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12 January 2013


Russ Gershon

Good observations! Don't forget that Levon's inimitably laid back backbeat was often accompanying his own singing, which brings breath into the equation.

(Also agree about Ringo...)


Hey Russ!

The fact that Levon could play so well while simultaneously singing gut-wrenchingly powerful lead vocals only adds to his mystique. It's hard enough to keep up four-limb independence behind the kit, but Levon would also often sing in a different subdivision from what he was playing, and with different placement (i.e., singing straight 8ths while shuffling on the drums, or vice versa).


Jerry Lee Lewis's "Drinkin' Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee" has some of my favorite rock 'n' roll drumming on it. I guess the drummer is Jimmy Van Eaton.


Red Sullivan

Famously too, as maybe you actualy already hint, Brubeck says he had been performing "The Duke" when it was pointed out to him it went through all 12 keys in the A Section, and he was genuinely surprised...
And it has that amazing written bass-line, so highly regarded as a masterpiece in its own right.
Great good luck with the DRBB, one of my favourite bands!

Tim Richards

I don't agree that THE DUKE goes through all 12 keys in the 'A' section - ie: the first 8 bars. Sorry to be so nerdish, but a more accurate statement would be to say that it contains a chord on every possible root, which is not the same thing. However, even that statement is not true, as there is no G chord in the A section.

Please note the presence of a chord on a particular root doesn't necessarily imply a change to that key! For instance, the first two chords Cmaj7 and Fmaj7 are both in C major (I and IV).

The next 4 chords are all in E minor (F#m7b5 is II, B7 is V, Em7 is I and Am7 is IV.

Fm7-Bb7-Ebmaj7 is a II-V-I in the key of Eb major. And finally, Dm7-Db7-Cmaj7 is a II-V-I in C major (again), wiht a tritone sub on V (Db7).

So at best it goes through 4 or 5 keys. Enough already!

A tune that DOES go through all 12 keys is Bill Evans' COMRADE CONRAD...


Hi Tim,

You are right that I was imprecise -- I should have said written something more like "which is famously (but incorrectly) thought to modulate through 12 keys during the first [A] section." I'll revise the post accordingly.

But regarding your analysis of "The Duke," you seem to be using the Real Book changes, which are not entirely accurate. You're also wrong about there being no chords on G -- as Red mentions, there's a composed bass line (parts of which are doubled by Dave's left hand) that's an integral part of this tune, and it lands on G on the downbeat of the second bar (Em/G), and also on beat 2 of the eighth bar (G7).

Anyway the point here was that the commissioned piece I wrote has chords on all 12 chromatic tones in its first phrase, same as "The Duke."

Red Sullivan

...others are "Twelve Tone Tune" and "Twelve Tone Two" by Evans also - and, interestingly, "Twelve Tone Blues", written by Leonard Feather (himself!) and recorded by Shearing...
I think those names, and those particular recorded moments - but particularly the Shearing - are highly significant, and must be considered...
Once again - it's that magical bass-line, integral to "The Duke" that distinguishes it harmonically... it's an integrated, orchestrally conceived, ensemble piece; the crucial thing about Brubeck is he was a band-leader, always dealing in ensemble, counterpoint and presentation.
Our host, DJA, ("Bom dia!") talks about the "jaunty melody on top": yet it's the bass-line that covers EVERYTHING and makes it whole! (And how satisfying to know that the melody came first, and brought everything behind it. I think it's great that he didn't set out to apply this theory, but rather heard a melody - a narrative, a real story, with direction and meaning - and then it turned out to yeild surprising properties when analysed in retrospect, and, best of all, to his own surprise!). I don't think any such melody would ever have appeared if he tried to set out a theory instead of a story. ie.: The man had "something to say". Rare and precious.
(Nor do I belive the other, cited, 12-tone pieces, the more conciously derrived ones, are as good. "The Duke" is for the ages).

Red Sullivan

PS. (if I may...): Other especially great examples of this kind of harmonic movement, yet at the service of melody rather than theory - are the bridge to Benny Carter's masterpiece "When Lights Are Low" and also Richard Rogers' bridge in "Have You Met Miss Jones": the same cycle, but rhythmically different (less "awkward"), than Giant Steps - and much hipper (and he beat Coltrane to it by, maybe, 25 years?).
"Have You Met Miss Jones" emerges as, and will remain, no "excersise". Superior, so. The innovation was Rogers'.
And look how Jerome Kern leads us through his bridge to "The Song Is You" to this absolute COUP of a modulation back to the last A section, a semitone below the home key. WOW! What a moment!. Nothing better, more sophisticated, hipper - or MORE JUSTIFIABLE MUSICALLY! Very adult music these men were writing, and jazz came gratefully behind... (especially in the case of Richard Rogers, Coltrane and "Giant Steps"!).
I'm drunk..............

Malcolm Edmonstone

Most interesting dialogue here, and good luck with the premiere tonight! Just to throw into the mix two qualifying pieces of fantastic composition in terms of 12-tone root movements--that great stalwart of the jazz canon, All the things you are, and much more recently, Django Bates' Interval Song (composed to teach intervals to school children) goes a step further as he presents every interval over every bass note, all to a singable and highly infectious groove--modern music education in action! Warm regards, Malcolm

Tim Richards

Good point about the Real Book changes, DJA. Would you care to post the correct chords for THE DUKE?

I still think there's confusion though. Just because a melody contains all 12 notes doesn't mean it goes through 12 key centres. In fact the whole point about Twelve Tone music was that by giving equal weight to all 12 notes it avoids the concept of 'keys' entirely and gives an atonal result. Another example of a melody that does this is Miles Davis' MILES' MODE.

Likewise, just because a bass line has all 12 notes doesn't mean it covers all the keys. The tune ALL THE THINGS YOU ARE mentioned by Malcolm is an example - there's a chord on every root, but there are only 5 main key centres, as follows (in order of appearance):

Ab major, C major, Eb major, G major, E major.

Tony Corman

I seem to recall Levon saying he found it easier to play when he was singing, in some interview.

New to DJA's music, liking it tremendously!


Thanks for posting info on Levon Helm. The Last Waltz is one of my favorite films, have it and watch it often.

Billy Boggs

@ DJA. I was going to add a little bit to what you said about his playing style, but I think you pretty much summed it up. I have tried varying my voice like that when I switch from piano to drums or harmonica and I cannot understand how someone gets to that level besides pure God-given talent. Anyways, great post and video.

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