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Donna Lee

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by jblmusic1994, Jul 29, 2013.

  1. I just finished learning the melody of this tune from The Real Book Sixth Edition. I have a few questions about it:

    1. Who wrote it? I see a lot of people online debating on who wrote this piece. I see people talking about how someone stole it and took credit from its original owner.

    2. Is it swung or straight 8ths? I also hear a lot of debate over whether it should be played swung or straight.

    3. What tempo should it be performed at?

    4. When playing this (or anything) on bass, should there be a certain string to play a certain note on? Since I've been practicing it rather slow to get the parts down, I'm afraid that some speed will be limited by choice of positioning. Or can anyone send a tab (I never use tabs, but it may help in this instance) of the easiest or most recommended way of playing this? Whenever I find a line that is strictly a scale or arpeggio being superimposed over the chord, I usually just go with one of those common fingerings for the arpeggio or scale. It's the large skips and chromatic sections that make me wonder if it can be executed more easily, or at least with greater precision at full tempo. An example is at the very beginning of the tune, after it skips from an A to a low Bb (I think, I don't have the sheet or my instrument on me), should I have already changed positioning to play this line lower on the A and D strings rather than higher on the E and A strings?

    5. Finally, if I were to record this, would it be wise to play the chords on bass in a high register, most likely excluding one or two notes from the chord? Would voicing these chords in a certain way prove to be beneficial or feasible?
  2. Stick_Player

    Stick_Player Banned

    Nov 13, 2009
    Somewhere on the Alaska Panhandle (Juneau)
    Endorser: Plants vs. Zombies Pea Shooters
    google and youtube are your friend.

    Your questions will be answered.
  3. I figured a forum designed specifically for bass guitar would prove to be a better source.
  4. Space Pickle

    Space Pickle

    Apr 15, 2013
    Officially Donna Lee is by Charlie Parker although there is some debate as to whether or not he stole it from Miles Davis.

    There is no fingering - you have to work that out yourself. Whatever lets you get through the tune the cleanest is the best fingering choice. As far as swinging goes, the faster you play the more your eighth notes tend to straighten out. It's a swing tune, but it's bebop, not a hokey country swing or something. You could play it straight if you wanted though.
  5. Shakin-Slim


    Jul 23, 2009
    Tokyo, Japan
    Keep running through it, building up the tempo and any fingering issues will, most likely, become clear.

    I say record it and add the chords up around and beyond the 12th fret. Just be sure to leave out whatever is superfluous (the 5th, for example). That could also be a cool exercise in inversions.
  6. MalcolmAmos

    MalcolmAmos Supporting Member

    Donna Lee - No way I can play that. From the questions you are asking, I too think you have bitten off a very large chunk of the elephant. Be careful it does not make you sick. Only recommendation I would have is slow down and enjoy what is happening.

    It is so fast I doubt I could fake - chord tone accompaniment, much less melody notes.

    With what you have done so far; congratulations are in order.

    Keep working........

  7. ^ this....

    as with any tricky piece, practice the head at a slow tempo - execution is key - and get your head around the shapes in the melody and where you think your positioning is most effective. Then start practicing it with a metronome, again, slow tempo...then gradually work the speed up depending on your ability. Don't rush it....if you play it too fast too soon you ain't gonna get it! I got this to quite a decent speed at one stage but i prefer to play a funkier version of it with more space between the notes.

    Enjoy, it's a great piece to work on.
  8. Pacman

    Pacman Layin' Down Time Staff Member Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 1, 2000
    Omaha, Nebraska
    Endorsing Artist: Roscoe Guitars, DR Strings, Aguilar Amplification
    Miles Davis wrote Donna Lee, although Charlie Parker was credited with it.
  9. As mentioned previously, Charlie Parker is credited with the tune but there's some debate as to whether Miles really wrote it.
    It's swing 8th notes at a fast tempo so comes across as pretty much straight. The quicker you swing the straighter you should become. That's because you'd end up with a hilarious hiccup rhythm if you tried to play a triplet feel swing at fast tempi. Just try it and you'll see why.

    Donna Lee is played at a wide variety of speeds. If you want to learn it properly then you really need to have a listen to a bunch of recordings both old and new. Parker did several recordings of it. There's a really, really quick version by Joe Pass doubled with Niels Henning Orsted Pedersen on upright kicking about somewhere on Youtube.

    For electric bass you'll find loads of recordings too. Jaco Pastorius did the quintessential version on his debut 'Jaco' album. That's solo bass with percussion. That is definitely THE go to version. There's a book of Jaco solos out with Donna Lee transcribed with the improvised solo complete with tab if you need the fingering. If you want to have your brain fried, Victor Wooten did a version where he slaps every note. Not too keen on his improv through it but what the hell. He's slapping it. Can't really expect miracles.

    I learnt it about 20 years ago as an audition for university and tried my own take on it. Jaco picks every note so he gets a really staccato sound on all the triplets but I went for a more sax like legato feel by using hammer ons and pull offs. This REALLY helps when you try upping the tempo. To be honest learning the head is only the beginning. Improvising through the changes is the hard part, particularly making it fit with the bebop style head. You can't just play a naff, plodding solo. I'd actually recommend studying bebop styling and then slowly writing a convincing solo to use as a kind of skeleton for future improv.

    If you want to know about bebop, get the Charlie Parker Omnibook, bass clef edition and learn some heads and solos while analysing the phrases. Pay attention to the chromatic passing notes and use of chord substitutions. If you need to learn any of that stuff, get some books on jazz harmony.

    As for chords. Yes, it's really easy to play Donna Lee's progression as bass chords. They're all fairly straightforward 7th chords. I got used to playing through the improv section by first playing chords through it just to familiarise myself with the progression.

    Hope that helps

  10. Shakin-Slim


    Jul 23, 2009
    Tokyo, Japan
    If you're interested in thinking about an entirely different way to approach the tune, have a listen to the Joe Lovano 'Us Five' version:
  11. Thanks. You were all a lot of help. Especially Mark.