Clarinetist And Jazz Master Buddy DeFranco-A Yardbird Suite Transcription

Clarinetist And Jazz Master Buddy DeFranco-A Yardbird Suite Transcription

Master Clarinetist Buddy DeFranco took the clarinet in many interesting and varied directions in his long career. 

While I plan to write several detailed blog posts about his work, and to include several of my personal transcriptions in them, I would like to offer this Yardbird Suite solo as an introduction to his style and use this solo as a starting point to analyze his many influences. 

It is the Bird connection, and the Be Bop language that Buddy absorbed and translated to the clarinet, that came to define his work over the course of his career.  His short Wikipedia entry can be found here…..

Buddy was undeniably infatuated with both Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw as a young man.  He recorded many of the same tunes as these two Swing Master Clarinetists, albeit it in his own way, and he paid tribute to them with his recording I Hear Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw, which can be found on the Lonehill Label, LHJ10281.  Buddy also recorded several Charlie Parker tunes over the course of his recording career, and developed his own Be Bop voice as a direct response to his love of Bird’s music. 

Looking farther harmonically into the future Buddy also recorded Giant Steps, the John Coltrane classic, with Terry Gibbs, on their Chicago Fire recording from 1987, and Buddy continually managed to delve into various other styles and streams of music that interested him right up until his death.  His search for musical truth, and his dedication to the clarinet, served him quite well throughout his lengthy career…..

Buddy’s work with vibes man Terry Gibbs is well documented.  The clarinet-vibraphone connection was well established by Benny Goodman and Lionel Hampton in the Swing Era.  Gibbs and DeFranco obviously drew on that model for their collaboration.  More can be learned about Mr. Gibbs here…..

While I have been unable to locate this particular Yardbird Suite track on Youtube, it does appear that there are several used copies available for cheap on Amazon of their Holiday For Swing recording.

My transcription of Yardbird Suite, a track from their recording Holiday For Swing on Contemporary Records (1991), begins with some obvious Charlie Parker melody quotes. 

Yardbird Suite:BDF


Quotes of Bird’s tunes Ornithology, Confirmation and Scrapple From The Apple each appear in the introduction to the piece before Buddy fires off the Yardbird melody at a medium tempo.  Buddy and Terry quote the lead-in to Bird’s classic solo on Yardbird Suite at the end of his melody statement, and after Gibbs solo Buddy begins his solo with a quick quote from Killer Joe, a Benny Golson classic tune.  Once all this is complete the solo starts in earnest in bar five of Yardbird Suite’s familiar chord structure.  My first comment on revisiting this solo for this blog post is just how incredibly harmonically rich Buddy’s solo is, and how he makes some rather difficult intervalic passages sound so easy to play.  Bar 53, which is bar 6 of the first chorus, makes use of a nice combination of the sharp 5 (F natural) and flat 9 (bB) over the A7 chord.  Bar 61 begins squarely on the sharp 11 (D#) over the A7 chord while the phrase continues over both the sharp 9 (C natural) and the flat 9 (Bb), and in the next measure we find another sharp 11 (G#) over the D major chord.  These upper extensions of the harmony are clearly intentional and a big feature of the more modern Be Bop style that Buddy translated from Bird into his own work.  Buddy works his way thru the Bridge in a fairly straight forward manner, and the next interesting harmonic twist occurs in bar 71 where he introduces again the sharp 9 and flat 9 and sharp 5 over the A7 that leads back to the last A section of the first chorus.  Bar 75 again lands squarely on the sharp 5 (F natural) of the B7, and the following bar Buddy again hits the sharp 11 (A#) over the E7.  Another interesting passage occurs in bar 99, where Buddy uses the sharp 9 and flat 9 (D and C natural) over the B7, and I also find the prominent B natural in Bar 100, followed by the Bb two bars later in Bar 102, that then resolves to A natural in bar 103 to be a specific chromatic target that he uses to get out of the Bridge and into the final A section.  Again in Bar 109 Buddy stresses the sharp 11 (D sharp) over the final cadence A7 in two different registers while also doing the same with the flat 9 (Bb) before ending this short, compact and harmonically rich solo.

I intend this to be the first of many Buddy DeFranco blogposts.  In the future I will examine more of his solos and delve deeper into his unique clarinet voice.  I consider Buddy DeFranco to be the pivot point into modern jazz for the clarinet.  For the most part his work built on that of his two giant forebears, Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw.  He then carried the clarinet from the Swing Era into the Be-Bop era, and clearly expanded his voice and repertoire to include Bop’s demanding challenges.  His virtuosity and harmonic language came together perfectly at times, and no doubt had a lasting effect on the work of Eddie Daniels that followed.  Absolutely one of the very great clarinetists of the Twentieth Century, he left us a tremendous body of work to delve into for inspiration.  Any aspiring jazz clarinetist would do well to find as many Buddy DeFranco recordings as possible to add to their record library. 

The entire Buddy DeFranco story is contained in the incredible hard cover book A Life in the Golden Age of Jazz-A Biography of Buddy DeFranco, published in 2002 by Parkside Publications.  Written by Fabrice Zammarchi and Sylvie Mas, this amazing book describes in incredible detail the career and life of Buddy DeFranco.  It is a must read for any serious student of the jazz clarinet.

We are lucky to have had Buddy DeFranco as a trailblazing clarinetist, and we should treasure his recorded legacy.  His clarinet playing transcended styles and eras; he was a warrior and a survivor of the jazz lifestyle.  He is truly, by any measure of success and virtuosity, a Jazz Master.

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