Red Garland's solo on "Bye, Bye Blackbird"
Red Garland was one of my first jazz influences. Early high school was spent listening almost nonstop to the albums he recorded with Miles Davis. I’m not sure why I was so drawn to him. I remember that my teacher was the first to introduce me to him, and that my friends and I wore out those albums. I was so enamored with Garland that my AOL username was partly a “tribute” to him. As is the case with much of what I listened to in high school, over time I listened to him less and less - but whenever the mood struck me and I turned on some of those early Miles albums, I couldn’t help but smile and sing along to Garland’s solos.
A previously unreleased set of Garland’s was released a few months ago. I purchased it without pause, excited to hear him play in a live trio setting, towards the end of his career (and his life). It reminded me that I’ve been wanting to formally transcribe and upload his classic solo from “Bye Bye Blackbird,” off of Miles’s ‘Round About Midnight album. I transcribed it a long time ago, but over the years, as my jazz practice fell off and transformed into jazz appreciation, I forgot it - about the solo, and how to play it. Of course, whatever notes I made years ago were lost to the ages.
So I started from scratch. I hadn’t transcribed a jazz solo for a long time and this experience made me realize how much I missed this simple act. It’s an act of creativity, in a way, even if it’s not creative in the sense of making something anew. There’s something special about spending time with a piano, a pencil, some staff paper, and a recording, and blocking out the rest of the world as you listen to a masterful recording, taking what you already know inside and out and putting it on paper.
This solo is such straightforward Garland that it should be in every textbook. The melodic contour is pure medium tempo bebop: we see tritone substitutions, chordal outlines, passing tones and entrapment, ghost notes. The comping left hand plays on the and of beats 2 and 4, a rhythm that can be heard in many Garland solos and when he’s comping behind other players; the anticipation of the beats helps propel the solo forward.
We wouldn’t have a Garland solo if there weren’t a block chord section. Garland’s block chord style is unique but relatively simple. The left hand usually plays rootless voicing of the chord, oftentimes with alterations. The right hand outlines an octave with the middle voice sounding a fifth up from the bottom. This interval often creates tension, because it falls outside of the chordal harmony. As was typical of Miles recordings from this era, Garland only plays half of this chorus before Miles enters in with the out head.
Garland plays a block chord introduction, also included here. It’s a classic intro in the jazz world, and a great starting point for inexperienced musicians to begin creating head arrangements in a combo setting.
The complete transcription can be found on my transcriptions page. I’m not sure exactly what I’ll do with this transcription, but I'm glad I worked on it. I hope that people can find a good use for it!
Please do send feedback or corrections!