Perry Thoorsell's writings on music

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The Relationship between Contrafacts, Quodlibets,

and Quotes in Jazz Composition and Improvisation

Perry Thoorsell

Written in 2018, edited and posted October 2020

The contrafact is an important part of jazz music, especially jazz post 1940. There are musical, historical, and legal reasons for why this is so. This paper looks at the relationship between contrafactual composition (the composing of an alternative melody to an existing set of chords) and the usage of quodlibets, or quotes, in improvisation.

The ideas behind contrafact are not original to jazz. Varieties of this musical technique were known in Europe since the 1200’s. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, “Quodlibet, (Latin: “what you will”) musical composition in which several well-known melodies are combined, either simultaneously or, less frequently, sequentially, for humorous effect. Quodlibet can also refer to an amalgamation of different song texts in a vocal composition. While simultaneous combinations of two or more melodies go back to the 13th century (motets using, for example, a chant melody and a secular tune), quodlibets were especially popular in the 15th and 16th centuries. In Germany numerous instances are found in manuscript collections of polyphonic (multipart) songs. An English example is the Cries of London by Orlando Gibbons. Perhaps the best-known quodlibet is the finale of J.S. Bach’s Goldberg Variations for harpsichord (published 1741). Terms related to quodlibet technique include fricassée (French: “hash”), ensalada (Spanish: “salad”), centone (Italian: “patchwork”), and, in later centuries, medley and potpourri.” The quodlibet is an ancestor to the modern “mashup” in which multiple songs are juxtaposed. The mashed-up tunes may be related or unrelated depending on the arranger’s intentions.

The humorous nature of quodlibet is significant for contemporary society in light of intellectual property (IP) law. IP law in mediaeval Europe was certainly not codified to the extent that current law is. This does not argue that outright plagiarism was any more acceptable then than it is now. The quodlibet seemed to avoid the stigma of plagiarism with its whimsical character. It may have evoked some outrage with certain ribald lyrical aspects but, the compositional similarity was received with fondness. Popular and folk melodies were spread throughout Europe by medieval troubadours and minstrels. Not only were there language and dialect differences to encourage the ad hoc crafting of new lyrics but, these songs often went on for hours. Human memory being fallible, it was inevitable that some extemporaneous composing and editing took place. The quodlibet generally existed in a separate space from “serious” composition however, the long list of serious composers who were aware of quodlibet and used it on occasion includes J.S. Bach, W.A. Mozart, Louis M. Gottschalk, and Charles Ives.

For a more complete understanding of this subject we should also consider these related ideas: parody, and the drawing of inspiration from popular, folkloric, or secular music, both important concepts for laying the groundwork for better understanding of quodlibet. The American popular songwriter, Irving Berlin, was a complaining party in a lawsuit brought against the publishers of Mad magazine over a series of parody lyrics which were to be sung to preexisting melodies including eight of Berlin’s tunes: “You’re Just in Love,” “Easter Parade,” “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” “Blue Skies,” “Always,” “A Pretty Girl is Like a Melody,” “The Girl That I Marry,” and “Cheek to Cheek.” The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled in favor of the defendant in 1964, enshrining parody as “fair use’ and not a copyright infringement. This suit and the verdict are ironic since Berlin’s 1911 hit song “Alexander's Ragtime Band” was involved in some controversy over perceived plagiarism from Scott Joplin and Steven Foster.

Serious composers have often made liberal use of popular, folkloric, or secular musical material. It may well be that folkloric material is particularly absent of many of the copyright protections covering popular music but, these serious composers have generally not hidden the true source materials and have given as much credit as possible to the sources of their inspiration. Grieg, Liszt, Bartòk, Chopin, Brahms, Smetana, Dvořák, Rimsky-Korsakov, and Copland all number among composers extensively utilizing folkloric materials.

The late 19th and early 20th centuries, and the birth of jazz music, saw an entire genre arise out of the mixture of popular, folkloric, and secular musical traditions which abounded in New Orleans. Much of this source material was not credited or well documented. The very origins of jazz itself from such an amalgam of preexisting musical material made it inevitable that jazz would lend itself so well to contrafact and quodlibet. The 12-bar blues form also gave rise to innumerable new songs based on this form with many variations, small and large, to both the harmonic accompaniment and in the melodic material.

The bebop revolution of the 1940’s had many drivers. The fact that contrafacts are legally considered original works meant that the musicians could retain potentially valuable publishing rights. This also had important licensing implications for the recording companies which were able to keep more revenue “in-house.” The new contrafact melodies were much more stylistically interwoven with the improvisations of the beboppers and made the music a more unified genre and not just the extemporizing of a few mavericks.

The catalogue of jazz contrafacts includes compositions based on dozens of the popular songs of the 1920’s and 1930’s such as “After You've Gone,” “All God's Chillun Got Rhythm,” “All of Me,” “All the Things You Are,” “Back Home Again in Indiana,” “Blue Skies,” “Cherokee,” “Come Rain or Come Shine,” “Darn That Dream,” “Easy to Love,” “Embraceable You,” “Fine and Dandy,” “Honeysuckle Rose,” “How About You?,” “How High the Moon,” “I Didn't Know What Time It Was,” “I Get A Kick Out Of You,” “I Got Rhythm” (easily the most popular source tune ever with dozens of known contrafacts. Contrafacts based on “I Got Rhythm” became so ubiquitous that a jazz musician need only say “rhythm changes” and the band knows exactly what to play. The entire body of contrafacts based on “I Got Rhythm” are collectively known as Rhythm tunes), “I Love You,” “I'll Remember April,” “It Could Happen to You,” “It's You or No One,” “Jeepers Creepers,” “Just in Time,” “Just You, Just Me,” “Love for Sale,” “Love Me or Leave Me,” “Lover,” “Lover, Come Back to Me,” “Night and Day,” “Oh, Lady Be Good!,” “On Green Dolphin Street,” “Out of Nowhere,” “Pennies from Heaven,” “Rose Room,” Rosetta,” “ 'S Wonderful,” “September in the Rain,” “Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise,” “Someday My Prince Will Come,” “Stompin' at the Savoy,” “Sweet Georgia Brown,” “Take the “A” Train,” “Tenderly,” “The Song Is You,” “There Is No Greater Love,” “There Will Never Be Another You,” “What Is This Thing Called Love?,” “Whispering,” “Yesterdays,” “You Can Depend on Me,” “You Stepped Out of a Dream,” and “You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To.”

The correspondence between a contrafact and a source tune is not always one-to-one. There is most likely no similarity between the two melodies, as expected. The harmony or harmonic rhythm may experience some adjustment however, leaving just enough in common to confidently apply the contrafact label to the new piece. The form generally is the same, with one significant exception which warrants description: “I Got Rhythm” is by far the most popular source for contrafacts but, the tag at the end of the last 8 measures is not used in most contrafacts based it. Gershwin’s AABA form, 8, 8, 8, 10, somehow became 8,8,8 and 8 and this modification has now almost completely supplanted the original. A musician calling for “Rhythm changes” almost certainly is asking for a 32-bar form and would need to make a special request to get a 34-bar form from the accompanists.

The contrafact has become a tradition, continuing as newer popular tunes and original jazz tunes have now served as the basis for contrafacts. This list of contrafact source material includes “Blues for Alice,” “Confirmation,” “Dizzy Atmosphere,” “Giant Steps,” “Hey Joe,” “Hot House,” “So What,” “Tune Up,” “Wave,” and “Woody'n You.” The creators of bebop were the modernists of their time. The passage of time has enabled developing a view of bebop along the continuum of jazz history which reveals how connected bebop really was to the swing era and Tin Pan Alley which preceded it. Bebop was an evolution as much as it was a revolution. The adoption of the song forms is an obvious observation. A subtler observation involves the melodic vocabulary which the beboppers had at their disposal. The many tunes which served as the basis for bebop contrafacts provided a wealth of quotable material. Now we see that the practice of using quotes is traceable to the earliest surviving bebop recordings.

Charlie Parker is arguably the most important figure in bebop history. A catalogue of 191 verified recorded Parker quotes (with another 92 possible quotes as yet unverified!) reveals that he drew material from a wide range of popular, contemporary, and classical sources. In keeping with the traditionally humorous nature of classical quodlibet, Parker’s quotes reveal his playful, whimsical side. It is significant that Parker was a leading composer of contrafacts with the following 20 songwriting credits (singly or in collaboration) "Yardbird Suite," "Relaxin' With Lee," "Scrapple from the Apple," "Anthropology/Thriving from a Riff," "Celebrity," "Chasin' the Bird," "Constellation," "Dewey Square," "Dexterity," "Moose the Mooche," "An Oscar for Treadwell," "Quasimodo," "Steeplechase," "My Little Suede Shoes," "Bird of Paradise," "Ko-Ko," "Warmin Up a Riff," "Bird Gets the Worm," "Donna Lee," and "Ornithology." In a fittingly ironic turn of events, Parker’s non-contrafact compositions have served as vehicles for contrafacts by other musicians. Parker’s “Confirmation” was the basis for contrafacts by Elmo Hope, Horace Silver, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, Tal Farlow, and Wes Montgomery. Sonny Stitt and Tommy Flanagan also contributed contrafacts based on Parker’s “Blues for Alice.”

Dizzy Gillespie was also known to both use contrafact as a compositional tool and quoting as an improvisational tool. Gillespie has songwriting credits on the contrafacts “Dizzy Atmosphere,” “Salt Peanuts,” “Tour de Force,” “Diggin' Diz,” and “Groovin' High.” Gillespie is famously heard quoting the popular tune “Laura” on the esteemed Jazz at Massey Hall recording. The Massey Hall connection is interesting here as all the participating musicians were significant to jazz history. Four of the featured musicians were also contributors to the body of contrafacts. In addition to Parker and Gillespie, Charles Mingus and Bud Powell were credited with contrafacts. Mingus wrote “Wham Bam Thank You Ma'am,” “What Love?,” and “”All The Things You Could Be By Now If Sigmund Freud's Wife Was Your Mother” (one of the instances when contrafact source material was not well hidden, many other examples make this relationship more opaque). Powell’s contrafact credits include “Bud's Bubble,” “Celia,” “Frantic Fancies,” “Wail,” and “Get It.”

Further survey of musicians considered formative to the history of bebop continues to uncover a strong correlation between contrafact and quoting. Perhaps no other jazz musician is so associated with quoting during solos as Sonny Rollins. Rollins’ contributions to the contrafactual lexicon include “Doxy,” “Striver's Row,” and “Oleo.”

Dexter Gordon was also well-known to freely quote other tunes in his improvisations. Gordon’s contrafacts include “Dextivity,” “Apple Jump,” “For Regulars Only,” “Boston Bernie,” “I Want More,” “Fried Bananas,” and “Dextrose.”

The controversial side of Miles Davis’s songwriting credit history notwithstanding, he did perform several contrafacts earlier in his career, significant due to his early apprenticeship with Charlie Parker. By the mid-1950’s this had mostly tapered off although it should be noted that a modified version of “The Theme” (a Rhythm tune) was a staple of his concert repertoire into the 1970’s. These Davis contrafacts include “Dig,” “Little Willie Leaps,” “Denial,” and “Half Nelson.”

J.J. Johnson was a Davis collaborator in the 1950’s and during this time he contributed the following contrafacts: “Teapot,” “Coffee Pot,” “Boneology,” “Jay Bird,” “Jay Jay,” and “Mad Be Bop.” Not surprisingly, Johnson was known to include quotes into his solos too.

Thelonious Monk was another musician known equally for his original music and highly idiosyncratic style of playing the piano. It is less common the hear a quote in one of Monk’s solos although they do make the occasional appearance (many instances can be found of Monk quoting his own compositions). Like many musicians, Monk struggled during his lifetime with the conflict between taking the music seriously while not taking oneself too seriously. Through this lens we see a certain therapeutic value to the occasional injection of levity into music. Monk was considered a groundbreaking pioneer from the 1940’s on. Consideration of his many contrafactual tunes shows that he was much more connected to the history of jazz than may have been immediately apparent to the audiences and critics of that time. His contrafacts “Bright Mississippi,” “52nd Street Theme,” “Hackensack,” “Little Rootie Tootie,” “Rhythm-a-Ning,” “In Walked Bud,” and “Evidence” all have the concise forms of their respective source tunes.

Horace Silver frequently injected quotes into his solos. This aspect of Silver’s performing kept his music from ever sounding overly self-important or stuffy. This is an important lesson for the young musician still seeking their own identity. Although Silver is known for leading his own band and playing mostly his own compositions, we know that his pieces “Mayreh,” “Juicy Lucy,” “Finger Poppin',” “Room 608,” “Tippin',” “Split Kick,” and “Quicksilver” are contrafacts.

John Coltrane is often cited as a very serious musician. His practice regimen is legendary, and his artistic achievements are indisputable. Even Coltrane was able to use the rare quote to great effect, all the more striking due to its surprise value. As a composer who experimented with many forms along his creative journey, he also wrote contrafacts including “26-2,” “Liberia,” “Countdown,” “Impressions,” “Satellite,” and “Fifth House.”

Some quotes have become iconic, like the Thad Jones solo with the Count Basie Band’s version of “April in Paris” into which he inserts “Pop Goes the Weasel.” The well-placed quote provides an extra hook to draw the listener in from the abstraction which otherwise might lose their interest. To be most effective, the well-placed quote relies on intentionality so as to avoid descending into ridiculousness. A bit of sentimentality may be acceptable without crossing over into abject corniness. The quote should first be recognizable, or its message is lost to the audience. Next, it should bear some commonality with the tune. This can involve the underlying harmony. Using this approach on “Take the “A” Train” we see the harmony of the first four bars moving from the I chord, up a whole step to the V7/V. This movement is shared by many other tunes including “Oh, You Beautiful Doll,” “Peg ‘O My Heart,” “The Girl from Ipanema,” “I’m Looking over a Four-Leaf Clover,” “Só Danço Samba,” and “For All We Know.” Awareness of harmonic motion instantly opens up some more melodic possibilities available to the soloist.

Another place where the use of quotes has great utility is in thematic continuity development. The tune “Blue Moon,” broken down into its constituent words, blue and moon, can be thematically linked on the moon side with “Moondance,” “Paper Moon,” and “Moon over Miami,” and even “That’s Amore,” or we can stretch the association a bit further to include “When You Wish upon a Star,” “Sunny,” or “Mars” from Holst’s planets. The other thread on “Blue Moon,” blue, might see us going through colors. “Blue Room,” “I’d Like some Red Roses for a Blue Lady,” “Yellow Rose of Texas,” or “On Green Dolphin Street” can be part of this thread. We might find intentional contrariness presented with a theme of opposition. Imagine “Alone Together” treated with “Send in the Clowns” “I Love a Parade,” or “There’s No Business Like Show Business!” The imagination of the soloist can synergistically impart meaning to the note selection greater than mere tune recognition. The listener is left to seek any deeper meaning in the solo, or meta-messages in the choice of quotes.

The contrafact is a link between the present and past of music. It imparts a continuity to jazz and demonstrates that jazz does not simply spring forth fully formed but is part of an evolutionary process. Likewise, quoting creates links between the jazz of the moment to the musician’s cultural legacy. This legacy is not only which jazz albums were studied but includes school band, television and movie themes, radio, and the songs the family sang in the car, in short, every musical thing the musician has experienced. While there are composers of contrafacts who are not well-known as frequent quoters, just as there are musicians known to quote who don’t have a legacy of contrafacts in their portfolios, it is inescapable to note the strong correlation between contrafact and quotes. Great music can and does exist on its own without much humor involved. We are all fortunate to be able to enjoy serious music on the one hand and less-serious music on the other. There is certainly room in the musical universe for all of these human experiences and emotions.

Baroque Adaptations in Jazz and Rock

Perry Thoorsell

Written in 2018, edited and posted October 2020

Incorporating elements of Baroque music into later popular forms has proven to be of interest to many musicians over the years. The melodic line shapes, counterpoint, and harmonic rhythms of Baroque music, besides having their own intrinsic value, are particularly amenable to adaptation and interpretation. Harmony can be modified, reharmonization is a staple of development sections in classical music and is fundamental to jazz. Melody is the one true constant threading from the Baroque era to today. We see several Baroque melodies that not only survive but thrive in modern adaptations.

The composer Jeremy Walker said "I think both musics [jazz and early Baroque] are particularly performance-based," Walker says. "Improvisation is at the root of development. Both could be seen as stemming from the bass and an improvised accompaniment … It was really challenging to bridge the timbrel (sic) differences and especially the rhythmic differences. Jazz is singular in its approach to the beat. But the through-line for me, and it really runs through all music from all genres, is melody. That was the bridge between centuries, languages and genre."

It is also worth noting, as Jordan Smith wrote in his CMUSE blog, “It's sometimes forgotten that most of the greatest composers in classical music were also superb improvisers. Bach amazed audiences with his improvisational keyboard skills….” This point is reemphasized by Vaughn Ormseth who observes at Minnesota Public Radio that “On the surface, early music and jazz don't appear to have so much in common. The former has origins in the urbane chambers of church and court, the latter in more boisterous zones of the street and cabaret. But in fact, the two share a deep kinship — in spirit as well as in practice. Jazz's connection with Renaissance and Baroque music, all propelled by improvisation, is more fundamental than they are with later genres of classical music….”

There are numerous examples of adaptations of Baroque music in jazz, pop, and rock music available for consideration. Much of the heavy metal and prog rock genres exhibit aspects of Baroque influence in a general sense, especially harmonic and melodic material inspired by the Baroque. For the purposes of this paper we will eschew consideration of more generic ideas of Baroque influence and confine our attention to wholesale adaptations of discrete Baroque works.

A unanimous agreement that such an undertaking is artistically valid or satisfying cannot be found. Reinterpreting the music of the past invites a degree of criticism from the reactionary “purist” camp equal in passion to the criticism from the camp of forward-lookers who don’t wish to relive the past, but there is no doubt that a lively tradition exists of merging Baroque elements with subsequent musical genres. This is not a recent development. While not an exhaustive catalog, we will trace a lineage extending centuries past the widely accepted end of the Baroque era circa 1750.

There are many different metrics for determining success, after all, and an argument can be made that popularity and record sales totals are a persuasive measure of musical success. The music of J.S. Bach, in particular, has been adapted over the years to take advantage of changing tastes and styles while reverently connecting contemporary performance practice with the greatness of the past’s musical heritage, while proving commercially viable. Please note that J.S. Bach headed a musical family which gave us other composers named Bach. Since J.S. Bach is such an important figure in Baroque music, the reader should read any occurrence of the Bach name as referring to J.S. Bach. Any other Bachs will be identified in the text.

Charles Gounod’s “Ave Maria” was published in 1853 as “Méditation sur le Premier Prélude de Piano de S. Bach.” His setting of the Latin prayer “Ave Maria” became quite popular and has been recorded many times. 137 years after Bach’s composition, Gounod created a new melody which he superimposed over a nearly intact version of the Prelude No. 1 in C major, from Book I of Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier (WTC), nearly intact as he included the notorious “Schwencke measure.” This is a measure inserted after measure 22 in editions appearing after 1783 and attributed to Christian Friedrich Gottlieb Schwencke, a copyist. This attribution is not certain but has become common among musicologists.

Ferruccio Busoni published the Bach-Busoni Editions in two collections. The 25-volume Busoni Ausgabe was published beginning in 1894, and the Bach-Busoni Gesammelte Ausgabe was published in 6 volumes in 1916, and subsequently in 7 volumes in 1920. A separate publication in 1916 of six Bach transcriptions was titled Sechs Tonstücke. Filled with piano transcriptions of Bach’s keyboard music and performance suggestions, practice exercises, musical analysis, and an essay on the art of transcribing Bach's organ music for piano, these editions were a pioneering adaptation of the keyboard practices of Bach’s time acknowledging the ascendency of the piano as the predominant keyboard of the post-Baroque eras.

Although now attributed to Christian Petzold, the "Minuet in G major" from Bach's Notebook for Anna Magdalena Bach was long believed to be Bach’s own composition. Regardless of the actual composer, the piece is inextricably linked to Bach in the public’s mind. The minuet was the musical source material for "A Lover's Concerto," first popularized by bandleader Freddy Martin in the 1940s. The addition of lyrics by American songwriters Sandy Linzer and Denny Randell gave us the pop hit of the 1960’s. The melody is unmistakable despite being changed from the original 3/4 meter to 4/4. The meter change was certain to appeal more to teen dancers in the 1960’s who were not waltzing as often as twisting. The 1965 release of "A Lover's Concerto" by The Toys was a hit in the United States and United Kingdom, peaking on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart at number 2, eventually selling more than two million copies and receiving gold record certification by the R.I.A.A. Subsequent recordings were released by many, including Cilla Black, Kelly Chen, the Delfonics, the Fleetwoods, Audrey Hall, Doyle Lawson, the Lennon Sisters, Mrs. Miller, the Peanuts, the Pearls, Perrey and Kingsley, the Supremes, Carla Thomas, Tight Fit, Leslie Uggams, and Sarah Vaughan. The tune achieved international popularity as Karina released a Spanish version, "Concierto para enamorados" in 1966. A German version, "So Fängt Es Immer An" was also released in 1966 by Alma Cogan. Kai Lind released a Finnish version, "Aamukonsertto.” A Japanese version was released by the group SA under the title "Delight.” American singer Neil Sedaka released an Italian version, "Lettera bruciata." "A Lover's Concerto" appeared in the 1995 film Mr. Holland's Opus when Mr. Holland uses the song to demonstrate the importance of classical music to his 1960’s high school orchestra students.

“Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring” is the common title for music from Bach’s cantata “Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben,” BWV 147 ("Heart and Mouth and Deed and Life"), composed by between 1716 and 1723. The English pianist Myra Hess published transcriptions in 1926 for piano solo and in 1934 for piano duet. An adaptation for rock instruments was released as “Joy” in 1972 by Apollo 100 and was a top ten hit for them. On same album is their arrangement titled "Air for The G String."

The well-known "Air on the G String" is a late-18th century arrangement by August Wilhelmj of the second movement of Bach's Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D major, BWV 1068. This melody was transposed by Wilhelmj to the key of C major to take advantage of the violin’s open G string. Besides the earlier Apollo 100 example, this piece has been adapted as "Everything's Gonna Be Alright" by the German band Sweetbox.

The French pianist, Jacques Loussier, deserves notice for his numerous jazz recordings of his Baroque musical adaptations beginning in 1959. His many releases include:

• 1959 – Play Bach No. 1 (Decca SS 40 500)

• 1960 – Play Bach No. 2 (Decca SSL 40 502) (n/a 2003)

• 1961 – Play Bach No. 3 (Decca SSL 40 507)

• 1963 – Play Bach No. 4 (Decca SSL 40.516)

• 1964 – Play Bach No. 5 (Decca SSL 40.205 S)

• 1965 – Play Bach aux Champs Élysées (Decca Coffret, two albums, SSL40.148)

• 1986 – Bach to the Future (Start CD SCD2)

• 1987 – Bach to Bach (Start CD Original Live in Japan SMCD 19)

• 1988 – Brandenburg Concertos (Limelight-Japan CD 844 058-2, Decca)

• 1988 – The Greatest Bach Partita No.1 in B Flat major BWV 825 – Orchestral Suite No. 2 in B minor BWV 1067 (Limelight CD 844 059-2, Decca)

• 1993 – Play Bach 93 Volume 1 (Note Productions CD 437000-2)

• 1993 – Play Bach 93 Volume 2 (Note Productions CD 437000-3)

• 1994 – Play Bach Aujourd'hui Les Thèmes en Ré (Note Productions CD 437000-4)

• 1996 – Lumières Messe Baroque du 21ième siècle (Note Productions CD 43707)

• 1997 – Jacques Loussier Plays Vivaldi (Telarc CD 83417)

• 2000 – Bach's Goldberg Variations (Telarc CD 83479)

• 2001 – Baroque Favorites. Jazz Improvisations: Works by Handel, Marais, Scarlatti, Marcello, Albinoni (Telarc CD 83516)

• 2002 – Handel: Water Music & Royal Fireworks (Telarc CD 83544)

There is a lack of consistency in some naming conventions across my examples. I have attempted to make these as consistent as possible but much of my source material is presented as found.

Ward Swingle holds an enormous space in the history of jazz adaptations of Baroque music. An American vocalist and pianist living abroad in Paris, France, he founded The Swingle Singers in 1962. The group of eight singers began as session musicians providing background vocals for acts including Charles Aznavour, Michel Legrand and Edith Piaf. They sang through Bach's WTC as a sight-reading exercise and found that the music had great potential for jazz adaptation. Their first album, “Jazz Sébastien Bach,” released in 1963, included Swingle’s arrangements of Bach’s pieces for SATB with a jazz rhythm section:

• Fugue in D minor, Contrapunctus 9 from The Art of the Fugue

• Prelude for Organ Chorale No. 1

• Aria from Suite No 3 in D

• Prelude No 12 in F minor from The WTC, Book II

• Bourrée II from The English Suite No 2

• Fugue No 2 in C minor from The WTC, Book I

• Fugue No 5 in D from The WTC, Book I

• Prelude No 9 in E from The WTC, Book II

• Sinfonia from The Partita No 2

• Prelude No 1 in C from The WTC, Book II

• Canon (4-Part Canon BWV 1073)

• Two Part Invention No 1 in C

• Fugue No 5 in D from The WTC, Book II

The Swingle Singers followed this up in 1964 with the album “Going Baroque.” This set of Swingle’s arrangements was not confined to the music of Bach, other Baroque era composers of note were represented among the tracks:

• Badinerie from Ouvertüre H-Moll, BWV 1067 (Bach)

• Aria and Variations ("The Harmonious Blacksmith") from Cembalo suite in E-Dur (G.F. Händel)

• Gigue from Cello suite Nr. 3 C-Dur, BWV 1009 (Bach)

• Largo from Cembalo konzert F-Moll, BWV 1056 (Bach)

• Praeludium Nr. 19 A-Dur BWV 864 (Bach)

• Praeambulum from Partita Nr. 5 G-Dur BWV 829 (Bach)

• Fuga from Concerto Op. 3 'L'Estro Armonico' Nr. 11 D-Moll (Vivaldi)

• Allegro from Concerto Grosso Op. 6 A-Moll (G.F. Händel)

• Praeludium Nr. 7 Es-Dur BWV 876 (Bach)

• Solfegietto C-Moll (C.P.E. Bach)

• Frühling (Spring) (W.F. Bach)

• Praeludium Nr. 24 H-Moll BWV 893 (Bach)

1964 also saw the release of “Collaboration” by the Modern Jazz Quartet (MJQ) with guest guitarist Laurindo Almeida. John Lewis was the pianist, principal arranger, and composer of the MJQ. This album includes Lewis’ arrangement of Bach's Fugue in A minor. Given the MJQ’s own interests in Baroque interpretations, their later collaboration with Swingle was almost inevitable, more on this later.

The Swingle Singers released “Rococo Á Go Go” in 1966. This album featured Swingle’s arrangements of many notable Baroque era composers:

• Concerto for flute, violin & strings in E minor ("Concerto à Sei"), TWV 5 (Telemann)

• 21e ordre for harpsichord (Pièces de clavecin, IV) (Couperin)

• Overture: La Lyra, suite for strings & continuo in E flat major, TWV 55 (Telemann)

• Work(s) ~ Unspecified Fugue in D minor (Muffat)

• Trio for flute, violin & continuo in E major (Essercizii Musici No. 9/1) (Telemann)

• Concerto for oboe d'amore, strings & continuo in A major, TWV (Telemann)

• Le Coucou, rondeau for harpsichord in E minor (Pièces de clavecin, Suite N (Daquin)

• Sonata for recorder & continuo in E minor, SF. 764 (Op. 2/4 or in D min) (Marcello)

• Sonata in C minor: Allegro (Quantz)

• Sonata in C minor: Andante Moderato (Quantz)

• Sonata in C minor: Vivace (Quantz)

Recorded in 1966 and released in 1967, “Baroque Sketches” by Art Farmer contains several adaptations arranged by Benny Golson. According to the Penguin Guide to Jazz, "Art Farmer enjoyed playing pieces with strong melodies, and the original concept of Baroque Sketches was to adapt the music of Johann Sebastian Bach into a jazz setting…” The track "Fuja XI" is credited to Bach although this is not a title which Bach used. Another track, "Sinfonia" is also credited to Bach. Sinfonia is a title used frequently by Bach although Farmer was not more specific about which Sinfonia served as the source in the liner notes or track listing. The track, "Jesu" is clearly an adaptation of “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring,” which this paper covered earlier in more depth.

The collaboration mentioned earlier finally happened when the Swingle Singers recorded with the MJQ in 1966, giving us the album “Place Vendôme.” This set includes:

• Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D major, (aka "Air on the G String") BWV 1068 (J. S. Bach) (another frequently utilized Bach melody)

• "The Musical Offering" (Musikalisches Opfer), for keyboard and chamber instruments, BWV 1079 (J.S Bach)

• "When I am Laid in Earth" (from Dido and Aeneas), soprano aria ("Dido's Lament") (Henry Purcell)

The year 1968 saw “Switched on Bach” released by Walter (later Wendy) Carlos

a transcription of Bach’s music for the Moog synthesizer. Synthesizers were new and cutting-edge in 1968 and this album was a technical tour-de-force at the time. It was also a big seller, earning Platinum record certification in 1968 for selling over one million copies. The recordings include Bach’s:

• "Sinfonia to Cantata No. 29"

• "Air on a G String" (some versions of this melody are called “Air on the G String”)

• "Two-Part Invention in F major"

• "Two-Part Invention in B-Flat major"

• "Two-Part Invention in D minor"

• "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" (one of the most frequently adapted melodies of Bach)

• "Prelude and Fugue No. 7 in E-Flat major" (From Book I of The WTC)

• "Prelude and Fugue No. 2 in C minor" (From Book I of The WTC)

• "Chorale Prelude 'Wachet Auf'"

• "Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 in G major - First Movement"

• "Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 in G major - Second Movement"

• "Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 in G major - Third Movement"

The Swingle Singers revisited Bach with their 1968, “Back to Bach. This album contained Swingle’s arrangements of the following Bach compositions:

• "From Concerto for 2 violins, strings & continuo in D minor," BWV 1043

• "Prelude and Fugue, for keyboard No. 10 in E minor" (WTC I), BWV 855

• "Choral" from Cantata No. 147, "Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben," BWV 147

• "Gavotte" from Partita for solo violin No. 3 in E major, BWV 1006

• "Prelude and Fugue, for keyboard No. 1 in C major" (WTC I), BWV 846

• "Fugue" from Prelude and Fugue, for organ in G major, BWV 541

• "Adagio" from Sonata for violin & keyboard No. 3 in E major, BWV 1016

• "Prelude and Fugue, for keyboard No. 3 in C sharp major" (WTC I), BWV 848

• "Prelude" from "Nun komm der Heiden Heiland" (II), chorale prelude for organ (Achtzehn Choräle No. 8), BWV 659

• "Prelude and Fugue, for keyboard No. 21 in B flat major" (WTC I), BWV 866

The English band, Jethro Tull, was led by flautist, singer, guitarist, and composer Ian Anderson. He arranged Bach’s "Bourée in E minor" for the band and included it on their second album, “Stand Up” in 1968. This arrangement was a staple of their live shows for decades. Anderson and Jethro Tull released alternate versions of the piece on subsequent albums, “A Little Light Music” (1992) and “The Jethro Tull Christmas Album” (2003).

The MJQ continued exploring their interest in Bach’s music with the 1973 release of “Blues on Bach. Lewis’ contributed five arrangements for this album based on Bach's melodies:

• "The Old Year Has Now Passed Away" became the track "Regret?"

• "Sleepers Wake" became the track "Rise Up in the Morning"

• "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" became "Precious Joy" (and is another testament to the popularity of this melody)

• "Klavierbüchlein für Wilhelm Friedemann Bach" as “Don't Stop This Train"

• "The WTC" (unspecified) as "Tears from the Children"

Wendy Carlos followed up her earlier success with 1973’s “Switched on Bach II,” a further exploration of Bach’s music performed on synthesizers. Her arrangements this time were:

• Selections from Suite No. 2 in B minor, BWV 1067: Badinerie, Minuet, and Bourrée

• Two-Part Inventions: in A minor, BWV 784, in A major, BWV 783

• "Sheep May Safely Graze", from Cantata No. 208, BWV 208

• Suite from Anna Magdalena Notebook (attribution to Bach is questionable): Musette in D major, BWV Anh. 126, 

Minuet in G major, BWV Anh. 114 (one of the most popular Baroque melodies reimagined for popular music)

• "Bist du bei mir", BWV 508

• Marche in D major, BWV Anh. 122

• Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 in D major, BWV 1050: Allegro, Affetuoso, and Allegro

The Cuban band, Tiempo Libre, combined jazz and Bach with Afro-Cuban stylings to create the album “Bach in Havana,” released in 2009. Their arrangements, and the Baroque sources for them, included:

• Fuga Cha-cha-chá (Sonata in D minor)

• Air on a G String Bolero (Orchestral Suite in D major)

• Clave in C minor Guaguancó (Prelude in C minor)

• Gavotte Son (French Suite in G major)

• Mi Orisha 6/8 Batá (French Suite in C minor)

• Guaguancó (Minuet in G) (another example of the enduring popularity of this melody)

• Olas de Yemayá Batá (Prelude in C major)

• Baqueteo con Bajo Danzón (Cello Suite No. 1)

• Timbach Timba (Prelude in D major)

• Kyrie Batá (Mass in B minor)

This brings us to 2018 when I have undertaken my own project with Bach’s music. After identifying pieces in the Two-Part Inventions and The WTC which were good candidates for my treatment, I arranged them for jazz bass duet. Bach’s melodies are preserved with occasional octave transpositions or switching voices between the parts for increased playability on the double bass. Certain sections are inserted as space where jazz improvisation takes place. These sections utilize a harmonic structure derived or inspired by Bach’s harmonic rhythms. These arrangements are playable as concert works or can serve advanced students as etudes. My completed arrangements are

• Preludio II from The WTC

• Fuga X from The WTC

• Inventio I from the Two-Part Inventions

• Inventio III from the Two-Part Inventions.

Researching this topic has increased my understanding of the rich history of adapting Baroque music for modern styles. There is such a wealth of material from the Baroque period that there are practically unlimited possibilities for the modern arranger. Many previous efforts have also been very popular ensuring that fear of commercial failure need not deter this undertaking. There is always the chance that an encounter with a modern adaptation will kindle an interest in the casual listener. This adaptation may well introduce Baroque music to an audience that would otherwise remain oblivious to it. Anything which keeps the music of Bach (and Handel, Vivaldi, Couperin, Teleman, and Marcello, among others) relevant should be welcome.


Cook, Richard, and Brian Morton. " Art Farmer." In The Penguin Guide to Jazz Recordings. The Penguin Guide to Jazz (8th ed.), 431. London: Penguin, 2006.

D.A.T., et al. "“Questions to The Editor.” Bach." JSTOR vol. 1, no. 1 (1970): 19-22.

Dent, Edward J. Ferruccio Busoni: A Biography. London: Oxford University Press, 1993.

Morrison, Nick. "From Bach To Satie: Jazz Takes On Classical." NPR Jazz, May 10, 2011.

n/a. The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz. 2nd. Edited by Barry Kernfeld. London: Oxford University Press, 2003.

Ormseth, Vaughn. "Exploring the kinship between baroque and jazz." ClassicalMPR, November 11, 2016.

Roberge, Marc-André. Ferruccio Busoni: a bio-bibliography. New York: Greenwood Press, 1991.

Service, Tom. "10 of the best: where jazz meets classical." The Guardian, November 18, 2014.

Smith, Jordan. "15 Best Jazz Versions of Classical Music Pieces." CMUSE, July 15, 2015.

A comprehensive study of bass in jazz history and literature

Perry Thoorsell

Written in 2018, posted October 2020

The listener’s ear perceives the lowest audible musical tones as the fundamental. Other instruments may provide additional color or chord quality information but the fundamental is the resting place to which the listener’s expectations have been welded. The bass functions in Western music are provided by several low-pitched instruments including the organ, piano, cello, string bass, bass guitar, tuba, contrabass saxophone, contrabass clarinet, and contrabassoon. The bass instrument of choice has changed over time as styles pass in and out of fashion, and as technology improves. This presentation focuses on bass function in jazz.

The history of jazz is a broad subject exceeding the scope of this presentation. Ragtime and jazz piano music had the bass function covered by the left hand of the pianist. This still holds true for jazz solo piano, and for the solo organ. Organ is also widely used (in a majority of cases) to provide bass function in organ trios or other ensembles where the organ is featured.

Jazz evolved from marching band music in large part due to surpluses of military band instrument which were available in the New Orleans area. The marching model of the tuba, the Sousaphone, was the prominent jazz bass instrument for decades.

Tuba in the House

From New Orleans brass bands to New York avant-gardists, jazz’s original low-end leader is taking an exciting new part in today’s music

Tuba in the House From New Orleans brass bands to New York avant-gardists, jazz’s original low-end leader is taking an exciting new part in today’s music Published 10/31/2018 By Michael J. West

Above: Theon Cross (center) holds down the bottom for Shabaka Hutchings (left) and Sons of Kemet at the 39th Montreal International Jazz Festival, July 2018. Photo by Sharonne Cohen.

It’s the Funk Parade, Washington, D.C.’s annual street music festival, and Dupont Brass is onstage. The brass band, named for the Metro station at which they busked while students at Howard University, has become a full-time concern, and they’re now an act on the Parade’s main stage at the African American Civil War Memorial on U Street NW. Jared “MK Zulu” Bailey is performing a whopper of a cornet solo on their tune “Downtown,” full of tasty phrases, growls, and masterful note bends. But it’s the man standing behind Bailey who’s impossible to turn away from.

Brent “Bass Heavy Slim” Gossett is a very large man with a very large sousaphone wrapped around him. Of the four horn players standing onstage with Bailey, he alone is riffing under the cornet solo. Even when the trumpet and two trombones join Bailey to restate the melody, the big deep sound of the sousaphone—a larger version of the tuba designed to project over the head of its player—will not be ignored.

This is not a coincidence. The tuba is back, and in a way that it was never “in” to begin with. It was the sole bass instrument in the early days of New Orleans jazz, but the string bass began to replace it in the 1920s. By the swing era of the ’30s the tuba was virtually gone from jazz, reduced to a punchline about old-fashioned unpopular music. But the 21st century’s brass-band renaissance has had an unlikely effect: The tuba/sousaphone is trendy.

“Nothing is hotter than the tuba right now,” says Marcus Rojas, a tubist in New York. “Everyone wants to get a sousaphone, everyone thinks it’s the coolest thing. There are two tuba players on late-night TV: Tuba Gooding Jr. [a.k.a Damon Bryson] in the Roots [the house band for The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon] and Ibanda Ruhumbika on [The Late Show with] Stephen Colbert. That would have been unheard of 15 years ago!”

“It’s really since Hurricane Katrina that there’s been this huge surge,” says tubist José Davila. “There was a big influx of musicians coming out of New Orleans. They brought the tuba back to being a rhythm instrument as opposed to the orchestral role it’s had, even in jazz.”

Not that it’s confined just to rhythm and orchestral color. “The tuba cannot be defined in elementary terms anymore,” says veteran tubist Joseph Daley. “It really depends on the player, and whether the leader of the ensemble is open enough to allow you to express yourself rather than dictate to you. The role is constantly being redefined by the players, especially some of the younger players: They’re doing things that are absolutely unbelievable.”


The early jazz tubists weren’t stars. Hayes Alvis, Lawson Buford, Cyrus St. Clair, and Chink Martin are names known mainly to aficionados, though they played with the likes of King Oliver, Louis Armstrong, and Jelly Roll Morton. They had an essential function in the ensemble, but as showmen, they were limited to oompah patterns and establishing the bottom of the harmony.

It was only after most of the jazz world had discarded the tuba as a relic that innovations occurred. In 1946, bandleader Claude Thornhill—who’d already gained attention with the lush, complex charts of his arranger, Gil Evans—reconstituted the group with tubist Bill Barber in the horn section. This was a crucial distinction: The tuba was no longer considered part of the rhythm section, which had an upright bass pulling that weight.

But Thornhill and Barber weren’t the visionaries behind this new direction; Evans was. When he left Thornhill in 1948 and began working with a new nonet led by Miles Davis, Barber was one of the musicians Evans took with him. The Davis nonet became famous as the Birth of the Cool band. Barber’s tuba is a recognizable ensemble voice in their iconic 1949-50 recordings, playing not figured bass lines but the low end of the melodic/countermelodic statements and backgrounds.

Davis and Evans would go on to several other important collaborations in the 1950s and early ’60s; tuba would be a part of all of them, and Barber became a stalwart of the Gil Evans Orchestra, launched in 1957. “Obviously the tuba is an indelible part of Gil Evans’ entire body of work, from Birth of the Cool onwards,” says bandleader/composer/ arranger Darcy James Argue, who also writes for tuba at times. “Gil’s an inspiration for any number of reasons, but that is an instantly recognizable part of his sound and his orchestration.”

The tuba was not yet a solo voice, however. That would require a New York City teenager by the name of Ray Draper. Draper was a 16-year-old in the All-City High School Symphony when he signed to Prestige Records in 1957. His first album, Tuba Sounds, featured saxophonist Jackie McLean and pianist Mal Waldron; by his second, nine months later, he’d wrangled John Coltrane into the band.

“He’s a pivotal figure,” says Daley. “Ray Draper was the first example of playing both the ensemble role and a solo role within that ensemble. That’s where the shift started.”

Draper joined drummer Max Roach’s band in 1958. Shortly afterward, however, he and his nascent career succumbed to heroin addiction; after a few abortive comeback attempts, he was murdered by a 13-year-old mugger in 1982. Draper also wrestled with some technical limitations, including large buckteeth that obstructed his tone. “You can hear some of the difficulties that he was having as a soloist,” Daley says. “He couldn’t express himself as fluidly as other members of the ensemble.”

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Above: Theon Cross (center) holds down the bottom for Shabaka Hutchings (left) and Sons of Kemet at the 39th Montreal International Jazz Festival, July 2018. Photo by Sharonne Cohen.

Above: Theon Cross (center) holds down the bottom for Shabaka Hutchings (left) and Sons of Kemet at the 39th Montreal International Jazz Festival, July 2018. Photo by Sharonne Cohen.

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