Listening to Ray Brown play the blues is like having the plain truth explained in a profound way. Everyone can identify the blues, but few can transmit the feeling simply, with only a bare essence of pathos and musical logic. Brown could frame the 12-bar form with a perfect combination of technique and emotion, and nothing in the jazz canon quite compares to his way of walking the down-and-dirty blues.
Brown recorded Some of My Best Friends Are Trumpet Players [2000, Telarc] when he was 74. The album features six killer trumpeters, flying high and brassy. The standout track, however, is trumpeter Jon Faddis’ bare-bones feature on “Bags’ Groove.” Faddis plays great, but the mood, tone, and vibe are orchestrated by Brown from the first note to the last. We’ve all heard the 12-bar form thousands of times, but Brown owns the sound of the walking bass on a slow blues.
This month’s étude presents Brown’s bass line from the first three choruses of Faddis’ solo. Brown plays in two for the first two melody choruses. We pick up his line in the third chorus, at 1:15, when he’s going into four at the beginning of the trumpet solo. (For an extensive study of Brown playing in a two feel, check out last month’s Woodshed.) Note the following:
Bar 1 Brown slams into the first chorus of the trumpet solo with a surprise. He leaves a rest—a big gaping hole—on beat one, and plays a rake into the low G on beat two. He’s not playing an F root, but the note is implied by his silence.
Bar 2 On beat four, Brown lays into the low E, and plays a hammer-on to the F on beat one of bar 3.
Bar 4 Brown is a master of outlining guide tones—chord tones that describe the harmonic changes from one chord to the next. Here he plays the 7th of the Cm7 chord (the note Bb) moving to the 3rd of the F7 chord (the note A).
Bar 7 Brown often plays lines moving up in intervals of 4ths.
Bar 8 Here we might expect to hear the root D on beat three. Brown instead plays a low A before giving us the D on beat four. Sometimes he purposely anticipates or delays a note that belongs to a chord.
Bars 9–10 The triplet figure on beat four of bar 9 and beat one of bar 10 adds a bit of gymnastic swagger to the line.
Bars 10–11 Again, Ray hits the low E on beat four hard, and slurs into the F in bar 11’s beat one with a hammer-on.
Bar 11 Although most of the rhythmic figures fall into an eighth-note triplet feeling, the last note on beat one feels more like a 16th.
Bar 13 The second chorus begins with Brown walking from the high F into thumb position to grab the high Bb.
Bar 17 The low E on beat four is slurred into the F on bar 18’s beat one.
Bar 19 Brown chooses to play a leading tone (the note E) instead of a chord tone (Eb). The pull of the E into the F is so strong—the leading-tone effect—that Brown’s intention and the forward motion of the line trump any theoretical considerations.
Bar 23 This is classic Ray Brown. He plays the root to b7 (the notes A and high G) of the Am7 chord, then resolves the G to an F# (the 3rd of the D7 chord) on beat three.
Bar 24 Continuing the guide-tone momentum created in bar 23, Brown resolves the 7th of the Gm7 chord (the note F) to the 3rd of the C7 (the note E).
Bar 25 Brown begins the third chorus of the trumpet solo on C, the 5th of the chord, rather than the root F.
Bars 25–27 All three bars have eighth-note figures on beat one, which give a thematic consistency to the line.
Bar 28 Brown plays the 3rd of the Cm7 (the note Eb) on beat one, then moves up chromatically to the root F, followed by a triplet figure on beat four to lead into the Bb in bar 29.
Bars 29–30 Brown adds some playful humor to the major scale by sliding into every other note.
Bar 33 The listener is surprised by the F and F# on the first two beats of the Gm7. Brown delays the root G until beat three.
Bar 35 This turnaround is similar to bar 11, but this time with added eighth-notes.
Bar 36 After playing the C on beat one, Brown moves up in intervals of 4ths: D, G, and C, to lead back to the root F at the top of the next chorus.
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