Holding on to Nothing

Last year, David Crosby published his first solo album in about 20 years. “Croz” simply became one of my favorite albums (in the category “of all time”). Without S N & Y, it’s a full album of mostly sophisticated ballads or mid tempo songs, with beautiful chords and voicings (lovers of open-tuning guitars, this one’s for you), vocal harmonies to die for, and an outstanding level of musicianship.

 Among the guests on the album, Mark Knopfler does a great sensitive job on the opening song “What’s broken”. But to continue on my series of non-guitar transcriptions, I decided to share with you the trumpet solo from “Holding On For Nothing”. At my first listen I was blown away by the beauty of this solo. And when I realized that it was Wynton Marsalis playing I was speechless.

Wynton Marsalis is one of todays most reknown jazz musician, way beyond the small circle of jazz lovers. There’s a statue (!!!!) of him in Marciac (small village of France where one of Europe’s biggest jazz festival takes place every summer). Proper rock star right !!!!

His views on jazz and it’s tradition are often subject to discussion, and I admit that I don’t agree with all I’ve read and heard from him even though it’s never uninteresting to listen to what he has to say. But thanx to Ethan Iverson’s in depth post about him, I at least became an admirer of his playing. His albums with Kenny Kirkland are modern landmarks for any jazz fan.

On “Croz” his intervention is breathtakingly sensitive, with a very poetic sense of space, and a tasteful use of the jazz phrasing. In only 8 bars, Wynton takes us on a journey.

The charts is available here


The opening line is quite simple : triad and straight 16th note. Then he anticipate the most dissonant note available : instead of playing a common tone from G mixolydien and E minor, he plays the 1 note that’s different, the F#. Notice that there’s no vibrato on the note, the attack is clear : this note is strong enough by itself, no need to exaggerate it.

Bar 3, this time after the beat and with an apogiatura, he emphasis the same change to F natural. Then starting at the end of bar 3 and continuing bar 4, there’s a long descending scale, floating above the beat, finishing in the low register. Then Silence.

For the next 4 bars, Wynton is gonna play around a small motif in bar 5 and 6 : same melodic contour following the harmony with a different rhythm. And still long silences between phrases. Then bar 7 and 8, the ‘long’ phrase of the solo: nice phrase over Bb Maj7 that implies a suspending sound with the Eb triad, then two triads over Amin : Amin then Emin for a min9 sound. Note the B natural over BbMaj7 that anticipates the change to Amin. It goes really fast so we don’t really hear the dissonance, but it’s there !

This solo is a small gem, a master-piece of apparent simplicity.

Thanx for reading and listening, feel free to share this Blog, tell you family (your gran-ma is gonna love this I assure you), and see you next week for a Joni Mitchell related post.

Take care.

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