I’ve shied away from playing “Rhythm-A-Ning” because I continually screw up the phrasing of the head. It sounds easy but somehow I always end up coming in at the wrong place once I get past the first two bars of the A-section. Why is that? Since the phrasing challenges also happen to be where all the magic happens, the rigorous trickster logic that makes this head so appealing, I felt it necessary to explore the rhythmic organization of the melody and shed that in isolation. Here’s an annotated chart of the rhythmic layout of the A section melody:
And here are slow and fast versions of the A-section rhythm pattern:
Rests in these recordings are indicated using bass drum kicks. There’s a reason for using such a fundament-centric, obtrusive timbre detailed below.
Notice in the chart that rests are included in the phrases, not time-delimited dead spots between them. There is no dead space. Rests are best understood as units of charged, shapely silence. That’s why I used kick drum hits to indicate rests in the demonstration recordings:I think it’s helpful to hear unsounded time intervals with rhythmic definition as precise as sounded sequences. For example,you could call phrase 6 a dotted whole note rest but I feel it as six quarter note rests functioning as an antiphonal complement to the prior two phrases. Similarly, phrases 4 and 5 could be understood to start with dotted quarter note rests but I feel the articulation of 2 separate rhythmic units here.
Phrase 1 is very simple and phrase 2 is no great rhythmic shakes either. It’s worth noting that the phrase 2 rhythm is a modified repetition of phrase 1 rhythm : phrase 1 starts on the downbeat of beat 1 of the measure and consists of a sequence of 3 quarter notes and a quarter note rest; phrase 2 also starts on the downbeat of beat 1 and consists of a sequence of quarter notes, two eighth notes, and a quarter note rest.
Both phrases begin on the downbeat of the measure; both begin with a quarter note; both end with a quarter note rest. Phrase 2 substitutes 2 eighth notes for two quarter notes for the second and third elements in the rhythm sequence. This substitution shrinks the duration of phrase 2 to 3 beats while phrase 1 has a 4 beat duration.
Also worth noting is that both phrases are root position major triad arpeggios a perfect fourth apart with consonant relationships to the harmonic progression. So nothing too whack in the tonal domain either.
Phrase 3 gets a little tricky: after setting up the ear to expect yet another phrase to start on the downbeat of 1, Monk starts phrase 3 on the last beat of measure 2 with a half-note crossing the bar line. Once that little surprise is negotiated the rest of phrase 3 is rhythmically simple. Complementing this rhythmic simplicity is the tone sequence which descends using the pattern: up a diatonic second, down a diatonic third.
Phrase 4 is where the fun begins. It starts with a quarter note rest followed by an eighth note rest on downbeat 3 of measure three. This is followed by six notes starting on an upbeat with the rhythm pattern — eighth note, eighth note, quarter note, eight note, quarter note,quarter note. Phrase 5 is an exact repeat of phrase 4. Phrase 6 is six quarter note rests.
From the album “Criss Cross”
Hackensack ya-da….. mention Lady Be Good
Solo Section Description and Adaptation
In his opening solo section, Monk provides an ingenious demonstration of how to retain the entrainment possibilities of a repeated riff without verbatim phrase repetition. He opens with a two-bar call and response pattern and repeats it another 3 times, introducing tonal variations that provide convincing voice leadings along with rhythmic alterations that intensify the initial groove intention. Having promised the ear a catchy riff, Monk manages to keep the commitment without ignoring the harmonic progression. The basic rhythmic shape is restated in all four repetitions: responses are rhythmically identical in shape and placement; call phrases augment the original shape and shift the original placement from the upbeat of one to the upbeat of 4 in repeats 2 and 3 and then the upbeat of 3 on repeat 4. Here’s my adaptation for harmonica and its notation
Exercises Based on Solo
D-C-A – D-C-Ab
D-C-G – D-C-F#
D-C-F — D-C-E
D-C-A-F# – C-Bb-G-E
The recording demonstrates how to use this tone sequence with various call-response rhythm patterns and progressively get less literal with it.
C F G – C F G Ab
C F G – C F G F#
C F G – C F G E
C F F# – C F G E
A Section: Repeat figures of 5,6,2 and 3,6
A Section: Double Stops
7-5, 1-6, 2-2 and 3-3, 1-6. Like the alternation between sixths and octaves
Sounds kind of floaty and pastel — a bit Gregorian perhaps — , a lovelorn barbershop quartet cooing to a waning crescent moon. I attribute this to the absence of thirds and sevenths in the melody of the A section. The harmony in the first 4 bars can be boiled down to a dominant 7 so the melody from that perspective uses the notes 1,2 and 5 (C,D, and G over C7). No 3 to come in and clarify whether this is day ( major ) or night ( minor ). The second 4 bars of the A section does repeat the 3rd of the underlying I major ( A in F ) but the melody resolves to the major sixth ( D ), which suggests a 5 to 1 ( A to D ) over the relative minor (D) instead of 3 to 6 over the I Major (F). Again, ambiguity — Sweet Sue’s got you so hot and bothered you don’t know whether it’s day or night.
I’m exploring ways to avoid generic cookie-cutter improvisations on blues and rhythm tunes. Step 1 is to NOT improvise on the chord changes. Step 2 is to paraphrase the melody until its distinguishing characteristics are thoroughly metabolized by the imaginal ear. Then present those characteristics with the sparsest melody imaginable. This sparse melody can serve as the framework for improvised elaborations when practicing the tune, which is now no longer a “blues” or a “rhythm” tune but regains its singular identify as “Au Privave”, “Straight No Chaser”,”Veird Blues”,etc. I call this melodic framework a “skeletune”. There could of course be several “Skeletunes” derived from any particular tune.
For “Au Privave”, I created a Skeletune by removing what I hear as the embellishing notes while preserving what I feel is the rhythmic thrust of the melody.
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Over the I Chord
The first two phrases share an identical rhythmic pattern and the same general melodic pattern. The rhythmic pattern spans 3 beats starting with 4 consecutive eighth notes followed by a quarter note rest. The melodic pattern starts on a chord tone, follows with a lower chromatic neighbor tone, goes back to the chord tone, and finishes with a descent to the perfect fifth. Phrase 1 use the tonic as the chord tone and phrase 2 uses the major 3rd.
The gauzy, impressionistic vibe of this tune sounds really awful with a change-running approach. I came up with this stripped down paraphrase of the melody today that helps focus improvisation. I’m calling it a skeletune ( skeletal tune ) haiku. It’s mostly half-notes and draws mostly from the original melody:
By the Numbers:
|2 4 | 3 1 | #5 2 | 4 |
|2 4 | 3 1 | #5 2 | 5 |
|6 5 |b2 6,5 |1 6,5| 7|
|5 1 5 7 | 5 b7 5 6 | 2 | 4 |
|2 4 | 3 1 | #5 2 | 4 |
|2 4 | 3 1 | 6 3 | 6 b7|
|7 4| 7 #4 |5 b7 |6 3 |
|4 5| 6 7| 1 | % |
|F Ab | G Eb |B F | Ab |
|F Ab | G Eb |B F | Bb |
|C Bb |E C,Bb |Eb C,Bb| D|
|Bb Eb Bb D |Bb Db Bb C | F | Ab |
|F Ab | G Eb |B F | Ab |
|F Ab | G Eb | C G | C Db|
|D Ab| D A |Bb Db |C G|
|Ab Bb|C D| Eb | % |
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