Fischer's Fender Rhodes
Once again, it's time to sing the praises of one of my musical heroes,
Clare Fischer, as we present to you a transcription of his gorgeous Fender Rhodes solo,
which appears on his own composition, the title track from the Poncho Sanchez CD,
"GAVIOTA"(Discovery). Recorded in early 1980, I fell in love with this tune, Clare's solo,
and the lush harmonies which he employs. But, because of the keyboard complexities, I just never
thought that I would have the skills, nor the patience, to transcribe it, and then, to write it all
out neatly to be presented here. But imprisoned, on a snowbound winter's day in New York, the
inspiration arrived, and I was able to overcome those fears and apply myself to making a gallant
attempt. Some years ago, Clare was kind enough to have sent me many of his lead sheets, some
being keyboard mini-scores as I like to call them, and having the lead sheet for "Gaviota"("The Gull")
was obviously a tremendous help.
The basic composition is 32 bars in length, and is made-up of an
[A] and [A2], each 16 bars, sandwiched by [I] sections which serve as a
contrastingly funky Guajira or Vamp. The lush and sensual harmonies are, as always, marked by
Clare Fischer's extraordinary usage of inner-voice movement, a trademark of his writing,
arranging and playing. One should also take note of the descending bass lines which occur in
several spots, and which I will try to point out.
One of the most obvious and stunning details of the sound of this piece
is Clare's usage of the tremolo effect on the Fender Rhodes which you can hear
whooshing from side to side, at a slow speed. To me, it seems as though the speed was cleverly
timed to be in quarter-note triplets, which is very effective. When you combine this with his
liberal usage of the sustain pedal, the effect tends to accentuate the dreamy nature of the
"Bolero" feel, while also blurring the sense of precise time. As the tune unfolds, the Rhodes is used to 'glue together' Gary Foster's flute melodies, along with Steve
Huffsteter's flügelhorn counterlines.
After the melody has been stated, and the 8-bar vamp at [I]
concludes, we settle into the traditional bolero rhythm marked by the cascara, the "paila" on the
shells of the timbales, played beautifully by Alex Acuña. It should be noted that the
entire solo is performed with a very laid-back feeling, beautiful rhythmic control, and for
this reason, it might appear that, in a couple of places, a phrase is not notated perfectly. But, as
usual, I was only trying to present the fundamental intent of the phrase. Clare's solo unfolds
perfectly with the usage of only his right-hand for the 1st two bars. In bars 3-4, his
left-hand enters, but only with a single-note counterline, which cleverly outlines the harmony.
This device returns during [A2] of the solo and reprises this quality. In bars 5-6, very
stark and spare two-note voicings add to the sonorous nature of the piece. In bars 7-8, as the
bass line descends: A-G-F#-F-E, the left-hand accompaniment becomes more rich, more dense.
Lucky for me, in bar 8, the voicings were very close to those he plays during the melody, and they were carefully indicated on his lead sheet.
As bar 9 moves into bar 10, and a harmonic cycle begins, Clare plays a
wondrous set of modern block chordal voicings using some parallel harmony. Notice the way he
adds the b5 on the inside to the A7(13b9) voicing in bar 10. It's a beautiful touch, and far more
subtle when voicing it this way, because it doesn't call so much attention to that scale degree.
Frankly speaking, I was at a bit of a loss as to how to best analyze, and then explain just what
transpires, harmonically speaking, in bar 12. As Clare indicated on his lead sheet, one can hear
that the bass line, played by Humberto Cane, observes the written changes of G7(13)-F7
landing on E7(alt.) in bar 13. What he plays in his right hand does make perfect sense. However,
what initially confused the issue is that in his left-hand, you see/hear the tritone Bb-E[w/ a Gb
added above it], and these "guide tones"[chord defining intervals] would seem to indicate to me that there was something going on here related to a C7 sound, or its b5 substitute of Gb7.
Perhaps, Clare was alluding to a V7 of V to enable him to pass through to the F7? That's the only
explanation that makes sense here.
Like most Boleros, this tune is also played in a 2:3 clave, and you will notice just how many times, on the even-numbered bars that Clare has observed the clave by playing something on the and-of-2. The graceful, but rhythmically sophisticated, passage from bars 14-16 lock in with the clave beautifully. Therešs also an interesting harmonic moment on the downbeat of bar 14 where, to the best of my hearing, on his way towards an A7(#9#5) voicing, Clare plays what sounds like an Ab triad, though a bit disonant, it is, in reality, just a chromatic
lower neighbor to the target note of A-natural. But, the left-hand is clearly a voicing
which outlines A7#5(G-C#-F). The melodic strength of the chromatically ascending line which
peaks at a high Bb helps it all to make sense. It should also be noted that in bar 15, on Clare's
lead sheet, the chord is indicated as a Dm7(9/11), but, when improvising Clare chooses to employ
the tension of a V7 of V7, and it becomes a D7(alt.). On beat three, it appears to resolve
internally to a most consonant sounding D7(9).
As he arrives at [A2] and reappearance of the C minor, the
attitude become more funky, more blues oriented, and once again, there is less activity from the
left-hand. His usage of the interval of the 3rd, which appears in bars 17-20 becomes a signal that
more of this lies ahead. But do pay attention to the beautiful inner-voice movement in bar 20,
where Clare chooses to ignore Dm7b5 chord, approaches the entire bar as G7. Notice how the
descending line(Db-C-B) is neatly tucked away inside.
Beginning at bar 23, the 3rds really begin to roll, the harmony
becomes more dense, and the momentum, the intensity of the solo picks up. I would want to point
out that the intervals of 3rds play a crucial role in the statement of the melody and appear
through the composition. So, where sound improvising is concerned, it is always a great device to
bond your improvisation to the tune in some fashion. And Clare, being the composer, makes perfect usage of this and only expands upon it. I would imagine that it would be excellent practice for any keyboard player to explore the technical aspects of executing those passages in 3rds.
Again, from a compositional standpoint, you should take note of how
bars 7-8 of [A2] differ, ever so slightly, from bars 7-8 of [A]. Even though the bass
line[A-G-F#-F-E] is exactly the same, the sonorities over the F# and F become dominant as
opposed to minor. It's a beautiful touch! Beginning in bar 23, the sequence of left-hand voicings
employs the classic configuration, spelling up: A-D#-G# for a B7(13) sound. This passes through
a standard configuration for F7(9), spelling up: A-Eb-G. When we arrive at bar 25, and the
Em7(9), the configuration becomes standard for that type of minor sonority, spelling up: G-D-F#.
Pay attention to how logically the left-hand voices all move. Then, with the simple movement of 'D' down to C#, that voicing becomes the 'guts' of an A7(13), and from here that configuration
follows the chords moving from 7(13) to 7(#9) sonorities. The only variance from this is the final
G7(alt.) voicing at bar 32, which uses the #5(D#) to give it more pull to the resolution to C
minor as [I] reappears.
But, that was just the left-hand! His beautiful usage of 3rds continues
during bars 23-26, with the occasional usage of the b5[over the F7], and the b5(D#/Eb) and
b9(A#/Bb). But, beginning in bar 27, Clare expands the harmony with his most skillful usage of
simple triads. And, over the D7(#9) sonority, we see triads like E major; D minor; Ab minor, and
Bb major. Then, over the G7(13) sonority we see triads such as: C#/Db minor; G minor; and Bb
minor. These would tend to be connected to the triadic permutations of the diminished scale and
the G7(13b9) sound. This Clare Fischer trademark continues in bar 29 over the E7(#9) sonority,
and you see the alternating usage of Bb minor and E minor triads. But, here he skillfully employs
various triplet groupings which, in addition to the sophisticated harmony, contributes to the very
dreamy nature of this passage. In register and intensity, the A7(13) chord is the highest moment, with the last triad to appear is a simple A minor voicing. In addition to these elements, I would remind you of the Rhodes' tremolo, and the fact that it was set to pan on quarter-note triplets,
which further adds to the atmosphere, the picture Clare Fischer paints with beautiful
As the solo comes to a close and the letter [I] vamp
returns[which is essentially one bar of Cm7 and a bar of F7(9)], the attitude becomes more funky,
more blues oriented. Notice Clare's usage of the "blue note" Gb/F# in bars 34 and 36, and
just where he throws in some 3rds. Those of you who would like to make your blues, R&B
and even Jazz playing more sophisticated, look at the ascending voicings Clare plays from Eb7(9)
to F7(9). They are especially great because it is often difficult to play a great voicing with the
b7 on top!!! Here, the lower register of the voicing helps to de-accentuate that pitch. Were it in
a higher register, that voice would probably stand-out way too much in my opinion.
As it is with almost all transcriptions, there are going to be some
errors, and, not being a great keyboard player, I can't guarantee that I have captured everything
perfectly. The overtone set-up of the Fender Rhodes might be a most beautiful one[not to mention
the most copied and imitated], but, when you combine that with that darn tremolo, it makes it even
more difficult to fully distinguish all the voices. This is all further complicated by the fact that
the bass is a bit undermixed for my taste, and at its mixed level, at times, it is hard to
distinguish its sound from what Clare's left-hand might be doing. I can only assure you that I did
my best, because the accurate representation of the brilliance of Clare Fischer's playing is so
very important to me!!!