Herb Pomeroy – Now’s The Time
by Carl Schultz
Herb Pomeroy was a Boston based trumpeter that is infrequently discussed in the history of jazz. This is not due to his performance abilities as they have been highly thought of by many musicians, including the great saxophonist Charlie Parker. It was Pomeroy’s abilities as a trumpeter that led Parker to hire him when he was performing in Boston based clubs like Storyville or the Hi-Hat. One such date in 1953 was recorded and released as the BlueNote album, “Charlie Parker Live at Storyville.”
Pomeroy’s solos on this date show a very detailed and thoughtful approach to harmony as well as a way of playing the trumpet that seemed to be in vogue at the time. His playing is frequently in the middle and low registers of the instrument, features a dark yet brassy tone, and a ‘laid-back’ approach in his time-feel. These aspects were not uncommon among trumpeters hired by Parker such as Miles Davis or Chet Baker. Of the material on “Charlie Parker Live at Storyville,” Pomeroy’s solo on the Parker blues, Now’s The Time shows the overall finesse which the former brings to these recordings.
Many of the advents new to the Bebop style were rhythmic in nature. One such concept is the lack of rhythmic resolution to phrases. Instead of beginning and ending phrases on strong beats, both soloist and accompanists were now free to begin phrases wherever they wished and rarely resolved them. Pomeroy’s solo is a prime example of this type of playing as only one of the twelve musical phrases found in the solo ends on a downbeat. It is interesting that the singular example that goes against the norm is the final phrase of the solo. One can see these phrase endings in measures 2, 4, 6, 8, 11, 14, 17, 20, 23, (26), 28, 31, and 37. The 26th measure is in parenthesis as this could be argued to be a midpoint within a larger phrase and not an ending.
Pomeroy’s improvisation also features a unifying element in the melodic construction. Short motives are often repeated with systematic, melodic alterations based on the underlying harmony of the piece. The common term for this technique is sequencing. Although examples throughout this solo do not feature repetitions with exact transposition, it is obvious that Pomeroy is using the technique. This lack of ‘exactness’ is part of what gives the sequenced passages interest for the listener as it allows them to make assumptions about upcoming material while still providing surprise.
The first example of this technique takes place in measures 8-10. The final two notes of measure eight show the motive, approach tone from a step above to chord tone (the A natural on the ‘and’ of four belongs to the A-7 chord in measure 9). This idea is reiterated three times, finally ending on the A natural occurring on the ‘and’ of two in measure 10. During these sequenced passages, excitement is also created through the use of rhythm. Although the beginning to this first example is somewhat awkward, the final three portions make use of a simple yet effective rhythmic device, syncopation. In the first two parts of the sequence, the approach tone is on an upbeat and sets up a strong down beat. In the third, the approach tone occurs earlier than the listener might expect and sets up an ‘anti-resolution’ to the ‘and’ of two.
A second section of sequence occurs in measures 18-20. This passage is comprised of a pick-up note that leads to a short, descending scale passage. Pomeroy uses rhythmic variance and diminution to create excitement through this passage. During the first two parts of the sequence, three eighth notes drive to the last note, making a group of four notes total. These final destinations can be seen on beat three in measure 18 and beat two in measure 19. Syncopation is already at play as the first emphasized ‘destination’ beat is a rhythmically strong beat and the second is weaker. This syncopation is developed further in the last two parts of the sequence where the previous four-note groups become three note groups. After this diminution, the ‘destination’ beats are now on off beats, the ‘and’ of four and two.
At two points in the solo, Pomeroy’s melodic construction hints at sequencing but is something else. The four measure long passages that begin in measures 13 and 25 are examples of this other technique, correlated phrases. These passages begin with a two-measure long idea and conclude with a two-measure idea that is highly related to the initial statement, especially in the way that each start. In the first example, measures 13 and 15 begin in the exact same way and end quite similarly. However, the second and fourth measures of the phrase, measures 14 and 16, are completely different from one another.
The phrase beginning at measure 25 is constructed in almost the same fashion as the one in measure 13. It begins with a simple, one-measure idea and this idea is echoed two measures later in a more embellished form. This phrase does differ from the one discussed above as the second and fourth measures bear a high level of resemblance to one another. One can see part of this similarity in the fact that, excluding the two pick-up notes found on beat four in measure 26, these measures are comprised of the exact same rhythm. These two measures are also similar in their melodic content as well. Both measures feature descending arpeggios with the only main difference between them being the chromatic passing tone found in measure 28.
The chromatic passing tone just mentioned is another device found frequently in this solo. Pomeroy limits his use of this device to the I7 chord, passing between the 13th and 5th as well as the root to the 7th. These instances occur on beat two of measures 3, 4, 27, and 28 as well as beat four of measures, 32 and 35. It is logical that these embellishments occur on beats two and four as they are approaching chord tones that Pomeroy wishes to place on the strong beats of one and three. Another example of chromatic passing tones can be seen in measure 30. In the first half of this measure, Pomeroy outlines some alternate harmony (to be discussed below) but returns to the original changes on beat three. The chromatic approach begins on the 13th of the chord and descends to the #11. This example is distinct from those discussed previously as it begins on beat three and targets beat four and incorporates more than one single passing tone.
Pomeroy also uses the technique of harmonic superimposition during this solo. The first type of substitution used involves chord planing. Specifically, Pomeroy anticipates harmony by selecting a destination and substituting the same progression that exists at that arrival point a half step away in the measure preceding it. An example of this can be found in measure 8. Pomeroy’s target is the harmony in measures 9 and 10, a ii-7 V7 chord progression on the roots A and D. In the preceding measure, Pomeroy plays material over the progression Bb-7 Eb7, one half step above his destination. Although the root of the first substitution is a Bb, it is important that this half step planing not be confused with a tri-tone substitution. In that progression, the Bb would be the root of a dominant chord.
Another harmonic substitution used is the replacement of the V7 chord in the tenth measure of the form with a ii-7 V7 progression where the dominant chord is a major second below the destination chord. Examples of this can be seen in measures 22 and 34. In both cases, the superimposed harmony is C-7 F7 and is outlined quite clearly. During the first two beats of each example, Pomeroy outlines a root position C-7 chord. In measure 22, he finishes with a descending scale passage beginning on the third of the F7 chord. The example from measure 34 ends a bit less obviously, but is still the same harmonic superimposition.
Although this solo is brief, it is well constructed and shows many of the vanguard concepts of the day. The succinct and understated presentation of the material may be what attracted Parker to Pomeroy’s playing, providing a foil to the virtuosic playing of the saxophonist.