Ron Carter – “All Of You”

Ron Carter attended the Eastman School of Music with the intention of becoming a classical bassist. When he was a senior, legendary conductor Leopold Stokowski told him “Young man, you play wonderful bass. But I’m in Houston, and I know that the board of directors is not ready for a colored man to be in its orchestra.” Just like that, his dream was crushed. So as a fallback career, Mr. Carter became the most-recorded bassist in jazz history. We continue to stand on the shoulders of the black American geniuses who have created so much influential and innovative music in the face of unfathomable discrimination. Black Lives Matter.

This performance of “All Of You” exemplifies so much of what made Ron’s tenure with Miles Davis in the 1960s special. It can be found on the album My Funny Valentine, which is a collection of the slow and medium-tempo tunes performed live in concert at Lincoln Center in February 1964; the uptempo numbers from that concert were released separately as Four & More. Although this concert did not feature the full Second Great Quintet (George Coleman is on sax, as Wayne Shorter had not yet joined the band), the rhythm section of Carter, Herbie Hancock, and Tony Williams is on full display.

Miles’s Second Great Quintet was famous for deconstructing the well-known standards they played live, and the rhythm section especially was known to work out ideas together before each performance. This is abundantly clear on “All Of You,” as Hancock, Carter, and Williams are fully in-sync on a variety of alterations being made to the form and harmony of the tune, many of which seem to be unique to this particular performance: the dominant pedal point over the A sections of Miles’s choruses, which is rhythmically unsettling since it doesn’t come in until the second measure; the Bmaj-Emaj turnaround in bars 15 & 16 of the form; the use of minor-major chords in bars 9-11; the unusual C pedal during Miles’s solo (you can actually hear Williams cue this on the drums right before it starts); the different rhythmic and harmonic variations on the descending harmonies in bars 13-16; the chromatic harmonies on the A sections of Hancock’s first chorus; and the straight-8ths Latin feel that first appears late in Hancock’s solo, then weaves its way back in for the beginning of Miles’s final chorus. Any one of these devices would make for an interesting take on an old standard, but combining them all into a single performance shows how much Miles and his band were working together towards forging a new direction in their music.

“All Of You” is a standard 32-bar ABAC form, and on this recording Davis, Coleman, and Hancock each only play two choruses, with Davis adding one more chorus at the end. The band turns these seven choruses into a 14-minute performance by converting the last 4 measures of each soloist’s final chorus into an open iii-VI-ii-V turnaround. Adding an extended turnaround to a solo was an old trick in Miles’s book – the first example I can think of is “I Could Write A Book,” which was recorded in 1956 for the Relaxin’ album, but while the extended turnaround on that recording is rather short and of a predetermined length, by 1964 Miles and his band were really stretching things out, allowing each soloist to go on for as long as he wanted before cuing the rest of the band to go on. Thus, a significant portion of the performance is the band extrapolating one of the fundamental building blocks of the jazz idiom into their own unique language, which the Second Great Quintet would continue to further explore and develop for most of the decade.

The way Mr. Carter’s bass line navigates these turnarounds is an absolute masterclass in note choice and harmonic invention. But he is on record as saying that he doesn’t put much stock in transcribing bass lines, since they don’t exist in a vacuum – any good bass line is in constant conversation with the other musicians and can only really be understood in context. Therefore, with the chord changes I tried to match up the chords I believe Carter is outlining with his lines with what the rest of the band, especially Hancock, is playing, though admittedly my ear for piano voicings is not great so I welcome any feedback in that regard.

Finally, this recording is a wonderful example of how a bassist like Ron Carter can anchor a band. Hancock’s solo on this track is famous among piano players, especially for his triplet flights of fancy, and it’s impressive to hear how when he goes off, and Williams follows him, Mr. Carter holds everything down underneath them until they come back to Earth.

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