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Boring Into Art: Jazz Compositions and Contrafacts

November 18, 2012

By M. Figg
Re-posted from Aesthetic, Not Anesthetic

About M. Figg: Blogs about hot jazz, eighteenth century swing, big bands, Baroque opera, early bop, early music and more pop of yestercentury.  Also writes for All About Jazz, The Boston Musical Intelligencer andEarly Music America.

The jazz contrafact, i.e a new composition written on the chord changes of another tune, is usually associated with post-war jazz. Beboppers superimposed dense riffs and angular melodies over popular standards, often adding then “unusual” chord substitutions that would eventually become standard operating vocabulary for jazz as we know it.

In the same spirit, Adrian Rollini and his colleagues in British bandleader Fred Elizalde’s ensemble get to recomposing “Nobody’s Sweetheart” right from the start of their record, and several years before Tadd Dameron and Miles Davis put pen to stave:

The opening ensemble turns Billy Meyers and Elmer Schoebel’s melody (already all too familiar even by 1929) into a completely new theme constructed out of tight, cool gestures. The format of horns stating a “head” followed by round-robin solos would become formula for the boppers, but at a time when collective improvisation and cross-sectional writing were just as prominent, it has the air of one refreshing approach among many. The solos present a variety of instrumental personalities, starting with Chelsea Quealey abstracting the melody further and ending with Rollini’s bass saxophone muscular and lithe all at once.

The execution is slightly different, but the principle has always remained the same.  Contrafacts have been around at least since some band got sick of playing “Tiger Rag” the same way over and over again (but we’ll save that long list for another day).

 

3 Comments
  1. You’ve opened my eyes today on this appreciate it

  2. I am glad to pass along M. Figg’s insights. Thanks for your interest. All the Best. Kathy Edwards McFarland

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