Reed Robins Musical Approach...
Reed Robins speaking:
I thought I'd talk a little about my musical approach this time.
Once I had made up my mind that a collection of these songs for piano was
musically feasible, I decided to look at the classic Hendrix material, from
4 Albums, These were Are You Experienced?, Axis: Bold as Love, Electric
Ladyland, and The Cry of Love. I picked 20 songs, reluctantly omitting
some of my favorite material.
The basic idea is this: this grouping of the material was conceived to be
performed as a concert - two sets, with one intermission. The entire
performance is 67 minutes, give or take. The order of the songs is
chronological (except that some of the song order within an album has been
shifted) The first half of the program are songs from ARE YOU EXPERIENCED
and AXIS: BOLD AS LOVE, and the second half are songs from ELECTRIC
LADYLAND and THE CRY OF LOVE.
I started by making "charts" of all of the material. In case you don't
know, a chart consists of written notation of the melody with chord symbols
above. (Actually those of you who have the CD can see some of the charts
in the background of the picture at the piano). Happily, this involved a
lot of listening to the original renditions.
Then I worked in systematic way to learn the building blocks of the songs.
I would play the melody of the song alone, then in octaves, double octaves,
stride accompaniment, block chords, "drop two" textures, etc. Very dry
approach at first, but worth it in the long run! Then I would work with
voicings, and reharmonizations of various sorts to try and find interesting
ways of harmonically accentuating his compositional message, and also to
find what I shouldn't change. Also, I would work on material for soloing,
and finally classical stuff and scales, etc. I approached this as a daily
discipline. 2 to 4 hours a day, every day.
After a few months of this I was ready to set the arrangement for each song.
For most of them, the approach already fell into place during the
practice. In each case I tried to think of what Hendrix was saying in his
lyrics, his melody and approach and emulate that. In many instances, I
emphasize his original inspiration in an approach. For instance, the
gospel influence in "Have You Ever Been (to Electric Ladyland)?" or the
tango in "House Burning Down".
In a couple of cases, though, I followed mostly the melody, and derived an
approach and harmonic treatment through my own whim, to embrace, for
example, a standard element in jazz.
A case in point is the first song, "Purple Haze". That's a difficult song
to approach because it is so guitar dependent - particularly the intro. I
solved the dilemma by looking at Hendrix's musical "language" This song, I
decided, draws heavily from the blues.
After some experimentation I decided to omit the famous introduction and
move immediately to the first verse. I made the 1st 2 verses an
*introduction*, with a typical out of tempo - or "rubato" - style. That's
a major departure from the aggressive rhythmic approach which Jimi uses in
"Purple Haze", but it's actually a little like the approach Jimi uses in
Then it kicks into a walking blues tempo for the solos, using (instead of
the harmonic climb of the original) a blues chord pattern to solo over -
and instead of Jimi's very short solo section, stretching out slightly
more. This builds into a climactic last verse, with bass still walking and
melody in filled in octaves up high.
Manic Depression is next. This one was also challenging. As a side note,
when I was visiting San Francisco with my mom (late summer '67?) one day we
walked around the area of "Haight Ashbury". During that day, a street car
pulled up and stopped, and a trio (guitar, drums and bass) played - what
was to my 10 year old ear - a thrilling cover rendition of Manic
Depression. The guitarist and bassist just stepped off the back of the
cable car onto the street, with the drummer on the back platform (I don't
think they sang). They ripped into this cover version! Then they just
hopped back on the cable car and drove away. I *already* had the record
(Are You Experienced?), and was very familiar with it. The whole
experience was thrilling. I guess that's one reason this song has always
held a special place in my heart. BTW, it's also a *great* song.
As I was playing through the elements I started seeing what was absolutely
necessary (to my mind) in the song. Some textures just sounded bare (it's
alot of music for one piano, really).
I decided I couldn't "hear" the song without the repeated bass riff. So I
put the bass riff in the piano's lowest octave to try to get a "growl" from
it. After I solidified that, my approach in the right hand was pretty much
dictated by what would fit in the stretch of a hand.
I also decided to take the tempo up as fast as possible. My thinking was
that I would approach it more from the "manic" point of view. Since Jimi's
overall approach, tempo, and sustained vocal treatment underscore the
"depression" (he uses the guitar for the "manic" element, naturally).
The resulting version of Manic Depression I came up with is short and
aggressive. It only takes 1' 37"- total time. Another interesting note is
that it's the *only* one in the whole collection that is "set"- meaning
that like a classical piece I never change the notes from performance to
performance. It's also the most difficult one in the entire set. IMHO
The third song on the collection is "Are You Experienced?". I have no idea what made me think this one would work, since the guitar sound is so unique. How he got that guitar sound at the very beginning (the scratching sound) had always baffled me. It's only in the last 10 years that I've learned the actual techniques used (recording w/ the tape backwards on the machine, etc.) Once I started experimenting I found the approach quickly though.
I decided to start with the 1st verse & chorus in a slower tempo, imagining Jimi singing the tune alone with no band, perhaps in the shower or something - the tempo slower than onstage. It's a gorgeous melody. I worked the melody until that flowed, and then harmonized each melody note with its own chord below it, and recruited some gospel & blues inflections to fill in the gaps. Things that I think come from his overall compositional inspiration, if not the inspiration for this particular song.
for the second verse, a faster swing tempo kicks in - as is typical in jazz, which remains through the rest of the song. I've always loved Jimi's approach to the solo (recorded backwards as well, I'd say), because the resulting rhythm is so free. I decided to alternate between two chords for the solo in my version (Jimi uses one) and suggest the rhythmic approach he uses by alternating quick butterfly type figures over the first chord with bluesy licks over the other. The final verse is spread out over the keyboard, sort of hammered out and loud. Finally the tune fades out (the electronic way) on an "outro" solo. The overall idea was to start soft and build all the way to a "jam" at the end. It's a way to comment on the notion of "experience" as well, since valuable experiences can leave you in a different place than they found you.
The Wind Cries Mary is a definite favorite of mine. Jimi starts the intro out with three chromatically ascending Major 6th chords (very cool!). Not wanting to totally repeat the original though, I started, as usual, by searching for the main motives of the song. I decided one of these was the 2 note descending melody on the word "Mary" (1st verse in the original, since he plays with it later in the song). I also used the mental image of someone calling "Mary" from a distance. So to start, I used that simple motive doubled up 3 octaves higher (like a chime) in unison, followed by a soft low chord (not the one you quite expect, however). It's also a little like a ding-dong of a doorbell, come to think of it. You hear this twice. Then on to the Verse.
This song is treated similarly to the one before it (you'll see later that I have paired songs in a couple of other places too). It builds all the way through to the end. I also omitted the solo in this one, even though I even went through the trouble of notating it. In the end, it just seemed to work well to simplify this song in this context, since I wanted to focus on the more reflective side. Actually, these songs have a great quality to them in that they can be seen from many angles. The one I chose is only one of quite a few arrangements I could imagine.
So it's just three verses, each a little bigger than the last. It ends with a sudden shift back to the "Mary" motive, repeated (like a birdcall) but changing slightly each time, finishing in a fade (not the electronic kind).
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