Frank Griffith

  Ex. 1 | Ex. 2 | Ex. 3 | Ex. 4 | Ex. 5 | Ex. 6

Horace Silver: Silver’s Serenade

Frank’s score, to be heard on the Pete Cater Big Band CD UPSWING is a study in simplicity. He has achieved stunning results with the band on this tune with little apparent effort. This is partly due to the melody itself: a rather sweet, plaintive call from the wild. Frank makes it even more plaintive by using only trumpet and tenor at first, with a two-beat feel from the rhythm.

The fact that the tenor is used here is worth studying. It is playing the harmony right up on the top of its register, while the trumpet, playing the melody, is in a more comfortable range. This would perhaps be frowned upon by the less ambitious, but there is a solid reason behind Frank’s choice of instrument. The tenor, on its high E and F, gets the very plaintive sound this melody needs to set it off. Using an alto sax, another trumpet, or, indeed, any other instrument in its more logical range, would have missed the point entirely.

Part of the haunting loneliness of the melody comes from Silver’s choice of notes. Vertically the notes of the melody form a succession of added ninths over minor seventh chords. Horizontally they move in classic fashion between the two anchors of a tritone, the first four bars from F# to C; the next four from B to F. The intervals covered in each case, are: semitone, major third and whole tone. Stravinsky would have been proud of him. (Example 1)

In Example 2 the melody continues from bar 9 with the trombones and saxes bringing the passage to a close in bar 16. Observe the background closely. You will hear it again in this score, three times in all. Gerry Mulligan once included an entire sequence in a composition called Swinghouse that he had used earlier on in an arrangement of El Rancho Grande. He would have probably gotten away with it, too, if both Kenton recordings hadn’t been issued almost simultaneously. When I asked him about that he uttered these words of wisdom: “If it’s good, repeat it. If it’s very good, repeat it twice. And if it’s very, very good, stick it in another score as well and hope no one notices.”

Example 3 shows how it appears later in the score, voiced for the brass. The second chord in bar 2 demonstrates the use of close harmony in the trumpets, with an open harmony of chords in fourths in the trombones. This spreads the trombones out nicely. To double the trumpets exactly there, an octave lower, would have created a more top-heavy sound. Note that, with one exception, no instrument plays the tonic of any chord in this passage. The exception is in the Eb maj7 chord, where the 3rd trumpet plays an Eb to create the dissonance with the major seventh of the 4th trumpet.

The section of score shown in Example 4 is where things start to progress towards the big brass shout-up. The melody begins again here with a vengeance, building up the tension. Note the contrary motion of the trumpets and trombones in bar 7. In bar 8, while the brass hold the chord, the saxophones do a little run up the Eb minor 11th scale.

Example 5 is a little background played behind the trumpet solo. Contrary motion between saxes and trombones leads to the entry of the trumpets in the final two bars. The chord in the last bar is a D7 with sharp 11th, both 9th and flattened 9th and not a trace of a 13th anywhere! Note once more the absence of a tonic in the harmonies.

I've included Example 6 just to show you how neatly this score ends. Trumpet and tenor play a G major 7th scale with a flattened 5th, ending on a low C#. There are insertions from the brass here, not shown, but the main joy comes from the last chord from the saxophones. It is a cluster on the G maj 7th. The notes one hears are, descending, C#, B, A, G, F#. Bet you wouldn't dare write that in one of your own scores. Frank wrote it mezzo piano, and it sounds absolutely superb.

  • You can hear this score, and much more, on the Pete Cater CD UPSWING discussed at length in the Reviews section. This is another sensational recording from Pete's great band and another showcase for Frank Griffith's superb scores.