Birdland (Joe Zawinul)


composer : Joe Zawinul


  • Instrumental


  • Standard
  • Matched Reciprocal


  • Audio mp3
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Joe Zawinul

Released in 1977 on the album “Heavy Weather” Birdland is surely the most famous song of Weather Report. This is due to its melody which remains in our heads in 5 minutes, to the introduction all in artificial harmonics by Jaco Pastorius, to this incredible balance between complexity and obvious simplicity. It’s one of the few songs of the band to have become a jazz standard and has been covered by a lot of bands. Among others: Buddy Rich, Maynard Ferguson, Manhattan Transfer, Quincy Jones (on the album “Black on the block” with an incredible all stars: Ella Fitzgerald, Miles Davis, George Benson …) and even ………….. Phil Collins.

The title obviously comes from the famous jazz club of New York, itself coming from the nickname of Charlie Parker (The Bird).
This song represents the ultimate challenge for many Stick players. Let’s mention among others the versions by Bob Culbertson and Jim Lampi. Whatever your level, this is a very interesting song to work on. You can take only a part of it if the whole thing seems unaffordable to you. A lot of passages are extraordinary to work on the Stick in terms of independence.

Start for example with the intro and the A. It’s not very difficult and will allow you to enter the universe of the song.
It is composed of the synth bass line and the melody played by Jaco in harmonics. What will of course not be the case on the Stick but it is a very beautiful melody to make sing.

Serious things start at bar 11 with the 2nd theme in double note. Watch carefully how each hand fits into the other. It’s one of the secrets of these scores, to have everything “in front of you”. Work the passage slowly to break down the rhythm between the two hands. It’s only eighth notes, it’s not unplayable!

At bar 19 a little breath, you have to blow it out. I deliberately left few indications because on the original version these passages are mostly composed of improvisation “fills” by the various musicians. At letter B (bar 23) the synth bass gimmick comes in. See how Jaco’s bass comes in from bar 27. All this exchange continues until bar 45 and the mythical bass phrase that all the bass students worked on in his room. And paradoxically this line, because of the aged fifth chord is easier to play on the stick than on the bass.

We arrive at the letter C (bar 54) which is a bit the chorus of the song. Of very jazzy inspiration think the right hand like brass (very Ellingtonian) and the left hand like a real walking bass. Zawinul explained in interviews that the theme was written as a harmony exercise on foreign basses. It sounds pretty good for an exercise. Again work slowly to get the hands together.
At bar 67 there is a very rocky bass line to which another bass synth theme is added. Then at bar 76 two bars in a chromatic descending loop of 7/b9 chords which is the support for Wayne Shorter’s sax solo. Obviously playing on this grid is hell but concentrate on playing the part well. The fingerings are parallel but it’s really not easy.
Back to the sign so we’re redoing parts we’ve already seen. But the form is shorter and follows on the coda which is the looped chorus. Here we are. Once again considering the difficulty of the piece take your time. Do not be discouraged. Work part by part. Let it rest, come back to it later. It’s a long work. But it’s worth hanging on to it because even if you never play it in concert this piece is a wonderful exercise in independence for both hands. It’s like having Zawinul in your right

hand and Pastorius in your left hand 😉 . This is also why the Stick is magic.


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