziest LP.
Charlie Haden THE GOLDEN NUMBER  Far reaching duos with lyrical and bluesy intent.
Joe Henderson LIVE IN JAPAN Joe burns the house down with a great local rhythm section.
The Great Jazz Trio KINDNESS JOY LOVE + HAPPINESS Hank Jones, Ron Carter, Tony Williams, in a superbly organized date.
Hampton Hawes AT THE PIANO A valediction from the maestro.
Steve Lacy/Roswell Rudd TRICKLES Gorgeous free playing.
Carla Bley EUROPEAN TOUR ’77 Carnival atmosphere and detailed composition.
Paul Bley OPEN TO LOVE Keith’s papa records his own ECM spaciousness.
World Saxophone Quartet STEPPIN’ Julius Hemphill’s great compositions are represented well on this Black Saint classic.
Ray Bryant ALL BLUES The output on Pablo label can be a shade underwhelming given the talent involved. Bryant’s trio with Sam Jones and Grady Tate is superb. For a bonus listen, pair All Blues (1978) with Richie Beirach’s excellent Elm (1979) with George Mraz and Jack DeJohnette. Both albums are piano trios, but the shared references almost stop there…

The “Danger” Chord

While in quarantine, I’ve been posting home videos of TV themes on my socials. Yesterday I put up Henry Mancini’s theme from The Pink Panther. (I did this in a single take without practicing first, which is why it sounds so good, of course.)

A little discussion ensued on Twitter: Elias Muhanna pointed out that the last chord is unusually thick, and correctly identified it as B7 over E minor. Spelled out, it goes up in thirds, E G B D# F# A.

That isn’t really my chord, I got that from Mancini, although probably Henry would stop at five notes, not seeing the need to go to all the way to six.

William Kenlon chimed in, noting that the chord appears in the James Bond theme and associated cues by Marty Norman and John Barry. Indeed! There’s a whole genre of noir and espionage “jazz” that features “shocking” minor-major seventh chords, often with flamboyant guitar.

Noah Berman then really kind of blew my mind by citing Tony Mottola’s soundtrack to Danger in 1950.

Berman also included a clip of a short Mottola interview where he says that for a while people called this major-minor seventh chord, especially on guitar, the “Danger” chord or the “Mottola” chord.

Berman directed us to a website, The Exotica Project, especially a page about “The Lonely Beat.” Wow! This is an amazing essay by Dan Shiman.

Kenlon brought it full circle: “Guitarist Bob Bain (who Tony mentions in the interview) is the guitarist on the first two Pink Panther soundtracks.”

Truly, Twitter at its best!

I have recorded only one piece of noir exotica, with Tootie Heath and Ben Street on Tootie’s Tempo. “Danube Incident” was composed by Lalo Schifrin and later sampled by Portishead. Plastic cutlery was placed inside the piano to get a period “strumming” quality. Naturally, our performance ends with a “Danger” chord.

Tempo Giusto

This Sunday at 5 PM EST, I am joining Miranda Cuckson and the American Composers Orchestra in Connecting ACO Community, an initiative where composers write pieces for solo performers.

Program note:

“Tempo giusto” is a 19th-century term asking for a reasonably clear beat. One of the translations from the Italian is, “At the right time.” My piece is part fantasy and part hoedown. The fiddler is encouraged to treat the work as expressively as Bach or Ysaÿe; rubato and extremes of dynamics are perfectly acceptable, even encouraged, as long as those theatrics happen at the right time. 

Miranda is a friend and also a truly great artist; when she played me Tempo Guisto for me over FaceTime I was thrilled to my very core. She has edited the work to make it more violinistic.

We kick off this ACO series on Sunday the 19th; the collaborations continue through May with truly an all-star line-up of composers and performers.

“If The $5 entrance fee poses a barrier to participation, interested listeners will be asked to fill out an anonymous form at https://bit.ly/ACOConnectComp or email Aiden Feltkamp at aiden@americancomposers.org to request a fee waiver.”

Riffs (second set)

(Quick, unedited stuff for my NEC students who I’m teaching remotely….first set of “Riffs here…)

1. Bill Evans — Stella By Starlight, Peace Piece, Epilogue, Shades of Jade, How Deep is the Ocean

Bill Evans is often celebrated for his creative harmonic sensibility. While at times I wonder if his great stature obscures equally innovative harmonists like Ahmad Jamal and Red Garland, it’s certainly true that Bill was a genius who gave jazz a fresh set of post-bop tools.

The common practice, jam session set of changes to “Stella By Starlight” are notably different than the original harmonies by composer Victor Young. I believe those changes come from the dreamy fox trot Miles Davis recorded with John Coltrane and Bill Evans. Almost certainly Bill made the final choices about what the harmony was going to be, a set of substitutions that at this point are “the way we play the song.”

After accompanying Miles and Trane like a surreal dance band, Bill takes a great half chorus of singing melody, closer to block chords than bebop. It’s a poetic, moody solo. Not really so much blues, although there’s some blues there, but a gentle kind of wistfulness that is almost cinematic.

Miles and Bill both loved the French Impressionists like Debussy and Ravel. The slow E major movement of Ravel’s Concerto in G Major is “modal” and leads straight into late 50s jazz. Miles and Bill listened to Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli’s new record of the Ravel Concerto when working on the music for Kind of Blue.

Again, cinematic. French music like this is everywhere in the movies: Debussy, Ravel, and Erik Satie’s omnipresent Trois Gymnopédies.

A big influence on the French composers was the Polish genius Frédéric Chopin. A signature Chopin piece is the Berceuse, which is literally a one-bar vamp with “improvised” decoration on top.

Everybody Digs Bill Evans was Bill’s breakout album as a leader. The tracks with Sam Jones and Philly Joe Jones are great — “Young and Foolish” is definitive —  but the two solo pieces “Peace Piece” and “Epilogue” remain exceptionally striking.  As far as I know, “Peace Piece” and “Epilogue” are the first tracks on a jazz piano album to abandon beat and blues entirely. Their references are mostly European.

“Peace Piece” is a dead intersection of a Satie Gymnopédie (the cinematic sound of the harmony) and the Chopin Berceuse (a one-bar vamp with “improvised” decoration on top). At times Bill takes the right hand pretty “out,” perhaps inspired by another important French composer, Olivier Messiaen. (This left hand vamp also turns up in “Flamenco Sketches” on Kind of Blue and an arrangement of Leonard Bernstein’s “Some Other Time.”)

The very short “Epilogue” is mostly modal and references some ancient melodic idea harmonized in fourths, perhaps as if a Gregorian chant were transcribed for piano. Debussy and Ravel have examples of this kind of sound, but so do many 20th-century composers from all eras and nationalities. Indeed, almost anybody trying to write slow and mysterious “folk music” for concert performance can be in this bag, from Béla Bartók to Samuel Barber to Arvo Pärt.

Keith Jarrett liked to talk about playing and composing a “universal folk music.” If I heard “Epilogue” in a blindfold test, I might guess it was Keith.

Everybody Digs is my personal favorite Bill trio album, but the most celebrated Evans disc is probably Sunday at the Village Vanguard with Scott Lafaro and Paul Motian. Lafaro helped change the game for bassists, and Lafaro’s own pieces “Gloria’s Step” and “Jade Visions” from this album are innovative.

ECM producer Manfred Eicher told me that he loved “Jade Visions.” In hindsight, we can hear this track as one template for the famous ECM sound: Rolling cymbals (Motian later became a key ECM artist), pentatonic bass vamp in 9/8,  luminous slow moving piano harmony. Eicher also complained that they should have never put out the alternate, Take 1.  (Take 2 was on the LP.) Take 1 is faster and jazzier. The point for Eicher was that “Jade Visions” was a way to get away from jazz blowing and more into a mood.

Bill must have agreed, for he chose the material for initial release, and Bill makes a rather major mistake on Take 2, coming into the A-flat minor harmony one beat too early during his solo (at 2’22”).  However it doesn’t matter, the mood is intact.

Bill’s poetic mood remains charismatic. Of course, he was also influential as a tough and swinging jazz pianist. For me, not all of that is as compelling, but it’s certainly part of the canon. Bill’s ideas were so fresh that bits and pieces of his concept turn up everywhere.

A student brought in Chick Corea’s classic Now He Sings, Now He Sobs the other day. Chick did a nice little interview about this disc for Grammy.com. He mentions a lot of names (in general Chick is very good about giving credit)  but he doesn’t cite Bill Evans. I’m sure that’s just happenstance (Chick has done whole albums in tribute to Bill) but “Now He Beats the Drum, Now He Stops” has one of the most explicit references to Bill Evans I know.

After the piano cadenza, “Now He Beats the Drum, Now He Stops” offers deconstructed trio blowing on “How Deep is the Ocean.” Although faster, tougher, and full of McCoy Tyner’s fourth chords, this is the same stream of music Bill Evans gave us with his version of “How Deep is the Ocean” with LaFaro and Motian on Explorations.

Interestingly, Bill doesn’t play the melody until the end, he just jumps in for blowing, which was fairly rare at the time.

As with “Stella By Starlight,” the default harmonization of “How Deep is the Ocean” at a jam session is essentially “Bill Evans’s changes.”

2. Leroy Jenkins, “Space Minds, New Worlds, Survival of America.”

The synthesizer innovator Richard Teitelbaum died this past week. I was lucky to see Teitelbaum at the Village Vanguard in Andrew Cyrille’s quartet with Bill Frisell and Ben Street. That group made an excellent album, The Declaration of Musical Independence. ECM has a long track record of getting the most mellow and ambient work out of avant-garde masters, and The Declaration of Musical Independence continues in this tradition. It’s impossible to imagine a more listenable set of experimental music. Bill Frisell is a perfect choice; Richard Teitelbaum adds just enough crunch; Ben Street is wayward and mysterious.

Avant-garde jazz is important. Very important. There’s a lot I don’t know. One time I asked Craig Taborn to recommend some favorite discs connected to the AACM (the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians). Craig told me to check out Leroy Jenkins’s 1979 LP, Space Minds, New Worlds, Survival of America.

Our field is not overcrowded with truly inspired violinists. Leroy Jenkins is one of the most fabulous, an artist who blends something really soulful and something really esoteric.

This suite has great playing by avant all-stars including Jenkins, Cyrille, Teitelbaum, Anthony Davis, and George Lewis. However, the real point of the track is the compositional intensity and ingenuity. A powerful first blues tune is enhanced by Teitelbaum’s synthesizer; later episodes feature a hocketing rhythmic matrix, a melancholy drone, and other diverse ostinati. At the end, marching C major thuds forth from the band as Jenkins fervently disagrees.

3. Herbie Hancock, “Succotash” and “What is This Thing Called Love?”

Above I wrote some quick words about about how Bill Evans gave jazz a kind of mood.  Herbie Hancock — who turns 80 today — took that moody Evans harmony and married it with exceptionally advanced rhythm. Most jazz students know the Miles Davis records with Herbie and Herbie’s own ’60s records like Maiden Voyage. With a few exceptions (when Herbie goes into another bag) most of the piano solos on these records essentially refresh the cinematic and moody Bill Evans model and give it more rhythm, blues, virtuosity, and a proper dollop of McCoy Tyner. It’s so impressive that many people regard Herbie Hancock as the greatest modern jazz pianist of them all.

Rhythm evolved alongside with harmony in jazz, perhaps at more or less the same pace. While the harmony comes from Europe, the rhythm comes from Africa. The rhythms arrived in the New World not just on the slave ships but also filtered up though the Latin diaspora.

In American society, fresh rhythms have accompanying social dances. All the ’50s jazz musicians were aware of forms like mambo, cha-cha, and merengue. Herbie Hancock got a big break when Afro-Cuban bandleader Mongo Santamaria recorded Herbie’s blues “Watermelon Man” in 1962. This fabulous track was a major dance hit.

More than most, Hancock has remained attuned to current dance. I remember being eleven years old and watching my friends breakdance to “Rockit” on the playground in the tiny hamlet of Downsville, Wisconsin.

“Rockit” has a strange piece of nerdiness in it. The little blues tune (which is just about the only thing in “Rockit” you could write down with European notation) goes at tempo and then at half-speed, i.e. twice as slow. A European-styled composer would call this technique, “augmentation.” As far as I know, “Rockit” is the only dance hit in history that uses augmentation.

There is definitely a weird and nerdy side to Herbie Hancock. He loves to experiment, not just with sound, but also with gear and everything else. Given a chance to record in a “trio” setting without horns for Blue Note in 1964, Herbie went straight to the lab. Inventions and Dimensions is essentially a set of ostinatos for latin percussion and bass for Herbie to improvise over. In a way, Herbie is consciously studying the potential of repeating rhythm the way Bill Evans studied the potential of repeating harmony in “Peace Piece.”

“Succotash” can be heard in six or four, either way; indeed, one is impossible without the other, as in most Afro-Cuban music. Perhaps Mongo Santamaria’s 1959 hit “Afro Blue” has a similar feel to “Succotash”; at the least, drummer on Inventions and Dimensions, Wille Bobo, was also Santamaria associate.

The two most famous rhythm sections of the ’60s were Hancock, Ron Carter, and Tony Williams (with Miles Davis) and McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Garrison, and Elvin Jones (with John Coltrane). Much of the most oblique and exciting rhythmic phrasing in both units connects to Afro-Cuban concepts. On “Succotash” and the rest of Inventions and Dimensions Herbie really spells these connections out, almost like a professor wearing a white lab coat writing equations on blackboard.

The best conventional jazz ever recorded for explicitly cinematic purpose must be the two LPs worth of sensational sessions for Round Midnight. A casual duo of “What is Thing Called Love” with Herbie and Bobby McFerrin is an enjoyable listen. This track is good for jazz students, as Herbie isn’t being anything other a good accompanist. It still sounds like Herbie playing, his personality is clear, but he’s also simply a professional taking care of business.

If you are a jazz piano student, this is my question: “Can you do this? Can you back a good singer in a standard with no bass and drums in a unflustered and unmannered way?”

On lead sheets of “What is This Thing,” the first chord is usually marked G half-diminished. Herbie ignores that. He plays a C ninth. Interesting!  On F minor, Herbie plays F minor 7. This is a real ’60s sound. Most ’60s-era jazz pianists like loved a tonic minor with the seventh, probably to bring in the associated mode and pentatonic scales. A decade earlier, ’50s jazz pianists played a tonic minor with a sixth, a real bebop sound. McCoy Tyner plays both minor sixth and minor seventh. (FWIW — and certainly not worth all that much in the context of Hancock or Tyner — I almost always play a tonic minor with a sixth.)

We often hear somebody say something like, “Herbie Hancock plays so funky.” Certainly true! Part of playing funky is simply knowing a lot of blues licks. Blues licks are not always in fashion any more — in the Bad Plus I made sure never to play a single one, and I hardly ever hear them in the halls of NEC — but when Bill Evans and Herbie Hancock were playing with Miles Davis, blues licks were an essential part of the language. Bill is not always thought of as a bluesy player, but Bill played plenty of blues licks in a swinging context.

On “What is This Thing” with McFerrin, Herbie plays some blues licks, notably a rather extreme one at 2’10”. He’s not improvising at that moment, it’s a proper honking blues lick that damn near changes the genre of the track. I personally wouldn’t have done this at that time, but who I am to judge Herbie Hancock? At any rate, alongside the very idea of playing Cole Porter duo with a singer, this bluesy moment points up a basic building block of the language.  If you’ve never learned any blues licks, now’s the time. They may be harder technically than you expect. Even if you never use them, you should know a few.