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How High The Ornithology, or, The Contrafact

Well, I was slowed down a little by a crazy ear infection, but I’m back. Here’s my take on two tunes, which are actually kinda-sorta one tune:

My take on this pair of tunes is flawed: I had to slow the backing track to make it playable with both tunes, my attempt at Bird’s famous Ornithology solo is haphazard, and the sound quality is something I’m not happy with… but I still feel like I have achieved something, compared to how I was playing six months ago. Or, rather, how six months ago I’d just picked up the horn after many years away from it!

You’ll notice there’s only one backing track, and the harmony doesn’t change. Charlie Parker, like so many wonderful artists, was a consummate thief…

Actually, this is pretty common in jazz. There plenty of contrafacts–whole tunes that are simply built upon chord changes lifted from another already-existing tune (like “Ornithology” does with the chords from the older “How High the Moon”).

But in fact, the closer you look, the more you find that most of jazz’s harmonic vocabulary seems to be built out of a limited number of harmonic-progression fragments, stitched together in different sequences. (The set of harmonic-progression fragments is finite, but not small.)

Links for further reading and listening, for those interested:

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