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So What If I Stole from Claude Debussy?

Discussion in 'Jazz Technique [DB]' started by Don Kasper, Oct 14, 2020.

  1. Don Kasper

    Don Kasper Supporting Member

    Do you think Bill Evans copped some vocabulary from C. Debussy for part of his intro to "So What"?
    Listen at 1:36 - 1:44, below, and compare to So What at 0:21 - 0:28, below.
    Coincidence? I think not.
    IMFO, of course.

    NG51 likes this.
  2. Yes very similar, harmonic planing. Can you tell if it’s chromatic or diatonic? I think Evans is borrowing the technique at least.
  3. Don Kasper

    Don Kasper Supporting Member

    Not sure.... My earz are not that good, nor are my piano chopz.
    Thanks for your interest.
  4. I’ll find the Debussy on Imslp and see what it looks like if I have a chance.
    Don Kasper likes this.
  5. It’s La puerta del vino.
    Don Kasper likes this.
  6. dylanjohnson

    dylanjohnson Supporting Member

    Jul 9, 2002
    Morro Bay, CA
    Didn't Gil have a big part in writing the intro?
  7. Sam Sherry

    Sam Sherry Inadvertent Microtonalist Supporting Member

    Sep 26, 2001
    Portland, ME
    Euphonic Audio "Player"
    "Good artists borrow; great artists steal."
    -- Variously attributed to William Faulkner, Pablo Picasso and Johannes Brahms
    Michael Case and Don Kasper like this.
  8. Don Kasper

    Don Kasper Supporting Member

    Not sure....
  9. notabene


    Sep 20, 2010
    SF Bay area
  10. True, it’s the whole idea of “free dissonance” in other words the idea that the 7th or 9th of a chord can just exist as a sonority on its own without the need for resolution into a consonance. Debussy blended the two concepts seamlessly in many pieces. Just one of the many reasons Debussy was so influential to following generations of musicians including jazz artists.
  11. turf3


    Sep 26, 2011
    There are a few seconds there where it's not "similar", it's "almost exactly the same".

    I have no trouble believing that either or both of Bill Evans and Gil Evans, both well schooled musicians, were familiar with the Debussy piece. I have read that Gil Evans made some sketches for the intro, but I have not read anything that clearly indicates how much of the intro is Bill and how much is Gil.
    Don Kasper likes this.
  12. skycruiser


    Jan 15, 2019
    Thanks for posting this. I'm fascinated by the idea of musical ideas crossing over between time periods and genres of music. Nice find!
    Don Kasper likes this.
  13. So the passage in question (in La puerta) features a bunch of 6/4 position M and m triads (no seventh chords at all) over a pedal point consisting of Db and Ab (Db is in the bass or lowest sounding). The series of chords, all of which sound over the pedal point notes, consists of: Fb - Gb - Abm - Gb - Fb, next bar: Eb - F - Gm - F - Eb, next bar: D - Em - Fm - Em - D, next bar Db (still over the Db/Ab pedal). The last Db chord is of course now root position.

    One way to think of it functionally by bar would be diatonic planing (all parallel motion) from IV - V - vi - V - IV in the key of Cb, then the same thing in the next bar in the key of Bb, then chromatic planing (no key orientation) in the last bar before landing on Db (the home key of the piece). One interesting feature is the descending chromatic soprano line that moves from Cb to Bb to A to Ab through the passage. Cool piece and that’s just 3 + bars or so. The Debussy can be found on Imslp under Debussy Préludes Book II (La puerta del vino). It’s measures 37-41. Wonder if there’s a transcription out there of Bill Evan’s part?
    skycruiser and Don Kasper like this.
  14. turf3


    Sep 26, 2011
    I would frankly be astonished if there aren't multiple transcriptions of the Bill Evans intro. It's one of the most famous and well recognized piano parts in all of jazz.
    elberon likes this.
  15. BrotherMister


    Nov 4, 2013
    PVG Membership
    Even before hearing it I've always heard those concepts and influences in Evans' playing. I honestly don't think a musician with Evans background was not aware of Debussy and Ravel.

    I'll need to try and source it but there is a recording of Oscar Peterson where he plays the opening measures of Claire de lune on Body And Soul.
    elberon likes this.
  16. BrotherMister


    Nov 4, 2013
    PVG Membership

    Found it! He also quotes Rachmaninoff
    Martin Spure, marcox and elberon like this.
  17. Martin Spure

    Martin Spure

    Feb 4, 2020
    Would this be helpful ? - (Had to dig through old files from my conservatory years, many moons ago...there may be errors, but I just played through it on the piano and it sounds right to me..)

    So what - intro transcription.png
    elberon, Winoman and Don Kasper like this.
  18. Don Kasper

    Don Kasper Supporting Member

    Thank You, Martin.
    I never knew that the Intro was composed by Gil Evans. Now I know.
    Thanks for your excellent research and interest!
    Martin Spure likes this.
  19. lurk


    Dec 2, 2009
    I've never transcribed all of PCs walking line on this tune, but I've listened to it lots and stolen lots of little things. Like everyone I have always been struck by that low Eb in the intro and Ive listened for it in the rest of the cut and never heard it. It would be pretty tempting for me if I had detuned to drop a low Eb somewhere in the bridge. Maybe I've missed it, or is the intro an edit? Anybody know? Are there other recordings where PC downtunes or maybe uses a bass with an extension? I've listened to a lot of PC and never noticed it.
    Martin Spure likes this.
  20. Martin Spure

    Martin Spure

    Feb 4, 2020
    If I recall correctly, Gunther Schuller (Horn player on 'Birth of the Cool') mentioned during a Master Class at my Conservatory - where we re-performed Birth of the Cool from the original scores and parts (provided and conducted by Gunther himself), that Gil Evans was the composer of the intro to So What. Whether or not this is true, I honestly don't know. But it seems credible, given the close relationship between Davis and Gil Evans at that particular time, so I choose to believe it :)

    Regarding Paul Chambers' low E flat. The fellow student who helped me back then transcribe the above was blessed with natural perfect pitch ( he could tell you the Hz of a squeaking door. Not kidding !), and he said that the low E flat was actually 4 cents too high (also marked in the transcription above); so was the D's (open string) in the previous 2 measures. However, none of the following D's (open string) in P.C.'s bassline (incl. the melody) appeared to have the +4 cents.

    Which - kind of - suggests that the intro might have been recorded separately, with P.C. downtuning to E flat (almost) which may have affected the tuning of the D-string too; bringing it slightly out of tune as well on the separate recording of the intro. However, this is pure guesswork and I haven't been able to confirm whether a separate recording was made, or P.C. simply downtuned 'on-the-fly'... (edit: also, there's a short pause between the last low E flat and the melody line, in which P.C. actually would have time to quickly tune up to E - by chance - but I guess we'll probably never know):)
    Last edited: Oct 17, 2020 at 2:32 PM

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