Sunday, September 18, 2022

Playing Airegin

The title is Nigeria spelled backwards, usually pronounced AIRa-jin. I took a minute in the shower this morning figuring out how to pronounce it actually like Nigeria backwards: ah-ee-REE-jine. JINE rhyming with JIVE. A little stage banter item in case you ever have to get on the mic.  

Let's keep talking about tunes. That's a good subject. Airegin by Sonny Rollins is well known, but doesn't get played a whole lot. When it does come there can be a little confusion about how to play it— usually   

There are two famous recorded versions, first from Miles Davis's album Bags' Groove, which is pretty straightforward. Most often people will play it like this. Kenny Clarke mostly swings all the way through. Tempo is 240. 


And from Miles's album Cookin', which is is faster, more involved, with some hip flourishes to the arrangement. Philly Joe Jones does a lot more filling, and playing arrangement elements. That's the confusion I'm talking about— I'm trying to play it this way, everybody else is playing it like it is on the other record. Tempo is 288— half note = 144. 

Quick note on those tempos: 240 and 288— those are very common fast tempos in my listening experience. A whole lot of famous recordings are real close to them. For whatever reason people gravitate to them. Good numbers to have on your practice room radar.   

The form is an unusual ABAC, with phrases 8-12-8-8 bars long. 

Usually there's a Latin vamp intro— played in a rather disjointed way on Bag's Groove. On Cookin' the bass plays a quasi-Flamenco vamp, and Joe plays a hand to hand 8th note rhythm on the hihat. Also on Cookin' they they play the Latin vamp in place of the second A, so the actual form is A-B-VAMP-C— 8-12-8-8. That happens on the solos as well as the head. 

The 8 measure A sections have a repeating four-bar theme, with two measures of the main theme, two measures of response. This is timed differently on the different versions— the 'response' line happens in the fourth measure on Bags' Groove, and in the third measure on Cookin'. The rhythm is also squarer on Bags' Groove, more syncopated on Cookin'. It's worth mentioning a Stan Getz version where he plays the Bags' Groove rhythm on the A sections, with a break for a drum fill on the third and seventh measures— the measure before the response line. 

Usually the drums punctuate that part of the tune— at least hit the 2 in the second measure of each four bars. Philly Joe plays the line exactly, like a big band figure, and fills on the 4th and 8th measures of the section. On the solos on Cookin' Red Garland and Joe often punctuate the last measure of the A section with several &s in a row. 

The 12 measure B section has a two measure sequence that is extended the last two times it's played: 2-2-4-4. On Cookin' Garland and Joe hit a figure in the 8th bar of the B section— 1&2&— on the head only. Joe usually fills the last two measures of the section, heading into the Latin second A. 

The 8 measure C section is a coda figure with a break in bar 7— break at the end of the head, play through on the solos. At the very end of the tune that figure is extended a couple of beats— see the New Real Book chart for that, or just listen to the record. 

The two major lead sheets people are likely to use are from the original Real Book and from the New Real Book. The Real Book chart is based on the Cookin' version, except it omits the whole Latin thing— they don't write out the intro, and they don't put it in the form of the tune. It also doesn't include the figure at the very end of the tune. That book is known for containing a lot of suspect chords, I haven't checked for that. 

The New Real Book chart is based on Bags' Groove— except on the record the first measure of the vamp is different. I'm not sure what's happening there. 

There's a zipfile of fake book pdfs circulating, which includes some other charts for it— an OK version in Library of Musicians' Jazz, and a real suck version in Jazz Fakebook (written in that crummy, unreadable “World's Greatest Fake Book” style). 

There we go, that's about all I know about the tune— have fun with it.  


Unknown said...

Apropos of not much (and well beyond the realms of the versions you mention here)... There's also the almost preposterously muscular version by Hubert Laws and Steve Gadd.

Also, it's been a while since I checked in with the site and my mind is blown as ever by the generosity of spirit you show by sharing all this brilliant stuff, let alone the pedagogic utility of the exercises themselves. Thanks so much Todd!

Todd Bishop said...

Wow, yeah! That's another CTI record I need to get....

And thanks for the kind words... this is what I do man... :-)