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The Metronome-All-Stars January 3, 1949 recording session
Let's take a look at a famous and discussed all-star session, the Metronome All-Stars recording on January 3, 1949 in RCA Studio in New York.
The Metronome All-Stars components were:
Two selections were planned for this recording session: "Overtime" and "Victory Ball"; first of all we'll examine "Victory Ball".
Victory Ball is an arrangement by Lennie Tristano, Billy Bauer, and Charlie Parker, based on "'S Wonderful", a popular song composed by George Gershwin, with lyrics written by Ira Gershwin, introduced in the Broadway musical Funny Face (1927) by Adele Astaire and Allen Kearns, and included even in the 1951 movie "An American in Paris" (sung by Gene Kelly), as well as in the 1957 american musical film "Funny Face" (performed by Audrey Hepburn and Fred Astaire).
It was recorded in a short and a long version, for the 10 and 12 inch 78 rpm formats. A single long take version and two different takes of the short version were recorded.
Let's listen to the Victory Ball theme
The A sections are played by Tristano, Bauer and Parker, playing their arrangement, while the B section is improvised by Charlie Parker. The last A ends with a two bars break filled by Parker (bars 31-32), then we have still two bars of break and then Parker gets into his 32 bars solo (16 bars on short version takes).
First of all let's consider the only long version, on which each trumpet soloist plays a 16 bars solo, with open trumpet.
The first trumpet solo we meet is clearly Miles Davis, playing on the first sixteen bars of the A-A-B-A chorus structure, namely in Eb major.
At the end of his solo we hear the modulation to G major which brings into the bridge.
Let's listen to Miles Davis solo
The next trumpet solo is Fats Navarro, playing on the last sixteen bars of the A-A-B-A chorus structure, namely the G major eight bars bridge followed by the last eight bars A section, again in Eb major.
Let's listen to Fats Navarro solo
The last trumpet solo is Dizzy Gillespie, playing on the last sixteen bars of the A-A-B-A chorus structure, namely the G major eight bars bridge followed by the last eight bars A section, again in Eb major.
Let's listen to Dizzy Gillespie solo
Now let's consider the two short takes (they last about 2:40 while long version last about 4:13); here there is enough time for only one trumpet solo and so on each take we hear a 16 bars trumpet solo, just before theme re-exposition, and then played on the last sixteen bars of the A-A-B-A structure, namely the G major eight bars bridge followed by the last eight bars A section, again in Eb major.
In both short takes solo begins ahead on the second quarter of bar 16, playing the modulation towards G major bridge, and the soloist plays muted trumpet (a Humes & Berg "Stonelined" mute, made from cardboard).
Let's listen to the first short take solo
And now let's listen to the second short take solo
Let's take a little time to compare the beginning of first short take solo
We're clearly hearing the same trumpet player; the first phrase, played ahead in bar 16 is identical; but we can't easily say who is playing: the mute flats the istrument tonal quality making difficult the soloist identification; as an example let's listen at these three fragments:
1) Miles Davis playing Ornithology (take 4), March 28, 1946
2) Fats Navarro playing Stealin' Apples, September 9, 1948
3) Dizzy Gillespie playing Slam Slam Blues (take 2), June 6, 1945
Tonal quality can't be a valid criteria, not here; so we have to use different evaluation criterias in order to identify who is playing.
We must avoid subjective evaluations; otherwise we'd give only an opinion, supported by nothing else than our subjective perception. We need to use objective and incontrovertible evaluations.
We already said that these three solos are based on the second half of A-A-B-A structure, and they are played just before the theme re-exposure.
The last eight bars A will end with a typical turnaround in Eb major. So let's compare what is played on this turnaround.
Let's listen to the long take turnaround
And now let's listen to the first short take turnaround
There's much evidence that he's the same player: same articulation of phrases, and same way to keep the beat. This proves much more than the strong similarity in what is played (the first three notes of bar 31 are identical).
But we find even an ultimate strong proof comparing the long take turnaround
Here the soloist plays bar 31 and even the first quarter of bar 32 exactly in the same way: same notes, same pronunciation. Just trumpet mute makes the difference. We have to face facts and admit that he's no more doubt the same player, and that he's clearly Dizzy Gillespie.
And now let's turn to "Overtime".
Overtime is an arrangement by Pete Rugolo, based on "Love me or leave me", a popular song composed by Walter Donaldson, with lyrics written by Gus Kahn, introduced in the Broadway musical "Whoopee!" (1928), sung by Ruth Etting.
Even this selection was recorded in a long version and a short one. So we have a single long version take and a single short version take.
Let's listen to the Overtime theme, based on a typical 32 bars A-A-B-A song structure, where each section lasts 8 bars. The A section is in Ab major, starting with Fmin and ending with a Abmaj while the B section is
F7 | Bbmin | Eb7 | Abmaj (C7) to go again to Fmin of the last A section.
After the last A section there is still a two bars break filled by Parker before he gets into his 32 bars solo (16 bars on short version)
In both versions theme is preceded by a twelve bars intro, played by different soloists, among which there is a trumpet, playing a two bars break; the player is again Dizzy Gillespie: let's listen to the short version intro
Let's compare what Dizzy is playing in short version break
We can go even in deeper detail: compare this two fragments, just half a bar; in the short version
Let's focus our attention on the short version, on which there is only one trumpet solo, just before a shortened theme re-exposition (just the eight bars A structure followed by coda), that means on the last sixteen bars of the A-A-B-A chorus structure.
Here we hear playing open trumpet and the player is still Dizzy Gillespie: let's listen to his solo (with the ensemble filling the bridge on F7, Eb and Fmin)
In the long version there is no traditional trumpet solo; in its place we find two 32 bars choruses with the trumpet soloists playing four bars each, in turn, in what is commonly known as 'chase'.
At the end of these two chorus there is a shortened theme re-exposition (just the eight bars A structure followed by coda like in the short version).
Let's listen to the trumpet chase
Let's summarize the entire structure of the chase: there are sixteen four-bars interventions which quickly succeed each other. We number these from 1 to 16 in order to refer to them later in this discussion.
Here's a true brain teaser: the task of identifying who is playing is not quite impossible, but it is definitely not an easy thing to do, for many reasons.
First of all, soloists play four bars fragments, which are often too short to recognize who is playing on a rough listening basis.
More, often soloists tend to imitate each other playing chases, expecially in the very beginning of their phrases, being inspired by what they've just heard, by what has just been played by the preceding soloist, which often can be a surprise for them too. When his turn comes, the soloist has to be ready with an idea to develop quickly or he'll miss it.
This makes our task even more difficult, because what we know as distinctive features of the single solist's style here tend to be confused. We find a good example of this if we listen at these three fragments:
- first fragment
- second fragment
- third fragment
They don't look very different, and nevertheless they are surely played by three different soloists (as they are respectively from number 4, 5 and 6 of the chase sequence).
We realize it if we compare with what the three soloists play starting their trumpet solos on Victory Ball long version.
- Miles Davis
- Fats Navarro
- Dizzy Gillespie
In a chase context, soloists do not play in their preferred range and style; they are drawn into a competition, and each of them has to face the challenge; and from a musical point of view, they have to play with an emphasis on dynamic, expecially when the climax must be reached or when it comes the time to conclude and return to the theme re-exposure.
These reasons explains why even careful observers have troubles in correctly identifying the soloist who is playing. But this explains it only in part. There is a great help in solving the enigma, and it is the fact, which is largely probable, that the three soloists will play always in the same sequence.
Nevertheless, often we make use of strange ptolemaic epicycles rather than contradict ours own prejudices. For example we can think that a certain musician could not be able to play quickly enough, or in a very high range, or we can think that he couldn't play with that particular taste.
But we must keep in mind what we have just said and look for fingerprints in what musicians play with our mind and our ears free from any prejudice.
We will try to do this by using the same technique shown in the discussion about the Victory Balls takes.
Obviously the easiest task is to identify Dizzy Gillespie, by carefully comparing with what he plays in his sixteen bars solo in the short version.
We'd already shown how can be possible, even comparing very short fragments, to say for certain whether them can be attributed to the same soloist.
Now let's compare the two fragments of Dizzy's intro break in the short version
If we move three numbers backward, we can find a good match even in number 3, that is the first half of first chorus A2. Let's compare this fragment played in number 3
We could expect that we would have found matches with the break intro, because a break is very similar to a chase situation; when it comes his turn, the soloist has to extract from his magic hat a very short phrase, so it's highly probable that he'll use here similar solutions. There's not much time to think about and a little uncertainty can cost the need to repeat all over again. In a traditional solo there's more relax and even silences in music are not always things to avoid.
Now we're in search of luck: let's move three numbers forward, on number 9, that is the first half of the second chorus A1 (2nd chorus A1-a).
We're very lucky, because in number 9 we find a fragment
So we can be quite sure we'll find matches also in number 12, that is the second half of the second chorus A2 (2nd chorus A2-b) and in number 15, that is the first half of the second chorus A3 (2nd chorus A3-a).
Here is a fragment of Dizzy's short version solo
It seems to be that Dizzy numbers would be 3, 6, 9, 12, 15.
Now let's turn our attention to Fats Navarro.
In number 5 of the chase (we are on Overtime's bridge) we hear this phrase
If we go three numbers backward to number 2 we find a fragment
More, this fragment from number 2
More, a fragment from number 14
These phrases are very similar to the following phrase
It seems to be that Fats numbers would be 2, 5, 8, 11, 14.
Now let's turn to Miles Davis.
His musical style is not very suitable for trumpet battles, and certainly not due to lack of technical, as some observers may assert.
He has already developed a well-defined taste, a very personal and mature style, and he has a good experience, having played with Charlie Parker, with the Tuba band (the Nonet).
Miles' musical direction is not that of the big soloist who engages trumpet battles; in his solo on the longer version of Victory Ball we can observe how far his playing is from a battle logic.
But in some cases in the early years of his career he used to extract showpieces from his magic hat, as we hear in this fragment of his solo on Sweet Georgia Brown
Miles is familiar with that phrasing since his first recordings with Herbie Fields Band, as we may notice listening to this fragment from Deep Sea Blues, recorded in New York, on April 24, 1945
We will find this showpiece many other times in those years: as an example listen to these fragments of his solos on an Earl Coleman song, Don't Explain To Me Baby, recorded on October 18, 1946, take 2
And we will find it even later, as here on Out Of The Blue, on June 3, 1952, at Birdland:
For some psychological reason Miles chooses to play this phrase when it comes his turn in number 10, that is the second half of the second chorus A1 (2nd chorus A1-b)
Now let's listen to a very short fragment from number 13, where we would expect to have Miles again
We can see a similarity in pronunciation; a deeper insight reveal us that it is the same identical phrase, played in Ab major in the former case and trasposed in Eb major in the latter!
We can find another similar correspondance in number 4: this phrase (Eb7 resolving on Ab maj)
We can find another good correspondance between number 4
And last, but not least, we can find a Miles' style phrase in number 1
It seems to be that Miles numbers would be 1, 4, 7, 10, 13, 16. No ptolemaic epicycles, no changes in the soloists succession, always Miles, Fats, Dizzy...
... as we could expect, the same order in which they take solos on the long version of Victory Ball.
List of referenced discography:
- Dizzy Gillespie. The Complete RCA Victor Recordings
- Charlie Parker: The Complete Dial Sessions
- Fats Navarro and Tadd Dameron: The Complete Blue Note and Capitol Recordings
- Benny Carter Big Band: On The Air (Jazzup 327)
- Miles Davis: Boppin The Blues
- Miles Davis: First Miles
- Miles Davis: Birdland Sessions 1950-1952
Complete transcriptions of referenced Miles Davis solos are available on themusicofmiles