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American Music History Transcription

Solo Transcription: Lou Donaldson’s “Minor Bash”

A close look at a Lou Donaldson solo transcription and how it relates to moments in jazz history

I always enjoy learning a Lou Donaldson solo. He plays with great clarity, intention, and inventiveness. All his lines feel great under the fingers. And his sound is incredible — full but not overwhelmingly bright with the perfect subtle, warm vibrato at the ends of his phrases.

His solo on “Minor Bash” from a 1970 Blue Note record is a short and savory masterpiece. Donaldson’s ideas unfold with perfect pacing, drawing in the listener. But what captured my attention and fascination with this solo is how he subtly drew upon several facets of the Jazz tradition. Perhaps these references were intentional, a subconscious part of his musical persona, or this could be me reading into the performance too deeply and interpreting it through my own biases and aural understandings.

Download a copy of the transcription and get ready to dive in deep.

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In measures 38-40, Donaldson quotes the melody from “Habanera,” one of the famous themes from Georges Bizet’s opera Carmen.

Maria Callas performs “Habanera” from Carmen in Germany, 1962

While this may seem like a minor and possibly humorous detail, this tradition goes back to one of the paramount figures in American music and culture, Louis Armstrong. In his book Louis Armstrong and Paul Whiteman (from my summer reading list), Joshua Berrett discusses Armstrong’s affinity for opera that came about early in his life. Musician Jon Batiste shared in an interview how opera influenced the way Armstrong approached playing trumpet playing, with a singing quality.

Jon Batiste discusses opera’s influence on Louis Armstrong

Ricky Riccardi, director of research collections at the Louis Armstrong House Museum, points to one of Armstrong’s most celebrated recordings, “West End Blues,” to showcase opera’s profound impact on the artist. Riccardi writes, “The opening unaccompanied cadenza, fueled by the trumpeter’s love of opera, might well be the most famous 12 seconds in jazz.”

Louis Armstrong and his Hot Five perform “West End Blues,” (1928)

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Back to Lou Donaldson…

Another moment of his solo on “Minor Bash” that caught my attention was his rhythm in measures 70-71. The accented (emphasized) beats line up with the classic “Charleston” rhythm made famous by James P. Johnson’s 1923 composition by the same name. This iconic rhythm harks back to an earlier time in this music’s development, giving a nod to the fore-parents of this tradition.

James P. Johnson performs “Charleston,” 1923

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This is perhaps the most outlandish sonic connection I made, but it is unshakeable once I heard it. At the very end of the solo, Donaldson plays a short quarter note followed by a longer accented note on the second beat. I immediately connected this with one of the themes from Charles Mingus‘ “Fables of Faubus.” This was perhaps aided by the fact that one of the areas where this rhythm occurs is on the same pitch as it appears in “Minor Bash,” though the pitch is the tonic in “Minor Bash” and the fifth scale degree in “Fables of Faubus.” The placement of this rhythmic stress goes against the grain and does not appear particularly often, which made it

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What do you think of this solo and the musical connections that resonated with me? Let me know in the comments.

And in case you didn’t get your copy yet…

or browse my full collection of transcriptions.

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