Have you ever heard Wayne Shorter’s album Juju? If not, check it out – you’re in for a treat!
The whole album is great, and one tune that stands out is “House Of Jade.” It a ballad, and the tempo is just fast enough that a walking bass line can sustain the groove. Not many jazzers play this style of groove anymore, and it sounds wonderful!
Juju is from 1965, and features McCoy Tyner on piano. Although I’ve played “House Of Jade” occasionally over the years, I decided to dive deep into it as part of my Journey Through The Real Book video series. My goal to help you view the tune as part of the larger context of Wayne Shorter’s musical world and it’s place in jazz history.
Tunes like “House Of Jade” straddle the line between Shorter’s earlier work with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and his then-current work as part of the Miles Davis Quintet. The harmonies and musical form are similar to the tunes he was composing for Miles, but the straight ahead groove was a little more traditional.
One thing I like to do, and you’ll hear on the video, is to apply some of Wayne Shorter’s later techniques to his early tunes. Not just to play them as the group did in 1965, but to see where Wayne went stylistically over the years and bring that back to this earlier material. It’s actually the same approach that Shorter himself takes when playing his “old” songs. Some of them are barely recognizable anymore!
Wayne Shorter chord voicings have been influenced by contemporary classical music, and this aspect of his writing began surfacing more and more over the years. As he relates in Mabel Mercer’s amazing biography of him, he loved going to see movies as a kid and enjoyed some of the more contemporary musical scores. This music, which was in turn influence by the contemporary classical composers, stayed with him his whole career. You’ll see me use some of these harmonies on my performance of “House Of Jade.”
You’ll also see me reharmonize the melody with quartal voicings. Sometimes I use the famous “So What” voicing in parallel motion, and at other times the voicings can be more free-form. Contrary motion can be effective as well.
There’s a contrasting harmonic rhythm between the A sections and the bridge to “House Of Jade,” and this reflects Shorter’s balancing of the “conventional” with the “unconventional,” which he does in various ways in much of his work. The A Sections feature chromatic harmony which appears in half notes, while the bridge is modal and the chords are held out longer. If you play the bridge with straight 8th notes, it reminds of early Stravinsky pieces like “The Firebird.”
Wayne Shorter’s use of contrasting harmonic rhythm between the A sections and the bridge to “House Of Jade”
One big “takeaway” from all this is the realization that Wayne Shorter was inspired by a lot of different music, and we can draw upon the same wide range of musical influences while playing his compositions.
You’ll hear all this, along with some pianistic techniques used by Herbie Hancock, here:
House Of Jade: Journey Through The Real Book #152
Good luck with your piano playing, enjoy the journey, and “let the music flow!
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