I know what I said but I’ll have just one
That tastes good
Okay then let’s go let’s get this over with
only afterwards don’t anyone stand close
to an open window
– Raymond Carver, ‘You don’t know what love is (an evening with Charles Bukowski)’
Tony Gould, one of my older mates, would tell you (with peppering laughter) of the days deep in the past when he’d ask me to play an introduction to some standard tune or other, and imagining that I’d do eight bars or so of tidily organised iii – vi – ii – V-style housekeeping, find instead that I was determined to get rhapsodic on his ass and crap on for weeks, casting myself as some sort of junior Jarrett and awarding myself the lion’s share of stage time, spotlight, critical encomium, and so forth.
He’d be right, too: that’s exactly what I did. Nor did I let the tune itself hold any kind of sway over my ‘invention’ – if I was going to crap on, it was to be all my crap – and heaven knows, I had lots. Start as far as you can from the tune, looking initially for a horizon (rather than any point thereupon), and go by the most circuitous route imaginable towards tonality, located somewhere at the outer limits of ‘metre’ and ‘feel’.
Good grief, it was dreadful. The memory appalls. Then again, I suppose it might be argued (specifically: by defensive me) that I was committed to some kind of exploration, and Gould never actually did any more than express mild amusement at my determination. And I have to say, this worked: like just about everything he ever said to me, it made me consider more closely what the fuck I thought I was doing.
Piano players play introductions. These may, it is true, be nothing more than a iii – vi – ii – V pattern, to set the feel and the key, and in later years I did, it’s true, produce one or two of those as circumstances required. But for someone who had almost worn out his copy of Still live playing ‘My funny valentine’ 25 times a day for six months,* there was a longer and wordier story to tell. The intro was the site of pianistic wonders that exceeded and extended anything that could be generated within the confines of a song form. Right? I mean I managed to miss entirely just how close Jarrett was to the song forms as he developed his introductions, although that did dawn on me as years went by.
Going through these tapes of Al and Nick and myself, I’ve come across tunes I’d forgotten I’d written, and things we played that I hadn’t recalled playing, and little gig-events that I remember when reminded but that had lain unattended throughout the intervening years. Funny things, things which when I hear them delight me just as they did when they happened, but things my mind had completely mislaid. And intros. Intros tended to lead to ballads, and that’s what happens with the two below. One is from another version of ‘A slow tune for Kyoko’ (29 March 1999), and the other from ‘Talking too much’ (15 February 1999). Because ‘Kyoko’ has already featured here, and you’ve heard it (repeatedly) before transcribing a chart for the head and shedding on it for 5-6 hours per day, it fades out as the head begins. ‘Talking’ is new, and the whole head is included, so you can hear where the intro came from. (It fades once the head is complete.)
What I like about these intros is the way they do, actually, introduce the tune we’re about to play. But each does it differently, and I also like the difference. What ‘Kyoko’ has is an idea of its own, something that is actually developed – or at least focused upon – throughout the course of the introduction. You could say – and my defensive self doubtless would – that the sliding-from-beneath-to-1 gesture is a by-product of the major-tonic-over-flat-seventh that inhabits the last four bars of the tune. I like the way that the first thing that happens is emblematic of the intro’s motif: we have a sustained note above, what, an accented appoggiatura? No, not accented. Something else. Although it’s still complicated – it’s not a clear resolution.
As well as this, there are clear references to the way the harmony moves within the written form. I’m not playing the tune as such, but there are quotes, or references, or whatever you want to call them, in what’s played before it gets going.
What ‘Talking’ has is something from the tune itself, stated at the outset and cleaved to for as long as the intro lasts. It’s even in the same key or whatever you want to say: the first three notes of the intro are the first three notes of the composition.
I did a whole lot of free improvising on Life’s undertow, and what still troubles me about this kind of playing is the fact that I can’t access these formal ideas when I’m sitting with a pencil and a sheet of manuscript. To my ear, biased though it probably is, there are formal markers in the introduction to ‘Talking too much’ that make the arrival of the written form a consequent, even a rewarding, thing. The pursuit of the ‘just underneath’ idea as the intro to ‘Kyoko’ proceeds is sufficiently interesting to make the arrival of the tune a logical and a progressive moment. I am fucked if I know how to do this when I’m withdrawn from pressing time.
Still in pursuit.
* Remember: we’re talking LPs here. They wore out.