For the last -for now- of this series of post on “instrumental interventions” in a song, I’d like to talk about a very classy intervention by Dean Parks on the song “I’m All Right” from Madeleine Peyroux’ album ‘Half the Perfect World’.
When we think of a ‘solo’, we generally think of an improvised statement. For Jazz musicians, there’s nothing more thrilling than to try to come up with THE definitive phrase, line, solo in the moment : real time composition. But sometimes you can compose your solo in advance. It’s more a common practice in pop to always play the solo as it is on the record, you might recreate what was an improvisation, or it was a planned solo from the start. Composing your solo in advance in the context of a song, is a very efficient way to make sure that you’ll not be blabbering all other the place, it gives you direction, you can take the time to come up with a melody that can be as strong as the main melody of the song. And you’ll treat that like a composition of it’s own: with exposition, development, etc…
Listen back to the first and last guitar solos in “November Rain” (yes, that one) : Slash is not just improvising, he is playing a prepared melody and ad-lib a bit between phrases.
It’s this approach that we find in Dean Parks intervention: the solo is clearly mainly or totally composed in advance.
Many songs played by Madeleine Peyroux come from a folk-pop background, but this one is an original co-written with Walter Becker (yes half of Steely Dan) and producer Larry Klein. The chord progression uses classic jazz changes, II V I, but the chords are played without many extensions. It sounds more jazz than a pop song, but it’s not Wayne Shorter either. In a context like this one, you probably have to think more ‘song’ than ‘jazz’ when comes the time to solo.
Dean Parks is a session veteran, who has recorded with the greatest singer on the planet. It’s a rare opportunity to hear him solo. But he has too much class to show off when finally offered the spotlight.
His solo uses few ideas, and is clearly structured. There’s a nice balance between very diatonic phrases, and nice chromatic lines. It would be tasteless to go all ‘be-bop’ and play many chromatisms and substitutions, but the changes still allow for some chromatisms and passing notes. Dean Parks shows us a way to sound ‘jazz but not too much’. If you’re doing work with singers, keep that in mind !