What’s Your Favorite Note?

No, I don’t mean like, “What’s better: B-flat or F-sharp?” Rather, is there a single note from a great recording or performance that haunts your dreams?

Here’s what go me on the topic: One of my Premier Guitar colleagues, Gary Ciocci, recently turned me on to El Twanguero (aka Diego Garcia), a brilliant Spanish-born, Argentina-based electric guitarist who’s created a head-spinning fusion of classic Latin jazz and rockabilly guitar. The only thing I don’t worship about the great Afro-Caribbean music of the 1950s and ’60s is the fact that it rarely includes guitar. But in Garcia’s retro fantasia, it’s as if the great Cuban and Puerto Rican mambo kings had migrated to Memphis instead of settling in NYC.

¡Bien tocado, señor!

Diego “El Twanguero” Garcia: ¡Bien tocado, señor!

When I explored Garcia’s YouTube channel, I immediately clicked on his version of “Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White,” a Perez Prado classic that topped the charts in 1955. (You probably know the tune even if you don’t recognize the title — it’s been in a zillion movie soundtracks.) I was eager to hear how Garcia would interpret the famous trumpet slur — perhaps the booziest single note ever recorded. (Yes, theory sticklers — I’m using the word “note” to mean a single articulated note, even when it spans multiple pitches over its duration.)

The tipsy note appears right at the top — it’s the fourth pitch in the trumpet melody. But it gets boozier and woozier with each repetition, and by its dead-drunk appearance at 2’27”, it’s amazing anyone’s still standing up.

Okay, try to convince me that it isn’t the sleaziest note ever! (Just for fun, here’s a live performance, where you can see what Prado looks like when emitting his signature grunt.)

How the hell would you render that on guitar without period-inappropriate distortion and locking tremolo? Take it away, Sr. Garcia!

Love it! ¡Bien tocado, Señor!

That got me thinking about other favorite notes. My #1 choice was easy — it comes at the end of this post. But two others also sprang to mind.

George Harrison’s “It’s All Too Much” used to be considered one of the Beatles’ least important tracks, though it seems to have been critically rehabilitated over of the course of the last few psychedelic revivals. It was cut in 1967 between the recording and release of Sgt. Pepper, just when the Beatles were discovering LSD. (It shows). But it wasn’t issued until 1969, when it appeared as a throwaway on the Yellow Submarine soundtrack — the first album I ever purchased with my own money. (And I’ve never recovered from the horror of discovering that side B features no Beatles material — just George Martin’s twee orchestral soundtrack.) But that blast of sustained feedback carved its way into my consciousness.

The experts say George played it, though I doubt anyone present was coherent enough to recall. I’m not saying it ain’t George, though I can’t help noting that whenever you investigate a particularly ferocious bit of Beatles guitar work, the perpetrator always seems to be Paul. (Examples: “Helter Skelter” and the solos on “Taxman” and “Good Morning.”) I dunno — maybe acid unleashed Harrison’s inner beast.

Another note that’s possessed me for decades is from Miles Davis’s heartbreaking take on Rogers and Hart’s “It Never Entered My Mind.” (From Workin’ — the first jazz album I bought with my own cash, at age 14.) Man, you could write a dissertation on the first eight bars of Miles’ solo, and someone probably has. Even though the notes are few and far between, I dare you to try playing along, matching the trumpet phrasing. But the highlight for me is the sublimely out-of-tune note in the fifth bar of the trumpet head. (It first appears at 0’33” in this clip.)

The performance is in A-flat, and the special note is a very flat E-flat — about halfway to D-natural. Man, how does something so wrong feel so … not just right, but transcendent?

That was my favorite note for many years, until I became a born-again Ellingtonian. Friend/genius Stephen Yerkey turned me on to Ellington’s 1938 remake of his own “Black and Tan Fantasy,” whose original 1927 version is universally regarded as one of the most important early jazz discs. But the 1938 remake is equally brilliant. Duke’s band was at or near the height of its powers. The orchestration is sublime. The piano work is radical. Each solo is a jewel. And then there’s THE NOTE.

Now, there’s nothing I find more musically distasteful than a cheesy, star-searchin’ vocalist wowing the crowd with a long sustained note. I hate it just as much when operatic singers do it (as did many of the great opera composers). And using the national anthem at ball games as a pretext is just plain nauseating.

Did Barney Bigard play the greatest note ever?

Did Barney Bigard play the greatest note ever?

Yes, THE NOTE is impossibly long and difficult. But there’s more here than sheer virtuosity. The painfully slow glissando literally makes you dizzy, as if the world were tilting off-axis. (It’s more psychoactive than the Beatles on acid!) It exerts exquisite tension against the backing harmonies, and it lets Duke display his most Debussy-like side in his watery, chromatic piano accompaniment. And the dismount is astonishing: Another wind player would be gasping on the floor, but incomparable clarinetist Barney Bigard (also featured on the 1927 original) concludes with a soft, casual phrase, as if he had all the time and breath in the world. For me, this is the ultimate musical embodiment of “cool” in its most profound African diaspora sense.

Play it, Mr. Bigard! The miracle commences right after 1’15” (but please, treat yourself to the entire performance).

(I know I’ve said this about 50 times on this blog, but I repeat it whenever possible: In much of the civilized world — Europe in particular — the arts are considered precious, and musicians routinely appear on currency. If Americans gave a crap about culture, our greatest composer would grace the $20 bill, not genocidal Jackson. Though admittedly, there’s a strong case for Harriet Tubman.)

duke_dollars

Okay, enough of my yakkin’! What’s your favorite note?

46 comments to What’s Your Favorite Note?

  • Oinkus

    That is something I have never thought about in my entire life Joe ? A new way to ransack the tortured cavern my brain rests inside gah !

  • Evil

    Yeah – I can think of two right off the bat.

    As a quick flash. there’s an over-bend at about 3:30 in SRV’s Little Wing that grabs me…
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=An4uDegHB8s

    But my favorite is a little Jeff Beck doing a classic Beck-ism on Roger Waters “What God Wants Part 3” at about 2:02
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GyG1L7D_HVY

    • Evil

      ETA: The first one is just such an out of the blue note in a picture perfect track, it’s like the sonic equivalent of that sort of turbulence where it feels like the plane just drops 3 feet in the middle of a perfectly smooth flight.

      The latter partly because it’s embedded in my favorite guitar solo that I’ve heard so far in my 20+ years of playing, but also because of that little angelic timbral lilt at the end of that note.

  • Thanks for hipping me to Diego. My favorite would have to be Clapton's opening note (Might be a send string bent to the same note also) in his "Key To Love" solo. It went through me like a religeous revelation at the time and still thrills. @20:00
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1-fD9fD61kA

  • YES!

    The first bend in Clapton’s solo on “Someday After a While” on From the Cradle is roughly 98% of the reason I play guitar.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nbnEJsp8stE

  • Jeremy

    I’m sure I could conjure up many such moments, but the one that immediately came to mind was when Earl Slick comes in on a wave of feedback to Bowie’s Station To Station…

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZY77zDzNmYw

    tangentially, my favourite bass moments come at about 5:10 into Lou Reed’s The Kids – as simple a line that Tony Levin has likely ever played, but absolutely perfect for that point in the track.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YY_i-R2ldyA

  • JUST had this conversation over the weekend with one of my best friends…

    That way hard whack of the low E (I think) by McLaughlin at the beginning of Miles’ Tribute to Jack Johnson… It goes all pitchy out of tune….

    Randy Rhoads on Ozzy’s Diary of a Madman – the song Little Dolls – 2nd or 3rd verse be hits a bent-wah’d note that sounds so otherworldly vocal literally crying-baby it’s insane.

    Jeff Beck – Definitely Maybe – ….just… ALL the notes?!?

    And many of my absolute most favorites aren’t even notes at all – they’re incidental or intentional left hand mutes and string whacks by EVH, Vai, and other heroes… Dirty Movies and Yankee Rose topping that list.

  • mwseniff

    For me it’s gotta be from the Captain Beefheart album Clear Spot. The song is Big Eyed Beans From Venus and it follows the vocal line:
    “Mister Zoot Horn Rollo, hit that long lunar note,
    and let it float.” and the note indeed floats on a bed of slide guitar vibrato. IMHO one of the greatest notes ever!

    Never saw them do it live as the Captain stuck to his set lists like glue. I remember seeing him at the Bayou in Georgetown (Wash. DC) there were people yelling at him to play Big Eyed Beans From Venus, he looked them right in the eye and said “What do you think I am, a goddamned juke box?” that was the last request that evening. BruceFowler (trombone and Varitone amp with built in octave divider) sat down at our table between sets and had a couple of drinks with us he was a sweet gentleman it was a treat to talk to him. He had some great stories.

  • AndrewT

    Ah, the big note! Here’s one I’ve loved for many a year, a 14 second wail by Bob Harris during a live ‘Love Of My Life’. The note starts at 1:41 in this clip https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9R8wdEbM4ws

    Like the Bigard note mentioned above, listen how Bob recovers from his exertions with a lovely response phrase.

    They don’t write ’em like that no more!

  • AndrewT

    re the Bob Harris vocal, his whole performance in this song is well worth a listen, truly a ‘high vocal trumpet’ masterclass..

  • No, wait, the Troggs one has nothing on anything James Brown is doing after the 6 minute mark in “Cold Sweat” (my personal fave is at 6:39, but you have to listen from the beginning to get the full effect):
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=14jlfuwHqr4
    The sound isn’t great on this Youtube clip (boo)

  • joe

    I was just going to say, if anyone can make you forget the Troggs, it’s JB. But then, it’s impossible to forget the Troggs after the famed Troggs tape (https://youtu.be/SrXfK9Osmvs). Key inspiration for Spinal Tap.

  • Iommi’s opening note on Sabbath’s Iron Man. Sounds beautifully evil. Jimi’s second note on the intro to Purple Haze, the diminished fifth. Dissonant and perfect.

  • Hi from Madrd, Joe. Great to read about el twanguero in your blog.

    Three fast choices have come come to me. The SRV cover of Little Wing has benn already mentioned before, and I’m sure that someone else is going to write about Jeff Buckley incredible long note at the end of Hallelujah, that leaves me with my first thought: Freddie Mercury’s transition using falsetto at the end of a not very popular seventies Queen gem, “Just you and I”. Not a hyper difficult note, far from a singer trying to prove anything: just a perfect tasteful choice sung with beautiful tone.

    It’s at 2:43, but it needs to be in context: listen to the whole song

    http://youtu.be/zqdpzhUqiuQ

    Great post, Joe

  • Joe

    Ray Brown Trio with James Morrison at the Umbria Jazz Festival 1994 – Things Ain’t The Way They Used To Be.

    James’ opening note (or chord, actually) on his trombone just sounds so rich and full, and something about the way he slides into it – it never gets old to me.

    The band sounds great in this clip, as you’d expect from legends like Ray Brown and Jeff Hamilton.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7L4_IpK77jk

    As usual, great post Joe – always a joy to hear what you have to say.

  • Yngve

    Cherry Pink… with the Fabulous Thunderbirds! Kim Wilson is an amazing harmonica player and Jimmie Vaughan the king of cool and good taste 🙂 https://youtu.be/sc-D2TnzuM8
    Another one is one I think is just as cool as Clapton was back then, the fantastic Peter Green, with The Supernatural: https://youtu.be/sc-D2TnzuM8

  • mngiza

    The Perez Prado-style “rhythm grunt” needs to become the trademark of a modern pop musician. Adam Levine? John Mayer? Ed Sheeran? Taylor Swift?

    Huuh!

  • THe most beautiful note must be the beginning of Good Vibrations by the Beach Boys – the sung “I”. It doesn’t really need any context or explanation.

  • Alex S.

    Taking a page from Barney Bigard, check out Idrees Sulieman’s impossibly-long trumpet note in his tune “Juicy Fruit”, on Coleman Hawkins’ “The Hawk Flies High” (starting at about 0:39)

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=59KMutLJ9Js

  • JT

    Maybe if I understood Bulgarian, this soloist would strike me as cheesy star-searching… but I doubt it. Hang on to something if you’ve never heard this stuff before. The first appearance of the melody is spine-tingling, but just wait for the way it’s re-stated at about 1:40.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Z1wCyLKKus

  • Your taste is so great!

    As for me… Possibly here some favorite notes – this small evolution

    https://youtu.be/BxQBNESrz6I

  • Barney Bigard is my favorite clarinet player…

    On 1940 Teagarden sessions his clarinet is hanging in the sky – unbelieveable…

    Webster from 0:50 is oh..great tone

    Chorus from 1:50 possibly is my favorite in Bigard’s playing..

    https://youtu.be/u7mp_qtPa2c

  • Roman

    btw I recollected some more great single notes – it is surrealistic Stan Getz

    Chorus from 0:50 is so trancedental – unreal…

    https://youtu.be/cu8D5TyU7T4

    And here 0:47 – 0:50 such an Melanc – HOLY!

    https://youtu.be/cu8D5TyU7T4

    I have rarely heard such a subtle sounding player, like Stan Getz, when he was inspired. 1955-1960 years. Pure genius…

  • Jussi

    Spinal Tap – Break Like the Wind, the moment when Jeff Beck comes in screaming. Goose bumps every time.

  • Roman

    I recollected one more killer cool note – it’s some on this solo

    Fred Frith in 1974 – Henty Cow “Bittern Storm over Ulm”

    https://youtu.be/OT-J7eEZxkM

  • George Harvey

    I’m trying not to sound like I’m blowing smoke, because I’m really not, but some of my favorite/most memorable notes are the descending motif in your “Black Wings” solo. The lowwww notes that make the snare buzz sympathetically? They rattle me the same way every time I think of them or hear the recording.

  • Yes, Black Wings solo is great! I’ve got european vinyl of Bone Machine – I am collecting historical guitar things. This vinyl costs here in Russia like two Squiers “Hello Kitty”. I have never seen american Bone Machine vinyl press.

    Btw, today I am absolutely obsessed with McLaughlin solo in Miles’ “Sivad” track from Cellar Door ’70. It’s unbelieveable… Dejohnette is great, bassist Michael Henderson plays chords, it’s so sophisticated. He makes whole harmonic background with bass only, like Charlie Haden did with Ornette. John’s solo is so transcendental… He sings in such an unusual way… Possibly, it’s my favorite live recording since Bill Evans with Scott La Faro. Pure magic, i cut solo from track. Attacks on 1:10 and such a noisy stop-time like on 1:23. I’ve listened to it more than 100 times in my life, but I didn’t learn nothing from it, he’s such a genius.

    https://vid.me/Eoyk

    Sorry for my bad english, I am really Ro-man – konservnaya banka man, lol. I have to learn english.

  • PS when it comes to favorite note, i recollect Mulligan’s solo in “I want to live” track, 1960 rare live recording … from 1:45. It’s just several notes, but it sounds very cool, very Mental, as for me. Arrangement is great too, such an deep atmospheric..He cries in emptiness at 6:39.

    https://youtu.be/zoH49ZiUupg

    Gaslini possibly made something like an allusion in Antonioni’s La Notte. Tenor sax cries here very cool.. starting from 2:08. Such a deep “existential” mucic…he cries in emptiness. Like mulligan final note’s

    https://youtu.be/NPkzQJo9ByE

    Very obsessed with those notes.

  • Roman

    Cropper!

    0:46 – 50 – note/chord… Great, just great

    https://youtu.be/0Rr_6VNF2To

  • Roman

    …and Jimi..

    Manic Depression final notes..increadible

    https://youtu.be/25fEn5Ti_cA

  • Robert Hall

    the first note of airport theme 1970 by Vinnie Bell.I defly anyone too tell tell me how he makes this sound.

    • Joe Gore

      Follow-up! I went back and listened to that, and it’s the same effect at the one of the Ferrante and Teicher version of the theme from Midnight Cowboy. It’s a phase shifter with high rate and resonant settings — an effect you can get from any number of pedals. It think it sounds especially otherworldly here, because his tone fuses so seamlessly with the string section. They do indeed congeal into one magical and memorable tone.

    • Digital Larry

      I contacted a tube amp mfr. offering my DSP effects design services a few years back. He told me he wanted the “Vinnie Bell” sound as on the Airport Love Theme and also Ferrante and Teicher’s “Midnight Cowboy” theme. I had no idea what it was although I thought it sounded like some sort of upward sweeping VCF. I did a spectrogram of it in Audacity and could see the upward sweeps. Programmed a bunch of things to try to do this and none of them sounded right. Apparently Vinnie made a lot of his own effects and after being “ripped off” by several manufacturers became very guarded about giving out any info.

      To the best of my knowledge and conjecture, this sound is created with a spring reverb which is tuned much lower than usual. I played it for a local pro guitarist and that’s what he thought as well. Exactly how you do that is anyone’s guess but I presume it would relate to modifying the spring somehow.

    • Digital Larry

      Compare to the sounds at about 4:52 on The Mermen’s “Bondage of the Sea”:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MLyEcpWK2HM

  • The Catfish

    For me, it is the moment in “Because The Night,” right after she sings “touch me now, touch me now, touch me now-ow!” and Lenny bends that note in a twiddling swirl that takes you soaring into the night sky where lightning flashes around you and the wind takes your breath but you just don’t care…..

  • Shizmab Abaye

    Personally I am fond of the whammy bar move Frank Zappa does at about 3:02 on “Zomby Woof”. There’s a feedback note in that solo that I was looking for but I found this instead and decided I liked it just a little better.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ksnwEsPKO5s

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