2nd lesson Donna lee

2nd lesson Donna lee


Nam qui facit, quod non sapit, diffinitur bestia (Regule rhytmicae 1025/26 DC)

After the first couple of lessons introductory for the brave cello improviser on the quest to find new techniques and sounds

I think we are ready to talk more specifically about Jazz.

When a closer look is taken to it the term “Jazz” is as vague as the “classical music”, This big melting pot of styles, fashions and experiments finds a “lingua franca” -universal language- in the Bebop era .

Briefly about Bebop:

Born: between 1943/44
Birth place: New York (USA)
Address: 52nd street
Paternity (generally recognized):Charles Christopher “Bird” Parker & John Birks “Dizzy” Gillespie.
(obviously there are many uncles: Monk, C. Christian,”Sonny” Stitt, M. Roach…)

Many are the characteristics of Bebop, here we will consider the one immediately better applicable to Jazzcello:

  1. Lack almost total of vibrato.
  2. Contrafact as help guideline for improvisation.
  3.  Use of chromatism to link chordal notes.

For time and space purpose I’ll do a jump forward and I will start talking about one of the tunes that is played everywhere from Sidney to Alaska….

Donna Lee.

Before doing it, however,  I would like to spend a couple of words on a very common practice in Jazz and that has always been the glue that kept this improvised kind of music together:The practice of Contrafact.

This practice, old as the music, consists in writing a new composition using a preexistent tune (generally very popular) as source of the harmonic changes.
For the Bebop musicians, this practice was a priceless way to keep that need of coherence necessary in a kind of music that finds his focal point in Improvisation while reducing rehearsals time and giving the chance to make extra cash from the royalties.

Practically, almost all the most famous jazz tunes of this period of time are based on no more than 20 contrafacts.

To mention some of the more used contrafacts: G. Gershwin’s “I got rhythm” (recorded as a contrafact by Mr. Parker something like 150 times), The Blues (usually 12MM),“how high is the moon”, “Body and soul”, etc…

Donna Lee is based on “Back home again Indiana “.

Anyone that wants to approach jazz without getting to many headache will appreciate this information because once that you feel comfortable with the most common contrafacts

you can improvise on quite a lot of tunes, that means that … well you’re suddenly ready to seat on a Jazz Jamsession!!!

Ok, now about the music:

Here is the score:


As you can probably see, I avoid as much as possible the use of open strings.
The reason to do so is that very often in Jazz we are asked to transpose a piece in another key, learning the fingering without open strings allow us to be able

to transpose (unlike other instruments) only changing the starting position of the hand.

When I approach a fast tune like this one I think is a very good idea to start playing one note per bow, as little as possible, with a very heavy staccato sound.
A lot of pressure from the bow arm is needed while the fingers stay always very relaxed.
At the same time, try to have the left hand falling at the same time with the bow with a lot of strength like if you were playing piano (it wouldn’t hurt to have

already done that on our beloved Popper, Servais, Greutzmacher!) but coming back after touching the fingerboard like it was burning hot!

After we finally know what we are dealing with, we can start using the “classical” swing bowings:



You might notice though, that the result, a part for being very uncomfortable at first, doesn’t really sound like a saxophone or trumpet articulation… therefore not quite Bebop I propose to try another experiment:

With the same feeling in the bow like the heavy staccato we tried before, we can try to use more than one note per bow changing it more or less according the breaths of particular accents we would like to give…

Be careful to keep the swinging feeling and timing obtaining a sort of a flying staccato but much easier.

At the beginning sounds a little horrible but once that you feel more comfortable with it, it makes everything, also the improvisation, much easier.
Last little suggestion: Always, at this stage, work with the metronome (I know is not the funnyest thing in the world) for a very simple reason: you are supposedto eventually play with a drummer and a rhythm section and they DON’T WAIT FOR YOU!!

if you want, you are welcome to listen to my version of it… a little like would be also appreciated 😀

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