See Steve's Hand-Written Solo Transcription
Herbie Hancock's Fender Rhodes Solo on:
"The 59th St. Bridge Song"(Paul Simon)
For quite some time I had been trying to acquire the CD version of Paul Desmond's "BRIDGE OVER TROUBLED WATER"(A&M) which was recorded in 1969, and featured only music composed by Paul Simon. When the CD finally arrived, I sat for the full 36-minutes and listened to everything again. More than the beauty of the songs and Don Sebesky's wonderful arrangements, I was struck by two brilliant solos performed by Herbie Hancock on Fender Rhodes. In both cases, he was playing over "vamps." On "Scarborough Fair" which was played in a 5/4 rhythm, the solo is over an Fm7 chord. But, my favorite solo from this recording is Herbie's solo on "The 59th St. Bridge Song"(Feelin' Groovy). It is a remarkable solo for countless reasons, but once one has digested it all, one has to be amazed that so much content has been packed into a 32-bar solo over a vamp. It could be said that this vamp is no more than a 2-bar phrase: ||: Ebmaj7 / Dm7 / | Cm7 / Bbmaj7 / :||. But, once you have followed along with the solo, you might be amazed at how many harmonic regions can be touched upon from this simple and repetitive point of departure.
On most of the tracks on this recording, Herbie is joined in the rhythm section by Ron Carter on acoustic bass and Airto Moreira playing drums. In general, most of the tunes are given a touch of "Brazil" and the combination of Ron and Airto could not be more perfect to realize this. Ron Carter had been Airto's choice to join him on his first recording as leader in the U.S., "SEEDS ON THE GROUND"(Buddah) in '71. How well I recall seeing Airto playing drums in the 1st incarnation of Chick Corea's Return to Forever, and he was very special and brilliant in that context on the drums. One must never forget what a truly unique musician he is, and all that he has contributed to how music is made and sounds today.
On many of their recordings together, Herbie Hancock often used something Paul Desmond had played, as his solo was ending, to serve as the opening idea for his own solo. However, for this particular improvisation, Herbie fashions his own motif, and jumps right on it. There is hardly a breath between the ending of Desmond's solo and the beginning of Herbie's. In general, it is a little 3-note motif which, at the outset, is derived from my favorite minor pentatonic to play over Ebmaj7. That would again be the one built upon the 3rd degree, G minor pentatonic(G, Bb, C, D, F). Over the course of the first 4 bars of the solo, all 5 notes appear. However, in bar 4, the phrase gets a sharp change when he alters the last note down to Db, which becomes the #9 of a Bb7(alt.) chord. This, of course, serves to turn the little vamp back around and pull you back to the Ebmaj7 chord again.
As he plays a pick-up phrase into bar 5, the motif takes a most radical turn. I would say that he shifts the harmonic emphasis to an Ab minor pentatonic(Ab, Cb, Db, Eb, Gb), and you see all these notes appear during bars 5-7. Then, in bar 8, he seems to answer the 'answering phrase,' which appears in bars 5-6, by taking that down a whole-step and playing something which, to me, resembles Db minor pentatonic(Db, Fb, Gb, Ab, Cb). If you follow along with his left-hand during bars 5-8, you can see that he is playing 3-note voicings which are either Bb7(#9), spelling up: D-natural-Ab-Db. Or the upper structure of that: Ab-Db-Gb. The Gb could also be spelled as F#, and would be the #5 of a Bb7(#9#5) chord. Ab minor pentatonic is one of the pentatonic options you could use over a Bb7(alt.) sound, but you would want to be careful about placing too much emphasis on the Eb, as it is the sus4 in the harmony. This is not a note upon which you would want to place too much emphasis. However, the Db minor pentatonic, the one built upon the m3rd/#9 of the chord, is perfect because it offers ALL of the altered notes(b5, #5, b9, #9).
With his resolution to an Ebmaj9/6 voicing, bars 9-12 are the most diatonic, and perhaps traditionally melodic, of the entire solo. In bar 12, the 4th bar of this phrase, he plays two interesting little voicings. The first, D-G-Bb, could be considered as part of an Ebmaj7 chord, but I'm going to view it as part of a Cm7; because it is followed by a voicing which Herbie uses repeatedly during the solo and, to these ears, sounds like an F7(13b9) voicing: Eb-Gb-A-D. If you look at a small bass sketch I provided at the bottom of page 2, you can see that Ron Carter's essential bass line often passes through C and F which could easily allude to this type of harmonic movement, resolving to a Bbmaj7, which could then move on to Bb7(alt.), and turn us back around again.
Bars 13-16, Herbie begins by playing a nicely configured line which sounds as though it is connected to Bb major, which is also Eb Lydian, because you will notice the A-natural. But, on the last 8th-note of that series of triplets, he lands on an E-natural, and then vaults up with a 'G' triad, before descending in a line which appears to be a B major triad with the 9th(C#) added in. If he is following the pattern of using F7 alterations to get to Bb major and then using Bb7 alterations to return to Eb major, then all this makes perfect sense. In bars 15-16, he takes a wide, wide turn, and cycles down in whole-steps from Bbmaj(Gm7) to Abmaj(Fm7) to Gbmaj(Ebm7), and finally to what could be considered as part of Emaj(C#m7). This would bring us to being a simple 1/2-step above our resolution point of Eb major. There could certainly be other ways to make sense of this, but, for me, this works best. If you listen carefully, you can hear Ron Carter spontaneously go right with him as the bass line descends, and cycles down in quarter notes in the following manner | Bb D Ab Db | F# B Bb Ab | with these radically different notes. It is simply another way to approach getting from Ebmaj down to Bbmaj, and then back again. Here the Dbmaj area replaces the Dm area; and the Bmaj area replaces the Cm area. This time the path is via whole-steps, I would guess that all those years together in the Miles Davis Quintet, plus countless recordings for Blue Note and Verve, contributed something to the harmonic familiarity between these respected colleagues?
Bars 17-20 again appear to be relatively consonant, but they really provide the 'long way around' to get us back to Eb major by bar 21. In the 2nd half of bar 18, you can see that Herbie plays a small Bill Evans-esque cluster which I have analyzed as being part of an F7(#5#9) sound. This pulls us back, in bar 19, to the basic 'open voicing': G-C-F which Herbie has played for the Ebmaj9/6 sound throughout. However, this same voicing could easily be part of Bbmaj9/6 as well. In bar 20, with the inclusion of Gb(the #5 again) in the line, he has sounded the feeling of a Bb7(alt.) chord.
In bars 21-24, Herbie takes us on a very staccato and creative harmonic journey though the brief triads of Ebmaj-Abmaj-Dbmaj-Gbmaj, and then down in Bmaj, you can see the cycle of 4ths at work. From the end of bar 23 through the ultimate kick on the last 8th-note of bar 24, Herbie descends chromatically down to his point of resolution, a low G-natural, and simply harmonizes it with a Bb from his left-hand.
From bars 25-28, which appear on Pg. 2, we are again treated to a relatively diatonic passage, though from Herbie's left-hand you can see that he cycled through a 'V' of V7, here an F7(13b9) to a Bb7(#9) in bar 26, and the line in the 2nd-half of that bar reflects this with a B-natural(b9) and Db(#9) before resolving neatly back the basic Ebmaj9/6 voicing.
The last 4 bars take us on a wild ride with the most dense 16th-note rhythmic activity, though still focused harmonically around Bb major until we arrive at the 2nd-half of bar 30. In bar 30, Herbie's left-hand essentially mirrors what he played in bar 26, using the 'V' of V7 approach again. And this time, in the right-hand, you hear some wonderfully Hancock-esque jagged lines which throw in altered notes like Db(#9); E(b5); B-natural(b9) at. All these notes are placed beautifully in rhythm. The last two-bars, a transcriber’s nightmare, can only be described as a 'blurry-flurry' to serve as a climax to the solo. Despite all the chromaticism in the little groupings, the first two beats focus on the consonant notes of 'G' and Bb. Then, in the 2nd-half of the bar, the little grouping, which is E-F-Ab, with the 'E'-natural only serving as an in-rhythm 'grace note' to the 'F', could be best described as a 'blues' lick as it accentuates the 5th(F) and 7th(Ab) of a Bb7 chord. Harmonically speaking, this would help us get back to Ebmaj7, as we eventually come to rest on the note Bb. This nicely dovetails us into an exposed solo passage for Ron Carter's bass lines, which is exactly how the entire tune began.
Though it will not appear in our soundclip, I have provided a little keyboard harmony bonus, which is, what I would describe as, the brief 'chorale' section arranged by the great Don Sebesky. This little 4-bar passage appears twice in the arrangement:  as a send-off into Paul Desmond's solo, and then  as the signal to return the main melody after Ron Carter's brief bass improvisation. I have provided, in mini-score form, the bass part, the keyboard voicings, and the little piece of melodic material above. You can see that it simply cycles around the basic little 2-bar vamp with the most striking sounds being the usage of E7(#9#5) to A7(b9±5) replacing the expected Ebmaj7 sounds. This is a common device, though Em7b5 would often be used first in such a sequence of alternative harmony. No matter what, I am hoping that you will enjoy having this passage for study as well.
With all the time and energy spent on an analysis like this, one must never forget that this solo only lasts for 1-minute!!! In that brief moment in time, the solo is the sum-total of everything that Herbie Hancock had become as musician, and as a person. All the words dispensed here would be nothing that could have entered his mind. When one is playing, you are simply 'in the moment' and you must 'be the music' that you are playing. That's why this is such a wonderful example, because the context would not be, on the surface, considered a classic 'pure jazz' session. Yet, the results are as challenging as any you could find. From here, I can only salute you Herbie, you're just the greatest, the baddest of the bad!!! And, a belated Happy Birthday Herbie!!!