Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Bridge on Monk's "Well You Needn't"

Last week's celebration of Thelonious Monk's birthday led me, among other places, to Ethan Iverson's blog post concerning the bridge on the Monk composition "Well You Needn't." In it he discusses the prevalence of interpretations of the tune in which the first chord of the bridge is played as G7, which he attributes to the influence of Miles Davis's performances of the piece, although Monk himself played Db. Iverson goes on to discuss the particular voicing of that Db chord and other issues. 

Iverson's post raises the question of whether a voice-leading analysis can shed any additional light regarding these two divergent bridge strategies. Below are voice-leading reductions for the Monk and Davis versions of "Well You Needn't" per Iverson. 

Monk version

Davis version

In beginning his bridge with the flat submediant, Monk moves toward the subdominant key area, a common harmonic strategy for the bridges of song-form jazz pieces. Davis's bridge starts on V/V, which in moving to the sharp-key side is a less common though not entirely unusual approach. Additionally, the Davis version exhibits parallel fifths, posing a sharp contrast to Monk's (much hipper) parallel ninths. 

More importantly, the flat submediant of Monk's bridge continues the Phrygian mode-mixture initiated by the tonic-flat supertonic oscillation in the tune's A-section. The structural tones of the soprano voice (Db-F-Eb-Db) are also borrowed from the Phrygian mode. Davis's version lacks this particular connection between bridge and A-section. In Monk's bridge, the top voice has has intimations of a stepwise 8-7-6-(5) descent, whereas Davis's version does not as clearly relate to a possible linear progression or fundamental line. An additional unifying element found in Monk's version is the transfer of the bass Db in the first bar of the bridge to the soprano voice Db (C#) in the last bar of the bridge. 

Perhaps most significantly, Monk's bridge features a step up-two steps down motive in the bass, marked x' on the graph above. This motive (Db-Eb-Db-B) reflects a similar bass movement in the A-section, labelled x on the graph. As Iverson points out in his post, the F-Gb-F-Eb bass pattern is unique to Monk's performances and is missing from "G7 bridge" versions of the tune. Such a tight motivic connection between phrases surely represents the kind of musical architecture that makes Monk stand out as a composer. 

Some additional points: the melody note Eb in the second measure of the tune represents the sixth scale degree of the chord in that bar, Gb7. As we have seen, Monk's bridge also begins with the (flat) sixth scale step in the bass, and Eb is the first structural soprano pitch of the bridge. Finally, the voicing that Iverson hears Monk using for the Db chord beginning the bridge is a stark, three-voice collection containing the pitches Db, Eb, and F. This voicing is therefore a simultaneity of the structural soprano tones heard during the bridge. Such integration of horizontal and vertical is another sign of Monk's compositional profundity. 

Thus, while the Miles Davis performances of "Well You Needn't" are of course brilliant, Monk's own conception of the tune exhibits a degree of compositional integration at abstracted voice-leading levels that the former lack. 

No comments:

Post a Comment