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Andrew Janak Tracking Wayne’s Musical Footprint: An Analysis and Comparison of “Footprints” Performed by Miles Davis’ Second Great Quintet and Wayne Shorter’s Quartet

  • Room 225 2106 4th St S Minneapolis, MN 55455 (map)

Miles Davis referred to Wayne Shorter as the “intellectual musical catalyst” for his Second Great Quintet with his compositions/arrangements and “Footprints,” while at first glance is a seemingly simple 12-bar blues, is certainly an intellectual piece. The composition itself is malleable to different approaches as two recordings, recorded eight months apart, vary from the rhythmically and harmonically ambiguous take on Miles Smiles to the grooving modal version on Adam’s Apple. On each track Shorter’s musical personality shines through, whether in the polyrhythmic superimposition of his lines or the blues-influenced playing coming out of his hard bop background with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers. These vastly different skill sets are what made him the perfect fit for Miles Davis’s Second Quintet, as he was connected to the tradition that came before him but also was a forward thinking improviser/composer and willing to take risks. Keith Waters noted that all the members of the Quintet “exhibited a deft ability to merge traditional with avant-garde approaches to improvisation” and according to Herbie Hancock the group strived for a sense of “controlled freedom.” However paradoxical that phrase may be, I believe it aptly describe the Quintet’s performance on “Footprints” and what sets it apart from the Wayne Shorter Quartet’s version. From the many metric modulations implied by Tony Williams’s drumming to Herbie Hancock’s purposeful lack of comping at certain harmonic points, the Second Quintet never altogether abandons the form of Shorter’s composition, but harmony and rhythm are pushed to the edge. Through the transcription of Wayne Shorter’s improvised solos and two different performances of “Footprints”, this paper examines Shorter’s improvisational/compositional style and dives into the rhythmic and harmonic techniques that gave Miles Davis’ Second Great Quintet its signature sound. Also problems with published lead sheets of “Footprints” are addressed and compared to the respective performances on Miles Smiles and Adam’s Apple.