See Steve's Hand-Written Chordal Comping Transcription
Jim Hall's comping on:
"My Funny Valentine"(Rodgers-Hart)
One of my earliest memories of exchanges with other guitarists, after having moved to New York at the dawn of the '70s, was sitting together with John Abercrombie and talking about Jim Hall and his style of playing. As we sat together talking, John played for me a perfect impression of Jim's melody statement of "I'm Getting Sentimental Over You." Then, sometime later during our conversation, John launched into his own fantastic version of Hall's comping on the famous version of the Rodgers & Hart classic standard, "My Funny Valentine." He had it completely nailed: the feel, the swing, the sense of a walking bass - well, just everything. It made me immediately feel like I had to go home and re-investigate that recording and that performance. Of course, the original version appears on the revered recording with pianist, Bill Evans titled, "UNDERCURRENT"(Blue Note) which was recorded in the Spring of 1962.
The performance opens with a one chorus melody statement by Bill Evans supported by Jim Hall in a style that is somewhere between contrapuntal and, at times, functioning a bit like an acoustic bass. After the melody is stated, Hall solos for 3 choruses. When Evans enters for his solo, Hall shifts to comping in very understated style which sounds as though it was recorded with a microphone placed in front of his Gibson ES-175 and his amp volume turned way down, if not completely shut-off. As Evans arrives at the last 2 bars of his 1st chorus, Hall suddenly shifts into high-gear and begins to comp in a 4/4 big-band style à la Freddie Green. For the 3rd chorus Evans' solo, Hall returns to a more interactive comping style where the time feel is more 'implied' - by this I mean that both players are playing as though they can hear acoustic bass and drums playing along, even though they are, in fact, not present at all! This is an important concept to master for the art of playing in any style where no rhythm section is really there. The final statement of the melody is handled by Jim Hall, and so the treatment of this great song is very much equal. Because of these elements, it would seem most plausible that everything was discussed and agreed upon before they recorded. But, it is Jim Hall's single chorus of comping in this semi-acoustic, big band style that I had chosen to transcribe, and now present it here at KHAN'S KORNER 1. So, let us now take a look at how Jim approached accompanying Bill Evans in this manner.
Of course, as we always do, it is important to understand the song form. "My Funny Valentine" is a particular version of the familiar A-A-B-A song form, but with the last letter [A] having an extra 4 bars tagged on. In addition to the movement of the lower notes on the guitar, the bass notes, it is always interesting to pay attention to Jim Hall's usage of harmonic substitutions. In his 2-bar pick-up to the chorus, Hall gives a preview of what is to come by make the transition from Ebmaj7 back to Cm7 using b5 subs. You will see/hear Eb7(#9) to D7(#9) to Ab7 and finally to G(7)/B. And then, off we go.
The style and register of the first 4 bars of the [A] section lays the foundation for all that is to follow. If you scan the entire chorus, you will see that bars 1-2 of each [A] are identical, and bars 3-4 of [A] and [A2] are also identical. It also of interest to note that even with all the b5 substitutes that Jim Hall employs throughout, on the last beat of bar 2 of these same [A] sections, he always uses G7/D, the 5th of the chord, instead of the also easily employed Db7. They both would sound just fine. In trying to best communicate the 'feel' Jim implies, it is crucial in a transcription such as this to provide the additional strokes that barely have a "note value." Of course, these are best written with the notes that are actually fingered being X'ed out. So, in these cases, where indicated, you are releasing the fingers of your left-hand ever so slightly, and then stroking through the deadened strings. In bars 7-8 of [A] and [A2] this is not always easily audible.
During [A2] in bars 7-8, Hall varies the approach and, after the first 3 beats of bar 7, it was not so easy to hear and determine exactly what he was playing, so you have my best educated guess of what it might have been. To make a sound harmonic approach to letter [B], he must change the chord at the end of bar 8, and so you now have a Bb7(13) prior to the arrival of the Ebmaj7 in the next section. On this performance, the one with which we Jim Hall devotees are all familiar, he marks each chord of the Imaj-iv-ii-V-Imaj progression. However, if you own the re-issue CD version and listen to the "Alternate Take" you can hear that his approach to the [B] sections is quite different. In each of the 2 choruses played in this comping style, Hall employs the most effective device known as pedal point. The standard approach is to pedal the root of the V chord. So, in this case, in the key of Ebmaj, you would pedal the note Bb. In each of the 2 choruses, Jim plays 2 beats of Ebmaj9/6 and Bb7(13) with the rhythms varied each time. It is my feeling that, having all the notes of these chord voices audible might box the soloist into a more diatonic improvisational approach. If one really lays into octave Bb's, I believe that the soloist then has much more harmonic freedom in shaping his lines. But, in contrast to what I've just said, if you have the "Alternate Take" version, you will hear that Bill Evans plays very diatonically during these bars anyway. Again, just something to ponder for that moment when you might find yourself in a duo setting such as this.
As [A3] arrives, the approach remains very much the same, but from bar 3 on, the changes become different that in the prior [A] sections. It is especially nice to note the changes Jim Hall employs in approaching bar 7 where the lyric has just stated, "stay little valentine stay..." As the chorus ends and Hall just use the last 2 bars to turn the harmony back around from Eb major to C minor, it is nice to observe how he is playing a very traditional Ebmaj7(9) voicing that transits to D7(#9) keeping the F-natural on top, before finally playing a G7 to drive us to the top of the next chorus and a Cm6 chord.
Often times, as students of music, and as students of any particular instrument, we tend to look at a transcription and we see the whole piece. By that I mean, we think that, if we don't master the entire written work, we will not be getting the maximum from our efforts. But, this is, in my opinion, never the case. I always advise those who study with me to break things down into significantly smaller units and practice from that perspective. In other words, one masters these sectors and, in doing so, becomes more adept and fluent to be able to play the entire excerpt at a later date. So, how does that apply here? I have chosen two essential passages that resemble what Jim Hall played and created short 2-bar loops for you to practice. The first is derived from the first 2 bars of any [A] section. You simply begin with the very basic Cm7 chordal formation with the lowest note 'C' being played at the 8th fret on your low 'E'-string. The voicings to follow will, of course, be found in the same area of the instrument. For any voicing with lowest note on your 'E'-string you should only hear two other notes sounding from your 'D' and G-strings. Voicings where the lowest note is on your A-string would, in general, also add notes sounding on the 'D' and G-strings as well. In some instances, there might even be an occasional note on the B-string. In general, in order to keep the bass line moving à la Freddie Green, or any competent bassist, you fill up the walking quarter-note spaces by placing b5 dominant 7th substitutes which approach your target note from 1/2-step above. So, here is Exercise Example 1:
Exercise Example 2 is drawn from what Jim plays in bars 1-2 of the [B] section. And this is the most common device for playing through a Imaj-iv-ii-V-Imaj when the root of the Imaj7 chord appears on your A-string. As with Example 1, you can see that the 'target notes' are almost always approached from 1/2-step above. The exception in this example is that I chose to return to the Imaj7 by employing a form of the V7 chord with the 3rd in the bass, so that your approach is from 1/2-step below. I could have also used Dmaj7. And, if I wanted to come at the Ebmaj7 from 1/2-step above, I could have used Emaj7 or E7, either one would have been fine. Again, the idea is to take this little 2-bar loop and practice it slowly and evenly for feel, swing, and articulation until you feel that you are getting it. As that moment grows closer, you can increase the tempo on your metronome. Here is Exercise Example 2:
In addition to these two little exercises, I would consider it to be essential to the mastery of this style that you learn how to play all the inversions of the basic major 7th, minor 7th, dominant 7th, m7b5 and diminished chords with the lowest note being on both your E-string and A-string. For example, in C minor, you would want to be able to play: Cm7[Root on the E-string at the 8th fret]; Cm7/Eb[Eb on the 11th fret]; Cm7/G[G on the 3rd fret]; and Cm7/Bb[Bb on the 6th fret]. Just follow a similar and logical thought process for Cmaj7; C7; Cm7b5; and C°7. Perhaps a good practice approach would be to play one bar of each inversion. Once you have mastered this, you will be better prepared than you were before.
Thanks to the help of Michael Cuscuna who assembled the re-issue for release, I am able to share with everyone that the performance that we have all come to know and love was actually Take 5, the last take of "My Funny Valentine." This is of great significance because, the "Alternate Take" that only appears on the re-issue CD was, in reality, Take 4. This is of interest because the tempo of the Alternate Take is so much slower. In addition to that, Hall comps in this Freddie Green style for 2 full choruses. But, beyond this wonderful information, if one thinks about how you reacted upon hearing the original take for the first time, having access to an alternate performance ruins the sense that Hall launching into this kind of comping was just completely and totally spontaneous and born of the moment. In the end, it was not, it was planned, and had been performed for 4 prior takes. Not being present at the session, it is hard to know exactly what might have been said between the two players or the producer that caused Take 5 to be so much brighter in tempo. It could have been as simple as Hall and Evans saying to one another, after 4 slower takes: "What do you think? Let's just play one faster!" That could have been it. It's interesting that, in David Rosenthal's liner notes on the CD re-issue, he takes note of the fact that "My Funny Valentine" not usually played at a fast tempo. From that comment, it would seem obvious that he wasn't aware of the fact that they had played 4 prior versions at the more traditional ballad-oriented tempo. Anyway, I was happy to add this data to the mix as food for thought about the way that musicians communicate with one another, and the kinds of decisions that go into making any recording.
It remains my simple hope that everyone will take advantage of this presentation and try to better understand this very unique comping style and then try to slowly add it into their repertoire of tools!!! Hoping that you all are enjoying the Spring of 2009.
[Photo of Jim Hall & Bill Evans]