Monday Notes

Booker Little, Man Of Words. Improvisation in Aeolian mode

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[Monday Notes no. 96] Booker Little in an interview declared: ‘the most important aspect of music is the emotional aspect’. You only need to listen to Man Of Words to realise that this was not a generic statement, but that Booker Little lived music in a truly intense and profound way.

Man of Words is a piece built entirely on two minor chords, Fm9 and B♭m9. The trombone plays an ostinato, a four-note descending phrase over a free tempo.

Booker Little - Man Of Words
Man of Words consists of just two chords and an ostinato, played by the trombone

In response to the trombone ostinato, Booker Little plays phrases of varying lengths, often ending on a long note. The trumpeter improvises from the beginning of the piece to its conclusion, a modal improvisation based on an F minor aeolian scale. Booker Little’s improvisation is a monologue, as no other soloists intervene.

Overall, the concept of the piece is very simple, based on a few accompanying notes and the free improvisation of the soloist. The piece is suspended, evocative and to some extent unfinished. There is in fact no real conclusion, the piece could have continued further, or vice versa, could have ended even earlier.

Man Of Words seems almost like an inner reflection of the unique soloist, the trumpet player, to which the other musicians provide a background. This type of composition, although still based on well-defined chords and scales, anticipates the more daring experiments of free jazz where the framework for improvisation is even more minimalist.

Booker Little recorded Man of Words in 1961 when he was only twenty-three years old; his musical maturity is astonishing. The album from which this track is taken, entitled Out Front, collects much of the legacy of this extraordinary musician, to whom life did not reserve many more opportunities: Booker Little in fact died the same year.

Until next Monday

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