See Steve's Hand-Written Solo Transcription
Steve Khan's solo on:
"Never Let Me Go"(Ray Evans-Jay Livingston)
When the decision was made that I would record again, if I knew anything, it was that I wanted to continue exploring Latin music, and Latin rhythms as I had done on "PARTING SHOT" in 2010. No matter what the genre of music might be, any recording needs at least one ballad, and where Latin rhythms are concerned, that means that there is going to be a bolero. No matter what the style or instrumentation of any of my recordings has been, I love interpreting and playing ballads. In truth, I probably would have preferred to have composed something original, but the muse for such things just didn't seem to appear for me. Even prior to the last recording, I was listening to the great Shirley Horn's version of "Never Let Me Go" and found it to be especially touching and moving. Her affection for, and complete understanding of the lyrics gave me a particular connection to the song, and that feeling never left me. So, as "SUBTEXT" was coming together, in terms of song selection, a place for this wonderful ballad was assured. When a song, especially a love song, becomes a standard, it is interpreted by the great singers, and many of the great Jazz artists, one can usually assume that the song was written for a film. Often times, that film was made during the '40s or the '50s, and even into the early '60s. I couldn't recall if "Never Let Me Go" had appeared in a film, but I certainly did not remember that it had won an Oscar®! A little research, and it turns out that the great Nat "King" Cole actually sang the song in the 1956 film, "THE SCARLET HOUR." I was shocked to learn that the wonderful songwriting duo of Ray Evans and Jay Livingston, whom I had met many times as a youngster in Los Angeles, did not even receive a nomination from the Academy for this song. Sometimes, the greatest songs appear in what used to be known as Hollywood 'B' movies. In other words, lousy films that often become known, because of the love theme song contained within. In 1956, Evans and Livingston won the Oscar® for "Whatever Will Be, Will Be" (Qué Será, Será)," a positively dreadful song. In 1957, the duo was nominated again for another awful song, but like the former winner, the extremely popular, "Tammy." My best guess is that "Never Let Me Go" should have received a nomination in 1957, but it didn't. In hindsight, it's a shame, but, when one considers the depth of this saddest of sad love songs, Evans and Livingston are the huge winners, no matter what!
Apparently, the sheet music key for "Never Let Me Go" is either G minor, or Bb major, so I'm not really certain at just how I arrived at playing the song a whole-step lower in F minor, or Ab major, but there is a particular warmth that this key provides, and it allows the guitar to sit in a very comfortable register. It becomes obvious that the harmonic influence of Clare Fischer is heard and felt throughout the recording, but certainly no more so than via the sonorities that accompany the melody to this ballad. The widely voiced chord colors that make-up the Introduction or [I] set-up a mood that we all settled into right away. The traditional bolero rhythms, as performed by both Bobby Allende(conga) and Marc Quiñones(timbal), offer a steady underpinning. For something like this, for the element of elasticity, I like to have Dennis Chambers playing brushes, and adding Jazzy textures, plus, at times, a swingy feel against the very up-and-down nature of the Latin rhythms. When you add in the beautiful colors of two flat ride cymbals with rivets, the piece can begin to float without much else. Rubén Rodríguez' outstanding Baby Bass playing adds great depth and creativity in the lower register, his playing enabled me to play in a way that, everyone who has heard this performance seems to respond to. The other important colors were both added on as anticipated overdubs by Marc. Those being the wonderful sounds of his small maracas, and finally his creative and responsive playing on the bongo, which is really the instrument that offers the most spontaneous commentary to what I had played.
Though I hardly possess any kind of keyboard agility, I am able to get around the instrument, and slow-ly create harmonies that I respond to the most. Harmonies that offer the most gorgeous support to this melody. When one is creating this kind of harmonic cushion, which some have come to refer to as pads, I like to try to keep these sonorities tucked-in just beneath where the guitar sounds, wherever that is possible. To me, the arrangement that I wrote owes everything to trying to capture the sense of great romance that I hear when I hear Clare Fischer's sense of harmony. So, I labored greatly over the changes to this strange little [A]-[A2] form, where [A] is the expected length of 16 bars, but [A2] is only 12 bars. The song is not symmetrical in form as most of the songs of this era would be. However, the form is perfect for the expression of the story contained within the lyrics. It's hard to imagine a much more perfect song. When I turned over my demo with my arrangement to the brilliant and immensely talented Rob Mounsey, I was expecting that he would change any number of the voicings that I had written. But, to my great surprise, and feelings of satisfaction, he told me later: "No, everything that you wrote was great, I just assigned better sounds to what you had written. That's it!!!" I think that this was one of my most proud moments during this long and arduous creative process of making the album. What Rob did do was to add in these subtle but lovely touches underneath the solo when [A] returns. Though I did not transcribe what I played during the Outro of this piece, which comprises letters [C]-[D] and [E], like the Intro, Rob chose to orchestrate what I had written with woodwinds, and I recall him mentioning flutes. It's a sublime texture, and serves as the perfect contrast to what one hears as harmonic accompaniment during the melody sections. I'm so grateful to Rob for everything that he contributed to this recording. But, that's no different than how I have felt about any of the recordings since 2005.
As the melody statement comes to a close, the actual melodic cadence that I played was very much the way that Nat "King" Cole sang the song. It's a particular grouping of notes, and in most of the other versions that I've heard of "Never Let Me Go," I never hear other singers sing it that way. And with that said, I think that presenting the lyrics here would be of great value, because these sentiments, expressed so beautifully, were never far from my thoughts while interpreting this great standard.
Never let me go
Love me much too much
If you let me go
Life would lose its touch
What would I be without you?
There's no place for me without you
Never let me go
I'd be so lost if you went away
There'd be a thousand hours in the day
Without you I know
Because of one caress
My world was overturned
At the very start, all my bridges burned
By my flaming heart
You'd never leave me, would you?
You couldn't hurt me, could you?
Never let me go
Never let me go
When one is viewing a transcription of a solo over a slow ballad, in this case, a slow even 8th-note bolero, the appearance of so many 16th-notes can give a false impression with regards to the velocity of the playing. If you just imagine them as 8th-notes at a brighter tempo, it won't seem to be so intimidating. In the end, this is the correct way to notate such a piece. If you have heard the performance of "Never Let Me Go" from the beginning, you would know that there is an orchestral feeling to the accompaniment right up until the beginning of the solo. As we arrive at the first [A] section of the solo, the texture breaks down to what is, in essence, a guitar trio, with Latin percussion, and this is a format in which I feel most comfortable. In order not to lose the sense of everything that had come before, the solo begins with a brief chordal phrase over the Fm7 in bar 1, and in this area of Latin Jazz, I associate these kinds of voicings with McCoy Tyner or Chick Corea. The phrase in bar 2 that answers the chords is right out of F Dorian[F, G, Ab, Bb, C, D, Eb] to me, and it is played with a very purposeful behind the beat feeling. Throughout the piece, I try to imply a sense of subtle swing, and one way to create this is to end phrases with long-short phrasing. You see that I did this in bars 2, 4, 5, 7, 8, 11 and 15. And that's just in this first letter [A]. The phrase in bar 2 also contains the very traditional Jazz ornament on beat 1, but because of the slowness of the tempo, the little triplet grouping at the beginning of the phrase is written in 32nd notes. Again, it just appears to be faster than it really is, but the execution of the phrasing is essential. In bar 3, as the chords move to Ebm7, there is a chordal answer to the phrase in bar 1, and it will be almost the last time you hear chords from the guitar during this solo. With the arrival of Ebm7, we now begin a ii-V to Dbmaj7. So, this time, over the V7 to a major 7th chord, the linear options are much greater. I ascend from Ab[R] straight up the Ab 1/2-tone/whole tone diminished scale[Ab. A, B, C, D, Eb, F, Gb], but this portion of the line concludes with the jagged intervals Ab-Eb-Cb/B(#9). Letting the #9 hang out there for a moment is a nice touch, as the 2nd-half of that phrase brings the line up a 1/2-step to C-natural, which becomes the maj7 of Dbmaj7. These linear movements are not things that one "thinks" about, in real-time, in real playing, it does become a case of the line playing you, and not the reverse. From the Dbmaj7, the series of chromatically descending chords have been interpreted by the great arrangers and instrumentalists in many different ways, but, I chose what I felt would give me the most lush sounding changes to play over. However, you must never forget that I'm only playing over a single bass note, often the root, played so wonderfully by Rubén Rodríguez' Baby Bass, so I am more free than usual to indicate, or allude to, any sonority that I hear. Over the C7(alt.) chord, I am playing notes that come from the C7 altered dominant scale[C, Db, Eb, E, Gb, G#, Bb], with the nice touch of starting the line on the b9(Db) and descending to Bb, which then becomes the maj7(A#) of the next chord, Bmaj7. The sound of this chord is captured by playing an F# major triad(A#-C#-F#), and developing a phrase around that, which again concludes with 2 16th notes, long-short. Over the Ab/Bb chord in bar 8, which some might label as Fm7(9)/Bb, you can see that I vaulted upwards to a high Bb by using an Fm7(9) arpeggio. As the line descends, on beat 3, you again see the characteristically Jazz-oriented phrasing of the little 32nd-note triplet grouping, with the phrase answering what had come before with the long-short ending, Bb-Ab.
Part of what makes the change from Ab/Bb in bar 8 to Bbm7 in bar 9 sound so romantic is perhaps that Bb is the bass note for both chords, and everything else is moving internally? The lines, which feature broader intervals, especially 5ths, cover many of the colors tones, the extensions: C(9th) & Eb(4th/11th), while on the other side of those, you can see a descending Bb minor triad spelled out: F-Db-Bb. As the Eb7(alt.) chord arrives in bar 10, the line begins again using C(13th) and Eb(R), but this time the angular descent lands us on E-natural(b9) before eventually coming down an A-triad: A(b5)-E(b9)-Db/C#(7th). So, with such a line configuration the chord becomes Eb7(13b9b5). Normally, if one knows that the cadence is to a minor chord, the natural 13th is not usually a good choice because, in this case, C-natural would be the major 3rd over Ab minor, where the ear expects to hear Cb(m3rd). Again, because of the line shape, there is continuity between these three parts of a phrase, and over the Abm9(maj7) sonority, the line begins again going up a m3rd from G(maj7)-Bb(9th), and then down to a Cb for the final definition of the true chord sound. In bar 12, the usage of Cb/Db is not usual for this tune, and again, the choice was made to create lush chord colors. It's interesting that the line, in broken octaves, played across my A & B strings, begins on a G-natural, which is not in the chord scale of Db Mixolydian[Db, Eb, F, Gb, Ab, Bb, Cb], but it functions well as a lower neighbor to the Ab chord tone, and when the line descends, it passes through Gb, the expected note. For bars 13-14 of this section, as the song builds towards its midway point and a break, the lines over both Gbmaj7 and then Cm7-F7(alt.) seem to operate between the notes Bb up to Ab before the line cadences to Bbmaj7 via Ab(#9)-Gb(b9), and landing on F-natural for the downbeat of bar 15. As the chords pass from Bbmaj7-Eb7(9) and finally to C7(alt.), the continuity of phrasing is what, in hindsight, keeps everything moving in the most musical possible direction. With the actual break coming on beat 1 of bar 16, it's a nice touch that the line actually ends on beat 2. Then, for a brief moment, a very common C7#9 guitar voicing, with G-natural on top, appears in the break. Then, we're ready to move forward.
As [A2] begins, the sense of motivic development, or the flow of ideas continues, as the opening phrase can be viewed as a thematic variation on the first phrase of the actual melody. Both the melody and this improvised phrase land on an F-natural, which is preceded by a G-natural. Again, as there is only a bass note for support, the line outlines a descending Ab triad[Ab(7th)-Eb(11th)-C(9th) before becoming more chromatically linear with notes that accentuate the sense of the #9(Db) and b9(Cb/B). Then, as the Ebm7 arrives, the initial melody-related phrase returns in the new key area. With the Ab7 chord passing towards resolution on Dbmaj7, the chromatic line again reflects a sense of the Ab diminished scale, but this time beginning on the b5(D-natural). For phrasing in the idiom, please pay attention to the little ornament at the end of beat 2. On beat 4, you will find a simple Ab augmented triad: Ab-E-C. This small arpeggio is very traditional in Jazz, and, yet again, if you investigate any collection of Charlie Parker solos, or players from that era and prior to it, you will see augmented triads everywhere. As the line resolves in bar 5 to Dbmaj7, as you might have heard in the "Blue Subtext" solo, the usage of the octave with a 5th in the middle appears here, but most briefly as F-Bb-F glisses up to Ab-Db-Ab. The little descending flurry on beat 3 is straight out of the F minor pentatonic[F, Ab, Bb(6th), C(maj7th), Eb(9th)], which gives us 3 beautiful color tones, extensions of the essential harmony. What happens, harmonically speaking, in bars 5-8 in [A2] is quite different than what took place in [A], where you saw: Dbmaj7-C7(alt.)-Bmaj7-Ab/Bb. This time the chromatic nature of the chords disappears after Dbmaj7-C7(alt.), and you now have a bar of Fm7 to a bar of Bb7. In bar 6, with only a C-natural from the bass for support, I call upon the notion of playing sideways through the chord by accentuating lines and arpeggios more closely related to the b5 substitute of Gb7. You can see those pitches accentuated as the phrase begins to descend with E/Fb-Db-Bb-E/Fb, then, a touch of blues before more consonant notes like E-natural, Bb and C finally appear. Over the Fm7 chord, all of these notes in the phrase are related to F Dorian again, but more important than that is the reappearance of the long-short ending to a phrase that carries over into bar 8. The shape of the line, given all the space of the texture, is also a moment that I like very much, because we pass from G-C to Ab-B-E, and finally those little phrases are answered by two triads over the Bb bass note: E triad to an F# triad. If you take the time to spell-out the notes in those triads, you will see that you pass over all of the four alterations(b5-b9 and #5-#9). But what is far more important than this is just to hear these sounds as being natural for you. Once they are a part of the way that you hear things, so much more becomes possible. It's nice how both of those small long-short phrases in bar 8 are allowed to hang in the air for a moment. The sense of space makes them far more effective.
The last 4 bars of [A2] commence with Bbm7, and a descending flourish that is right out of Wes Montgomery. As a much, much younger person, I remember having figured out that 'lick' at some point, but, as my recording career began as a solo artist, I was trying so hard to keep away from what I had learned from Wes that none of these personal mannerisms of his playing ever came out. Now, all of a sudden, on "SUBTEXT," some have popped-up in several places. Again, this phrase ends with another 2 16th-note grouping with long-short phrasing. Over the Eb7 chord, which is headed towards a cadence on Abmaj7, there is a phrase that begins with a simple descending arpeggio for Eb7: Db-Bb-G-Db-Bb up to an Eb. And this is followed by a phrase with the same rhythm, but now you hear: Db-B-G-D-B up to E-natural. In terms of creating tension to be released by your line, the key notes here are: B(#5) and E(b9). Both of those notes have moved up a 1/2-step from the 1st part of the phrase. However, perhaps the most interesting note is the D-natural, which is certainly not a part of anything to do with any Eb7 chord. It is the major 7th! So, why does this sound good to me? Well, firstly there is no chordal accompaniment, just a bass note, and with that comes greater freedom. In defense of this note, I remember, ages ago, Randy Brecker, in one of his great compositions used an Emaj7#5 as a V chord to return to Am, and, it sounded great back then! In bar 11 of this section, this is the moment that the orchestral accompaniment briefly returns over the Abmaj7. It's interesting that the E-natural, the b9 of Eb7, does eventually come to rest on an F-natural on beat 4. Prior to that, even though written in 16th-notes, the phrase that goes up chromatically Eb-E-F is of interest, because it was played with an imposed sense of swing over the even 8th-notes, and this was accomplished by the usage of ghosted notes, C-naturals, which are, in the end, felt more than actually heard. In the turnaround bar, bar 12, with 2 beats of Db7 and 2 beats of C7, in single notes, I play the guts of a Db7b5 chord: G(b5)-F(3rd)-Cb(7th), and as we hit the C7 chord you find a G-natural surrounded by its chromatic upper and lower neighbors. This little phrase is followed by an emphasis on C-natural, which is surrounded by Db and E-natural. For me, in my musical experiences, these are linear tools that I associate with all the years of playing alongside Michael Brecker.
On my original demo for "Never Let Me Go," for what could be considered the 2nd Chorus of the solo, as [A] returns, I had the orchestra briefly return by playing the guide tones for each chord, but not much more than that. However, I don't have the skills and talents of a Rob Mounsey to make the orchestra crescendo into and decrescendo out of each very brief entrance. Rob handled this beautifully for these 8 bars until the melody very loosely returns at the Bbm7 chord in bar 9 of the section. As the solo continues, the line configuration, though a bit jagged, is still very much connected to the fundamental nugget that is the theme for the song. All the notes played over bars 1-2, Fm7[Eb-Ab]-Bb7[D-Ab], are completely consonant and contained in F Dorian[F, G, Ab, Bb, C, D, Eb]. Over the Fm7, one key melodic grouping is C-F-G, which begins on the 2nd-half of beat 2. In keeping with this intervallic motif, the line in bar 3, over the Ebm7 chord, begins with Bb-Eb-F, and this fragment contains the same phrasing ornament, with a 16th-note and two 32nd-notes, before tumbling to another phrase ending long-short on two 16th-notes. The arpeggiated vault, or sweep through an Ebm7(9) chord, is played by players on all instruments, it's nothing special to the guitar, other than how to execute it with grace. Once again, for me, and my own learning experiences, I associate this with my idol, Wes Montgomery. The leap from the Db on the E-string up to the Ab is most evocative with the first part of the linear descent being chromatic. The line gets a special flavor from the the small triplet grouping in the 2nd-half of beat 2. From that point, the line is totally diatonic, and you could consider it to be all related to Db major[Db, Eb, F, Gb, Ab, Bb, C], though you'll notice and hear that I skipped the Gb. As we cadence to Dbmaj7 in bar 5, you see that line begins by arpeggiating an F major triad[A-C-C-F-A] before eventually landing on a Bb, which is the 6th of Db major. But, the real target note is the Ab on beat 4 of the bar! Why does the insertion of that F triad sound so effective? If you look at an Ab7(13b9) chord, what makes up the guts of the 13b9 sound? It is an F triad! On the guitar, spelling up from Ab on your low E-string, you have: Ab-A-natural(b9)-C(3rd)-F(13), and there you go!!! So, playing the F triad over Db, after the cadence has already happened in the bass, is almost like having the V-Imaj performed over the major chord itself. And to me, that's why this is one of many effective devices in harmony, and when used within your lines. Now, we are into the chromatically descending chords again: C7(alt.)-Bmaj7-Ab/Bb, and over the 1st two chords, the Bb/A# becomes an important factor as it is a common note to both chords: Bb(7th) of C7 and A#(maj7th) of Bmaj7. The lines in both bars 6 & 7 have chromatic touches, but for phrasing, each line ends on the now characteristic long-short and two 16th-notes. Between these chords, you hear Rob's string accompaniment glissando in 4ths from G-C to A#-D#. It's a subtle but lovely moment. Over the Bmaj7 chord, it's interesting to note that the chromatic phrase up to an A# begins on a non-chord tone, G-natural. But, the ear tends to hear more where we are headed than where we started. Also, that note is not on the beat. Finally, over the Ab/Bb sonority there is a flash of activity with groupings of six 16th-notes to effectively end the solo section. Because of the presence of 2 E-naturals in the line, one might say that I was playing F melodic minor[F, G, Ab, Bb, C, D, E], but I don't really see it that way. To me, that E-natural functions more as a chromatic lower neighbor to the root, F-natural, than anything having to do with scales or modal choices. So, I still view the area of that bar as being in F Dorian.
As my arrangement for this beautiful ballad or bolero was originally conceived, when the solo arrived at the Bbm7 chord a 2nd time during [A], I was going to just play the melody. But, in actual performance, I decided to loosely touch upon the key notes to the melody while coloring them with phrases born of the harmonization. Over the Eb7(alt.) chord, the line descends via a traditional guitar voicing for Eb7(13b9b5): C(13th)-A(b5)-E(b9)-Db(7th). Over both the Abm9(maj7), where Ab melodic minor[Ab, Bb, Cb, Db, Eb, F, G] is absolutely the chord scale, and the Cb/Db, where Ab Dorian, for me, is the mode, I am playing all scale tones, but in a melodic way that focuses on what was the primary melody note in each bar. For the sake of this analysis, please allow me to give you each of those notes for each bar. Over the Bbm7, I focused on the configuration of the main phrase: Bb-C-F-C-Bb. So, it's hard to pick one note. Over the Eb7(alt.), as I mentioned before, the C-natural is the note of emphasis. Over the Abm9(maj7) chord, G-natural is the note. Over the Cb/Db chord, Bb is the note of emphasis. F-natural is the note of emphasis for the Gbmaj7 bar. Gb is the key note for the Cm7(sus)-F7(13b9) bar. And finally, D-natural to F-natural are the principal melodic notes leading up to the break on beat 1 of bar 8 on a C7(alt.) chord.
For me, as I have stated at these pages on countless occasions, when playing a ballad, especially the melody, I always want to be playing it, expressing it, from the perspective of knowing the lyrics, and hearing them in my imagination, even if only instrumental notes are being played. I always want to be in touch with what the song means to me. As I said when we began, "Never Let Me Go" is one of the great, great sad love songs, so it's easy for anyone who has loved and lost to connect with that place in one's memory. Jazz fans often cite John Coltrane's "BALLADS" album as being the best example of playing melodies with great feeling, but with even greater simplicity. Here was one of our music's greatest virtuosos, and simply stating the theme was enough for him. So, how far wrong could the rest of us go if we chose to go down a similar path? To some, this would be blasphemy, or the polar opposite side of Jazz playing, but I have always loved the way Paul Desmond played ballads, and in any context. Where improvising was concerned, there could not have been a more diatonic player than Paul Desmond, but, everything that he played was always so melodic, and deeply connected to the sense of beauty within each song. Again, he played the great standards like he knew the lyrics inside-out. In the end, that's the great lesson here. Standards are so much more than just a melody and some chord changes. There's always a story, and it is so important to learn and know that story. Doing this will have such a positive effect on the way that you play that song from that moment forward.
Though there will be no transcriptions of the long guitar improvisations that appear in the fades of "Blue Subtext"; "Infant Eyes"; and "Never Let Me Go," I think that it's worth taking a moment to explain just why I allowed these final sections to go on for so long. After all, the fade of "Blue Subtext" lasts 2:47 by itself. That, right there, is longer than most Beatles songs!!! The fade of "Infant Eyes" lasts 2:35. And now, the fade of "Never Let Me Go" which transits through areas of Dbm9(maj7) to Em9(maj7) before depositing us right back where the Intro began, Gm9(maj7), and this entire fade lasts 3:05, the longest of the 3. After the actual recording process had ended, and I entered into the post-production phase for digital editing, etc., I was forced to listen to everything that I had played, which is not usually a very enjoyable task for me at that stage. As I listened more and more to these fades, I began to sense that somehow something had been captured in my playing, and it was presented in large stretches that I did not recall allowing myself the luxury of doing on past recordings. I'm speaking of a certain bluesy feeling that permeates everything, and that is then punctuated by sophisticated chordal passages. The expression of these blues-related passages is accentuated by bent notes here and there, but also the frequent usage of my vibrato, which can always be a player's most expressive tool. In the end, it is my feeling that if the listener just gives each of these long fades a chance to tell its story, their attention and patience will possibly be rewarded. That's certainly my hope!
[Photo: Clare Fischer Digitized
Photo Collage: Nat 'King' Cole and Shirley Horn from the Bruni Gallery
Photo: Steve Khan @ Avatar Studios by Richard Laird]