Guess what is the first thing I have my students do? Tune up? Stop chewing gum? No! Play the piano! There is no better way to understand harmony and broaden your musicality than to play the piano. Most of my favorite musicians play (or played) some, or a lot, of piano: Ray Brown, Jack DeJohnette, Michael Brecker and Jaco Pastorius, to name a few. There is nothing like playing a chord in your left hand and playing an accompanying scale (or scales) in your right to understand their relationship.
We fear what we do not understand. I used to not like diminished chords until I started studying them in depth. I found the major and minor triads nested within them and the different applications of diminished harmony. And guess what? I now think that diminished harmony is some of the most beautiful there is! The same is true of altered dominants. It was hard enough to play on a D7 chord but when I saw the numbers that came after it they just looked like an algebraic equation! It wasn’t until I started to study the melodic minor and its modes and other advanced harmony that I started to fully grasp the sublime beauty of these odd-sounding dissonant chords.
The beautiful bossa “The Dolphin” was written by the enigmatic Louis Eca. When I first heard it on Bill Evans’ “From Left to Right” album I was instantly captivated. Undaunted by the many altered dominant chords and oddly moving harmony in Bill’s solo, I just had to transcribe it. Some of the highlights are:
1. The thematic development in bars 1 through 8.
2. The use of the altered dominant scale in bars 28, 35, 46, 47, 63, 70-72
3. The thematic development in bars 56-60
4. The use of triplets in bars 65-67
What I find compelling about Bill Evans’ writing, and some of the songs he recorded, like this one, is the way that they don’t move in predictable, pattern based ways. A friend of mine said he liked to play Bach because ” there was a surprise around every corner.” The same could be said of “The Dolphin.”
Don’t be daunted with the challenges of applying this solo to the bass. A little bit will go a long way. A software-transcribing program will let you slow it down while you learn it on the piano or bass (or any other instrument). Enjoy!
Click on the links below to download this transcription and music.