Isn't music such a tough thing? No matter how much time you spend at it, it will always kick your butt in one way or another. No matter how much you know, there's always so much that you don't know. You know, every time I come to a piece of music to learn it or transcribe it, I'm just overwhelmed at everything involved. For example, I sat down the other day to transcribe Kenny Garrett's solo on "Giant Steps," off the "Triology" record (1995). Well, I didn't get very far... here's why.
BUT FIRST! Let me say one thing. As a musician, I very strongly believe that analyzing music is a dangerous game. Here's why: you could analyze the crap out of a piece, or a solo, or a harmonic technique, or whatever, and you could completely lose sight of the MUSIC. Therefore, the reason we transcribe, or analyze, or practice patterns, or do ear-training exercises (or whatever else it is that we do) IS TO MAKE THE BEST MUSIC THAT WE CAN MAKE. And I do believe that whatever it takes to understand the music on a deeper level is a worthy endeavor. NOW WE PROCEED.
The trio (KG-sax, Kiyoshi Kitagawa-bass, and Brian Blade-drums) blazes two choruses of the straight-up giant steps melody before going into the solo section (or so I thought). When the solo section hits, Kenny Garrett plays the Giant Steps melody (minus one note at the end of the phrase) in straight quarter notes, then repeats. So I thought, "he's probably keeping track of the form in his head while he plays the shortened melody on top of the changes." After these shortened statements of the melody, he plays a real-time version of the melody as a kick-off to the beginning of the form. So, to check this, I wrote out the 16-bar form to Giant Steps and filled it in with KG's playing. Here's what I got:
OK! Notice that I bracketed off a section at the bottom of this. That is where KG plays the real-time melody to kick off the start of the chorus. IT DIDN'T LINE UP WITH THE BEGINNING OF THE FORM AT ALL! This led me to believe that something else was going on here. What I ended up figuring out was that this section was pre-arranged by the band, so that the quarter-note rendition of the melody was accompanied by a bass line that changed notes just as quickly! So, the band was all together in terms of rhythm and harmony and kicked off the start of Kenny's solo AFTER the shortened-melody-section. Here's a transcription of the bass line during this section with a somewhat comparable rhythm layout to what they MAY HAVE planned out (the number of total is correct, but whether they laid it out in this rhythmic format will always remain a mystery):
So, how does this apply to our personal musical journeys and endeavors? Well, for many reasons, but I'll list my favorite reasons here:
1. Music is about UNDERSTANDING and the more you dig in to records to UNDERSTAND what is going on harmonically, melodically, formally, improvisationally, etc., the more you will DEVELOP YOUR MUSICAL MIND AND EAR!
2. Creative musicianship is about using raw materials (lyrics, pitches, chords, instruments, forms, techniques, rhythms, intervals) and intentionally arranging them the way YOU want them, in the way that conveys YOUR ideas best. The more you study other people's music, the more you will be able to know how to use your raw materials in your own creative music.
3. Kenny Garrett is a BEAST.
If you've gotten this far, you've seen my geek-ness in its fullness. I hope you've enjoyed this blog and, like always, feel free to comment or add something, or get in touch with me to discuss.
is a saxophonist/composer residing in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex.