Herbie Nichols "Wildflower" Leadsheet

My first exposure to the music of Herbie Nichols was fittingly oblique: Elijah Shiffer, a brilliant peer of mine at the Manhattan School of Music Pre-college program, brought in a big band arrangement he had done of Nichols's "Applejackin'." I ended up taking a cursory listen to some tracks from The Complete Herbie Nichols on Blue Note from MSM's library and forgot about it for a few years until I heard Vijay Iyer's rendition of "Wildflower" from Accelerando (2012). I looked around on the Internet to learn about him and ended up reading A.B. Spellman's Four Lives in the Bebop Business, which dedicates a quarter of the book to a profile of Nichols. I started noticing Herbie Nichols seemingly everywhere, and even came across him while reading Robin D.G. Kelley's excellent biography on Thelonious Monk (Nichols and Monk often tend be mentioned together by critics and reviewers who cite a couple broad aesthetic similarities. Interestingly, Nichols wrote one of Monk's first major positive reviews in a music publication early on in Monk's career).

There are a couple Herbie Nichols leadsheets floating around on the Internet, although to my knowledge a major collection of his music hasn't yet been published (along the lines of Hal Leonard's Thelonious Monk collection, for instance). I thought I'd put up a bare-bones leadsheet of "Wildflower," whose melody I've had stuck in my head for the past couple days. Interestingly, the chord changes are somewhat similar to "Doxy," and I've been toying with the idea of calling "Doxy" at a session and just playing "Wildflower" over top for kicks. I'd be very pleased if "Wildflower" started to catch on at jam sessions, but that's up to the collective hive mind to decide when that day will come, if ever.

Here's the leadsheet:


The basic melodic material of the tune still puzzles me. At first, I instinctively looked at the ascending line in m. 9 as a stack of two four-note cells, which are built on 1-b3-3-#4 and repeat once and then a fifth above. Following this line of thinking, the rest of the tune looks like a transposition of the initial idea: the same four-note cell, built on the II of each chord. In this case, G7 has an A-C-C#-D# cell plus the 1 of the next cell stacked a fifth above (E); C7 has D-F-F# without G# but with C# (the last note of the cell a fifth below D); and so on for Eb7 and Db7 in mm. 17 and 19. 

But, when I tried playing the melody on the piano the other day, it seemed a lot more intuitive to think in terms of intervals. In this case, the basic ascending pattern is: [minor 2nd, minor 3rd, minor second, major 2nd] etc. That still wouldn't quite explain the pattern of transposition between changes, and it occurred to me that the line could be thought of as a series of half step approaches from below on the upper extensions of each chord: namely, the 9th, #11th, and 13th. So, basically instead of half step approaches on the I, which would be much more conventional harmonically, they're a series of half step approaches on the II, which preserves a familiar melodic contour but with a more harmonically unfamiliar twist. 

Nichols probably had a more intuitive and personal conception of this "Wildflower" sound, but I can only imagine what that might have been. I thought an interesting exercise might be to practice entering this sound from different parts of the cell, which would yield just on B:

The first mode uses B as the 1 in the first cell, the second mode uses B as the b3 (second note) of the cell, and so on. Anyway, those are just a few scattered thoughts; now I'll see about transcribing Nichols's solo on the tune, which I'll hopefully post at some undisclosed point down the road.


  1. I love Herbie Nichols.

    Just glancing at those runs, I wonder whether he was specifically trying to play with the pitch complement of the underlying harmonies. m. 9 does have a Bb but omits D, F, and Ab; m. 10 has no pitches from G7; and m. 11 has no pitches from C7 (until the anticipation of F7).

    I associate this sort of trick with Messiaen though I can't point to any examples offhand.


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