Steve Khan's: "Safe and Sound"
as heard on the Caribbean Jazz Project CD, New Horizons
my compositions for the first recording of the newly constituted Caribbean
Jazz Project were taking shape, I knew that I wanted to write at
least one cha-cha. The inspiration for the style and attitude of "Safe
and Sound"(Sano y Salvo) comes directly from one my earliest heroes
in Latin music, Willie Bobo, and his recording, "SPANISH
GREASE"(Verve). The specific tune was written by guitarist
Eddie Diehl and titled "Nessa." When I was attending
college, U.C.L.A., between '65-'69, I used to drive down to
Hermosa Beach once or twice per year and go hear Willie Bobo's
group at the famous "Lighthouse." At the time, I didn't
realize just how unique it was for a "Latin jazz" group to
have just a guitar and no piano. Willie's group consisted of congas,
bass, guitar (played by Sonny Henry), trumpet, tenor sax, with
Willie on timbales. "Nessa" was always appealing to me because:
 it was a fast cha-cha with a tremendous drive to it;  it was
a minor blues; and  it began with a unison line, full of running
8th-notes, and doubled by the guitar and bass. And, it was for these
very reasons that "Safe and Sound" became what it is, using
"Nessa" as a model.
"Nessa" is in A-minor and, as it was written by a guitarist, takes advantage of the open 'A'-string in its introduction section. So, I decided to write "Safe and Sound" in E-minor and utilize the open guitar and bass strings as well. To add to this particular linear color, the unison melody, in the lower register, was going to be doubled by Dave Samuels' marimba. As the piece evolved, it became a 24-bar minor blues, and it begins just as "Nessa" did with the unison lines of [I] which only appear at the beginning of the tune, and never again. I guess what becomes 'interesting' and, at the same time, 'confusing' is that, at times, the open strings appear as a 'pick-up' on the and-of-four and, at others, right on the downbeat of a bar, making it hard to remember or memorize the lines.
However, after [I] appears, the similarities to "Nessa" begin to fade away. The next section [I2] continues to "set the mood," this time with a section in block chords intended to utilize the blending and clustering possibilities of the guitar and vibes together and to further define the harmonic sense of this particular type of minor blues. One huge difference from the way "Nessa" was structured is that the unison line continues, exactly the same, underneath the statement of the melody. Here I felt that this was just not going to be possible and that, if the line were to continue underneath, it wouldn't allow the chordal voicings to speak properly. So, I tried to maintain the feel and attitude of the line while just leaving out some of the running 8th-notes. Fortunately for me, bassist, John Benitez, took what I wrote and made it just that much better by adding his own style and personality to it.
In most cases, the i and iv chords appear with the major 7th degree included. In [I] you can see this in almost every other bar after bar 1. So, in [I2] this harmonic attitude only continues and is essentially present in each bar, excluding bars 17-20. It seems to always be the case that when one employs a minor chord with the major 7th included, there's going to be an air of 'mystery' in the harmonic attitude. In an attempt to keep things in a Latin feeling, there are hints of a montuno now and again such moments appear in bars: 8, 12, 18, and 20.
The 'real' melody finally appears at letter [A] and integrates thematic material from [I2] while adding to it a single-note feeling. The guitar and vibes are now joined by Dave Valentin's flute to double these lines beginning with the pick-up bar to [A]. It's obvious to me that much of this very 'quirky' melody owes a great deal to the writing style of my dear friend Don Grolnick, especially in areas of cross-rhythms. You can view these moments in bars: 8, 13-14, and 19. In this section, the "tease" of a montuno only appears in bar 9, totally different from the bars in [I2]. It's also at the end of this very section that I made one huge error in notating a key rhythmic figure. The truth is, that it was so obvious what was wrong, I can't believe that I didn't realize it sooner. The figure you now see in bar 24 of [A] is written as I would have wanted it. However, what I wrote originally was written using 8th-note triplet figures which made it that much more difficult to execute. In a sense, this figure is another tribute to Willie Bobo as it's related to something he played as a [Tag] to title tune of his recording "SPANISH GREASE." My apologies to all the players for these errors in notation!!!
Letter [B] functions as a simple "moña" or another melodic interlude. Something to shoot the tune into the solos and to then again to appear between them. The solo section, [C], and its changes are a simple mirror of everything which has appeared before, it remains a 24-bar blues. To add some harmonic interest for the soloists, I included a couple of b5 substitute ii-Vs. One appears in bar 8(Bbm7-Eb7) just before the iv chord(Am), and the other appears in bar 16(Abm7-Db7) which precedes the b6(C7) chord.
Where improvising is concerned, virtually each chord suggests that one employs the melodic minor scale in one manner or another. So, on all the Em(maj7) chords, you would use E melodic minor(E, F#, G, A, B, C#, D#); on the Am(maj7), you could use A melodic minor(A, B, C, D, E, F#, G#). Then, on the C7(b5) you would use G melodic minor(G, A, Bb, C, D, E, F#); and finally, on the B7(alt.) chord you would use C melodic minor(C, D, Eb, F, G, A, B) which is the same as the B altered dominant scale(B, C, D, D#, F, G, A). After the solos, [C] is played one last time before we return to [A] and the piece ends on bar 24(the one with the rhythmic dispute as discussed earlier).
In the area of small pleasures, this tune was to be my recording "debut"(at least as part of the Caribbean Jazz Project) on güiro which is always tremendous fun for me. I continue to improve at it, thanks to my two great professors: Marc Quiñones and Bobby Allende. Both continue to smile affectionately at me when they see me with my güiro.....hopefully, it has become less amusing to them with the passage of time!
Though I have mentioned this before at the Web site, if you remain curious as to the scope of the talents of Willie Bobo, please trust me and run, don't walk, to purchase a copy of Herbie Hancock's often overlooked recording, "INVENTIONS AND DIMENSIONS"(Blue Note). Here's wishing that you and yours are always "safe and sound" wherever you might be and wherever you might travel.
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