Monday Notes

Bud Powell, Tempus Fugit

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[Note di lunedì n.20] Bud Powell realised on the piano the innovations that Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie had experimented with on wind instruments. Powell was an exceptional pianist but also an accomplished composer. Let us listen to and analyse his piece Tempus Fugit.

The title Tempus Fugit is based on a famous aphorism by the Roman poet Virgil, but also alludes to the remarkable speed of the song, the frenetic melody thus symbolising the inexorable passing of time.

The piece has an AABA form and is enriched by further elements: the introduction preceding the main theme, the interlude preceding the improvisations (0’34”). The piece, despite its brevity, is therefore varied and well-structured.

During the improvisation we notice an interesting effect of rhythmic decomposition. At minute 1’05” we hear a three-quarter phrase repeated six times, placed obliquely on the 4/4 time of the piece.

Bud Powell Tempus Fugit, example 1
Bud Powell Tempus Fugit, example 1

The same procedure is repeated shortly afterwards with a second phrase (1’11”, example 2).

Bud Powell Tempus Fugit, example 2
Bud Powell Tempus Fugit, example 2

The same phrase returns later, however, beginning on the fourth movement of the measure (1’30”, example 3).

Bud Powell Tempus Fugit, example 3
Tempus Fugit, example 3

In these three examples, the 4/4 time of the piece and the repeated 3/4 phrases create a polyrhythm and a sense of suspension and anxiety, even anguish. Isn’t this what we feel when we think about life and time passing, inexorable and out of our control?

Tempus Fugit is a very refined composition, full of meaning, in which theme, structure and improvisation combine to achieve a precise conceptual and artistic goal. It is also a demonstration that the apparently rough music called bebop is not only a proof of skill for improvisers but has produced authentic masterpieces.

Until Next Monday!

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