The following is based on a true story. Only the names, dates, places, facts, and circumstances have been changed for the protection of no one in particular.
Vol. 68 GIANT STEPS!
An alternative to the “13th” key!
Presented for your consideration, this is the story of a jazzcat, let’s call him “Mr. Horn”, who took a gig with a singer who loved old standards. He arrived just before the down beat and warm up the crowd with a Blues and a couple of old, familiar bop tunes. He absolutely nailed the Blues in Bb and his self-assuredness was growing stronger by the minute. "It’s gonna be a sweet and easy 8 bucks tonight” he thought to himself. Everything was going wonderfully well. That is, everything was going wonderfully well until the singer walked onto the bandstand, turned to the keyboardist, and called “All the Things You Are”. “Easy Peasy” Mr. Horn whispered to himself.
Before he could gather himself, she counted it off and the pianist – without hesitation - dove right into an awesome 8 bar intro. The band was cookin', the singer was shreddin’ it, and Mr. Horn - his wry, cocky smile no longer etched on his face - had but one thought:
“Please God, don’t let her point to me!”
But God had a sense of humor that night and, despite Mr. Horn's sudden deep religious convictions, her fateful fickled finger gestured in his direction. “Take it!” she shouted. “Ladies and gentlemen – Mr. Horn!”
Of course, all of his friends, family, neighbors, his mailman, and casually acquainted parking garage attendant picked that night to come hear him - and they just walked in the door.
Feigning confidence, he gave a nod to the band, closed his eyes tightly, and played his best lick on the first chord with absolute conviction. Then nothing. Absolute blankness. And the night was still young.
Suppressed panic ensued.
His predestined, masterful artistic statement had quickly degenerated into what could only be described as musical Tourettes. Notes and phrases came in abrupt, blurted spurts. He was in too deep, now, and aimlessly adrift without a paddle. There was only one hope – the 13th key! Yes, that closely held trade secret of seasoned pros that is the catch-all, last-ditch, Swiss Army Knife remedy for bandstand desperation; that amorphous, rootless, hapless, noncommittal, goes-with-nothing but might not clash with everything savior of the tonally confused; that go-for-broke, double-down, half-court heave, loose collection of faux flats, faux sharps, and targetless passing tones – chaos music theory at its quantum best; that artful dodge, musical slight-of-hand most often deployed by bassists in their lowest register. Skilled skaters have based entire careers on the 13th key concept (second only to the Blues scale), but he’ll only need it for 32 bars. “How hard can it be?” he thought to himself. “It’ll work. It’s gotta!!!”
Unfortunately, it was not particularly working for him. Just as he was finding a tonal center, the harmony modulated somewhere else. “Curse you, Jerome Kern! What kind of man puts three keys in one song! When this is over, it's nothing but Kenny G for me from now on!” As he spiraled deeper into the harmonic abyss, his eyelids cracked just enough to survey the bandstand and audience for disparaging grimaces – and there were more than a few. “They are so not buyin’ this,” he thought.
“It's time for a careful, meticulous, and time-killin' reed adjustment” he thought to himself! This was a particularly difficult feat because Mr. Horn played trumpet – but somehow, that sly dog pulled it off anyway.
Now, with no more delay tactics at hand, he was back into the fray, and the pounding humiliation continued with each dubious note choice. He overheard his mother, sitting at the front table, say to her friend "This is jazz? Sounds more like Rock-N-Roll because he’s steppin' all over his Little Richard up there".
Thankfully, the end was near - only a few more bars and the water-board ride will be over. He started to relax and began the desperate process of convincing himself that it wasn’t so terrible; that hey, the 13th key technique sorta worked a little, right? Then the singer - in absolute sadistic delight - gleefully shouted out "Take another!"
Having exhausted all other face-saving tactics, he cast a disparaging grimace over to the keyboardist, inferring that she was the problem. But, like his bogus “13th key” technique, the audience wasn't buying that, either, because she most certainly was NOT the problem. Why? Because she practiced with the Jamey Aebersold Vol. 68 "Giant Steps" play-a-long and was ready for anything in any key!
Don't let this happen to you. Grab a copy for yourself before it's too late.
Advanced. If you're ready for further challenges, try these slightly more difficult tunes in all 12 keys. Each tune begins with one chorus in the original key, and then moves through the other 11 keys. The tempos are moderate, but the real work-out begins when you start going through the various "un-common" keys. This challenging set is for anyone ready to put themselves "through the paces" - the right way!
Rhythm Section: Mark Levine (p); Lynn Seaton and Todd Coolman (b); Barry Ries (d)
"I use Vol 68 for most of my work. I manage to get through all of the tunes on Vol 68 every day. If I'm not playing in all keys, I feel like I'm wasting time."
Willie Thomas - Jazz Trumpet Player