Thursday, August 2, 2012

Rudy Williams and Jackie McLean

Jackie McLean advocated a thorough appreciation of the long history of jazz and the many players that comprise that history. He once urged me to familiarize myself with Rudy Williams, for instance. Williams (1909–1954) was a featured soloist on alto saxophone with Al Cooper’s Savoy Sultans in the late 30s and early 40s and one of the precursors of bop who nonetheless managed to incorporate several of bop's developments into his own style. According to McLean, Williams was one of the most respected alto players on the New York scene before Charlie Parker arrived. Some of what impressed McLean about Williams can perhaps be heard in this recording from the Royal Roost in 1948 of Tadd Dameron’s “Our Delight,” also featuring Dameron, Fats Navarro, Allen Eager, Curley Russell, and Kenny Clarke:

Notice Williams’s non-normative use of melodic descending fourths in measure 23, the penultimate bar of the B-section of this 32-bar form (at 2’28”). Over a G-sharp minor 7th–C-sharp dominant 7th harmony (alto saxophone key) we hear a prolongation through descending register transfer of F-sharp, the chromatic lower neighbor to the G achieved in measure 24. The particular division of that octave descent into intervals of a fourth is unusual and noteworthy.

The G-sharp is interesting because it completes an uncommon successive-fourths descent. It is logical because it is both the upper neighbor to the prolonged F-sharp, as well as the chromatic upper neighbor to the target G. 

Jackie McLean was later to become known for his own frequent and innovative use of melodic fourth relations (his “systems.”) Interestingly, McLean uses a gesture very similar to the one by Williams in his composition, “Mr. E” (notably also in measure 23!):

Over chromatically descending ii-V chords (D minor 7th–G dominant 7th/C-sharp minor 7th–F-sharp dominant 7th [alto key]), McLean overlays the same pattern of descending fourths, starting however on the 11th rather than the 7th degree of the minor chord. A rhythmically altered version of that melody is repeated and transposed down a semitone in measure 24, following the chromatic descent in the harmony and resolving to the third of the chord on beat 3:

Whereas the Williams example consists of a prolonged chromatic lower neighbor tone resolving up, McLean’s polyphonic voice-leading resolves through contrary motion. This can be shown by representing the melody of measures 23 and 24 vertically:

All of this is not to suggest that McLean was directly borrowing Williams’s technique. Rather, I mean to show one way in which Williams was ahead of his time and to underscore McLean’s emphasis on the importance of looking for historical precedents. 

No comments:

Post a Comment