Sunday, September 11, 2011

Bill Evans Tune Test - update

Just a note to let those interested know that I'll be posting the answers to the first Bill Evans Tune Test here on the blog just after the anniversary date of Bill's death coming up in a few days. There have been some very good replies, some right on the money. I have talked about several of the answers right here on this blog or in my old paper publication, "Letter From Evans." If you don't know the date of Bill's death ask around. It's pretty common knowledge. Jazz singer Mark Murphy even wrote a song about it. 

One area where the response has been weak is the listening part - determining the keys and modulation schemes of many of the standards Bill played. Why play standards in different keys, you ask, especially the "in-chorus" modulations where the the first half of a tune is in starts in one key, then the musicians change to a different key for the second half? The scheme is done each and every time, through all the blowing choruses, for everyone. I think I can give you a good reason why this was done by Bill and continues to be done by jazz musicians everywhere.

When I first worked with the great Ira Sullivan some 30 years ago he started playing "Green Dolphin Street" in C then when measure 17 came around he played the melody and chord changes in Eb. I mentally scratched my head for about 20 seconds (while I was playing) but then realized that I loved "Green Dolphin Street" played this way. It just so happens that "Green Dolphin Street" "tonicizes" with the melody and chords going to Eb on measures 13 and 14.

("Tonicize" is just a term in music theory meaning to make a temporary change of the tonic or key, then usually work back to the point where you were before you started the tonicization. The music of Chopin and Wagner, for example, tonicizes all over the place. If a piece tonicizes for more than just a few measures then it becomes a modulation. If this modulation becomes an important part of what notes the jazz musician plays in his/her improvised chorus or choruses then it becomes a modulation scheme)

Normally "Green Dolphin Street" would work itself back to the key of C for the restatement of the initial melody. Ira just stayed in Eb at that point and restated the melody in Eb. It sounded great and it was not readily recognizable to non-musicians in the audiences. They would realize the tune was still "Green Dolphin Street" but some might have scratched their heads and noticed something was different but couldn't exactly put their finger on it.

Not only does this particular in-chorus modulation scheme work harmonically but it makes the musicians work a little harder and pay more attention to the tune. The result is usually fresher, more spontaneous improvised jazz which is great for everyone. Standards are an important part of a jazz musician's fare but if played the same way, in the same key each time, they can get boring - bad for the musicians and the audience.

In deciding whether or not to do an in-chorus modulation scheme the criteria are always musical. Does the composition's harmonic scheme lend itself to it? Are the musicians capable of playing the tune in the chosen key area?

Back to the test questions. What Bill does with "Come Rain or Come Shine" is just a harmonic enhancement, no tonicization nor in-chorus modulation scheme. What Bill does with "Days of Wine and Roses" and "Like Someone In Love" are in-chorus modulation schemes. What Bill does with "Theme From M.A.S.H" is totally different. "M.A.S.H." is a three key, "full-chorus modulation scheme."
As you would expect from Bill Evans, all three are based on musically sound principles and can be done to similarly constructed standards. That is what makes them so unique and special.

So screw your ears on and listen, with your axe or a keyboard nearby and check out one of the things that make Bill Evans, Bill Evans. And to paraphrase Laurie Verchomin, always have fun.

1 comment:

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