See Steve's Hand-Written Solo Transcription
Paul Desmond's Alto Sax solo on:
"Someday My Prince Will Come"(Frank Churchill-Larry Morey)
In presenting Paul Desmond's solo over "Someday My Prince Will Come," it marks the 3rd Desmond solo that we have presented from his 1968 recording, "SUMMERTIME"(A&M). Previously, we had offered both "Emily" and "Where is Love?" This particular performance was recorded on October 24th, 1968 Rudy Van Gelder's studio, and again featured beautiful performances from pianist Herbie Hancock, bassist Ron Carter, and drummer Leo Morris, better known later in his career as Idris Muhammad. The performance was later augmented by Don Sebesky's wonderful brass arrangement. This very well-known and oft-played waltz appears in the Walt Disney animated classic, "SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS."
The song is presented in a most interesting format. It begins with a spectacular rubato solo acoustic piano introduction by Herbie, but in the key of D major. He only states the [A2] section of the tune, and as it closes, he brings the rhythm section into tempo by playing 2 bars each of G/A or Em7(9sus)/A and Bb/C or Gm7(9sus)/C. When Paul Desmond enters, he is soloing, and not stating the melody. His solo is 2 choruses in the [A][A2] format with each section being 16 bars in length. When his solo concludes, Herbie Hancock then takes 2 choruses as well. After Herbie's solo, Paul Desmond plays another 16-bar [A] before finally stating the melody as part of [A2]. When I was finally lucky enough to do some work for Creed Taylor and then CTI Records, with Don Sebesky as the arranger, the brass, woodwinds, or strings were never there live. Don was always present to supervise and, at the very least, had a well thought out lead sheet from which we would work. My sense is that these sessions from the late '60s were probably done in a similar fashion. There were still time constraints because, after all, this was still the age of the LP, the vinyl record, and most producers did not want to see a side exceed 18-minutes because that's how, in mastering, they could maximize the level, volume, of the disc, and this became hugely important at radio in those days.
As a generation of younger musicians seek the most abstract and oblique linear solutions to travel from harmonic point A to point B, listening to or enjoying the playing of someone like Paul Desmond is not considered to be very cool. But obviously, I beg to differ! In a world filled with many institutional Jazz education programs, programs with specific curriculums for the genre and for learning to improvise, students are thrown into large groups of players where the level of knowledge can widely vary. Within such a group, the student is essentially told to swim or sink! In most cases, the student, from day one, is struggling to keep-up with the group, or certainly with the best players. Almost from the start, they are asked to play tunes with complex sets of changes and, in my opinion, they are usually just not ready to do that, not at all. No matter what the history of the genre tells us, the goal is still to improvise in a melodic manner. Yes, that can widely vary from player to player, depending on the depth of their particular experiences in music. So, it has always been my philosophy to try and expose my students to players and playing that is so melodic at its very essence that, one can't help but find something very appealing about it. In presenting this 3rd Paul Desmond solo, that again is my goal.
If one has been a frequent visitor to KHAN'S KORNER, you would already know that usually I do not write out my transcriptions, or my lead sheets, using key signatures, because, most times, in popular music, after a few bars, they can become useless as the tonal centers move around. In this case, writing out "Someday My Prince Will Come" using the key of F major might not have been such a bad idea because the tune really does not move around harmonically all that much. I say this also because, one of the beauties of Paul Desmond's playing is that he is almost exclusively a very diatonic improvisor. You rarely would see lots of chromaticism, and few accidentals. With Desmond, you often times see very few of the linear ornaments that are specific to the Jazz language, and for me, that's not a good thing. In this particular solo, the only ornaments employed appear briefly, on Pg. 1, in [A2], at the end of bar 7 into 8, and on Pg. 2, bar 10 of [A2], and finally, during the [A] section of Chorus 3 in bar 8. That's it. But, the bigger point of sharing this solo is to encourage players, young and old, to just hear melodies, to think in simple terms when expressing themselves, to allow one phrase to flow into the next so that there is a constant state of development going on. In the end, these are not really such difficult things to do, and Paul Desmond is a superb model for these very aspects.
Desmond begins Chorus 1 of his solo by offering beautiful long notes on almost all of the odd numbered bars. There is a little more rhythmic activity in bars 5-8 with the phrases being very connected. In general, you have to take note of how one phrase seems to mirror what came before. It is also important to consider how he is not afraid to put to use his lower register and as the [A] section ends, he finds himself on his low 'G.' As [A2] begins, he becomes more active, notice how, in bar 2, he seems to target that C# both times. It is also important to note that he puts to use the F# as the lower neighbor to the root of the Gm7 chord. This is something that most seasoned Jazz players would do as opposed to staying within the mode of G Dorian and playing a F-natural. Notice how consistent he is in using groups of 4 8th-notes, especially in bars 4-7. In general, you should see that Desmond's improvising uses small arpeggios, not much more than a triad, and when there's a passage using a portion of a scale, it rarely ascends or descends more than a 4th or 5th. Also, his intervallic usage almost never offers wide gaps between the notes. 7th, and that happens only three times.
As he begins Chorus 2, in bars 1 and 3, he plays a simple idea using the 4th or each major chord. As [A] develops Desmond employs very simple 8th-note syncopations which you will find in bars 2, 4, and 5-8. Once again, small, basic arpeggios can be heard. The largest interval to be found in this solo is that of a an octave, and that only happens once as he vaults to a high G-natural at the beginning of [A2], and that is the top of the range for this solo. He continues with the same syncopations during the 1st 4 bars, and in bars 6-7, you see a most basic intervallic scale pattern, one that we've all practiced 1,000 times when first trying to break the routine of up the scale and down the scale. As this portion of the solo comes to an end, he plays two dotted quarter-note A-naturals before ending on an F-natrual. I point this out because, perhaps, most players would have added a little 'grease' or 'soul' to those note, in other words, a touch of the blues, but sadly, you almost never hear that from Paul Desmond. If there's something that, as listener and music fan, that I miss in his playing, it is the element of the blues. Perhaps that is, in part, why so many musicians over the years have never connected with his playing?
After Herbie Hancock's wonderful 2-chorus solo, Desmond returns and plays another half-chorus. There is an interesting little touch in bar 8 of this section where, as a lower neighbor to C-natural, he plays B-natural. In what is actually bar 9 of [A] section of Herbie's first chorus, he plays a B-natural before a C-natural s well. Perhaps, Paul Desmond heard that, and being the great listener that he was, that same device appears in his last 16-bars? In general, after Herbie's solo, which offers a great deal of chromaticism, there are more chromatic passing tones from Desmond here. It's just interesting how that seemed to happen. Now that I have again mentioned the great Herbie Hancock, it is well worth singing his praises as the wonderful accompanist that he is. Throughout Desmond's solo, Herbie offers light chordal stabs and, at times, even leaves Desmond's lines to speak above Ron Carter's bass and Leo Morris' cymbal work. It's simple and beautiful, there is so much to be said for understatement as opposed to heavy-handed comping. I would imagine that both Hancock and Carter had played this tune 100s of times with Miles Davis. It is worth noting that as Miles' great quintet arrived in the mid-'60s, Miles had become one of the great minimalists himself. He rarely overplayed during those years, he just allowed the music to play itself. Therein lies one of the greatest elements to his genius.
One of the chords that players often worry about during "Someday My Prince Will Come" is the Ab°7 chord that appears in bar 10 & 14 of each [A] section of the tune. Of course, in this case, that chord is actually a real diminished 7th chord, and not just the 3rd of a 7b9 chord. IF one was going to employ a scale in those bars, you would use the Ab whole-step-1/2-step diminished scale: Ab, Bb, B, Db, D, E, F, G. Within that scale you also have both major and minor triads built upon G, Bb, Db, and E. That stated, if you look at Paul Desmond's treatment of those bars, he rarely, if ever, makes any specific acknowledgment of anything diminished. In Chorus 1, during bar 10, he does play G and F, both scale tones, and in bar 14, he plays E and D, again scale tones. During the Chorus 2, he leaves bar 10 completely empty and bar 14 is really more the completion of a phrase from the bar before. In Chorus 3, the focus in context is simply on the note, F-natural. He stays within the flow of his improvisation and does not allow himself to be distracted by a chord form that others might find that they have to pay specific attention to it.
The rhythmic feeling for the piece is really generated by the approach that bassist Ron Carter takes. If the tune was in 4/4, we would probably say that Ron was playing in half-time, but, because we're in 3/4, Ron is really placing the emphasis on each downbeat and playing dotted half-notes. For feel, in some bars, you'll hear that he throws in the last 8th-note of the bar, and though there is, of course, a pitch for that note, it is really there more for feel than anything else. Drummer Leo Morris contribute to this sense of a "glide" with a beautiful sounding ride cymbal and light propulsion from his snare. The superbly tasteful work of these two players frees Herbie Hancock to contribute the suggestion of the harmonies without ever being obtrusive or invasive. There is a great art to that, be assured.
A final reminder that this presentation has been offered here to guide you to being a more melodic player, to take the long view of solo and not so much the harmonic acknowledgment of every single chord in every single bar. I wanted you to be more conscious of having your phrases, your ideas connect to one another, to flow from one another. If you can work towards having these elements become more active during any solo that you take, I believe that it will be a more satisfying experience for you, and for those who not only play with you, but who might be listening as well. A last note regarding the soundclip as presented here, the 2nd portion of Paul Desmond's solo, that appears on Pg. 2 of the transcription, eventually plays after the 1st portion of the solo has faded out. After that, the [A] of what would be Chorus 3 fades in. So, don't worry, it is there!!!
In closing, as we always do at this time of the year, Blaine and I would like to wish everyone all the joys of the Holiday Season, a very MERRY CHRISTMAS and a HAPPY NEW YEAR!!! Y por supuesto, les deseamos un muy ¡FELIZ NAVIDAD y FELIZ AÑO NUEVO! Wishing you all good health, happiness, and may this crazy planet of ours somehow finally find its way to PEACE on earth this year!!!
[Painting of Paul Desmond by Matthew J. Bach, Chicago, Illinois]