The performance notes below are by Dave Cooper and are posted here and on his blog. Check out his blog when you have time. Lots of educational material, and a great read about his recent trip to China.

Hi everyone that attended last Sunday’s jam session. I had a great time and am thrilled to be asked to be a part of it. What a great space, too! The Fountain certainly seems to be the new place to hear and play jazz in Madison. Finally!!

Next jam, on October 21, we focus on “A Night in Tunisia”. This tune presents a couple of interesting things to deal with.

Keeping the Form

No matter how many times I’ve played this tune, it is always a challenge to keep the form during the solos. The solo form is AABA but the beginning of the bridge can sound like an A section and the soloist can trick the rhythm section to jumping to the bridge too early or vise versa.

To help keep form for the soloists, those of us not soloing can play a background figure. We will play the first two notes of the 1st measure of the bridge and the first two notes of the 5th measure of the bridge every time the bridge comes around. Soloists should make the 4th and 8th measures of the bridge tonal targets as those are two moments that are different from the rest of the piece.

The Solo Break

Another interesting improvisational novelty in this tune is it incorporates a solo break. This is four measures of silence after the interlude where the soloists plays something that leads into their solo. It’s like a cadenza except the player needs to keep strict time! The soloist is also fully responsible for establishing whatever harmony they wish to employ. Whatever you choose to play, it should sound like the first measure of the tune is a definite arrival point. I’d like to suggest we break from tradition here and play the interlude after every soloist so that every person gets a chance at the break.

Repetitive Alternating Chords

The A sections of “Tunisia” consist of repetitive alternating chords. This poses a couple of opportunities for the soloist. One tactic is to outline the chord in each measure like you would in most other situations. The chord repetition gives you the chance to explore sequential ideas and rhythmic motives.

Another tactic is to combine the repeating chords and come up with a scale that most closely fits over both chords. In this case we would combine (concert) d minor and Eb. The resulting scale would be D Phrygian, Eb Lydian or Bb major. However you want to think of it, you want to play in two flats but have the pitch “D” as your tonic. This idea of combining chords to create a unifying scale works well in tunes that have repetitive chord structures. Other tunes that come to mind would be “Well You Needn’t” and “Killer Joe”.

I first heard of this concept through learning that this is how Wayne Shorter composed and improvised over many of his fantastic tunes of the 60’s, like Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum. This is a much more complex tune than “Tunisia” but if you break that entire tune down to a single mode it opens a lot of doors. The mode to use are the notes he used for entire melody of “Fee-…”

The Ending

Lastly, “Tunisia” traditionally ends with a cadenza in the last measure or two. That might prove to be tricky in a jam session setting, especially if we have the wonderful turnout like we did last week! I suggest that a quick and easy solution would be to play the head after all the soloists then go to the interlude section one last time and end cleanly where the break occurs.

Once again, I am really looking forward to playing with you all again at the next Madison Jazz Jam at the Fountain. (This time I won’t have to duck out early for a Madison Symphony rehearsal!)
See you then,

Here is a classic recording of Night in Tunisia.