The Secret of New Material

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I was looking a back at my mishmash archive of recorded practice notes and found something that reminded me of where my interest in jazz standards got started.

A few years ago I played with a county band whose lead singer loved doing an annual Christmas show. (This was a new idea for me at the time.) He’d bring well-chosen Christmas songs to our rehearsals – material I’d never heard. One of these was  Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heuse’s The Secret of Christmas – one that’s still rarely covered by anyone. And I loved it because it made me feel like we’d really stepped into playing something other than just country music.

More than just three or four chords the lead sheets he payed for online and I took home and studied the chord structure for how my pedal steel could fit in. And recored it to GarageBand (putting together all the backup parts from scratch). And even though the band preformed it as a vocal song I put together my own together study track – hitting the intro, verse, chorus and ending one time each.

And in doing my iTunes research of how it’s been arranged in the past I drew a lot from Ella Fitzgerald’s version from what I found later to be her Ella Wishes You a Swinging Christmas album. Especially the ending (even though now my approach makes me cringe a bit.)

It’s not perfect but looking back I can see how this was a pivotal moment in my interest and direction. It wasn’t overnight but I did pursue a lot of swing and jazz material later.

And I also began appreciating more obscure Christmas music – perhaps the best takeaway for me at the time.

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Three Chords and the Truth About Difficult Chord Harmonies

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Not many songs have haunted me like John Coltrane’s iconic Blue Train from his Blue Note album of the same name. It’s minimal melody and austere harmony set up an emotive head.

That said the piano chord harmonies are pretty complex for this country boy so I almost didn’t notice it’s a 12-bar blues – three chords. (But apparently Coltrane was really rooted in the blues.) A big thanks to Mike Neer’s responses on the Steel Guitar Forum for the support and advice to getting the chords right (or at least very close.) I had originally posted my audio with chords that were inaccurate and I was happy to be corrected. (Cm7 is not the same as an Eb7#9.) So hopefully I’m a lot closer now.

So, below represents me sticking my toe into the mid-century jazz ocean. No blowing here. Just harmony/chord studying. By far my fav (and prolly everyone else’s) Coltrane piece. Eventually I’d like to expand this recording into a solo section.

Eb like the original:

Note there are three parts to this arrangement (lead, harmony and rhythm) and that I tabbed all three parts into a single line of notation below for simplicity. In no way does my arrangement suggest bar slants starting on measure 13 – it’s just the two lines in harmony. The rhythm chords are intended to emulate the piano in the original arraignment’s head.

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“After all the investigation, all of the technique-doesn’t matter! Only if the feeling is right.”
― John Coltrane

This post was originally published at All Aboard the Blue Train. Bad I know, but I was exited to post. And as always please let me know if there’s something I’ve gotten wrong. My purpose here is to learn.

Download my PDF tab here

Download my TablEdit MIDI file here