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Herbie Hancock's "Dont play the butter notes" story


cedar

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Herbie's apparently been telling this story for years, but I just heard of it, got a chuckle and thought I'd share.

 

This link (http://edwardboches.com/lessons-in-creativity-collaboration-and-the-power-of-silence-from-herbie-hancock) mentions the background:

 

Hancock, in a creative rut during a gig at Lennies on the Turnpike (I loved that place along with Pauls Mall and the Jazz Workshop in Boston). Hancock couldnt seem to break out of the ordinary, playing the same thing over and over again. Miles leaned over and told him, Dont play the butter notes."

And this link explains what happened next:

 

http://soundcheck.wnyc.org/story/interview-herbie-hancock/

 

I wasnt really sure what Miles said. But I thought it sounded like, Dont play the butter notes. Well if Miles is saying that, it must mean something. So I started to think, butter is fat. Does fat mean excess or obvious? I was trying to find something I could relate to music. I started to think, what are the obvious notes? As a technical term, the third and the seventh of a chord. Those are the keys to the character of the chord. I left them out purposefully. Not just the chords, but in my solo I wondered what it would sound like to avoid the third and the seventh in my improvisation. I struggled with it and it all sounded kind of broken to me. It actually changed my style of playing forever. Because to this day it gives me so much more freedom of expression and even the idea of not just that specific thing he told me, but that way of thinking. There are so many ways to get variety and expression and thats what Miles was talking about.

He actually said, Dont play the bottom notes. I found that out, I actually gave some lectures at Harvard. Someone there in a Q&A period mentioned that they had read in Miles book that he had said, Dont play the bottom notes. It would have meant the same thing. The main thing is Miles opened a doorway but I had to figure it out for myself. And thats what a great teacher does.

 

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Miles and Herbie, man. :D Each of them on their own kinda owns the whole thing, and together, well there was this, for one!

"I'm so crazy, I don't know this is impossible! Hoo hoo!" - Daffy Duck

 

"The good news is that once you start piano you never have to worry about getting laid again. More time to practice!" - MOI

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I've been enjoying reading Herbie's Autobiograohy, a birthday present from my wife. This story was a great example of Miles's influence on his bandmates.

 

 

Bill

Nord Stage 3 Compact, Korg Kronos 61, Casio PX-5S, Yamaha DXR 10 (2)), Neo Vent, Yamaha MG82cx mixer and too many stands to name.
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I've been enjoying reading Herbie's Autobiograohy, a birthday present from my wife. This story was a great example of Miles's influence on his bandmates.

 

Bill

 

Awesome book! Just finished reading it last week.

What a guy...

Highly recommended...I mean just get it OK! :)

All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.

Arthur Schopenhauer

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Last time I looked... music is about tuning into THE MUSIC. It is a mystical event- so it's not about what I Miss Richard Tee chooses, so much as my ability to tune in to The Music. Didn't Quincy Jones ( "We Are The World" record date ) have a sign up for all the rockstars "Leave your ego on the....." whatever it was?

Music is a gift to the performer, it informs the performer. It is not about my choices, though superficially it appears this way!

But ignore my words, cause there just mine.. lol

You don't have ideas, ideas have you

We see the world, not as it is, but as we are. "One mans food is another mans poison". I defend your right to speak hate. Tolerance to a point, not agreement

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Consider Miles Davis' "So What" Solo Reduced to DORIAN Target Notes

The chords changes are:

D-7 for 16 bars, Eb-7 for 8 bars

Here is a tally Daviss target notes (pitches to which he directs his melodic lines).

 

Miles plays 83 melodic phrases and targets these:

 

Roots: 21 times (D or Eb)

11ths: 15 times (G or Ab) (11= root of V in parent Ionians)

9ths: 13 times (E or F)

7ths: 12 times (C or D)

5ths: 12 times (A or Bb)

3rds: 8 times (F or Gb)

13ths: 2 times (B or C)

 

 

"Confirmation" Here are Charlie Parker's end of phrase targets:

 

Roots: 8 times

9ths:

3rds: 5 times (7ths ~ 2 times )

11ths:

5ths 8 times

6ths 1 times

b6ths: 2 times

 

 

 

Harry Likas was the Technical Editor of Mark Levine's "The Jazz Theory Book" and also helped develop "The Jazz Piano Book." Harry spends his time teaching jazz piano online and playing solo piano gigs.

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Consider Miles Davis' "So What" Solo Reduced to DORIAN Target Notes

The chords changes are:

D-7 for 16 bars, Eb-7 for 8 bars

Here is a tally Daviss target notes (pitches to which he directs his melodic lines).

 

Miles plays 83 melodic phrases and targets these:

 

Roots: 21 times (D or Eb)

11ths: 15 times (G or Ab) (11= root of V in parent Ionians)

9ths: 13 times (E or F)

7ths: 12 times (C or D)

5ths: 12 times (A or Bb)

3rds: 8 times (F or Gb)

13ths: 2 times (B or C)

 

 

"Confirmation" Here are Charlie Parker's end of phrase targets:

 

Roots: 8 times

9ths:

3rds: 5 times (7ths ~ 2 times )

11ths:

5ths 8 times

6ths 1 times

b6ths: 2 times

 

 

I wish this analysis included the starting notes in relation to the target notes, but still a very useful analysis.

AvantGrand N2 | ES520 | Gallien-Krueger MK & MP | https://soundcloud.com/pete36251

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Advice for a master would not fit 99.9% of us, including myself.

 

"Don't play the 3rd or the 7th" doesn't sound that impossible to me. Not saying it would be easy, but seems doable with some work.

 

Me neither, but making it sound good sure does. I'd bet that most of us mere mortals would sound like we're playing the wrong chord. How do you make a line sound good yet anchored without playing those anchors?

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I'm confused. See, you can make a good line while *not* playing the chord tones (the 3 and 7), but without context, what's that going to sound like? It's going to sound atonal, pretty much by definition.

 

I guess I heard the story originally from...Miles's autobiography? somewhere. I take from it don't make it a point to always resolve to someplace predictable.

 

Not to start a flame war, but raise hands if you've heard a student jazz band play and every single time the tenor sax/whatever/pianist ends/starts his or her line, it's like...."ahhhhhh"

 

Like a neat little melodic package, tied up in a bow. I still think Miles and Herbie are on the same page. Butter notes are old-style swing, doing what you feel is jazz.

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I just read the pages in Herbie's book Possibilities where he talks about the Miles butter/bottom notes story. We've heard some of it in this thread, but there's (a bit) more.

 

He says it started when they were playing a lot, working through things, developing their style at the beginning of that great Miles quintet, in 1963/64. One of the things he started doing was playing more open harmonies (chords with more space between the notes). Miles liked that, and one day suggested "don't play the bottom notes".

 

Jazz piano chords, in their most basic voicing, tend to have the more basic chord tones, including 3rds & 7ths, at the bottom, and extensions, 9ths, #11's, 13ths, and what not, on the top. Roots are usually left out and fifths are often left out, so by default, 3rds & 7ths are often the bottom notes of a comping chord.

 

So by asking Herbie to not play the bottom notes, he may have been asking him to create more space by using chords with less notes, by dropping off some of the bottom notes. I say "may have" because I don't know for sure if that's what Miles said. If he did say it, I don't know what was in his mind. (Which makes me wonder why Herbie didn't just ask him, at some point, what he said/meant.)

 

Miles had that raspy voice that sounded liked he'd smoked about a billion cigarettes. Herbie says he thought Miles said "butter notes", and deduced that Miles meant 3rd & 7th, so he tried leaving those out (of both chords and solo lines), as a way of creating more space, and of stretching himself, of doing something different. Eventually, he says, once he got used to playing without them, he would play with them back in again, but it would be different, because now it was under his control whether to use them or not. He says, "I wasn't playing them because I had to, like before, but because I wanted to, and that changed everything for me"

 

 

 

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"Don't play the 3rd or the 7th" doesn't sound that impossible to me. Not saying it would be easy, but seems doable with some work.

 

I plan to try this, and suspect that it's harder than one might suspect.

 

Ever have the experience of playing a keyboard with a broken key? I recall a number of times when I had to play acoustic pianos in need of repairs. Sometimes there was one broken key very high up the keyboard. I was often surprised how a key that seemed relatively unimportant suddenly became crucial once I was aware that it had to be avoided.

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