Monday Notes

Chet Baker, Little Girl Blue. The instrument as a voice

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[Monday Notes No 33] In jazz, the voice often performs like a musical instrument, e.g. Billie Holiday has been known to imitate Louis Armstrong’s trumpet. Sometimes the reverse happens and it is the instruments that try to imitate the human voice. This is what happens in Little Girl Blue, performed by Chet Baker.

Chet Baker moved with ease from trumpet to singing, adapting his musical vision to each instrument. On this recording of Little Girl Blue he is accompanied on guitar by David Wheat and on double bass by Ross Savahus.

This formation, an acoustic trio without drums, particularly emphasises his melodic sense and his ability to give great importance to each note. Chet lays out the entire theme in its three parts [AAB] creating a magical atmosphere.

Next he plays what is normally the introduction of the piece (2’52”), this part has a tempo of 3/4. This is followed again by the first theme [A], or rather an improvisation based on the variation of the theme.

Jazz musicians do not just improvise using chords and scales, but often use the original theme as a basis for variations. In his performance of the varied theme from Little Girl Blue Chet Baker achieves a small masterpiece. Here is the transcription of his solo.

Chet Baker, assolo di tromba su Little Girl Blue

The phrases are simple and proportionate, mostly diatonic, rising and falling with classical perfection. There is no lack of surprises, as in measure 4 where the melody rests on the (#9). At measure 6 Chet Baker plays a simple descending scale, giving a different duration to the each note and thus creating a phrase of rare beauty.

The finale is also interesting, instead of immediately resolving on the tonic G chord, we hear a passing chord of E♭, which is the minor sixth degree of the scale. This kind of cadential movement ♭VI-I is often employed also by Duke Ellington and is similar to the cadence called backdoor cadence.

In this case the cadence is used as the song’s ending, Little Girl Blue concludes with these two chords, very elegantly. A refined conclusion to an extraordinarily beautiful piece, in which Chet Baker sings with the instrument just as he would do with his voice.

Until next Monday!

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