As a young impressionable teenager, it was first hearing Mingus’ tribute to Thelonious Monk – Jump Monk – that first turned me on to jazz. I’d been exposed to odds and sods during secondary school but this was a milestone in terms of me becoming obsessed with the sound.
Taken from his 1955 live album Mingus at the Bohemia, I quickly fell in love with the musicians camaraderie and angular yet melodic improvising style. The album falls neatly in the hard bop idiom, borrowing large swathes of the language from bebop as well as rhythm and blues, gospel, soul, latin and other afro american musics of the time.
The band consisted of Mingus on standup bass, George Barrow on tenor, trombonist Eddie Bert, Mal Waldron on piano and Willie Jones on drums. It was particularly Waldron’s solo that fascinated me.
During early piano lessons I was tasked with transcribing the whole piece but my ear wasn’t quite there. A few years later I revisited it and have since flexi-timed the track in Logic and transcribed both the piano and tenor solos, and I thought I’d share them here with some rudimentary analysis along with my transcription.
Before we get started, I’ve briefly looked at a section of Jump Monk before, so have a read of that if you’re interested. Also, please note this is all my own work and there’s bound to be the odd mistake. Please feel free to contact me if there’s anything glaring.
Written in horn-friendly F minor, Jump Monk has three delineated harmonic sections to it, the main head is as follows: a simple i, VI, ii, V (F-7, Db7, Gø7, C7). This is common-place in jazz and provides the bed for the majority of the improvisation during Jump Monk.
The B section is more atypical of traditional jazz and lacks a clear melody – something Mingus was experimenting with a great deal during this period. I would assume the band were instructed to improvise over this descending chord progression (F-7, Eb7sus4, Db7, C7, Bb-7, Ab7, Gø7, Gb7). However it should be noted that there are fragmented melodies that crop up on each repetition.
The last section is the section we’ve looked at before on these page. A brief move into the iv of F minor (Bb minor), exploring this different key centre with a unison melody much like the A section.
Mal Waldron’s piano solo is something that’s stayed with me for a long time. It’s been described to me as ‘thematic improvisation’ – taking a small motif and exploring different iteration of it through transposing it, inverting it, offsetting rhythmic elements and various other techniques. Let’s break it down bit by bit.
Note that to save space I will mostly be notating this just with the treble clef, only resorting to using bass clef where necessary.
Rather than going straight in after the tenor solo, Mal starts by playing a simple root position F minor 7 chord on offbeats, leaving some space before embarking. These are just four note chords almost certainly played with just his right hand. At the end of this eight bar period he descends an F blues scale.
The solo starts proper with some splintered F blues scale phrases moving with the changes. Waldron introduces a Db and D on the Gø7 and C7 chord respectively, suggesting a more vertical approach. In the last bar, Mal outlines an Eº chord (E, G, Bb, Db) implying a C7b9 chord.
Here we see more blues scale using the B natural on strong beats a number of times. In the last bar he ascends an F minor scale over a sustained low C. This leads nicely to the B section of the song.
This is the first appearance of the B section harmony in Waldron’s solo, an angular Latin figure with slight head nods to Horace Silver (in my humble opinion). Even though bar 2 is ordinarily an Eb7sus4 chord, Mal uses a G and Db diad as a passing chord (suspended chords omit the third note of a triad).
I felt this eight bars feels very transitionary between the last two eight bar measures which feel like more clearly defined ideas although I wouldn’t go so far as to say they were pre-meditated [See: Alternate? below]. In the last bar there’s some heavily articulated grace notes over the 1/4 note triplets – something Mal does in other recordings of Jump Monk and is a blatent hat tip to Thelonious Monk.
This was a difficult motif to notate as the timing feels polyrhythmic in places, starting off almost grating with it’s imposition over the meter. However it quickly settles in a more comfortable three against two feel.
The theme is just three notes (E, F, Bb), the last being swapped for a Db as the idea develops.
Rhythmically this theme has an echo of the previous, though not verbatim and in a different register.
In this last passage, Mal uses a pattern of major thirds descending down the whole tone scale. The whole tone scale if often used over dominant chords, here Mal uses the C whole tone scale, which in reality is the same as the D, E, Gb, Ab and Bb whole tone scale too. This is almost certainly another Monk acknowledgement.
Interestingly there is an alternate recording of Jump Monk with the same lineup. There are some fragmented ideas that are in both versions, though it would be disingenuous to not call it improvised as both versions are different enough.
It’s fair to assume that if you’re touring and playing the same songs in rehearsal you’re bound to call upon melodic, harmonic and rhythmic patterns you know to work, and it’s likely both recordings of Jump Monk were amalgamations of many previous incarnations.
Both solos follow the same form, improvising over the A chord progression 6 times then the B once, then repeating that whole section, totally 64 bars. Even though the tenor solo comes first, I thought it better to deal with the piano solo, as it’s not a transposing instrument.
I’ll spare you my analysis for this, as though it’s a great solo, I know little about the tenor and don’t fancy tripping over the key signature 🙂 Eight bar sections plus audio below:
That’s it. If you enjoyed this please share with other like-minded musicians and Mingus fans alike. I’d also like to hear any corrections, especially with the Sax. Enjoy!