In the wake of my humorous "solution" to the key of "Bye-Ya," Twitter kept going with a certain amount of debate about whether "Bye-Ya" is in A-flat or E-Flat.
I admire the Monk Fake Book edited by Steve Cardenas and Don Sickler very much. There's still no substitute for going back to the record, but for a quick fix, Cardenas has your back. Every editorial decision was considered.
In the book "Bye-ya" is in four flats. I emailed Steve about it, and he replied,
This comes up every once in a while, among some the things Sickler and I debated over. There was no Monk chart on this one. It's a true anomaly, I've never felt settled on what key this was and ultimately came to the conclusion that it resides in both keys. Sounds like the key of Ab up to the E7, then somehow resolves to Eb. It's one of the things I love about this tune. Seems it can be convincingly argued one way or the other. When we were working on the book, Sickler was convinced it was in Ab, so that's where it went. Maybe putting it in C was the way to go, use accidentals and let eveyone else decide. Without a chart, the tune sounds the same no matter what key one thinks it's in, so for me, I'm not invested in trying to nail down one key. Sort like trying to decide what key "Giant Steps" is in, but in this case, we're not dealing with such disparate keys, which I think adds so much fuel to the debate as with the keys being so close, it's easy to think it must be one or the other. I say both. Wonder if Monk ever wrote a chart out or if he thought there was a definitive key? Unanswerable unfortunately. "Giant Steps," 3 key centers. "Bye-Ya," 2? No? Yes....
I posted some of this response to Twitter, which provoked a whole new slew of comments about the key of "Giant Steps." Some very high level cats were involved: Look at the threads of Josh Redman, Steve Coleman, Vijay Iyer, Darcy James Argue, and Miles Okazaki for more.
For both "Bye-Ya" and "Giant Steps" I don't have an inflexible opinion. In the case of "Bye-ya" I always thought E-flat before, but now I love the possibilities of A-Flat.
As far as "Giant Steps" goes, it seems to me that while E-flat has the strongest case in the abstract, B is also a worthy contender. When it comes around to the top I feel a good strong tonic downbeat. In the case of playing it through the keys, in my mind I'm like, "Ok, start with B," not, "Start with E-flat."
At any rate, "Steps" is arguably more of a study than a finished piece. Coltrane was working out his material. My own sardonic tweets were: "In my view it was hipper when Trane put all those sequences over D minor. Therefore, my answer to 'what key is Giant Steps in?' is: D minor."
I'm joking but I also think it's important to remember that Trane didn't stay with "Giant Steps," that he searched for a more folkloric-sounding and harder swinging music that could use the same information.
"Bye-Ya" remains a bit more intriguing for me, partly simply because I'm wondering about how I've possibly misunderstood it for about 25 years. The confusing tonality (the parameters of which are clearly outlined by Cardenas above) shows how advanced Monk really was.
Going through the fake book I noted some other unusual uses of key in Monk's music.
"Introspection" seems like "Bye-ya," the final cadences are so strong it invalidates previous movement. Therefore, both D and D-flat.
And similarly "Played Twice," which is mostly C but ends firmly D. Again, kind of like "Bye-Ya" in a way, except nobody would argue that "Played Twice" is in D (I hope).
While I always think of "Coming on the Hudson" as in F, there's not one F chord in the song!
A section of "Criss Cross" is in what key? G minor? -- but it still sounds like B-flat, even before bridge and no B-flat chords?
"Monk's Mood" and "Pannonica" are firmly in C, but both only end in D-flat.
"Ruby My Dear" is one of the hardest to parse. Roland Hanna talked about mediant movement...I'll call E-flat, but really that's just the first phrase.
What key is "Epistrophy" in? One could argue for D-flat, but...
Not satisfied, I decided to transcribe the piano part of the first recording of "Bye-Ya." This is from Trio on Prestige, which has always been one of my favorite records. The piano is out of tune, the bassist is barely competent (apparently Gary Mapp was mostly a policeman) and on "Bye-Ya" the unnamed amateur clavé player clashes cruelly with Art Blakey's wonderful beat.
It all adds up to local music. Kind of like the cats on the corner making up a song, except of course one of the cats was Thelonious Monk.
Cardenas also reminded me of how the piece was titled, at least according to Robin D.G. Kelley's biography.
Thelonious also dusted off his composition "Playhouse," another danceable upbeat tune but with an even stronger Latin flavor. Weinstock wanted to call it "Go." Hearing the Latin/Caribbean influence, he asked George Rivera, Prestige's accountant who was in the studio that day, for the Spanish translation. Somehow "Vaya" became "Bye-Ya."
H'mm. The song is misspelled, maybe even mis-titled. Seems totally appropriate!
It's funny how strong E-flat comes across considering how little Monk plays that chord! I wrote it four flats for convenience but am no way married to that key signature.
Part of it is Mapp, who often is playing in E-Flat, like in bars two and four. I don't know for sure, but I have a feeling Mapp just didn't really know the tune. Throughout his whole career, Monk seemed to have a carefree attitude to his bassist's notes in general. (Al McKibbon seems as lost on early Blue Notes as on the final Black Lion trios.) If Monk taught by rote, which I believe he did, I feel bad for those in the studio trying to learn this music and nail it without a chart or much guidance.
Mapp's beat is fine, but some of his notes are truly incorrect. At the end, he tags "D-flat, D, E-flat" twice when Monk just plays D-flat. Paradoxically, Monk's concluding D-flat argues strongly for E-flat being the key. He ended on the flat VII a lot ("Nice Work if You Can Get It," "In Walked Bud") but ending on IV would be really weird.
Part of the problem with all of this is that classic jazz does not submit smoothly to European-style harmonic analysis. Not to say that Monk's pitches don't "work" according to Old World harmonic rules: On the contrary, they usually do. Still, another mysterious part of his music is the blues, black music, and all that stuff comes from a different perspective entirely.
Both Monk and Claude Debussy featured the whole tone scale, but the emotions each conjure with that whole tone scale couldn't be more different.
Ending in E-flat was the true specialty of one of Monk's influences, bluesman Jimmy Yancey. Yancey would always play a certain tag in E-flat no matter what the key. As far as I know, he recorded in C, F, B-flat, E-flat, and A-flat. But the ending is always E-flat.
This isn't to suggest that Monk's E-flat cadence at the ends of the A sections to "Bye-Ya" and Yancey's abrupt tag in E-flat are structurally the same. They aren't!
But nevertheless Monk and Yancey are in the same family: Afro-American, resolute, unexplainable. Both made sure to never record a single track that didn't have personal and inimitable calligraphy.
The most shocking Yancey tag is probably at the end of 1939's "Yancey Stomp." If there is a piece in C major, it is "Yancey Stomp."
I didn't include the Mp3 of "Bye-Ya" here, because I know all DTM readers have Prestige Trio on their computers already. (Right?) But I'll give you "Yancey Stomp," which is comparatively obscure.
The complete Yancey on Document is a valuable purchase; for the less committed, any Yancey anthology will probably do.
He recorded only after his prime and never quit his job as groundkeeper at Comiskey Park where his team was the White Sox. Yancey died in 1951: I wonder what he would make of his immortal music still flourishing years later, transcribed and studied all over the world?