i'm trying to incorporate some red garland type block chords into my playing.  my understanding is that he usually uses an octave with a 5th (octave melody notes with a fifth above the thumb).  when i do this, the music sounds...chinese, i guess...and it seems wrong to play the melody three times (lh plus the octave in the right).  anyone have any advice?

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you're only playing three notes?  

the most used method of playing block chords is to play the melody an octave apart, then fit in your 3rd, 5th, and 7th.

of course that doesn't always work, it depends on what note the melody is on.  

a good way to practice block chords is to start with triads in each hand an play chord scales.

for example, say you want to do it in c and just for kicks i'll select a couple of chords, c and f.  (could be c7 or f7 or whatever)

so then you start with a c triad, c-e-g.

next you have to figure out how to incorporate the f chord with the d as a melody note, so maybe i might play d-f-a (even though that's  d minor chord, if you put an f in the bass it can be considered part of an f chord.  then with the e as the melody, the next note in the c major scale, i might just play e-g-c or e-bb-c.


when you have that down, start simple by adding the left hand octave melody note. nothing else.

then start adding a third or 7th along with that left hand note.

for examples, check out fred hersch.  he pretty much wrote the book in hip block chord playing.  his lullaby of birdland is a great resource for transcribing some very hip block chord action.

good luck.  

oh yeah, the mark levine book, "the jazz piano book", has some good sections on block chords.

the main resource that most players visited who are really good at harmonizing melodies, block chord or otherwise, are big band scores. check out some old count basie stuff, nestico, whoever you like. the band is one big block chord a lot of the time.
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my understanding of what i've seen called "red garland block chords" is the same as adams: rh=melody in octaves with the 5th of the melody note in between.  i'm not sure what is supposed to happen with the left...triads or root-3-7 or something like that i guess (at least that's what i've experimented with, and gotten pleasing results...but then i'm playing at a pretty poor level).

the blocks scott describes sound interesting, but are they "garland" blocks?

by the way, i really dig the garland sound, especially on some of the coltrane sessions (lush life...one of my all time favorite recordings).  i'm not skilled enough to have tried transcribing yet, but is that what he is doing there?

i was reading a short bio of shearing and he said the thing about playing the melody in an octive and putting other chords in between.  question:  is this in both hands?  that is, is the left playing the low melody while the right plays the top and the middle is somehow both?  seems kind of tight in there to me!
red garland's block chord system:

rh = melody in octaves with the 5th of the melody note in between
lh = four note rootless voicing played in the same rhythm as the right hand
thanks jazz+.  does he just do this over a bassist, or on his solo as well?
"lh = four note rootless voicing played in the same rhythm as the right hand"

so the notes in the lh stay the same, right (until there's a chord change)?

yes,  the notes in the lh stay the same until there's a chord change.
ah, i see what  you're talking about. i don't consider those block chords, really, so i was describing what most people think block chords are.

what you're describing is something i do all the time, actually, and it works great for solo piano as well as trio. you get a nice big melody sound in the right hand and supporting color in the left.

however, use the 4th or the 5th.  depending on what notes the melody is on, the 5th from the bottom note isn't always going to work, you might have to use the 5th from the top note instead.
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we are talking about what are called "red garland" style block chords. he always used the 5th inside the right hand octave regardless of the surrounding harmony. remember that the 5th is part of the overtone series and so that's how red garland got away with it.
thanks for the tips guys--sounds good, and not technically or theoretically too difficult.  do you think it sounds better in higher registers?

scot: i have quite a lot of fred hersch, but don't think i have a recording of him playing lullaby of birdland - i'd love to check it out...which album are you referring to?
i'm sorry, i meant george shearing, not fred hersch. a buddy of mine and i are working out penstavia so i had fred hersch on the mind when i wrote that :)
If I'm not back in 24 hours, call the president.

Scot is available for skype jazz piano lessons (and google hangouts, phone call, etc...)
Use the contact link at the top of the page.

03/29/2004   audio file - recording of the 16 bar midi file   
uploaded by dougmck     
windows media file of 16 bar version of red garland's bye bye blackbird midi

03/29/2004   pdf file of red garland - 16 bars bye bye blackbird
uploaded by dougmck     
more examples of red garland's block chord style

03/29/2004   last 16 bars of red garland's bye bye blackbird solo
uploaded by dougmck     
this is the 1st 16 bars of bye bye blackbird - before miles returns to solo

03/28/2004   red garland -4 bars bye bye blackbird – simplified
uploaded by dougmck     
pdf version of same 4 bars -bye bye blackbird - on piano staff - simplified rhythmically

02/08/2004   bye_bye_blackbird_-_last_4_bars_red_garland_solo
uploaded by dougmck     
last 4 bars of red garland's solo on miles davis' 'bye bye blackbird' (from 'round midnight' album) demonstrating the 2 handed garland block chord voicings

this should answer your questions!
funny you should mention fred hersch scot, i was just working on heartsong the other day...

and you will find great stuff about red's style
i found it very helpful to not try to learn the octave with 5th for any one tune, but instead, around the circle of 5ths (or , going the other way, the circle of 4ths).

then, once it became very natural to me to play any note in octave with the 5th in between, it was of course very natural to me to play an easy melody that way.

put another way, before trying to use the garland right hand for any tune, learn to just play the garland right hand on each note of the keyboard.
that's a good idea. also try it octave with the 5th in between thru all 12 major scales.
another thought, do you know your major triads in the right hand in root position, through the entire circle of 5ths (or the other way,the circle of 4ths) ?  if so, then instead of playing the triads, just pay attention to the root and the fifth, drop the third, and play the root and 5th through the cycle.  once that feels natural, just change your fingering, and use your pinky to double the root.

i was always a bit confused trying to learn this block chord style all at once.  once i broke it down into its parts, it was much easier.

now, i don't really think "red garland block chords", but instead, i can play a "red garland right hand" whenever i want to thicken up the melody a bit.

as a "side benefit", if i can play a rootless voicing underneath at the same time with my left hand, i'm playing in the red garland style.

if not, then at least i can play the red garland right hand.

and even if the tempo is a bit too fast, causing me to drop the 5th, i can still play melodies in octaves.

summary, it's always been a bit of a struggle for me to incorporate these techniques, but i have been able to do many of them by taking one part of the technique at a time, and appreciating that one part for how it improves my playing.
a final thought:

answer quick!

if i say "f sharp!", does your brain respond "a sharp!" on it's own, without hesitation?

if i say "b flat!" does your brain respond "f ! " on it's own, without hesitation?

if you answered "no" to either of these questions, then instead of trying to learn garland block chords, it might be better to revisit your major triads in your right hand, root position, backwards and forwards through the cycle.  then again, without the 3rd.  

then you'll have at least half of red garland in your pocket :)  

not to be picky, but a fifth above (or fourth below) f# is c#, not a#
jazz+, if you do through major scales do you use the 5th as diatonic (probably not even a 5th always -- no keyboard handy) or perfect?
thanks barry, you're absolutely right!
you uses the perfect 5th, not diatonic 5ths. i recommend practicing it with the bebop scales. that way it is more like block chords.
here is a big tip:

all the white key notes will have a white 5th, except b
all the black key notes will have a black fifth except bb
practice the chromatic scale using it.
yeah, jazz+ point about the b/bb always trips me up trying to do the garland rh; although i sometimes doesn't sound so bad using the flat 5 (in the case of b and f natural), such as when the underlying key is c.
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