Solo Transcription: Lou Donaldson’s “Minor Bash”

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.

Jitterbug Waltz

I have an affinity for the Great American Songbook. To clarify, the Great American Songbook is not a literal book (though there are compilations of tunes from the repertoire such as the infamous Real Books, which usually also include jazz and sometimes rock tunes) but rather a phrase commonly used to refer to the popular American music of the 1920s-1950s from Broadway shows and Hollywood movies. Sometimes the Songbook gets a bad rap, usually because there are tunes that have cheesy lyrics or pedestrian melodies. However, there was also a lot of masterful music produced in this era by the likes of George Gershwin, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, Harold Arlen, and others. While I enjoy the vast majority of the repertoire, there are some songs that resonate with me deeply. I recently wrote about my obsession with Vincent Youman’s “I Know That You Know” and had fun with the process of diving deep into a tune I felt passionate about. Here I will do the same thing, but with Fats Waller’s “Jitterbug Waltz.”


I was first introduced to this tune by my late mentor Bobby Jackson. I was captivated right away by the grand opening motive. I was also amazed by how bluesy the song was, yet it was not a blues in form. I discovered that this sound I was hearing was what is now my favorite chord, the IV7 chord, which is also a sound I heard over and over again in the music of Duke Ellington (one of countless examples being “Come Sunday”) but did not know what it was until years later.

“Jitterbug Waltz” was written in 1942 by pianist/composer/entertainer Thomas “Fats” Waller. He was inspired to write it by a piano exercise his young son was practicing at the time. While he had not recorded on it for decades, Waller chose the Hammond B3 organ for the first recording of this tune.

Thomas “Fats” Waller first recording “Jitterbug Waltz” on B3 organ.

Vocalist Dinah Washington recorded “Jitterbug Waltz” in 1957 with lyrics by Charles R. Grean and Maxine Manners. Jazzstandards.com (a website I have learned a lot from over the years) says the lyrics describe the waltz dance. While Washington’s performance was great and the arrangement compelling in its own quirky way, I was disappointed in the cheesy lyrics, which, as mentioned in the introduction, is a common generalization about the Great American Songbook.

Dinah Washington sings “Jitterbug Waltz”

Thankfully, the lyric debacle was rectified in 1978 by Broadway director Richard Maltby, Jr. for the musical Ain’t Misbehavin (later renamed Hot Chocolates) which detailed Waller’s life. The new lyrics describe a pair of dancers waltz through their tiredness late into the night.

The night is getting on, the band is getting show
The crowd is almost gone and here we are still dancin’
Nothing to do but waltz
Our feet can barely move, my legs are yellin'”Whoa”
But we’re in such a groove that love is still advancin’
Nothing to do but waltz
You can’t suggest that we could go on Jitterbuggin’
We’ve nothing left for moves more strenuous than huggin’
But we don’t need much room to gently cut a rug in we twoI’m tired and out of juice and yet from head to toe
My body’s feeling loose and warm and kind of supple
Nothing to do but waltz
The minutes slip away, my arms just won’t let go
I think I’d like to stay ’til we’re the only couple
Nothing to do but waltz
You never know how far this sort of thing will get you
We’re not as tired as we would like to think, I bet you
You’d stay up half the night with me if I would let you
So come let the waltz play again

Abbey Lincoln and Hank Jones recorded a stunning duo take in 1992 using the new lyrics.

Abbey Lincoln and Hank Jones on “Jitterbug Waltz” with the 1978 lyrics

Cécile McLorin Salvant recorded a dreamy, sensual take of “Jitterbug Waltz” with pianist Aaron Diehl on her 2013 Grammy nominated album WomanChild. This was the first version I heard with a vocalist, thanks to Bobby Jackson, and it has stayed in my listening rotation ever since.

Cécile McLorin Salvant and Aaron Diehl on “Jitterbug Waltz”

These 1978 lyrics have become the predominant ones for “Jitterbug Waltz.” I could not find the original lyrics online. Even when I searched specifically for Dinah Washington’s lyrics, I was only directed to the new lyrics, though I have not been able to find Washington ever recording a version with them.

While I have spent a great deal of time discussing the lyrics, “Jitterbug Waltz” is most commonly played as an instrumental tune because of its difficult leaping melody line at the beginning. Here are some instrumental versions I enjoy. There are many others, too many for me to list here. Is your favorite take of “Jitterbug Waltz” here?

from Rahsaan Roland Kirk’s 1973 Bright Moments
Eric Dolphy waltzing on the flute
another take featuring Dolphy on the legendary live Charles Mingus album at Cornell
an inventive arrangement by Michel Legrand
Zoot Sims swinging hard with a wonderful “warm” tone
Dizzy Gillespie’s take on “Jitterbug Waltz”
Art Tatum bringing his virtuosity and harmonic inventiveness to this tune
Vince Guaraldi, famous of the music of the cartoonThe Peanuts, tearing it up on “Jitterbug Waltz”
Chick Corea bringing some fresh ideas into this vintage tune
Herbie Hancock adding some exciting metric modulations (check out Michel Legrand’s arrangement for this as well)
Erroll Garner offers a lush, slow rendition of “Jitterbug Waltz”
Frank Foster dazzles with a Trane-inspired solo

Summer Reading List 2019

Reading about jazz was a passion of mine from a young age. Unfortunately, this facet of my fascination with the music took a backseat during my undergraduate studies, but it’s back in full swing (ha)! Here’s what I read this summer. What did you check out?

Morning Glory, Linda Dahl

Mary Lou Williams’ story is an inspiring one. It was moving to read about how she used the adversities she faced not as excuses for failure but fuel for success. I was particularly amazed by how she went from being solely reliant on her ears to becoming one of the most admired arrangers of her time. I can’t recommend this book enough. It was a powerful read.

Find it here.

Blues Legacies and Black Feminism, Angela Davis

Davis’s book focuses on Bessie Smith, Gertrude Ma Rainey, and Billie Holiday. I listened to Holiday extensively during my early development as a musician, only being able to understand so much about the very mature topics she often sang about. Davis helped me to understand the repertoire of these blues singers in a whole new light, contextualizing their work with the times they lived in. While the book is short page-wise, it is written for a more academic audience, making it a time-consuming and enlightening read.

Find it here.

Billie Holiday: The Musician and the Myth, John Szwed

As previously mentioned, Billie Holiday was a very important influence for me when I first became interested in jazz (and still is). What I really appreciated about this book was Szwed’s effort in bringing back Billie’s humanity and dignity. So often discussions and literature about her focus on her traumatic past, drug usage, and trouble with the law, leaving very little space to discuss her art and who she really was.

Find it here.

Lady Sings the Blues, Billie Holiday and William Dufty

I have been meaning to read this for so long and am so glad I finally did. This book is notoriously scrutinized for its questionable truthfulness. However, and perhaps Szwed’s book helped me to see this way, that did not bother me. I found it incredibly moving to read Billie’s story the way she felt it. For my purposes, it did not matter if some dates didn’t line up or if she remembered an event differently than others. Reading this book felt like she was speaking directly to me, and I know others have shared this same experience.

Find it here.

Beneath the Underdog, Charles Mingus

Another classic memoir… This book is discussed a lot, however, it seems like not a lot of people actually read it and just talk about the very inflammatory parts. If you are looking to find out detailed information about Mingus’s life, career, etc., this is not that book. However, I thought it masterfully showcased his creativity in a new medium – writing. I do hope that much of the contents of the book are fictional, but we may never know how much is true.

Find it here.

A Life in Pursuit of Music and Beauty, Gunther Schuller (in progress)

As an entering student at New England Conservatory, I thought it was crucial for me to learn more about Gunther Schuller. As NEC’s president, Schuller founded the Jazz Studies and Third Stream (now Contemporary Improvisation) departments. I wrote a paper about him this past spring and read segments of his autobiography in my research. Now, I am committed to reading the massive work in its entirety.

Find it here.

Notes and Tones: Musician-to-Musician Interviews, Arthur Taylor

This book features short interviews with a who’s who list of jazz musicians. These interviews are particularly candid because drummer Art Taylor was conducting them, making the artists feel more at ease talking to a peer. He asked the artists to recall their relationship with Bird and Bud Powell, their thoughts on the Civil Rights and Black Power movements, and how they felt about the use of technology in music. I found their answers to be nuanced and thought-provoking.

Find it here.

Madame Jazz, Leslie Gourse (in progress)

This book is near and dear to me because my copy once belonged to my beloved late teacher Bobby Jackson. I deeply wish we could talk about it together. This book profiles female artists in various stages of their careers in the early 1990s. Some of the women just starting out in the book are now seasoned professionals. Some of the more established women have now gone into obscurity. It is difficult to read about some of the barriers these women faced to achieve all they did. As I read this book, I am in awe of them and aspire to continue their legacies.

I have started a Women in Jazz Directory on my website, which includes a list of musicians, industry members, and ensembles. This book has been incredibly helpful in expanding my list.

Find it here.