1/22/15

The Pocket Herb- the genius of Herb Pomeroy

The teacher who had the biggest influence on me during my time at Berklee was Heb Pomeroy. I was quite fortunate to play in his Concert Jazz Orchestra for three years, as well as a few semesters in his Line-Writing band and his small combo. Herb was a true master composer, arranger, educator, improvisor and band leader. His influence of how modern Jazz harmony, composition and arranging can not be overstated. For instance, for many years the Altered Dominant scale was called the Pomeroy scale. Unfortunately I never took any of Herb's composition and arranging classes, which I have always regretted. Herb taught an arranging class called Line Writing, a Duke Ellington arranging class and a Jazz composition class. He never published any books.  An All About Jazz article on Herb says this:
During Pomeroy's long tenure at Berklee, many people asked him to write a book. His detailed answer was “I could, but I find that this [Line Writing] course changes a little bit every semester as I try to fine-tune it with new rules and principles to match relevant musical needs." Pomeroy was an excellent musician, not only as a trumpeter, but as an educator. His teaching was the music itself, not any particular personal beliefs or stylistic preferences. By not writing a book, he demonstrated the ultimate trust for the future of jazz education, and music as an ever-changing, dynamic art form.
In an interview with Forest Larsen from 1999 Herb talked about some of the things he learned while studying at Schillinger House (which later became Berklee College of Music):


 "Well this fellow, Richard Bobbitt, who was the dean, he had studied with Stefan Wolpe. I hope my memory is accurate. Bobbitt learned from studying with Wolpe about voicing not through choosing notes because they are the root, the 3rd, the 5th, the 7th, the 9th, but making most – I don’t want to say all – most of the vertical structures structures that are created because of the intervallic relationship between the notes, not because they are a function… So, certain intervals – you know, there are consonances, there are dissonances. If we want to get richer, or we want to get darker, or we want to get brighter, the choice of interval between notes is more important than the function that the note is in the chord.

Which will also – I sort of based a whole course on this later on, when I started to teach – also will take away from the obviousness of the chords that have the root in the bass, from the chords that have the 3 – 7 tritone that announce “I am this chord” and there’s very little you can do about it. Instead of taking the notes because they are these very important – vitally important in certain areas of sound. But if you’re looking to broaden, whether you’re a classical composer or a jazz composer – this approach to intervallic choice of notes rather than function choice of notes I got originally from Bobbitt… I learned a great deal from this man about this, the intervallic approach to vertical writing as opposed to the function.

Even then I was saying to myself, “This is going to be valuable.” I tell you, so many students that I had at Berklee, and I don’t mean to wave the flag here, have come back to me – two, five, ten years after, not while they’re taking the course, after they’ve absorbed it – and said that this course was one of the most opening things that they studied in a school or classroom situation…

Most jazz ensembles – whether they be three or four horns and a rhythm section or a whole band – the instrumental sound is pretty similar. I don’t mean the harmonic sound. I don’t mean the style of the player’s vibrato. The purely instrumental sound when you hear whether it’s 4 horns in like an octet or you hear the 12, 13 horns of a full jazz orchestra – the instrumental sound, the layered effect of color of trumpets, color of trombones, color of saxes in this function kind of harmony that we’re talking about – is the same. Whether you listen to Basie of ’35, or you listen to Woody of ’54, or you kind of listen to Mel and Thad of ’85 – whichever of these bands. Nothing to do with rhythmic style, harmonic style, era – was it swing, was it bebop, was it whatever. This layered, as I call the layer-lit colors, each layer really separated from each other, not entwined like this getting a richer sound instrumentally, is the same.

Whereas if you use this non-function, this intervallic work, and put the instruments together so you rub color against color – put a reed between two brass, rather than put four brass and then four trombones and then five saxes, or maybe one or two overlapping – but I can hear a typical big band and it almost sounds like there are just the three primary colors, so to speak. I don’t hear any sense of rainbow effect going on there. So these are some of the things that I learned from these teachers which were not jazz tools, but they were music tools.

I knew then, and in hindsight I even thanked them even more. Because so many students – I mean, I’ve had many people who are professional writers in their home lands, directors of radio / TV studio bands, conductors of symphony groups who wanted to get into the jazz thing, leaders of big bands all over Europe, who came and studied at Berklee and would take this course. And I could watch, I could see in their faces while I was saying these things, I could see these looks, this opening. That was very gratifying, to know that you had…

I did not invent this, I merely organized the thinking. People say “oh, you created it.” No! Maybe that mathematical mind from back in my teens and all that allowed me to organize. When you teach as long as I did, and stand in front of the thousands and thousands, literally, hours I have stood in front of bands and rehearsed them, and developed an eye-ear relationship. I do not have a God-given eye-ear relationship; I have a developed eye-ear – see the score and hear it in my head. The number of hours that I was able to do that – and I feel very blessed with my own professional band, with the Berklee band, and with the MIT band, and then clinics all around the country and the world and all that – I don’t think it’s exaggerating to say it’s thousands of hours that I’ve stood there and heard it and seen it. It’s allowed me to perceive things about scoring techniques for jazz orchestras that I don’t think many people have had the opportunity to know.

The only person that I’ve been able to have a close association with who – we’ve talked about it some, but I just knew it from observing him – was Bob Brookmeyer. I think Brook has this same sort of ability, and he’s a marvelous writer.

I don’t know what kind of thoughts and things Gil Evans had in his head. I don’t know about Duke – I tried to find out from Duke, I played with the band and would question him. (Laughing) He’d be terrible – I’d say, if we were in a room and it was casual, I’d say “Duke, come here – on this tune, in the first two measures you do this”, and I’d play on the piano, “but I can’t figure out what you do in the next two measures.” And he’d say, “Oh, you’re doing it better than I could do it anyway” and just walk away. He wouldn’t show me anything!"


I recently got my hands on a document called The Pocket Herb, which is basically outline notes from Herb's Line Writing, Duke Ellington and Jazz Composition courses. For someone totally unfamiliar with Pomeroy's curriculum there may be many things that are unintelligible, but I think that any experienced arranger will find much of value in the document. For anyone who actually took these courses these notes will be pure gold.  

The Pocket Herb- notes from Herb Pomeroy's Line Writing, Duke Ellington and Jazz Comp courses 

Abbreviations used in Pocket Herb:

A Alto Sax
AV Adjacent Voice Violation
AVOID Avoid Notes
B Baritone Sax
BNV Blue Note Voicings
C Consonant
CD Combination Dimished
Ch T or CT Chord Tone
D Dissonant
DBL Double
H Harmonized (as Opposed to writing melodic lines in each part)
HP Herb Pomeroy
LIL Low Interval Limits
NIS Not in Scale
P Perfect
PC Primary Climax
PD Prime Dissonance / Planned Dissonance
SC Secondary Climax
T Tenor Sax

1/19/15

Doug Webb Clinic

I posted Doug Webb's substitutions a while back, but never got around to editing the audio from the clinic. I figured that I should just post the raw audio tracks, or I'd never get around to editing the tracks. There is a lot of great information here, but it is kind of long. Near the end of the clinic Doug Plays through the entire page of his substitutions, which is really fantastic.
(Click for a larger version)







Doug Webb improv clinic- part 1

Doug Webb improv clinic- part 2