This tribute to the great trumpeter Clifford Brown went on to become one of the best loved ballads among the jazz standards, and one of Benny Golson's most recorded tunes.
At the time of Brown's tragic death in a car accident at age 25, he had already accomplished more than most musicians three times that age. Brown provided a bridge from Louis Armstrong to the modern jazz trumpeters like Miles, Lee Morgan, Freddie Hubbard and countless others influenced by Brown. The music world felt a profound loss from such a young death of such a promising talent.
Like all of Golson's compositions, this song is brilliantly crafted, such that is may sound easy to play. Indeed, when playing from sheet music, it might not be difficult for many players. But this song presents its own challenges. One of the challenges is the song form itself. This is a long-form song. With such a long chorus at ballad tempo, it behooves the soloist to plan the emotional peaks and valleys.
In very rough terms, this is an AABA song form, but with complications. First, it normally begins with a 6-bar intro played by the soloist (or singer). And a nearly identical 8-bar coda is normally added to finish the song. The choruses themselves are not regular. The first A section is a conventional 8 bars. But the second A section is extended to 12 bars. That leads to a short 4-bar bridge, which serves as the climax of the chorus. The lyrics in that bridge are "Every day I hear his lovely tone. In every trumpet sound that has a beauty all its own." From there, we settle to the final 8-bar A section. After all that, it ends up being a 32-bar chorus, but we don't get there the usual way.
Another challenge is that the nature of this tune is thoughtful, like a requiem. This is probably not the place to play a blizzard of your favorite bebop lines. This song calls for a more gentle, thoughtful, emotional touch. Think of playing fewer notes, with each note having more to say.
Duke Pearson had an interesting career. Most people aren't aware of him, but he was truly one of the founding fathers of modern jazz. He played with many of the legends, notably Cannonball Adderley, Art Farmer, Benny Golson, Donald Byrd. He led several bands, including a big band he headed with Donald Byrd. He influenced many younger jazz musicians in his role as A&R man for Blue Note in its heyday.
He is credited with numerous compositions, but none is more popular than Jeannine. It is a catchy tune that sounds moderately difficult, but not impossible. Two things make this song more difficult than it sounds: 1) The tempo -- Pearson typically took it very fast, perhaps 225, and 2) the key -- it is in Ab minor (concert), which is 7 flats !!! You have to do a lot of practice to be fluent in 7 flats at 225.
This arrangement is a little slower (190 BPM) but it is true to the original key. Some people play this in more familiar keys, such as C minor.
Here is a very cool song that Horace Silver wrote on the occasion of the birth of his son.
The song form is not very complicated. It is AABA form with the A sections being identical, and 16 bars each. The bridge (B section) is only 8 bars, yielding a chorus of 56 bars.
The harmonies may sound a bit angular at first. This is mainly because of the first chord in each of the A sections is a strange one: B13(#11). And the progression in the first 8 bars of the A sections doesn't really progress, per se. It is B13(#11) Cm11 B13(#11) Cm11. That makes for a really mysterious and tense sound at the beginning of each A section. Once you get to bar 9 of the A section, you find a series of ii-V pairs giving that stretch a comfortable feel. Think of it as 8 bars of tension, 8 bars of release, 8 bars of tension, 8 bars of release, then on to the bridge.
And the bridge is even more melodic and welcoming. So the challenge of this song really lies in the first 8 bars of each A section, and specifically that darned B13(#11) which begins the song. That is a very dense chord that doesn't really match the scales we normally practice. As a starting point, you might try a C# Major scale. That actually works pretty well with that chord. From there you can branch out as you get more comfortable with that sound.
"How High the Moon" is one of those standards that has been covered by so many artists, it is tempting to think it is an easy song. Indeed, the melody is very straightforward. And the song form is a very conventional 32-bar ABAB. And there aren't really any strange chord changes.
But don't be deceived. While the changes seem very natural, this is a slippery song. In particular, it is loaded with cases where a major7 chord is followed immediately by a minor7 chord on the same root note. That major-minor exchange sequence comes up somewhat regularly in the American Songbook. When you see that, you can be almost certain that the key center down one whole step.
Why is that? Let's take a look at the first 5 measures (in concert key):
Gmaj7 Gmaj7 Gm7 C7 Fmaj7
The first two measures are simply the main key center of the song: G major. In bar 3, we go from G major to G minor. That Gm7 begins a ii-V-I sequence in the key of F. So as soon as we hit that that minor7 chord, we are immediately in the key center one whole step down. And that major-minor exchange continues throughout the song -- each time lowering the key center a whole step. We see the exchange happen on bars 3, 7, 18, and 22. Each of those ii-V-I patterns is 4 bars, so exactly half the song is part of the major-minor exchange pattern. The key point is to hit the new key center on the ii chord (bars 3, 7, 18 and 22), not a couple of bars later.
There is another complication that makes this song tricky. The A sections are identical. The B sections are almost identical, with the big difference being the minor chord (Gm7) in bar 11 versus a major chord (G maj7) at the same point in the second B section at bar 27. What that being the only real difference from the first AB to the second AB, you must clearly hit the minor the first time and major the second time, as that really defines the whole song.
One final point of trivia with this song. It has essentially the same changes as Charley Parker's Ornithology, although the melodies are radically different. This arrangement superimposes the Ornithology line on the last chorus, just for fun.
Do you like the song "How High the Moon?" So did Charlie Parker. He wrote Ornithology using exactly the same changes as "How High the Moon." Parker's melody is completely different, and usually played at a blindingly fast bebop tempo.
The title of this song is tongue-in-cheek. Charlie Parker's nickname was "Bird" and ornithology is the study of birds.
The biggest challenge of this song is probably the tempo. This arrangement is set at 190, which is quick, but the song is often played at 220 or higher. The song form is a fairly convention 32-bar ABAB, although the B sections are not identical.
If you find it overwhelming to improvise these changes at this speed, don't despair, Just practice the head until you can play that at 190. Try practicing the improvisation on "How High the Moon". That will be easier because it is a more relaxed tempo. The commentary on "How High the Moon" includes tips useful for improvisation.