Negro Spirituals, meet Duke Ellington and friends...

in originalmusic •  8 months ago  (edited)

So, some years ago I picked up "Money Jungle," featuring Duke Ellington, Max Roach, and Charlie Mingus. If you know anything about jazz, you already know: this album is FIRE. The CD is pretty well worn out, but as ever, there are some areas that don't even play any more...

Now if you have been reading me for a little while, you ALSO know I have been STUCK improvising between E flat and G flat, bridging the gap by using E flat in Phrygian Dominant mode, which partakes of both major and minor aspects, while listening to pigeons (those urban, gritty doves) singing in all those keys ... the stuck saga in order of creation...

... and if you have been reading along for weeks, you know that I am re-arranging the Negro Spiritual "Lord, I Want To Be a Christian In My Heart" and having little existential crises, the first being between whether it should be in G flat or D. I finally decided on G flat, and then heard it in E flat and started considering the church flow... so here we are back in the G flat/E flat matrix ...

So, I have accepted that I am in the matrix on this one and can only compose my way out ... and so I ran into Duke Ellington in here today and realized he and some of his friends are the creators of a good portion of this matrix for me...

On that album "Money Jungle," the third selection is "Fleurette Africaine," a gorgeous slow piece in E flat Phrygian. Yep. I listened to that piece over and over and over and over again back in the day. It is GORGEOUS... let's just start with Charles Mingus throwing down an authoritative but tenderly rocking bass line, and Max Roach coming in with soft bongos... automatically, you are in a different time and space, even before Duke Ellington himself comes in with his light and delicate touch on that melody. The piece is only about three minutes, but it is the most remarkable piece on the album, and I just couldn't get enough of it.

There is one other thing about it. Mr. Ellington in the second half of his composition has a passage that drops right from G flat to E flat minor ... in a very familiar way. Sure enough, if you pitch "Lord, I Want To Be a Christian" in G flat, you get that same kind of motion, from G flat to E flat minor and back. Duke Ellington was born in 1899; he knew exactly what the sound of the Spirituals was because he heard them from the grandparents who helped create them! But he also came to manhood in a time when our people were considering the history of Africa, and its beauty and great contributions to the world, for themselves... thus we get the unashamed difference in the great beauty of an African flower, "Fleurette Africaine."

It is that SPACE of beauty that I have been seeking to capture in my new setting of "Lord, I Want To Be a Christian In My Heart," which describes the prayer of a Christian of African descent seeking to spiritually transcend the bondage he or she had to endure -- from a mere slave to an adopted son of God, walking through the world with the freedom to be righteous and holy and loving in spite of all the bitter, brutal circumstances under the oppression of chattel slavery!

Now I am not Duke Ellington, Max Roach, or Charles Mingus. Nowhere NEAR. I don't have it like that. But, while in this G flat/E flat matrix they helped build for me, I'm just trying to aim for the impact of an introduction, to take the listener out of the mundane of this world into a whole different space...

Light, and darkness, beauty, and sorrow... that is where we begin, after all my wrestling on the piano and in the G flat/E flat space...

I am still having another little crisis of composition. There is this thing called tessitura. While a baritone could sing this in G flat, I can already hear the one I know best chiding me because it sits too high overall. So, I may have to try to escape the matrix ... although there is no real escape, as you'll see in my next post...

In the meantime...
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Yaayy... @deeanndmathews 😉 I never read something about the Duke and his friends so crazy happy like this before 😉 and I'm sure you have your own style too. Just need to listen to yours one more time 😉 nice to have you on #ccc

Glad you enjoyed it and thank you for reading... Duke Ellington was a REALLY interesting person, and his music is super interesting and influential. The same goes for Max Roach and Charles Mingus! I try to learn from the best, you know ... the Duke, #ccc, folks like that! Thanks for the warm welcome!

Almost forgot -- here is some music of mine to enjoy, with the associated articles: