Friday, March 5, 2010

Is it a bass or bamboo chimes?

"Bunny" is a song based on the perambulations of a five-year-old. She's grown now, but the skittering energy of her childhood lives on. As a matter of fact, I have found that children from 0-6 years are very prone to enjoy and dance to this tune, even if their parents would much prefer to hear Billy Joel or Frank Sinatra. That's the nefarious recruitment technique of a dedicated jazzician and educator - get 'em hooked on the clear energy before they've had their listening edge blunted. (Please! No offense to Frankie and Billy. It's just another direction...) Did you sign up for a philosophy class here? Well, maybe.
Anyway, how did "Bunny" come into being? I was hanging out with this beautiful child named Bunny. And I was improvising with a nice little rhythmic groove slightly influenced by the reggae and calypso I was playing regularly at the time (although the tune doesn't sound like either of these). I didn't really intend to solidify the melody. Thought I'd just keep it as a nice white-note vibe with some particular rhythmic action. Ah, but I wanted to play it with other melodic instruments.
So, as I conceded to concreting (is this a real word?) the melody, a nice varied texture arose on the contrasting (B) section - a little dreamier, a little less rat-a-tat in the rhythm section. With very little effort and practically no harmonic activity whatsoever, the tune formed itself up out of a giggle and a little toe-tapping. Yes, the fruit of focus is one of the never-ending pleasures of a dedicated composer. That's really it for the melodic/rhythmic/harmonic composition of this piece. But what about color?
Where would this tune be without the ridiculously high double-stop bassline? Different, that's where, and possibly in a bad way. Various bass players have responded in various ways to the rigors of their part for "Bunny". The phrase "It's impossible" and/or "I can't play this". The look of a hostage as they go ahead and endure without comment. Or the pointed, "It'll sound a lot better an octave lower. It doesn't even sound like a bass up there." Aha! That statement helped. Forever after, I could tell them that the bass should sound like bamboo chimes in this case. And that I know it's painfully high and near-impossible to play. That relieves a lot of discomfort and tense expectation. And then the tune has this sweet, scratchy little hollow-wood channel running through it. Me like it!
There's something I learned from/about "Bunny" that has helped with many a tune on the bandstand. I always perform it just as head, improvisation, head - not much arrangement. ("Head" means the written melody and its accompaniment, for those of you unfamiliar with the lingo.) I learned to ask the band to start the improvisation with a similar feel to the head. Then we end up with immensely more interesting colors and textures, not to mention a lot more very desirable space. Otherwise we play the head and slam into a generic white-note jam, or what I would consider a featureless yet smokin' display of technique. Unfortunately, in my opinion, a lot of solos which burn unceasingly could easily be transposed onto practically any other tune, because they have no notable relation to the initial tune and no shaping or phrasing to them. That's okay, I guess. But why bother playing a particular tune, and moreover (the ego resounds) why bother composing at all, if you're just going to play the same "improvisation" on top of it that you would play on "I Got Rhythm" or "Watermelon Man"? Can you smell a pet peeve roasting here?
A more generous approach which I also embrace, is that if the composed portion interests you or moves you, think of the beautiful opportunity to expand and be influenced in a possibly transcendant dance of birthing music together with the composer. And we will all live happily ever after . Smile. Breathe.
This recording is from my CD "Second Story Breeze" with the venerable and magnificent musicians Ron McClure on bass and Jeff Williams on drums. Available at CDbaby and Itunes.

1 comment:

  1. Nice tune Cinch!