I’ve started yet another project. Despite all the advice from expert musicians, I’ve haven’t done much in the way of transcribing recordings. This week, I’m changing that, jumping in to Wagon, an original big band arrangement by Johnny Richards.
There are photos of Richards at the Library of Congress. My favorite is one of him at the piano, shirt undone. He gazes at a dipping bird toy perched on stacks of music piled on the piano desk.
Wagon, originally titled On the Wagon, was evidently written for the soundtrack to the Warner Brother’s movie Kiss Her Goodbye. The film was to star Elaine Stritch (Jack’s mother on 30 Rock). The picture is based on the novel of the same name. Mark Meyers elaborates and reviews the soundtrack Kiss Her Goodbye: New York 1958-1959, Johnny Richards Orchestra on the Jazz Wax blog.
The subject of my transcription is a later recording of Wagon which, first appeared as track B4 (mx 34544) on Capitol, M-11027, Capitol Jazz Classics Vol. 2: Stan Kenton LP (1972). The track was recorded September 20, 1960. The track also appears on Kenton’s Cuban Fire 1991 reissue. Personnel appearing are listed on that album’s Wikipedia page but, the listing below, taken from the ’72 vinyl album cover is more precise:
- Bass trombones
- Mellophoniums (Conn 16E)
- Dwight Carver
- Joe Burnett
- Bill Horan
- Tom Wirte
- Alto Saxophone
- Tenor Saxophone
- Baritone Saxophone
- Bass Saxophone
This is the 1960 edition of the Kenton Mellophonium Orchestra. Sounds from this 22 piece ensemble will make this a very challenging choice for this project. I may study the earlier recording, which is a simpler arrangement, for clues.
I recently exhumed from my basement, a reel-to-reel tape, recorded off the WCNY-FM airwaves in the 1970’s. The tape has a recording of a similar Kenton band from 1962. The show’s host (Who’s name I really wish I could remember…no, it’s wasn’t Leo Rayhill but, that is a good guess.) exclaimed at the end of one cut: “What a swinging aggregation” (I’ll have to digitize that utterance and post it here.)
A few listens, with the help of basic transport controls on my cellphone (||,<<,>>,>) led me to the basic layout: the piece is 4/4 swing, about 120 beats per minute. The structure is roughly: 4 bar intro, A, A, B, A, 4 bar interlude, A, A, B, A, 4 bar interlude, A, A and, a 2 bar ending where “A” and “B” are 8 bar sections.
I’m sketching out some rhythms on paper and making use of audacity to loop, and playback at 1/2 speed. I’ve got the general harmonic structure of the A and B sections figured out…at least the first appearances of them.
I’ll make a gratuitous connection to the linux world now and point out one more tool I’ll be using: GNU Solfege. My ear is really not that good so, I’m hoping some time in the shed with this ear training software will pay off as I try to pick out parts from the recording.
The ultimate goal is a MIDI file from which I can generate written parts. When I get to that point, I’ll need to contact Sierra Music Publishers.