You probably know more songs than you think. many jazz compositions are melodies written over the harmonies to existing standards. If you can walk a bass line on “I Got Rhythm,” the standard by George Gershwin, you can also play over “Rhythm-a-Ning” [Thelonious Monk], “Oleo” [Sonny Rollins], “Moose the Mooche” [Charlie Parker], and “Lester Leaps In” [Lester Young]. All of these melodies are based on the original chords of “I Got Rhythm” (often called Rhythm changes). A composition based on the harmonic structure of a pre-existing song is called a contrafact.
Many ambitious young bassists try to muscle through the serpentine bebop melody of Charlie Parker’s “Donna Lee.” The tricky tune has been a rite of passage since Jaco Pastorius redefined the piece on his debut album [Jaco Pastorius, 1976, Epic/Legacy]. If a student of mine has problems navigating the “Donna Lee” changes, I’ll suggest learning “Back Home Again in Indiana,” a standard written in 1917. “Donna Lee” is a contrafact, based on the harmony to “Indiana.” The melody and harmonic landmarks of “Back Home Again in Indiana” are clear and simple.
Numerous examples of contrafacts populate jazz repertoire:
The 12-bar blues beats Rhythm changes for the most popular contrafact harmony. Countless songs use some variation of 12-bar blues changes: “Stormy Monday,” “Red House,” “Route 66,” “Blues in the Closet,” “Straight, No Chaser,” “Tenor Madness,” “Blue Monk,” “Now’s the Time”—and the list goes on.
Recently I played a gig with a tenor player who handed out a chart for “Table Steaks,” a contrafact by saxophonist Jerry Bergonzi based on the harmony of “Stablemates,” a jazz standard by Benny Golson (see Connect). On the original recording of “Table Steaks” [Tenorist, Jerry Bergonzi, 2007, Savant], bassist Dave Santoro plays the melody in unison with Bergonzi’s tenor sax. If you haven’t heard or played “Stablemates” before, check out early recordings of this jam-session warhorse. Classic versions are heard on Benny Golson and the Philadelphians [1958, United Artists, Percy Heath on bass], The New Miles Davis Quintet [1956, Prestige, Paul Chambers on bass], and Chambers’ Music [1956, Jazz West, Paul Chambers: leader and bass].
This month, let’s look at a contrafact I penned on the harmony of “Stablemates,” entitled “Just the Facts.” I took a bop-ish, saxophone-like approach to the bass melody. Make sure you can walk a bass line through the changes comfortably before tackling the melody. Play along at slow and fast tempos with the play-along tracks for “Just the Facts” (see Connect). Note the following:
Bars 1–3 The same melodic shape outlines the Em7, Ebm7, and Dbmaj7 chords in the first three bars.
Bar 4 The note Ab is the b13 of the C7b9(b13) chord. The notes in this bar come from the C altered scale: C, Db, Eb, E, Gb, Ab, Bb, C.
Bar 6 The notes D and E in beat one are the b9 and #9 of the Db7b9(#9) chord. The notes in this bar come from the Db altered scale: Db, D, E, F, G, A, B (Cb), Db.
Bar 8 This is a good lick to use over minor IIm–V progressions. Note the b9 of the C7(b9) that ends the phrase (the note Db).
Bars 9–10 This is the pattern from bar 8, transposed to fit the Fm7 to Bb7(b9) chords. The b9 of the chord (the note B) ends the phrase.
Bar 12 The notes A and B in beat one are the b9 and #9 of the Ab7b9(#9) chord.
Bars 13–14 The motive in bar 13 is developed and used again in bar 14.
Bar 15 The eight-bar bridge starts here.
Bars 15–16 The groups of two eighth-notes are played every three beats, changing to fit the chords.
Bars 21–22 This is a simple IIm–V lick, transposed to fit the chromatically moving IIm–V chord changes.
Bar 23 The last A section (14 bars) begins here.
Bars 23–29 A repeat of the A-section melody (bars 1–7).
Bar 30 The line moves down chromatically and lands on the note Ab, the b13 of the C7b9(b13) chord.
Bars 31–32 The IIm–V pattern lands on the note E, the #11 of the Bb7(#11) chord. The #11 on a dominant chord sounds like bebop!
Bars 33–34 The IIm–V pattern lands on the note D, the #11 of the Ab7(#11) chord. The patterns in bars 31–34 require some fingerboard leaps. Play the line slowly at first, making sure the left-hand shifts are precise.