Bud Powell: “Cleopatra’s Dream”

I’ve always liked the sound of jazz but have never been as interested in it as rock or classical. Recently my interest has flared up a bit, and I’ve been trying to make up for lost time by listening to more of it with active ears. The standard approved way to work on your analytical technique seems to be to make transcriptions of classical recorded solos, so I picked up the first random jazz CD that was at hand, Bud Powell’s The Scene Changes, and sat down to transcribe the first number, Cleopatra’s Dream. Unfortunately 1) it’s a very fast tune (quarter note = 240), 2) it’s in A flat minor (that’s seven flats), and 3) Bud Powell, like I suppose any good pianist, uses both hands. So maybe it was not the best song to transcribe first. Nonetheless I ended up with something that is at least moderately accurate, especially in the right hand, and it can be found here (PDF file).

I did learn a bit from this exercise about how Powell improvises, and it was good practice for my ears, so it was certainly a success on those fronts. If anyone has suggestions or corrections, especially actual jazz musicians who can tell me, for example, “this line you sketched out in the left hand is not what anyone would ever actually play, he must be doing this instead”, I’d love to hear them.

(By the way, I noted on Twitter that I hear this as being in Ab minor (7 flats), and not G# minor (5 sharps), which you’d think would be more “simple”, and I think I realized why. The leading tone is an important part of the scale, and the major dominant chord that contains it is an important chord; and it’s much easier to think about a V chord that’s an Eb major (Eb, G, Bb) than a D# major (D#, F##, A#). So I think I chose the right key after all.)

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4 Responses to “Bud Powell: “Cleopatra’s Dream””

  1. Darius K. says:

    All I remember about Bud is that this one time, he walked in.

    I took a Jazz Theory course in college and it was the toughest B I ever earned, also one of the most rewarding classes I ever took! To think back and recall that I used to be able to compose a (bad) jazz lead sheet, head, and even write a solo is weird, like I was a physically different person back then…

  2. Iain says:

    I’ve heard of but never heard that one, I should look it up.

    I’m no expert but I thought Bud Powell tended to use fairly simple (but clever) walking basslines. So I was surprised to see so much going on in the left hand in your transcription, but I guess it’s mostly just octave doubling. His tune “Celia” might be an interesting comparison.

  3. dfan says:

    Iain, the post has a link to the recording on YouTube if you want to check it out.

    Most of the active left-hand stuff is octave doubling, yeah. This is a piano trio (piano, bass, drums), so the bass is doing all the walking. and the piano’s left hand is left free to add some color (or double the melody).

  4. Iain says:

    I figured that’d be a YouTube video, but I was replying from work. 🙂

    I should get some headphones. Currently when I want music I just go to the piano room.

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