I have just returned from a tour of Australia, and on one of the recent flights, I was in a "Miles" mood. (No pun intended.) I dialed up Miles Davis' '58 Sessions album on my iPhone and started with track 1, "On Green Dolphin Street". Do you ever have one of those "a-ha" moments when you notice something new from something you've heard a thousand times? Well, I had one of those. Something about Davis' melody and solo really captured me.
For any jazz musician or jazz aficionado, this is a MUST HAVE album! The line up includes Davis on trumpet, John Coltrane on tenor saxophone, Cannonball Adderley on alto saxophone, Bill Evans on piano, Paul Chambers on bass and Jimmy Cobb on drums. But even if you don't claim to be a jazz fan, I strongly recommend picking up this album. (You're welcome Davis estate and Columbia Records.)
So, returning to my flight, I decided to take out my handy Moleskin staff paper notebook, (thanks mom), and start transcribing. Although I'm familiar with the melody, I decided to take down Davis' interpretation of it along with his solo. Davis' melody in many ways showcases his musical identity and sense of improvisation as much as his solo. And many of the ideas and motifs used in the melody are found again in his solo.
I am going to address three musical points in this analysis, melody, rhythm and wrong notes.
Anyone who is familiar with this song would instantly recognize the melody through Davis' performance. He remains very true to the shape of the melody, but then strategically departs from it in a very natural fashion as seen in measures 11 and 27. Yet he also inserts short moments of improvisation during the melody (measures 15/16 and 27/28). And the melodic figure in measure 26 is employed in the same part of the form during his solos (measures 61 and 96). What a great lesson in learning, owning and reinterpreting a theme.
Rhythm. Jazz musicians often fear simplicity. Davis' solo is almost entirely eighth notes and quarter notes. The rhythmic phrases that bring the biggest smile on my face are in measures 50 and 82 (1'55" and 2'42" ). Quarter notes and half notes, doesn't get much simpler than that. And it's perfect! It's exactly what you want to hear in that moment of the tune. It's so simple and so good, you wonder if it's part of the initial melody.
At first listen, your ear probably perks up at measure 58 (2'08") thinking to yourself, "did he mean to play that?" Who knows? But he owns it and expands on it. I have a feeling I am not the only listener who had questions about that part of his solo. In analyzing this recording, I listened to other recordings of this tune, (Bill Evans, John Coltrane, Keith Jarrett, and Chick Corea). On Chick Corea's live recording of "On Green Dolphin Street" with his "Akoustic Band" featuring John Patitucci on bass and Dave Weckl on drums, Patitucci can be heard quoting that part of Davis' solo in his own solo. I was pretty shocked to hear someone quote part of someone else's solo (a testament to Davis' solo) and find it kind of funny that a bassist would quote a trumpet player.
Ok, don't want to get too "jazz school" on you guys, but hope you enjoy this recording and find this transcription helpful. It has surely helped me in understanding this song better and has sharpened my musical tools, not only in jazz, but also for other musical situations.
(below is the YouTube link to Miles Davis' recording of "On Green Dolphin Street" and also my transcription of his melody and two choruses of solo.)