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Discussing “Moanin'”

Discussing "Moanin'"
So let’s discuss some aspects of this tune.
First of all, there’s a “pick up” phrase – so six quavers, three beats – “pick up” that’s called the “pick up” phrase. OK. It’s a 32-bar structure, AABA. There is a middle eight here – etc. And notice – I hope the music’s clear – that when you start it off it’s at A. Then you get the first time bar and you repeat, so you play A again. Then you get to the second time bar and that’s got a pick up of – And then you play B, which is eight bars and then in the last bar of B you have the pick up back to the top – back to the sign. So you play A again.
And then there’s a coda sign, so you go to the coda and there’s nothing that happens in that first bar in the sense that it’s usually used for the pickup. So that’s where, generally speaking, the first soloist who solos on this would start. Right. So 32-bar sequence. This piece of music dates from – I don’t know the exact date – but the early 1960s when there was a little bit of a kind of a move backwards to earlier sounds in the music. The most important figure was probably the drummer, Art Blakey, and his group “Jazz Messengers”, probably the group that has lasted the longest in the history of jazz.
His pianist at the time was Bobby Timmons and Bobby wrote this for the group. The music some historians call “Soul Jazz” because it was much more soulful, much more basic. It was a return to, in many ways, the blues of earlier eras. It was very “bluesy”, and I’ll explain what I mean by that in a second. So it was really, in a sense, a reaction to the technicalities of hard bop, which was getting ever more complicated. So this was a move back to an earlier musical form. Right. So, it was “bluesy”. Now, what does “bluesy” mean?
Now you know in classical music you have something that’s in the major – something that’s in the minor – and it’s either one or the other. But the amazing thing about the blues and the blues chords
are that they are what I would call mixed tonality: they’re both major and minor simultaneously. It’s something to do, as I said before, with the music historically being both happy and sad simultaneously. And this shows itself in the chords that we use and the scales that we use. Later on, when we’re going to be talking about altered notes, I’m going to show you this chord in C called the sharp ninth. It’s a “bluesy” type chord. And what’s amazing about it is that at the bottom it’s got the major third, at the top it’s got the minor third. In fact, for those observant, you may realise that this is F sharp 7, 13th shape, revisited.
We’re going to see that that shape has at least three distinct uses. OK, so in this sense, the sharp ninth is both major and minor. Then you think of the scale that goes with it. We have the American blues scale – which is definitely minor in character. Then we have the seventh scale that goes with C7. That’s definitely major in character. And then we have the full blues scale – the Ionian scale which is major in character – and with that major seventh used carefully – it’s major in character, plus the three blues notes – flattened third, flattened fifth, flattened seventh. So this is a music which is both simultaneously major and minor, simultaneously happy and sad.
In fact, one of the kind of licks that Oscar Peterson might do is this sort of thing. So you can see there you’re exploiting both the minor and the major aspects of the blues. OK, so this is mixed tonality, which is why this piece – is it in F major or F minor? It’s a good question. I’m not sure I know what the answer is. The first – last chord is –
So it is major, and yet the first chord of our improvising is F minor 7. So this ambiguity persists. Right. There’s a very important device being used here that dates right back to the hollers that were heard on the plantations. That’s called “question and answer”. Here’s the question – here’s the answer –
It’s like an “Amen”.
So that’s a device that’s used a lot, especially in sort of big band music, where you have questions and answers.
We’re going to see one a bit later: “So What” has a similar character. Right. The next thing is how we actually play it, technically. You’ll see that I’ve given you my way of playing it. Again, you’ll hear different people play it in different ways. But I’ve tried to give you the hints that make it sort of more authentic, I think, when I play it – as opposed to if you just come across some ordinary sheet music. It’s to do with these grace notes. So when we get to the “Amen” – that’s held down – and then we have a – so the middle finger slips off the D flat onto the D natural. So that’s the first part of “Amen”.
That’s the “A” – And then the “men” – the thumb slips off the A flat onto the A natural – from the minor the major.
OK. The next thing is this third bar, where I’ve tried to write down what I actually play. Again, you probably will find it’s a simpler figure in the music, but this sounds to me as though it works better. So it goes second bar – and then we’ve got –
You actually have to change fingers onto your fifth finger for the second beat of the bar so that you’re in a position to play the “Amen”. You’ll find it difficult if you – obviously – if you’re going to use one and three and one and two, you need to either be on four or five in order to do that. That’s if you’re going to hold it down and, in some sense, you should. I mean, you could obviously play – but it won’t sound as good. Sometimes when you make an effort to play a phrase legato, that really needs to be played legato, then it pays off.
You can pedal a bit, but since it’s staccato that second chord of the “Amen”, you probably need to come up. I think I did when I played it, when – I actually took the pedal off at that point, but still held the F down at the top. So that’s quite tricky – holding this down. And then again –
Whatever the fingering is – you’ve got to – I would say end up on the 5 in order to play the “Amen”. Right. And that’s B (flat) triad to F triad. Then we get to the middle. I don’t really want to spend ages over – talking about the chords and how they’re played between the two hands. As we will see when we get to play in root position, we’re playing the chords that we know about, but because we’ve got roots in and underneath and the tune over the top, we have to share the chords between the two hands. But I can show you a little bit, because the very first chord of B is B flat minor.
And you can see we’ve got a tenth in the bottom there, and then over the top we’ve got the fifth, and then the tune. So it’s that chord – the tenth is shared between the two hands. Of course, you could play it like that – And then second so that again is A flat 7 – a tenth version.
We’ve got our 13th in there as well. So the 13th shape is there, but it’s shared between the two hands.
– we’ve got the 13th shared between the two hands – and then –
And there we’ve got the root – then we’ve got in the middle this chord I was telling you about a little earlier, C7 sharp 9. That’s 8, 9, and you sharpen it. OK, so that’s a pretty straightforward version of G minor 7, where we’re used to that chord, although there’s actually, in this case, there’s no ninth, but the chord again is shared between the two hands. And then there’s this sort of elongated “Amen”. And then – so that’s an unusual chord because it’s actually the 10th of B7 but we’ve got a flattened fifth there, because the ordinary fifth is F sharp, we’ve got a flattened fifth. And it’s as before B flat minor, A flat7, G7.
We going to discuss this chord later on. It’s essentially a sus chord – because that’s going to resolve down.
OK, so that’s the tune.
I think the only other thing I want to say is if you’re doing this as a solo – in fact, even if you’re not doing it as a solo – I play this a lot in a quintet or a sextet as a piano feature, so I get to play – and then the horns play the “Amen”. But if I’m playing the tune at the beginning and at the end, I want to make it a little bit different. So what I usually do is play the tune in octaves, either throughout the whole last chorus or throughout the last A section.
This time I don’t think it’s possible to keep the thumb in the left hand on the F when you’re playing – maybe it is, when you’re playing the “Amen”. It doesn’t really matter if the tune is held down at the top. OK. And then how do you end it? Well the way I usually end it is to play that final phrase — — “Amen”, four times. It’s conventional to end things three times, but I play it four times. The very last time I play it with what you might call a triple octave – and then play it with a big rallentando and then play two chords, B flat or B flat 7,
and then some form of F: F major 7, or F minor 7, or F7 sharp 9 … whatever. So you get this – so I’m coming up to the tune for the last time,
Or whatever – two chords with some figures over the top of it.
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