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Straight no …

June 3, 2012

In the beginning was the Blues. Then came Charlie Parker.

As we all know, Bird was a great player and improviser, inspiring cohorts of sax players and musicians alike. He also made the blueprint to what is referred to as a Bebop Blues by transforming the basic 3-chord structure to a more elaborate reharmonized version with jam sessions usual suspects “Now’s the time” and “Billie’s Bounce”.

You can’t have a Jazz gig without a blues being played. This is the obligatory rite of passage for any musician. To play a 12-bars form 6 or more times during a solo and coming with fresh licks all the time. That is hard. The chord don’t just play themselves (unlike say “Dolphin dance” or “Stella by starlight”). Relying solely on playing the six notes of the Blues Scale for 72 bars is suicidal, you’ve got to think vertically (ie using different notes for each chord, sometimes twice a bar). That’s what makes the bebop blues interesting, the perfect comprise between the soulfulness of the blues and the agility of the beboppers.

There are lots of good 12 bars blues to pick – “Sonnymoon for two”, “One for daddy-O”, “Bags groove”. My personal choice goes to “Tenor Madness” by Sonny Rollins. Easy key (Bb), great catchy melody, quircky middle with the descending arpeggio pattern – This tune has got it all.

However, I generally opt for one of the early tunes from the James Hayes Quintet songbook. When I created this band 6 years ago, I had the classic 50’s/60’s Blue Note combo sound in mind with Tenor Sax and Trumpet plus rhythm section as you would find the the Art Blakey or Hank Mobley led bands.

In 2006,  I was driving down to Barnes, host of legendary venue the Bull’s Head. Stuck at the traffic lights, I decided to compose a bebop blues in F just by humming it, no pen and paper involved, no instrument at hand. Out came the cheeky “Straight no Fryer” in reference to Jake Fryer, my sax player at the time and as a hommage to Monk’s “Straight no chaser”.  The idea was to perpetuate Monk’s spirit in crafting a quirky melody full of chromaticism, sequences and 7#9 chords. Just like the original. Not forgetting some un-hip crotchets statement at the end – I have always admired Monk’s opening of “Let’s cool one” with 11 crochets in succession, quite the opposite of bebop.

Since that day, I’ve used it in the studio and played live countless times, even as a quick quote within a solo! Thanks TS, thanks Jake.

Following that exercise in style, I have applied the same technique in crafting tunes as a tribute to my Jazz heroes. Wayne Shorter, Charles Mingus, Bill Evans, Duke Ellington, Joe Henderson, John Coltrane, Miles Davies , Herbie Hancock, Lyle Mays, Bobby Hutcherson to name a few. All these greats have been at the source of the inspiration that spurred the writing of 50+ charts.

Here is a link to the concert-key version of “Straight no Fryer”. Please download it, play it, share it and let me know what you think.

Ok, one down, 9 to go!

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From → Without a Song

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