Danny Grissett: invention, design, and technique

Analysis

Analysis: Michael Leibson

With comments by Danny Grissett

A condensed version of this article first appeared in the April, 2010 issue of DownBeat Magazine. If you are visiting from DownBeat:

If you arenot visiting from DownBeat, but would like to read the DownBeat article:

For the complete version of the article, please read on . . .

Improvisation is the instantaneous blending of training and subconscious perception — what blows by in an instant often owes its existence to sophisticated procedures that have been many years in the making. Yet we can trace a solo’s path via transcription, and use that map to discover the concepts, practices and invention that have attained fruition in the particular moment of performance. When applied to the work of a musician as gifted as Danny Grissett, such efforts are amply rewarded!

Grissett plays with a naturalness and ease that can readily deceive his audience. Swept up by his beautiful tone and expressive lyricism, we can all too easily fail to register just how astonishingly inventive his music really is — there are gems of creativity and design at every level. His solos are rich with hidden treasures — so fertile, in fact, that this analysis focuses on but two measures, taken from an extended solo on his Waltz For Billy, the second track of his highly acclaimed Encounters CD.

Waltz For Billy, Danny’s tribute to the late Billy Higgins, is woven through a series of strikingly poignant modulations. While the tune begins in the key of Bb major, our passage takes place within a modulation to Eb major (hence the accidentals on Ab). Here it is, as performed by Grissett (piano), Vicente Archer (bass), and Kendrick Scott (drums — omitted from this transcription):

The transcribed measures begin at the 4 minute, 56 second point of the recording — you can listen to the passage itself here, and the tune’s head here (scroll down to Encounters, and click on Track 2).

Although the passage sounds utterly effortless — and is over in less than three seconds — it is brimming with invention, design and technique. While stimulated by the magic of the moment, these creations are nevertheless derived from highly sophisticated procedures — procedures that are the result of Grissett’s long experience and training, coupled with his abundant creative faculties.

To discover these procedures, we must first understand the fundamental structures to which they’ve been applied. Then, by comparing those structures to the finished work, we can re-trace Danny’s steps, identifying each technique and procedure in turn.

Melodic Design

In creating his melodic line, Grissett employed advanced rhythmic, metric, and melodic techniques. Amidst these embellishments, however, we find a series of ascending, arpeggiated triads:

If we look closely, we find that each successive arpeggio begins a major third higher than the last, and that — despite the third arpeggio’s smaller time values — they all share the same shape. The first two arpeggios have identical durations, while the last one’s durations have been reduced to non-triplet sixteenth notes. All three arpeggios have slightly different metric placements, and each is preceded by a more elaborate pickup than the last.

Were it not for these rhythmic and metric discrepancies, we would have no trouble identifying this passage as being a sequence. As it is, we should perhaps call it a disguised sequence — one that has been elaborated by exquisitely subtle procedures. The sequential construction becomes clearly visible when the effects of those procedures are removed:

We see that Danny has built his wonderful melodic line upon a bedrock of solid design — a three-stage melodic sequence, itself comprised of elegant, easily-identified motivic material.

Danny Grissett:

Triads make great melodic material with which to improvise. They can be a great example of taking something simple and making something intricate and beautiful.

I like to use triads in a variety of ways. Mostly that involves finding triads which exploit the extensions of the harmony, both diatonic and altered. I play them both harmonically and melodically.

Now that we understand the fundamental structure of this melodic design, we can go forward to identify and explore each of the metric and rhythmic procedures by which it was elaborated. However, let’s not be too quick to turn away from the melodic dimension of this sequence — for it possesses more secrets, yet to be revealed.

Pitch Content

At first glance, there is nothing remarkable about the sequence’s arpeggiated triads — or the notes of which they individually consist; they are simply triads — two minor, followed by one major. And yet their succession creates a haunting beauty — a special magic, that transcends the ordinary. Certainly, the unexpected chromatic ‘lift’ that each triad performs, as it replaces its predecessor’s chordal third with a note a semitone higher, plays a part:

That such tonally unrelated chords as Abm and Cm are smoothly joined via the principles of common-tone modulation surely also plays a role:

Together, both phenomena lift us out of the ordinary, and move us with their unexpectedness and beauty. However, neither progression lies outside the bounds of conventional jazz harmony, and yet we are still enchanted by this succession of triads. Why?

The quality of a sequence’s interval of transposition normally varies according to the sizes of the scale steps over which it moves. For example, the following melodic sequence — in the key of C major — moves by descending 3rds:

We see that the quality of those 3rds changes, depending on the scale steps involved:  because there are two whole steps from A to F, the interval between stages one and two is a major 3rd; F to D is only one and a half steps, and so the interval between stages two and three is a minor 3rd.

However, we have already observed that the stages of Danny’s sequence are consistently transposed by a major 3rd — there is no variation in interval quality. This anomaly points to the possible use of an unusual type of scale — one whose pattern of steps includes a symmetrically ordered series of major 3rds.

There exist a number of scales whose structures not only divide the octave into equal parts, but that also replicate a precise pattern of intervals within each part. Jazz musicians routinely use two such scales — the diminished scale and the whole-tone scale.

The whole-tone scale divides the octave into six equal parts — six major 2nds, — with each part consisting of one whole-tone step:

Note the free use of enharmonic equivalents, for both notes and intervals — a common practice when working with such scales.

The diminished scale divides the octave into four equal parts — four minor 3rds,— with each part consisting of the same pattern of half and whole steps:

Jazz musicians employ the diminished scale in one of two modes — ‘semitone-tone’ (as shown), and ‘tone-semitone’.

There is a third scale of this type, that divides the octave into precisely the same symmetrically ordered series of major 3rds that we find in Danny’s sequence. It is called the augmented scale, and — though less commonly used than the diminished and whole-tone scales — is employed by a number of highly-regarded jazz musicians. The scale contains only two types of intervals — minor 3rds and minor 2nds — that are arranged so that a [-3rd, -2nd ] pattern is repeated with each division of the octave:

It is precisely from this — the augmented scale — that Grissett draws the notes of his arpeggiated triads; not only does he draw from it — he artfully uses it in its entirety:

We see that Danny has not only created a rock-solid sequential design, but has done so using solely the notes and triads of the augmented scale. This is a high degree of design for such a short passage, and yet we will see that it is but where Danny begins!

Danny Grissett:

With regard to this specific excerpt, the augmented scale is made up of a collection of triads. (Or at least that is one way of looking at it.) You can find major and minor triads in a variety of inversions throughout the scale, all major thirds apart. That is something I have explored about that scale in my practice time.

The augmented scale is one of the many scale choices that I would consider when improvising over dominant chords. Like all scales, except for maybe the diminished scale, it is not without notes that the ear might hear as very dissonant when played on strong beats. But that makes it all the more interesting to me.

Jazz musicians tend to use the diminished, whole tone, and augmented scales melodically, making them work within a harmony that remains traditionally diatonic and chromatic. The secret is to find intervallic patterns within chords that match those of the chosen scale. The use of elaborate chord alterations and extensions makes this task slightly less difficult than it sounds. The following example illustrates:

Diminished Scale Usage

Although the scale is employed melodically, each of its notes is justified in terms of the sounding chord:

We see that the first four notes of the scale — E, F#, G and A — act, respectively, as the root, 9th, 3rd and 11th of the Eø7 chord;  Bb, C, C# and D# go on to act as the b9, #9, 3rd and #11 of the A7#9 chord.

Of course, the notes of the scale needn't be used in step-wise order — they may be utilized to create any melodic or intervallic pattern.

The following demonstrates the same kind of usage, this time for the augmented scale:

Augmented Scale Usage

The scale’s A and C act as 6th and root of the C chord; its C# and E act as the #11 and 13 of the G13 chord, and its F and Ab act as the 3rd and 5th of the Db chord.

Classical composers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries — the first musicians to use these scales — employed them quite differently: they applied them to harmony as well as melody, and sometimes used them to create entirely new musical languages. The following excerpt, from Claude Debussy’s Voiles, illustrates this:

The passage is entirely based on the whole tone scale: not only is every melodic part drawn from its notes, but so is every chord. In fact, one can more aptly describe its harmony as being a series of whole tone ‘sonorities’ rather than a set of functional chords.

Another famous example of 20th-century classical usage is Igor Stravinsky’s employment of the diminished scale (known, then, as the ‘octatonic’ scale) in The Rite of Spring, where the composer extracts the scale’s two dorian tetrachords — a tritone apart: D-E-F-G, and G#-A#-B-C#, — and uses them to create a polytonal texture, in which both melody and harmony take place:

The flutes and second violins play within the scale’s D-E-F-G dorian tetrachord, while the melodic theme shared by the oboes and French horns belongs to its G#-A#-B-C# dorian tetrachord. The result is a particularly ‘octatonic’ musical universe, in which all parameters are determined by the scale’s properties.

Grissett draws from both musical traditions, borrowing a technique from his classical predecessors while adhering to standard jazz practice. We’ll soon see how.

Like any other scale, the augmented scale ‘contains’ chords. Here are the triads generated by the Ab augmented scale — the scale from which the notes of Danny’s sequence are derived:

We see that every note of the augmented scale supports an augmented triad;  in reality, these are simply enharmonic versions of just two triads — Ab augmented and G augmented.

As well, the notes Ab, C and E each generate three types of triad: minor, major, and augmented.

We also notice that the series of triads repeats itself with every third note. This is because of the scale’s symmetrical structure:  no matter where in the scale one begins, every third note will divide the octave into three equal parts — three major 3rds:

This feature allows us to take any of the triads formed on a note, and transpose it — up or down — by a major third. If we compare the triads of Grissett’s sequence with those in our ‘inventory’ of augmented scale triads, we see that this is exactly what Danny has done:  his first triad, Abm, is transposed up a major 3rd to become Cm; he then transposes up to E, but, although he could easily have continued the transposition to Em, Danny instead substitutes an E major triad — a triad type that is also available on Ab, C and E. (We’ll explore the reasons for his choice, soon.) Grissett has exploited one of the important features of the augmented scale:  that it’s triads can be consistently transposed by a major 3rd, thereby dividing the octave into three equal parts. In so doing, Danny employs every note of the scale, but in an imaginative, creative way.

Applying standard jazz usage, Danny integrates these augmented-scale-derived triads into his harmony:

The Ab minor arpeggio simply spells out the key’s iv chord — Abm. Danny’s voicing includes a nice touch — a poignant, added 2nd (Bb).

Grissett transforms the notes of his C minor arpeggio into the upper extensions of a luxurious Fm11 chord — the ii chord: the root, third, and fifth of the C minor arpeggio become, respectively, Fm11’s fifth, seventh, and ninth.

The root, third and fifth of his Fb (E) arpeggio are wonderfully reinterpreted as the flat fifth, seventh, and flat ninth of his V chord, Bb7b9b5.

If we look at the progression more closely, we see that the harmony alternates between chords that belong to the key of Eb minor and those of Eb major. The third of Abm — the note Cb — is the 6th degree of Eb minor, and the chord properly belongs to that key, where it is the subdominant triad.

Fm11 belongs to the key of Eb major — the ii chord of Eb minor being a half-diminished-seventh chord; the deciding factor is Fm11’s C natural, which forms a perfect fifth against the root, rather than the diminished fifth of a half-diminished-seventh chord. That C natural is a prominent and essential note in the sequential design, as it signals the first major 3rd transposition, which, in turn, signals the presence of the augmented scale.

Bb7b9b5 brings the reappearance of the note Cb — the 6th degree of Eb minor — and the chord properly belongs to that key. In fact, Fb, the flat fifth of the chord, takes us one flat past minor, to Eb phrygian.

Mixture (the use of notes and chords from different modes of the same tonic) is an integral part of jazz, and so we can expect its occurrence in almost any passage. Nevertheless, the patterns of mixture within this progression are special — they are the direct consequence of augmented scale use. The effects of such an atypical scale can be negative as well as positive, and an otherwise interesting note can also undermine one’s harmonic plans. Such is potentially the case in this passage, but we will see that — in a typically inventive way — Danny not only solves the problem, but turns it to his advantage.

To reconcile the modal contradictions posed by his augmented scale triads, Danny uses mixture in two different ways:

To enhance voice-leading tendencies:

Introducing the note Cb intensifies the voice-leading movement from C to Bb. The Cb — the b9 of Bb7b9 — is taken from the key of Eb minor, without in any way sacrificing the resolution to a major tonic. At the same time, interpreting the V’s b5 — Fb — as a #11 (E), allows that voice to fulfill its own very directional tendency. As mentioned, the Fb is borrowed from the key of Eb phrygian.

To frustrate voice-leading tendencies:

The sudden introduction of the note C natural works against Cb’s tendency to move to Bb;  frustrating this tendency — in this case — serves to create a wonderful sense of expansion, that delights with its unexpectedness and charm. The C natural becomes available as the result of an abrupt mode change, from the key of Eb minor to that of Eb major.

Through such sensitive use of mixture, Grissett transforms the challenges of the augmented scale into an exciting, creative adventure.

Jazz musicians typically use only those notes of the scale that can be made to fit the sounding harmony. As a result, we don’t hear an ‘augmented scale’, but a melodic pattern that is seemingly made up of appropriate chord tones. In reality, the chords have been carefully selected — and ‘edited’ — to make this possible.

Danny Grissett:

When it’s possible, I sometimes try to reduce chord progressions down to their lowest common denominator. That way I can approach one chord sound instead of two, three, or even four. And, to my ears, that chord progression in the excerpt is really one big Bb7 chord with suspensions, passing notes, and extensions.

Danny’s passage also contains other complexities, that pose significant challenges to the techniques just described. These intricacies result from the metric and rhythmic procedures that he applies to the sequence. Let’s therefore return to those procedures now;  doing so will allow us to better understand both the challenges, and Danny’s solutions.

Metric and Rhythmic Procedures

The passage’s fundamental structure is the three-stage melodic sequence with which we are now well acquainted — well, somewhat acquainted, for we are about to learn that it possesses yet another extraordinary feature, of which we have so far been unaware. Let’s take another look;  if you haven’t already done so, try to sing — or play — the sequential melody:

Do you notice how the sequence’s three-stage repetition articulates the melody in groups of two beats each? Now look at Danny’s time signature . . . and the barline that so awkwardly interrupts stage 2.  We see that the piece’s 3/4 meter tries to impose a three-beat structure upon a melody that is naturally constructed in two-beat stages! Rather than acquiesce, though, the melody creates its own meter, in a tripartite gesture that sprawls out over two of the piece’s 3/4 measures! The sequential melody is, in fact, in 3/2:

Now, if the accompaniment also shifted to 3/2 here, we would have an unusual instance of 'mixed' or 'changing' meter;  because the accompaniment does not follow the melody’s meter, but instead persists in 3/4, we in fact enter the magical dimension of polymeter.

One could fill volumes with the wonders and intricacies of polymeter. In the briefest of definitions, polymeter is the simultaneous sounding of two or more different meters. Its musical riches are one of Africa’s great gifts to humanity, and it is the blending of African and European musical cultures — one of the more positive outcomes of the history of the Americas — that forms the foundation of much of the West’s current musical heritage.

Polymeter creates entirely new metric, rhythmic, melodic and harmonic relationships where none have previously existed. We’ve already noted one of them — the conflict of metric accents that arises between the melody’s 3/2 and the accompaniment’s 3/4:

. . . which can be graphically illustrated via this basic representation:

The accompaniment’s metrically weak beat 3 is countered by the melody’s relatively stronger beat 2;  the metric stress that begins the accompaniment’s second bar occurs at a very weak mid-beat within the melody’s time frame.

While each musical element maintains its individuality — and can be heard that way — the two also interact in numerous ways. We can perhaps most easily perceive this via a little musical game that I devised, many years ago — it is derived entirely from a basic African polymetric technique.  If we represent our passage’s polymeter in terms of each meter’s beats, we get this:

If we now add a very simple rhythm to the lower part, we get:

. . . let’s now assign some pitch:

. . . which, because both parts begin at the unison, sounds like this:

Depending on the meter one emphasizes, the pattern can be heard as being either in 3/4:

or 3/2:

— and often as both, at the same time. (Try it!)

When hearing the pattern as being in 3/4, the second beat of the 3/2 part loses its identity, becoming instead the pickup to the second bar of 3/4. Similarly, the third 3/4 beat loses its metric function when the passage is heard as being in 3/2.

These ‘gravitational’ relationships are always active in polymeter — whether we are conscious of them or not — and their existence immeasurably enriches the musical texture. What we hear, for example, as simple syncopation:

. . . is, in part, the effect of an underlying polymeter:

Grissett’s passage could hold our attention solely by virtue of its sequential design and augmented scale use. That his sequence also has its own meter — creating a polymetric relationship between melody and accompaniment — lifts the passage far above the ordinary, imparting much greater depth, meaning, and musical interest than would otherwise be the case. We will see that the interaction between Danny’s melody and accompaniment is but one of a number of polymetric relationships within this passage.

Naturally, the presence of polymeter also affects harmony;  since harmony concerns itself with the vertical relationships in music, it follows that a change in the temporal structure of one part — relative to other parts — will also disrupt chordal outcomes. Such is indeed the case in Danny’s passage, where the intricacies of its polymetric relationships pose significant challenges to his harmonic design:  since the passage’s melody and accompaniment now move at different rates of time, so do their harmonies!  We see that there are two points of harmonic conflict:

At (a), the melody’s Cm arpeggio begins one beat earlier than the Fm11 with which it is supposed to be harmonically integrated (see earlier explanation). At (b), the melody’s Cb, appearing one beat prior to the Bb7b9b5 in which it serves as b9, badly clashes with the C natural in the accompaniment’s still-sounding Fm11.

Attentive to these challenges, Danny resourcefully employs two different solutions — one harmonic – for (a) – and one rhythmic – for (b).  At (a), only one of the overlapping notes potentially clashes with the accompaniment’s Amadd2 — the G;  the melody’s Eb already exists within that chord (as its fifth):

Danny’s solution lies in the mechanisms by which he modulates to this passage’s key of Eb:  the Amadd2 that begins our passage results from both an irregular resolution and a sudden mode change. As a consequence, its role as iv of Eb minor is not yet perceived — at the moment of its appearance, it could just as easily be heard as being the tonic chord in the key of Ab minor. (A full harmonic analysis of this tune — which will include a description of this modulation — will soon be added to this site.) Jazz harmony grants a fair degree of freedom to the tonic chords of minor keys — they can be decorated with raised 6th degrees, to produce ‘minor 6’ chords, as well as with raised 7th degrees, to form ‘minor-major-seventh’ chords. As our Amadd2 can be temporarily perceived as being a tonic minor chord, it can be embellished by either of these additions. Grissett deftly exploits this possibility, using it to musically convince us that the Cm arpeggio’s ‘G’ isn’t a problem, but rather a feature, for within the context of his modulation the ‘G’ becomes the major seventh within a perfectly legitimate tonic minor-major-seventh chord — Ab Cb Eb G. The passage’s subsequent sudden change, to the key of Eb major, further justifies that note’s use, as it is the mediant of that key, and fits beautifully within the Fm11 chord that follows.

Danny’s solution to the harmonic conflict at (b) is rhythmic, and consists of two parts:  first, he delays the melody’s Fb arpeggio by an eighth note’s duration. In the process, he gives it a more elaborate pickup, and reduces its durations to sixteenth notes:

These elaborating procedures also influence our perception of the melodic phrase — a fully intentional effect that is at least as important as the harmonic ‘correction’, and that we will soon discuss in more detail.

Next, Grissett brings the accompaniment’s Bb7 forward by almost half a beat, so that the two parts come to as perfect an alignment as is possible, given the swing eighths environment:

This last procedure also produces an effect that goes well beyond the harmonic correction. First, notice that the rhythms of Danny’s left-hand voicings are shared by his bassist, Vincente Archer. In bar 2, their rhythms are just about identical:

. . . and Archer implies the same rhythm in bar one:

While appropriate to the 3/4 time signature, these rhythms also suggest 6/8:

Although there is a very slight discrepancy — caused by the accompaniment’s swing eighths — the two patterns are a very close match. Through these rhythms, Grissett and Archer enrich the passage with yet more layers of polymeter — first, a two-against-three polymeter between these accompaniment rhythms and the piece’s 3/4:

. . . and then a more intricate three-against-four polymeter between the same rhythms and the melody’s 3/2:

The resulting triple polymeter is very rich:

It is over this wonderfully inventive, sophisticated design that Danny now performs a series of exquisitely subtle rhythmic operations — procedures of invention and technique that transcend all the accomplishments yet noted, and transform the passage into an experience of pure magic. We will perceive these procedures most vividly when they are examined against the framework of our passage’s most fundamental melodic structure — the three-stage melodic sequence, with which we began. Here is that sequence:

And here is the passage as Danny performed it:

At [1], we see that Grissett pulls the entire first stage of his sequence forward in time — by a third of a beat — so that it begins just before the downbeat. But rather than play its first note as a pickup, he articulates the figure as though it had never been shifted. The result is not a re-defining of each note’s role — something that would have weakened his melodic sequence — but rather the creation of a metric conflict that generates momentum, engages our attention, and provides the rhythmic geometry necessary for the wonderful phrase ending that Danny has in mind.

If, from there, Danny had continued the sequence with no further modification:

. . . the banal repetition would have robbed the initial shift of any purpose, re-introduced all harmonic dissonances, and rendered the passage as flaccid as a nursery rhyme.

Instead — [2] — Danny gives the note Eb double the duration it would have received under such rigid repetition. That one gesture brilliantly accomplishes three important changes:  first, by cancelling the phase shift, it re-aligns the subsequent note — G, the first note of stage two — so that it lands squarely on beat two of the 3/2 meter, thereby providing enough of that metric design to allow its perception. Next, the return-to-phase, itself, creates an asymmetry that, like a sudden video edit, accelerates our forward movement. Such acceleration is important, as it intensifies melodic direction, which in turn, leads to a richer, more involving phrase climax. Last, doubling the Eb’s duration instantly creates yet another polymetric pattern — one that very effectively enhances the sense of forward-moving melodic direction: the increased duration gives Eb more rhythmic weight, which begins to transmute its function — it is no longer only a transient pickup to the next stage, but also the important third note in an internal quarter-note triplet:

This triplet figure drives us powerfully forward to the beginning of stage two — in fact, it is now the entire triplet, and not just its final Eb, that acts as the pickup to that stage.

We have already encountered the procedures shown at [3], [4], and [5], which combine to correct the harmonic dissonance caused by polymeter:

What we haven’t yet discussed is the metric device that drives these operations. By delaying his Fb arpeggio by an eighth note’s duration [4], Grissett changes the position of its rhythmic role. Its initial note — Cb — is the climax of the entire passage, and therefore the recipient of its strongest accent. (It is also no accident that it is the phrase’s highest pitch.) Moving that note so that it begins in the middle of beat two — rather than at its start — alters the metric structure [6]:  rather than experience the bar as being divided into 3/4’s three equal parts, we now hear it switch — midway through the measure — to a duple division. In effect, Danny begins the bar in 3/4, but changes to 6/8 halfway through:

The procedure not only furnishes a smooth, musically logical way of moving to faster time values — sixteenths instead of eighth-note triplets — but also creates an almost subliminally enhanced dénouement to the entire rhythmic structure of the phrase — we barely register the metric change, but appreciate its ‘rightness’.

We see that, while also correcting harmonic dissonances, these procedures strongly shape the rhythmic structure of the melodic line. Danny’s phase shift acts like a musical rubber band — stretched at its initiation and released at its cancellation, it forcefully propels the melody forward. The transformation of stage one into a quarter-note triplet pickup (to stage two) further accelerates the drive to phrase climax. Delaying that climax’s arrival — making us wait for it — even further increases its intensity. Finally, the shift to faster time values and a new meter facilitates the release and resolution required at phrase end.

These temporal techniques — phase shift, quarter-note triplets, and 3/4 6/8 ‘hemiola’ — are really a series of rapidly changing time signatures and tempi. They are difficult to play, and even more difficult to conceive, and yet Danny creates them in mid-flight, performs them fluidly and coherently, and makes them serve his musical and aesthetic expression. Musical time is perhaps jazz’s most esoteric dimension, and Grissett has clearly mastered it.

Danny Grissett:

These shifts in time are some of my favorite rhythmic devices.

I can remember discovering a lot about rhythmic shifting during my time in grad school. I took a few semesters of an African ensemble class where I was required to drum and dance. I played a variety of drums and percussion instruments. Each drum had a pattern that was a part of a greater composition. And those patterns often exploited the time by shifting through different parts of the beat. Most of the time those patterns were to my western ears in 6/8. And I was always trying to relate the pulses to where the “one” was, even though my teacher informed me that they don’t really think about the rhythms in that way. Nonetheless, I learned that any beat can be made to feel like a downbeat. When you add melodic pitches to the rhythms, a whole other set of options arise. So in shifting the time, I just try to think in terms of strong and weak beats.

Summing Up

It’s time to take a long step back from these details, so that we can better grasp where we’ve been.

We have uncovered, within a seemingly simple, two-measure passage, a world of complex design and invention. Every musical dimension — time, pitch, harmony — has been exactingly worked. Procedures both formal (sequential structure, augmented scale symmetries, integration of augmented scale and traditional harmonies, multi-level polymeter) and fluid (phase shift, metrically-created tempo changes, and other rhythmic transformations) have been coordinated to produce a unified, coherent, and musically meaningful gesture. The result completely transcends the materials used — and yet the effect is one of elegant simplicity.

There is no doubt that Danny has honed these procedures over many years of training and performance, and that he also knows to trust his creative and expressive gifts. And yet we are still humbled by his performance, and find our own words inadequate in the face of such beauty and creativity. Perhaps it’s best to leave the final words for Danny, himself:

Danny Grissett:

I cannot discount the fact that some things that I play, I just “hear”. Part of what I hear is no doubt coming from an amalgamation of studied concepts and sounds. But I believe that, in some of the more inspired moments, what I hear comes from a higher place. . .

Michael Leibson
March, 2010

Michael Leibson is a composer, music consultant, and music educator, who specializes in jazz and classical harmony. To learn more about him, click here; for information about studying with him, click here; and for copyright information, click here.