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Miles Davis So What transcription and analysis

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Miles Davis' So What transcription and analysis by Bart Marantz Introduction Miles Davis' original tune So What was first recorded in 1959 on his album Kind of Blue (Columbia CS-8163) with the famed "'56 Quintet". For purposes of comparison, this 1959 debut studio recording and a subsequent 1961 live performance recording of the same tune will be transcribed and analyzed. Solo I (CS-8163) The conservative tempo of = 138 lends itself well to the cool icy-blue sound of Miles Davis' playing and to the smooth simplicity of statement he observes in this rendition of So What. (The music is available for viewing at the end of the article) Measures 1-10, including the pick-up beat, firmly establish the tone E, which appears one or more times in every measure except measure 6. Even later in measure 14, where he ventures into polytonality by ascending to the eleventh, he still ends the phrase in measure 15 on the tonic. Despite the danger of too much tonic repetition, Miles manages to camouflage and integrate it into a masterful melodic line. In the first five measures of the B section, beginning at measure 17, Miles uses this same technique of emphasizing the tonic to declare the key change to F dorian. ...read more.


As holds true throughout this solo, there is an absence of the many obvious key-change anticipations used in the CS-8163 solo. Instead, the final note before a key change tends to become a pivotal-chromatic tone in the new key, as evidenced by the appearance of the above noted A in the B section (measures 22-23). And, in a more ambiguous use of the anticipation, measure 24 uses a chromatic ascending line to approach the E which he employs as the 9th in the return to D dorian at measure 25. As in the first A section of chorus one, Miles' use of the 9th and 11th in measure 25 and his subsequent C major scale run in measure 29-30 establishes a major-over-minor polytonality. However, with the beginning of chorus two, set up by nine beats of silence, there is a return to D tonic. The second chorus, as was the case in the CS-8163 solo, is dintinguished at the beginning by its rhythmic change from running eighth note lines to long, sustained-tone phrases. Measures 41-46 are similar in nature to measures 13-16, which seem to utilize an E phrygian scale to chromatically set up the key change to Eb dorian at the B section. ...read more.


Distance between notes is an interval. An ascending minor third interval, such as C to Eb, has three upward half-steps. An ascending eleventh, such as C to F in the next octave, contains an octave plus a fourth. Chromaticism refers to the prominent use of half-step intervals (C-C#-D-D#-etc.). Our ears have become accustomed to hearing music in only one key (or tonality) at a time, such as C major. However, sometimes music can be in two different keys (or tonalities) at the same. This is called polytonality and occurs at different spots in So What. Another term for scales is modes. Scales are based on a pattern of different intervals. For example, the C major scale consists of the notes C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C and the step interval pattern of whole-whole-half-whole-whole-whole-half. The dorian mode, used in So What, is a scale built on the second note of a major scale. For example, the D dorian mode, based on the second note (D) of a C major scale, consists of the notes D-E-F-G-A-B-C-D in the step interval pattern of whole-half-whole-whole-whole-half-whole. The phyrgian mode, also used in So What, is built on the third note of a major scale. For example, the E phyrgian mode, based on the third note (E) of a C major scale, consists of the notes E-F-G-A-B-C-D-E in the step interval pattern of half-whole-whole-whole-half-whole-whole. ...read more.

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