It’s only after we know the history of each tune, artist, and style of jazz that we’re truly free to either stay within it, alter it, or seek out a new approach entirely. The most radical jazz musicians are often the ones with a deep sense of what’s come before them.

Sometimes this applies to an entire style of jazz. Early New Orleans Jazz is a good example of this. Every time I listen to one of Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five recordings, I come away with a new arranging idea that I can apply to ant style I’m currently playing. Those Hot Five arrangements are bold! Every time I hear them follow a 2-bar trombone break with a solo by a different instrument, to cite just one example, I think “What didn’t I think of that?” It’s because nowadays, a trombone break is always followed by a trombone solo. But yes, by learning what has been done before, we can bring it into our own music in fresh ways that are informed by the past. (We don’t always have to reinvent the wheel!)

This type of musical discovery can also be done on a micro level. For instance, have you ever played the tune “Freddie Freeloader” from Miles Davis’ famous album “Kind of Blue?”

The tune is basically a 12-bar blues with a “surprise” chord at the end of every 2nd chorus, which in itself makes it worth checking out. But going further, I find it interesting that the melody is notated differently in the “old” and new editions of the Real Book, and even the new edition doesn’t correspond exactly with what the Miles Davis group plays on the recording.

What’s going on? Which version is correct? How should we play the melody?

I decided to do some musical detective work and figure it all out. Here’s what I came up with:

Freddie The Freeloader: Journey Through The Real Book #128

Have fun following along with my musical sleuthing, and discovering how to play the melody correctly. (Hint: One of the Real Book versions is correct, but the recording itself isn’t!)

Good luck, and “let the music flow!”

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