Chasing the Bird

While at NEC, I was fortunate enough to study for a year with the famed trombonist-extraordinare Robin Eubanks.  For a while, I was bringing in Charlie Parker solos to work on with him, and in one of our lessons he said (and I’m paraphrasing here):

You know, someone should take some time to transpose these solos up a fourth.  They’re really in the pumpin’ register.

After you take a second to chuckle at the phrase “pumpin’ register”,  let me explain what he meant: When trombone players practice Parker’s solos (say, from the Omnibook or from their own transcription), we play what Parker played, but down an octave.  Unfortunately, the “money register” for a saxophone tends to skew lower on the instrument’s available tessitura than what is common for the average jazz trombonist.  As a result, here is what a trombone player looks at when they try to play a Charlie Parker solo:

To a jazz trombonist, the preceding excerpt, although playable, doesn’t really lay in an idiomatic fashion on the horn.  When a trombone is played in its lower register, all of the slide positions are further apart compared to the closer positions of the higher register.  In other words, what Robin meant by “pumpin’ register”,  is that the solo is just too damn low and one has to move the slide too much.  Bebop is already hard enough on the trombone, and the range that trombonists play Parker’s solos in certainly doesn’t make these tricky solos any easier.  Here is what the same excerpt looks like when it’s transposed up a fourth:

Now we’re talking!  The range is much more reflective of what jazz trombonists actually play.  So, I went ahead and I transposed the whole solo up a perfect fourth, just like Robin suggested.  Here, take a look and listen for yourself:

Moose the Mooche (pdf file)

The benefits are pretty clear – I’ve been working on the solo for about a week, and the bebop vocabulary feels much better suited to my instrument.  I suppose one could argue that it would be more valuable to study Parker’s solos at the original pitch, but I’ve always thought that the jazz tradition is ours to play with, so why not?

I also went ahead and did the same thing to Parker’s solo on Donna Lee.  Check it out too:

Birds Solo on Donna Lee (pdf file)
(I haven’t had the time to work on this solo, so I can’t totally swear by its accuracy, and there’s not yet an audio file for me to post.  Besides, it’s really, really hard…)

So anyways, feel free to download these solos, and share them with your trombone playing friends!



Filed under Jazz

6 responses to “Chasing the Bird

  1. Sean Berry

    Hey Randy,

    Have you tried playing a Parker solo in all 12 keys? Apparently, guys like Brad Mehldau and Chris Potter did this as teenagers (as reported by a friend who attended a clinic with Potter, he put the entire Omnibook through these paces, and demonstrated by playing the “Donna Lee” solo in 12 keys, from memory- yikes!). I also have friends who have tried this with a few solos on guitar and bass. I’ve always wished that someone with a real academic pedigree (like Allan Chase, for example) would publish a whole book on how to use these and other solos to practice, including corrected versions of the transcriptions- there are so many mistakes and inaccuracies in the originals!

  2. Randy

    Hey Sean,

    Nope, never tried it – although it’s probably in my future (and best interests). When I was a youngster it just seemed overwhelmingly difficult, so I never even bothered.

    Practicing transcriptions in creative and useful ways is definately one of the harder nuts to crack when it comes to learning jazz. I’ve found that one thing that is really, really useful to me is singing these solos – in many ways it’s more useful than playing them on the horn. As an ear training excercise, it’s invaluable.

    For this project, I wasn’t so worried about the accuracy of the transcription because I was more interested in what would happen trombonistically if it was played up a fourth. One of these days, I’m going to take some time to really check the accuracy.


  3. Will Caviness

    Sweet project, Randy! I say we should just learn all these tunes up a 4th anyway….

  4. Randy

    Thanks, Will! I guess if I was really heavy I would be able to just play these solos up a 4th without writing it out. Onwards and upwards! The work never ends!

  5. RatchetJazz

    This is a great post! Thanks for the info. This is really going to help some of my students. I also found a few smaller Charlie Parker licks for my students to practice. They seemed to gravitate to those more than entire solos. I guess it is easier for the beginning students to digest bebop concepts in very small doses. Bop can be overwhelming at times. Thanks again.

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