Technical Notes on ♥️ Bird, II


More notes on the compositions that appear on <3 BIRD (see previous here).

4. Composite

Composite features the drums along a thickening web of melodies derived from four Parker blues compositions. [this and later introductory statements are mine from the liner notes]

Lennie Tristano is quoted in Robert Reisner's Bird: The Legend of Charlie Parker (1962) as saying:

The most complex aspect of bop lies in the ingenuity with which the melodic line was originated. It was creative. The context of the line breaks up into a large number of precisely thought-out phrases, each of which is an idea in its own right and may also be used in conjunction with any of the other phrases, and on any tune whose chord structure is chromatic or diatonic. This may be compared with a jig-saw puzzle which can be put together in hundreds of ways, each time showing a definite picture which in its general character differs from all the other possible pictures. [emphasis mine]

Taken to an extreme, this theory leads to an analytical approach along the lines of Thomas Owens's 1974 dissertation on Charlie Parker, which seeks to discretize, label, and organize the core melodic units of Bird's language into a library of phrases. It's not quite that simple, though, but it does offer a way to think about creatively re-organizing existing music by Bird to lend a fresh perspective. 

One of my favorite albums of 2020, which seemed to fly under the radar of American critics, is a tribute to Bird called Ornithologie by the French trio Un Poco Loco (Fidel Fourneyron, Geoffroy Gesser, Sébastien Beliah). Aside from Bird himself, this was one of the major inspirations for undertaking <3 Bird; in the case of "Composite," I referred specifically to their arrangement called "Barbillie's Time," which mashes up "Barbados," "Billie's Bounce," and "Now's the Time" by distributing fragments of each melody across the trio into a single line.

In "Composite," the four blues lines re-arranged are four of my favorites: "Cheryl," "Relaxin' at Camarillo," "Big Foot," and "Bloomdido." Initially, the piece was going to be a sort of drum etude, with the rhythm of each line assigned to one limb (e.g. ride, high-hat played by foot, snare drum, bass drum) to be played together, and then cycled so that each limb played each melody at least once. It wasn't so easy to hear the relation to the original material in the end result, so I ultimately scrapped that in favor of an open drum solo approach to complement the melodic portion.

For the pitched voices, I wanted to have four independent lines at once. Each line would use portions of the four Bird melodies, one bar at a time, without two consecutive bars ever drawing from the same melody, and no phrases from the melodies would be repeated in any of the other voices—that is, each bar is unique in the four-part harmony and doesn't get repeated in the space of the 12-bar chorus.

It ended up being a kind of jigsaw puzzle, where I was mostly concerned with balancing the coherence of an individual line with the vertically-emergent harmony at any given point (avoiding excessive dissonances, seeking relatively smooth or at least musically compelling voice leading). 

In the score below, the top voice is clarinet, middle two voices are Rhodes, and lowest voice is upright bass. I've color coded the measures in each part as follows:
  1. "Cheryl" is in yellow
  2. "Relaxin'" is in green
  3. "Big Foot" is in blue
  4. "Bloomdido" is in red
Note that I transposed every blues to C for the sake of tonal consistency (although I never tried hearing them together in their original keys; maybe that would have been even better):

This is only heard in the final chorus of "Composite," which builds up to this moment by introducing each individual voice beginning with the bass voice and adding an additional voice each chorus.

5. Onomatopoeia

Onomatopoeia mashes up two minor key touchstones, Dizzy Gillespie’s “Be-Bop” and Parker’s “Segment.”

In Bird's body of compositions, the majority are in major and the minority in minor, but those minor pieces are some of the most memorable perhaps for their relative scarcity. The late Phil Schaap goes into extensive detail about the likely unresolvable confusion surrounding the title for "Segment," "Diverse," and "Passport" in the liner notes to Unheard Bird:

In addition, the three tunes recorded on our about May 5, 1949 - "Segment," "Diverse" and "Passport - are hopelessly scrambled. Two takes of one tune, known since the release of Bird box set as "Tune X," were issued in 1956 with different names, "Diverse" and "Segment." The remaining two tunes are both named "Passport: "Tune Y," representing a Blues, was issued under that title in 1952, while "Tune Z," representing a 32-bar AABA tune, first used that same title in 1949.

Regardless of its true title, "Segment" still gets played fairly frequently, although it seems that "Be-Bop" has fallen out of fashion, perhaps due to the squarer phrasing compared to Bird's line. "Onomatopoeia" started off as a kind of joke tune, but made it onto the record as offering the most obvious link to the bebop sound of the '40s.

The conceit here is very straightforward: I took the sequence of pitches from one melody and mapped it onto the rhythmic sequence of the other, and vice-versa. A few deletions and adjustments had to be made to make each mapping fit, but the effect is a bit uncanny, if awkward.

The examples below illustrate the first two A sections. The top line is one of the two original melodies, followed by its melodic rhythm below. The lowest line shows the pitch material from the other melody, and the third line illustrates the new "Onomatopoeia" line that uses the rhythm from the second line and the pitches of the fourth line:
"Be-Bop" is originally in F minor while "Segment" is in Bb minor, and I kept those keys intact for "Onomatopoeia," so there is a modulation from F minor down to Bb minor between the first two A sections. The bridge uses the pitches of the bridge of "Be-Bop" with the melodic rhythm of "Segment." Finally, the introduction and coda use the rhythm of the famous intro/outro from "Be-Bop" with bits of Bird's solo from the master take of "Segment."

6. Dovetail

Dovetail is an abstract dance through Parker’s two studio take improvisations on “Yardbird Suite.”

In this earlier post on "Synchronic Bird," I share the audio to the two takes of Bird's solos played simultaneously on "Yardbird Suite." Before writing "Dovetail," I looked at how the two takes overlap from time to time with some unscientific scrawling (red indicates pitch overlap at the same place in the form, while blue indicates moments where there appears to be a "trading off" in the blowing between the master and alternate take):
Looking back at my manuscript, it seems like I originally intended this piece for two melodic voices (saxophone or clarinet with bass), and I more or less intuitively distributed pitches between the two voices drawing from both solo lines starting from the beginning. I didn't write in any bar lines or meters, but instead limited myself to eighth notes and quarter notes as well as rests, and decided to use the points of maximum synchronicity as moments for vamping and improvisation:
  • Eb - C - G circled in red in mm. 2-3 became the first vamp featuring clarinet (about 0:06–0:46 in "Dovetail")
  • The sequence of pitches (octave displaced in my composition) marked in blue in mm. 5 and 6 became the cue for the end of the second vamp section featuring piano (cue heard at 2:19–2:28)
  • The red square boxed section on page 2 (mm. 21-23) became the basis for the third vamp featuring piano, with the bass sequence taken from every fifth note in the line (starting on A, then F, Bb, and D); the cue at 4:14 is that sequence of pitches exactly, but all as eighth notes in groups of five
  • The red triangle section on page 2 (mm. 27-28) is the source material for the last vamp featuring saxophone, with the sequence of Bb, D, F, G, E, D, and C# repeating in quarter note triplets in the bass (7 quarter note triplets repeating 3 times, or 3 bars of 4/4 and a bar of 2/4), which is cued at 6:03
"Dovetail" concludes with another octave displaced sequence of pitches split up between the treble and bass voice, with the pitches coming from the blue circled line in mm. 29-30. The pitch sequence is 13 pitches long, so the final phrase is written in 13/8. This wasn't necessarily the most rigorous or systemic piece from <3 Bird, but the level of abstraction involved allowed for greater freedom in the improvisation, I felt, and it ended up being one of the standout tracks with Christian Li's spellbinding conjurations.

On to part III.