nick calligeros

jazz thoughts

Clifford Brown’s First Chorus on Confirmation + Thoughts On Transcribing

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Man this is how you swing! Such a killing chorus off a killer album. Art Blakey Live at Birdland vol. 2 featuring the likes of Lou Donaldson on tenor, Horace Silver on piano and Curly Russell on Bass.

For those wondering out there why I didn’t transcribe the second chorus, let me clarify it was mostly definitely not because it was any less swingin’. It was because thematically I believe he stated most of his ideas in the first chorus and there is more than enough there to analyse and try and replicate. I’m not into transcribing a whole solo for the sake of it, and so you’ll see there will be a couple of transcriptions I post that are first/second chorus only.

Transcribing is a funny business [nice segway Nick]. The one question regarding transcription that haunted me for a long time was should I transcribe a solo that I can find online? I think after a couple of year of deliberating, I’ve come to a wish-washy answer. I believe if you have the capacity to sit down and analyse someone else’s transcription then go for it. But in saying that, I also believe a lot of people lack that focus and commitment. Only till recently that was me. Now, with improved focused I can analyse the work of others, which is why most of the transcriptions I do, and will post here are those you can’t find online (although with exceptions such as this). I asked my teacher Phil Slater about it all a while back and he qualified that he only transcribed what he couldn’t get his hands on. He said the point of a transcription for him (and in reality for nearly all of us) was to see what player x played over y chord and if he didn’t have to transcribe it himself to find out then all the better. I know that goes against principles of a lot of musicians, but if Phil went about it that way, I think we can safely say its an acceptable practise.

With that in mind, it’s safe to say there are situations where you are better off doing it yourself. It may be coupled as an ear training/melodic dictation exercise, or if you don’t trust the source then realistically it’s worth ditching the pdf. For those that say ear training is right up there every time they transcribe, let me tell you- I believe effective ear training is like an athlete doing cross training. You have your core exercises eg if you are a swimmer you swim, but you also venture outside of them to other realms of aural perception eg. running, cycling etc. which is what transcription for the purpose of ear training is. Don’t feel bad you found it online- feel bad if you don’t analyse the shit out of it!

Over the years I’ve read copious articles/comments/forums/interviews on the art of transcribing and time and time again the debate of learning a solo off by heart compared to notating it arises. I must admit I rarely learn a solo off by heart before I notate it. But in saying that, if I was to critique my method [which I am going to right now] I would have to say that is my biggest pit fall in my current process and something that I will strive to do from here on. I believe there is a higher retention level when you learn the solo off by heart in its entirety, not to mention a great memory exercise!

In regards to notating, I am a big advocate. If nothing else, notating my transcriptions has given me a visual association to many idiomatic jazz rhythms and in more general terms, heightened sense of rhythmic awareness. Whether I am in class completing a melodic dictations, or listening to a record on the train, rhythms have become less of an enigma, much in the same way as ear training unlocks one’s harmonic ears. Moreover, I imagine without having the solo notated it would be difficult to complete an harmonic analysis eg. what notes were played over which chord-which for most is why we do the transcription in the first place.

Last year I had a talk with local tenor freak and all round great dude Mike Rivett about the process of transcription. Mike not so recently returned from New York where he had completed his master’s thesis at the Manhattan School of Music. He was privileged enough to study with some super heavy cats including George Galzone and Dave Liebman and had a couple of great pieces of advice to share.  He described a method of transcription that Liebman recommended where you spend time listening to the solo and learning to sing it. Become comfortable with all the pitches and intervals. Once you are able to sing it, notate it. I was pretty taken a back by this method. He softened the blow by recommending you start with easy, short tunes you are already familiar with eg. Twinkle Twinkle Little Star or Happy Birthday. Then move to something a little more difficult, say an early Miles solo and continue pushing yourself. In a sort of disbelief the level of commitment involved in that method, I sort of stupidly asked him who transcribes that way and I remember him replying with something a long the lines

‘Every heavy person you know’.

Good work with the block quote huh? Nice bit drama to keep things fresh. But in all seriousness, how heavy is that! Unfortunately for me and you it gets heavier. He also revealed a tip Galzone (I think…) gave him regarding the collection of language through transcriptions. He said that Galzone recommended learning 10 solos off by heart by 10 different culturally significant players, preferably all from contrasting musical periods, and then learn all 10 solos in 12 keys. I.e being a trumpet I could pick Louis, Bix, Fats, Dizzy, Lee, Don, Clifford, Freddie, Roy Hargrove and an Ingrid Jensen for example. He also quoted as saying something along the lines of ‘If you can do that you’re one the way to learning the jazz language’. If that’s not heavy then I don’t want to live on this planet anymore.

Anyway, that’s my fairly unoriginal take on a sometimes fiery subject. I guess the long and short of it is, do whatever works best for you [but really just do the heavy stuff Rivett recommended]. If you read this and have cultivated a burning rage in your chest or contrastingly agree with my every word, let me know! I’d love to know what it feels like to have comments. Anyway, if you got to the end of this article you deserve some Clifford. Here you go.

EDIT: I’ve recently stumbled upon this jazzadvice.com article on transcribing and thought it a must to add to this page http://jazzadvice.com/transcribing-is-not-transcibing-how-this-misnomer-has-led-you-astray/

PDF:  CLIFFORD BROWN’s First Chorus on Confirmation Bb

Photo courtesy of allaboutjazz.com


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