Accompanying Singers – Hillary Kole “Duets”: How To Set Up A Solid Intro

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Hillary Kole’s You Are There (Duets) is a fascinating study in how to accompany a jazz singer in a vocal-piano duo setting. The record contains 13 vocal-piano duets with many different pianists, including Kenny Barron, Dave Brubeck, Benny Green, Hank Jones, Steve Kuhn, Freddy Cole, Cedar Walton, Alan Broadbent, Monty Alexander, Michel Legrand, and Mike Renzi.

There are many challenges to comping behind a jazz vocalist, one of which is being able to set up a solid intro. As a pianist, you are expected to be able to play an intro on any tune at any time. Below we are going to examine how Benny Green (on “Softly As In A Morning Sunrise”), Kenny Barron (on “Lush Life”), and Hank Jones (on If I Had You”) approach setting up Hilary with their intros to their duets.

1.) Benny Green: “Softly as In A Morning Sunrise”

Hilary and Benny ultimately settle on a greasy, slow bluesy interpretation to their recording of Softly as In A Morning Sunrise. However, they start out rubato for the first 2 A’s. So when coming up with an intro, Benny is thinking of setting up a vibe that will smoothly set her up for her rubato entrance.

Benny takes a simple 1-2-5 progression in Gmin (Gmin – A7 – D7) that he repeats twice, starting with a similar melodic motif both times. The final time, he plays a D7alt up 4 consecutive octaves before playing a bass walk-down that leads seamlessly into the Gmin7 at Hilary’s entrance.

Benny’s intro accomplishes 2 major things:

  • establishes the key center (Gmin)
  • establishes the appropriate mood for Hilary’s entrance

2.) Kenny Barron: “Lush Life”

Similar to Benny Green’s intro, Kenny Barron’s intro to “Lush Life” accomplishes the same 2 crucial things: establishing the key center and establishing the appropriate mood for Hilary’s entrance.

  • They play lush life in Bbmaj7, so in order to establish the key center Kenny ends his intro on F7alt, the V7 of Bbmaj7.
  • Similar to “Softly as in a Morning Sunrise”, Hilary enters rubato in “Lush Life”. So when coming up with an intro, Kenny also plays a rubato intro.
    • However, Kenny takes a slightly different approach to Benny – rather than using a melodic motif as his launching pad, Kenny takes a chordal approach to his intro, playing 5 chords that lead into the final F7alt.

3.) Hank Jones: “If I Had You”

Hilary and Hank take a medium-swing, stride approach to “If I Had You”. So in order to set up the tempo and the vibe, Hank plays a short 4-bar intro, in time.

A small, but crucial detail to note in Hank’s intro is how in the final measure of his intro, Hank clearly delineates where the time is by accentuating the downbeat.

  • He plays on 4 in the final measure of his intro and beat 1 of Hilary’s entrance, which clearly indicates to Hilary where she needs to come in.
  • Playing on the offbeat’s when setting up an intro for a vocalist often times will lead to ambiguity they will have a hard time entering

One of the main priorities in setting up a successful intro for a vocalist is giving them clarity on when to come in.

Bijan Taghavi

Bijan Taghavi

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