See Steve's Hand-Written Solo Transcription

George Coleman's Tenor Sax Solo on:
"Maiden Voyage"(Herbie Hancock)

     It's remarkable that one recording, Herbie Hancock's "MAIDEN VOYAGE"(Blue Note), recorded in 1965, can contain so many classic tunes and, in addition to this, so many memorable solos. The title track has become a jazz "standard" and was, in huge part, responsible for ushering in the "modal jazz" era. Though I suppose one must never forget tunes like "So What," "Milestones," and "Impressions" in the chronology, and the role they played! At the time, I always related to "Maiden Voyage" as having two versions, Herbie's own aforementioned version, and the interpretation which appears on Bobby Hutcherson's "HAPPENINGS"(Blue Note) recording.MAIDEN VOYAGE The two recordings were done just six months apart, and I was struck by how the two versions could be so very different, especially in their rhythmic treatments, and yet retain the mood and the attitude of the composition as it stands.
     The Herbie Hancock version, with Ron Carter and Tony Williams, has an incredibly loose feeling to it and demonstrates that jazz can have a elasticity to it. That the interpretation of 'time' can be flexible. The Bobby Hutcherson version, with Bob Cranshaw and Joe Chambers, is a very driving even 8th-note pulse with the emphasis on all the quarter-notes. Of the two, for the players who have come afterwards, the "feeling" of Herbie's version is almost impossible to recapture. It's truly magical!
     Though saxophonist George Coleman was a member of the Miles Davis Quintet during the mid-'60s, he was replaced by Wayne Shorter and sadly, in a sense, seems to have been forgotten. Apart from his many great moments with Miles, one of his greatest solos has to be what he played on "Maiden Voyage." What does it say about a solo, which is only one chorus in length, that it seems to be longer when one is listening to it, and yet, it is almost a work of perfection? It stands as proof that great playing, a great recording, is not necessarily marked by performances where everyone plays 10 choruses and each track is 20-minutes long. Though this is an 8-minute performance!
     The song, "Maiden Voyage," is actually a classic A-A-B-A form and is 32-bars in length. Harmonically, it uses the very simple device of applying rich textured m7(sus) chords, usually with the 4th in the bass, moving up and then back down in the interval of a minor 3rd. The fact that [B] simply moves up a half-step is also a much used device, but always effective in its emotional impact. The tune is played at a very sensitive dynamic during the [A] sections and, of course, rises in intensity when the band arrives at [B].
     As Coleman's solo begins, the rhythm section drops down further in dynamics giving his smokey sounding tenor sax a place to begin. For most soloists, for most solos, this is always a desirable point of departure. Throughout the solo, he seems to play many phrases which have groupings of two 16th-notes to an 8th-note or quarter note. You can see this in bars: 1-8; 11; 13-15; and 30. Then, as the harmonic movement would indicate, at [B], his rhythmic activity picks-up and he unleashes a completely relaxed 8-bars of double time which contains all the classic linear language that one would expect from a great jazz player.
     Though the solo is only one chorus, Coleman makes beautiful usage of the device of anticipating the next chord change during the previous bar. In bar 4, he has landed on the note 'C' which is common to both Am7(sus) and to Cm7(sus), but, to gracefully flow from one chord to the next he plays 'D' to 'Eb' to anticipate that Cm7(sus) is coming and then lands on an 'F'-natural. In the transition at bar 8, from Cm7(sus) back to Am7(sus), there are really no notes common to each chord but he lands on 'D' going to 'C' and those notes are common to both. So the fact that they are preceded by an 'F' makes it another gorgeous transition aided by a 'bent' note, falling off the high Bb. In bar 12, there's another great transition as he plays a perfectly placed string of 16th-notes, all in A-Dorian, going down in the mode and making the change right on the downbeat of bar 13 to an 'F'-natural. Perhaps the most harmonically interesting transition he makes is from bar 16 into 17, and the arrival of [B], where he must move up a half-step from Am7(sus) to Bbm7(sus). Here he employs another great device by playing 1/2-step above the chord he is about to go to. So, if you're doing the 'math' involved, you would expect to see that he's playing in or around B-Dorian(B, C#, D, E, F, G#, A) as the chord 1/2-step above is Bm7(sus). If you look closely you will see those modal notes. And, it's especially effective how the last two 16th-notes in bar 16, 'E'-natural to 'D'-natural, then become Eb to Db on the downbeat of bar 17 as the new chord arrives.
     As the solo concludes in [A3], Coleman continues with a bit more in double-time during bars 25-26. But this precision gives way to an arpeggiated flurry in bar 27. Here he essentially outlines a Cmaj9 arpeggio which should be considered as the upper extension of an Am7 chord, just ignoring the note 'A.' The last four bars of the solo conclude with choppy staccato phrases and three more short arpeggiated bursts which outline intervals of fourths in C-Dorian: Bb-F-C. If you review the solo, as a whole, the interval of the fourth plays an important part in what Coleman "hears" over m7(sus) chordal sonorities.
     George Coleman's solo gives way to Freddie Hubbard's 2-chorus trumpet solo which is also a work of tremendous scope, power, and beauty. For those of you who are young and just beginning to explore the wonders of this great music, I will hope that you might be inspired to now pick-up a copy of "MAIDEN VOYAGE" and fully enjoy all its compositional and improvisational wonders. It will be obvious why students of this music consider it to be a time honored classic.
     This particular transcription was done because a former student of mine chose this solo for one of his college courses. However, he did such an awful job that I felt that I had to try and help him. I remembered that I actually had a transcription of this solo buried in my files. That transcription was originally done by an old friend, pianist Steve Robbins, during the '70s. So, I found it and made some of my own modifications and corrections, and the result is what you now see. For those of you interested in hearing more George Coleman, from the same time period with Miles Davis, you might want to listen to: "'FOUR' AND MORE"(Columbia), "MY FUNNY VALENTINE"(Columbia), and the collaboration between Miles and Gil Evans, "QUIET NIGHTS"(Columbia).
     As this is being written during late September of 2001, it's hard to let this moment pass without wishing that all of you are now, and will be for all times, safe and well. That somehow there might be a peaceful outcome to this most horrifying of situations in which we now find ourselves as citizens of the world. In such an awful moment in human history, it's a great comfort that there exists beautiful music to listen to. Enjoy this particular solo with my deepest wishes for peace, and a safe and happy life for everyone.


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