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LESSONS INDEX

Tightrope
Steve Khan original as played on his recording
TIGHTROPE (Columbia Recordings - 1977)

 
by Steve Khan

Fai click qui per leggere la versione in italiano

This becomes the first lead sheet/mini-score we've shared with you from the 'old days,' from the '70s! It's the title track from my first recording as a leader for Columbia, "TIGHTROPE,"; which was recorded during late March-early April of 1977 at Mediasound in New York City. During those years, I used to refer to Studio 'A' at Mediasound as "God's guitar room" because the studio itself was a converted church with lots of wood and very, very high ceilings. For me, it was the most wonderful room to record my guitar. Through an amazing set of coincidences and circumstance, luck perhaps, I had been signed to Columbia by Bob James with the not-so-gentle nudging of Bobby Colomby. I remain forever grateful to them both for having afforded me this most wonderful of opportunities.

N
ot too long before, I had parted company with the Brecker Bros. Band, for a number of reasons, and could have only hoped to have been able to finally record as a leader. During those years, actually throughout most of the '70s, I was very proud to have been associated with the music of Randy & Michael Brecker and they, along with all the core members of that group: David Sanborn; Don Grolnick; and Will Lee all had a tremendous influence on my musical tastes, and growth as a person. At the time, I truly believed that we were involved in making some of the best music coming out of New York. Though I have said this in other pages at the site, there can be no doubt that the music I wrote and performed on my three recordings for Columbia: "TIGHTROPE";('77); "THE BLUE MAN"('78); and "ARROWS"('79) was an attempt to keep the Brecker Bros. Band together as I heard it, but with a little more focus on the guitar. The influence of that band, and especially of Randy's compositions and writing style can be no more apparent than on tunes like "Tightrope" which feature the band's mini-horn section.

Initially, it was my hope that "Tightrope" would become the 'signature' piece of this album and that it would open the recording as well. However, for better or worse, that was not to be the case. Though by the time I entered the studio to record this music I had had a great deal of experience as a musician, and even as a producer in the studios, I still had a great deal to learn. As always, I tried to sit back, and watch and learn from everyone else while not being afraid to ask for what I wanted or to voice my opinion. During this recording, I learned a great deal, and on all levels. Tools which would serve me well for all the years to follow.

To be perfectly honest, I rarely listen to any of the Columbia recordings because I now feel so disconnected from this style of writing, and the playing as well. After reviewing my original lead sheet/mini-score to "Tightrope" Steve e Randy Brecker ad una prova per New York All-Starsand following along with the recording, I realized that we had obviously made some changes, and for the better, during the actual recording. I am certain that Bob and the rest of the rhythm section, which included another dear friend, Steve Gadd, all made helpful suggestions involving the form and structure. After listening to the performance a couple of times, I decided that it would be best to just re-write the lead sheet to conform with what you now hear. Sometimes a producer's greatest contributions can be in hearing excess and making suggestions which 'trim the fat' as it were. In that regard alone, I learned a great deal from Bob James about how to listen to what you are recording, and to try to be objective when faced with decisions about the music. I suppose were this piece to be performed live, I would 'open-up' letter [I2] a bit more for the rhythm section to flex its muscles, and there certainly would have been at least one more solo. And. without question, I would have fought to have found a way to reprise [A] before the tune ends.
One thing about my composing style, which has not changed much in all these years, is that I still write from the perspective of 'mood' and 'attitude' first. Sometimes those qualities are born from a 'groove,' something which feels natural to me. The basic vamp you hear at [I2] was the fundamental germ from which this piece was created. I recall sitting and playing this 'feel' at home and then extending it through the chord progression you now hear in letter [A]. I guess it must have been those damn '70s, because now it's hard to imagine sitting around the house "groovin' in 11/4!!!" Everything else came afterwards, and probably the last thing I thought about was the solo format, [C] which, in the end, we improvised in the studio with Bob conducting us through the changes while I soloed live. As things worked out, the first section was 32-bars and all the changes to follow were 16-bars in length. As always, Bob makes very musical decisions. Anyway, once the melody to [A] was completed, the rest of the piece was constructed around it.

As I suppose it should, the Intro, [I], serves to foreshadow many of the elements and sounds which are to come later in the piece. The main guitar sound hits right at the top; the harmonic style is all there, the mini-horn section is introduced, and there's even a hint that something in 11/4 is coming if you look at bars 6-7. Though the Fender Rhodes and, more specifically, Don Grolnick's approach to that instrument, were pivotal to this tune, everything was composed while at the guitar.

One of the great little 'arranging tricks' I had learned some years earlier was from Don Costa, one of Frank Sinatra's favorite arrangers. He explained to me that basically any guitar voicing of 3 or 4 notes would translate perfectly when voiced for horns, and even strings. For example. if we were to spell down from the Ab above middle-'C' and you had this voicing in 4ths: Ab-Eb-Bb-F; and you then assigned those notes: Ab(trumpet); Eb(alto sax); Bb(tenor sax); F(trombone) it would sound wonderful. You could switch the colors around and the results would be the same. For example: 2 trumpets, 2 trombones; or, 2 trumpets, 1 alto sax, 1 tenor sax; the possibilities are endless. The same would hold true if you gave that voicing to 2 violins, 1 viola, and 1 cello. Don Costa knew all this because, he used to be a guitarist himself!!! This kind of wisdom was invaluable to me for, in my years at U.C.L.A.('65-'69), music degree or not, I could not get this kind of education or training. So, with this little 'trick' in hand, I had confidence that all my horn parts were going to work!!! Lucky for me, because it's daunting enough to sit, with your little score in hand, in front of Randy Brecker, Michael Brecker, David Sanborn(who can improvise better horn parts than most of us can arrange), to have Bob James in the booth, and to discover that you have written something unconscionably stupid. But, that has happened to me too, on occasion, and all you can do is to laugh at yourself and try to fix it!!! Usually, everyone helps, if they like you! If they don't they just sit there, stare at you, and wait to be told what to do!

Photo: David Sanborn, Michael Brecker, Randy Brecker and Steve at the Village Gate(July '75) by Erika Price Where bass and drums were concerned, how could one be much luckier than to have Will Lee and Steve Gadd. Together, they made everything I wrote, which wasn't much, over the course of three albums, sound and feel so much better. I actually made a couple of small corrections in letter [B] to reflect what Will played instead of what I actually wrote. Steve Gadd took this opportunity to utilize his famous paradiddle interplay between the hi-hat and the snare to construct an amazing drum groove for this complex meter. For those of you, who don't follow 'drum history' too closely, the first time Steve Gadd ever heard this 'lick' was during a Japan tour we all did(with Yoko Ono of all people), with a band that consisted of: Randy & Michael Brecker; Don Grolnick; Andy Muson(elec. bass); and Rick Marotta. Yes, there were two drummers! Rick and Steve were best friends and held great admiration for one another. On one of the bullet train rides, I happened to play a track, "Mean Ole World," from Jerry LaCroix's LP, "THE SECOND COMING"(Mercury). Jerry LaCroix was then well known for his work with Edgar Winter's White Trash. This album featured Rick Marotta, and what I knew to be as the 1st appearance of this drum 'lick.' As soon as Steve heard it on my cassette player, he made me play that damn cassette for him over, and over, and over again. Each time, the intensity of his dialogue with Rick, about just how this was done, increased. Finally, after lots of banging away on armrests and legs, Steve had it down. So, at the next soundcheck, Steve drove Rick absolutely crazy with all the different permutations he could come up with. Rick had truly "created a monster." Many people believe that Steve 'invented' this drum technique when they first heard it on the tune, "Dirty Old Man" from Tom Scott's album, "NEW YORK CONNECTION," but they would be wrong! Here you can enjoy Steve's incredible creativity in an odd meter.

NOTE
: Rick Marotta now tells me that Steve Gadd was actually present at that Jerry LaCroix session; and he saw Rick play that now very famous lick! How 'bout that?!?!?

Like most music of the "fusion" era, the [A] melody is probably more memorable for its repetitiveness than its singable qualities. As I sit here today, this is not a particularly appealing attribute. The bridge, [B], serves as harmonic release from the tension build up during [A], but it too is melodically repetitious. Again, if that makes it 'memorable,' then perhaps it's not such an awful thing? Structurally, [B] serves as a release from the solo as well. If I were to attempt to perform this tune today, I would try and make more usage of the [B] harmonic area, Db major, during the solos. Though I don't remember much about this decision, it should also be noted that we decided to play the solo section [C] in 4/4 instead of 11/4. Were I to do this tune again, I think I would try to stick to the original meter.

One of the most interesting compositional or arranging features of [B] is the Randy Brecker-esque usage of interlocking parts. Parts which are seemingly totally separate from one another, yet on key beats, seem to connect. The guitar melody, horn parts, a specific keyboard part, and a bass part(which Will Lee loosely interpreted), all work well together, while functioning independently of one another. The influence of Randy's writing and arranging was very hard to deny or, for that matter, shake!

So, there you have it, after many requests, we have finally introduced a lead sheet from one of the earlier recordings. For KHAN'S KORNER, this is just the beginning, and from this point forward we will just skip around, in no particular order, and present other lead sheets from the past. As always, your feedback and suggestions are heard and greatly appreciated.

Audio File MP3 (1.1MB)










 






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