THE ARTISTRY OF WARNE MARSH PART ONE
Updated: Feb 1
Warne Marsh was a highly developed, thoughtful and masterful improviser that has been under appreciated, infrequently recognized and often maligned. His music has always been a source of inspiration to me, and I’m very fortunate to have studied with him briefly and spent some time with him in the 1980’s, towards the end of his life.
An excellent place to start listening to Warne if you are not familiar with his work is Art Pepper With Warne Marsh, recorded on November 26,1956, issued on Contemporary Records, catalog # VDJ-1577. The group is a masterful one, and Art Pepper certainly needs no introduction.
The band on this recording is…….
Warne Marsh-Tenor Sax
Art Pepper-Alto Sax
Track number three from this recording is the originally issued take of a favorite tune of Warne’s, All The Things You Are. These standard chord changes are a continual source of inspiration for jazz musicians, and Warne recorded this tune many times in his career. It is played here in the key of Ab concert. You can find this track on Youtube here…..https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VEdVfw499fE.
After an improvised alto/tenor chorus Warne’s solo begins at 1:08. I suggest you print out a copy of the solo below and listen to the track while looking through the solo as a starting point. Once you’ve fully absorbed the it through your ears, get out your tenor and work your way through this solo. Try to hear some of the things I pull out of this solo in my analysis below, it is a short study in improvised melodic phrases.
Warne was a devoted fan of Lester Young.This solo shows Warne at age 29 playing in a style that reveals this influence, yet with a more modern harmonic conception that he likely gleaned from learning Charlie Parker’s solos and his studies with Lennie Tristano. His laid back sense of swing and “cool” sound reveal his love of Lester, and his lines flow with the same purpose and logic.
Much of the later Warne Marsh style can be found in this one chorus, providing a glimpse into the bright future and immense talent Warne displayed from an early age. Please pardon the technical nature of this analysis, if you don’t follow it all exactly don’t let that distract you from enjoying this subtle improvised solo.
After the counterpoint section with Art Pepper that leads this track off, Warne begins his solo two bars before the first full chorus on the tonic Bb major chord, then transitions into an Eb major , D7 cadence that leads to the G minor chord that starts the form, where he resolves this initial phrase to the 3rd of the G minor in bar one. He begins his next phrase over the V7, the F7 that is, on the 13th (high D) and uses a chromatic neighbor tone to embellish the high C, before using a B minor approach, a tritone substitution for the F7, to resolve the Bb major chord. Phrase number three is a quick ii-v that anticipates the third of the D major chord, completing the first 8 bars of this tune.
The next 8 bar section begins with a phrase that clearly defines the D minor chord with a very common Tristano characteristic, the sixteenth note triplet. You hear this a lot in their music, and this phrase resolves to the 3rd of the G minor, the B flat, and then quickly finds the tonic G on the “and” of beat 3. Next a very interesting harmonic twist can be found. Warne alters the resolving C7 chord, introducing the flat 9, which is anticipated on beat 4 of the previous bar, and the #11 and b13, the F# and G# which follow after the major 9 and 3rd. This phrase is resolved with a chromatic passing tone and lands on the tonic F of the F major chord before completing the cadence with an obvious turn to the Bb or IV chord. What follows is a very clever sixteenth note passage that winds through the A Major chord right before the bridge. He then navigates the E7 in a very ” inside” way before resolving that phrase to the A major chord again. The next phrase is pure genius. I suggest you play this phrase over and over again, and listen to how the voice leading defines its shape. Starting on the B from the previous measure he works his way through the G# minor chord, and then proceeds to the dominant chord C#7, altering it with the introduction of the E natural, the # 9, the D natural, the b9, and the A natural, the flat 13th. A fully altered dominant spelled out elegantly in one measure, which is then resolved by half step to the Bb (A#) which begins the F# major chord. He then anticipates the #5 of the D7 chord on the “and of 4” of this measure, going through the flat nine, the E flat, and landing on the F#, which is the leading tone to the G minor that initiates the final 12 bars of the tune. That last four bars is a very sophisticated harmonic journey, and sounds so natural and beautiful. Executed superbly, this four bar phrase is a perfect example of what Warne was so capable of on a regular basis. This phrase contains some terrific dissonance and resolution, finishing off the Bridge of this tune and leading into the final A Section where the next phrase employs a nice delayed transition.
The last section of the tune begins over the G minor chord; Warne constructs a nice phrase that fits perfectly with the harmony that doesn’t complete itself until the “and of 1” of the C minor bar. C minor is then spelled out by the ascending phrase that finishes on the high B flat. Carefully examine the phrase that begins on the “and of 2” over the Bb major chord and see that he again precedes the Bb chord with a B minor approach chord, before quickly resolving it to the Bb in bar one of the Eb major chord. I believe this resolution is not complete until he takes the phrase to the G on beat three, where he’s completed the resolution to the Eb major chord, and then he spells out the Eb minor after that and ends that phrase nicely on the 13th, the high C, which he paired up with the 7th and 9th prior to that, the high D and F. The next phrase moves through D minor into the G7, where the Eb-Db combination again imply fully altered (b13, #11) before resolving to the 9th (the D) of the C minor chord. Here is a delayed resolution, the phrase that starts on the “and of 1” over the F7 doesn’t resolve until beat three of the Bb bar, which then immediately resolves to the B flat on beat 4. This begins the turnaround that takes him, through a diminished chord over the D7 that spells out the flat 9, to the final resolution of the G minor at the top of Art’s first chorus.
There is a sophistication to the the harmonic language in this solo that reveals the depth of thought that Warne had developed through his early studies with Lennie Tristano. Warne skillfully avoids cliches in all his work, and his solos on Art Pepper With Warne Marsh contain the characteristics of a unique style that would develop fully over the course of the next thirty years. Warne certainly was, as he said to me at one point, true to himself even at a very early age, and although he loved to acknowledge his influences, he was conscious of working through them to develop his own voice. One of the things Warne said repeatedly to me was “play something new”, and he possessed the singular ability to never repeat himself over the same tunes he played for decades. His complete command of harmony and his legendary rhythmic sense took him to amazing heights in his career, and his recordings are a treasure trove of pure jazz improvisation.
I am planning many more posts dedicated to Warne Marsh’s music and career, and have quite a bit of original content to share. Please check back for these additional posts detailing The Artistry of Warne Marsh.
The next will be an overview of one of my favorite Warne Marsh recordings, Apogee, where he teamed up with Pete Christlieb in 1978 to deliver some amazing music and grabbed a 5 star review in the January 11th, 1979 edition of Downbeat.