Monday Notes

Lee Morgan, The Sidewinder. How to build a jazz solo

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[Monday Notes No 41] Many Blue Note records of the 1960s opened with a catchy tune: funky, soul or Latin sounding. The intention of the label was to contrast the spread of Rock, showing that Jazz could also be fun and easy listening music. Lee Morgan’s The Sidewinder follows this trend.

The Sidewinder is the opening track of the album with the same name and has a very particular rhythm, halfway between funky and Latin. The song is a kind of “double” blues, as it uses the classic blues progression but spread over 24 measures instead of the usual 12. The theme is minimalist, a simple riff counterpointed by the piano.

Lee Morgan The Sidewinder, tema
Lee Morgan The Sidewinder, theme

After the exposition of the theme we can appreciate a series of solos of extraordinary beauty. The first is by Lee Morgan (1’50”), the trumpeter starts from the note E♭ which he repeats over and over before expanding the phrases little by little, moving away from the starting note.

The Sidewinder, assolo di Lee Morgan
The Sidewinder, solo by Lee Morgan

Lee Morgan gradually increases the intensity and width of the phrases until the third chorus (3’03”) where the improvisation reaches its climax with fast repeated notes and denser phrases.

The second improvisation, vigorous and full of blues phrases, is by saxophonist Joe Henderson. The solo by pianist Barry Harris follows, who seems to continue on the path suggested by Lee Morgan. In his first chorus Barry Harris plays almost exclusively a single note (E♭), playing with the rhythm of the phrases.

The sidewinder, assolo di Barry Harris
The sidewinder, solo by Barry Harris

The sidewinder is a small masterpiece of simplicity and an authentic lesson in improvisation: sometimes a single note can be enough to play a solo, if used with imagination and skill!

Until next Monday!

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