Saturday, June 25, 2022

“Goodbye Pork Pie Hat”, old style, new style

This is one of my favorite tunes, ever. Don’t even know if I recognized it as a blues when I first heard it. Do you? Don’t count it out, no fair!

Here’s the original version, from 1959, on Mingus Ah UM:

It opens with John Henry playing the melody for a chorus, then going into a solo on tenor sax. Listen carefully to what happens at bar 11, starting at about 0:51. There’s a slow descending line, six notes (a pair of drag triplets). Think about what’s happening. This is the last bar of the melody. That’s when a melody comes to rest. One might expect the melody to be one long note at this point. But, no, that’s not what we’re hearing. We’re hearing a moving line. Maybe it will come to rest at the middle of the bar. No! It’s still moving. Where’s it going?

That’s a very good question. Where is it going? It keeps on moving to the end of the bar, and then Handy launches into his solo at 55:00. The melody doesn’t end, at least not properly.

Given that this tune is an elegy to Lester Young, known as “Pork Pie Hat” because that’s the kind of hat he wore, one wonders if there isn’t a kind of symbolism there. Yes, he’s dead, it IS a blues after all. But the melody (soul) lingers on.

Anyhow, THAT’s the signal feature of this tune. It doesn’t end. The melody doesn’t stop, nor does the harmony resolve to the tonic, as it normally would. Rather, it heads right back to the tonic that opens the tune.

Handy’s solo is slow and stately throughout. Notice that he opens his second chorus (c. 1:48) by flutter tonguing (or perhaps very soft double-tonguing) on the opening note of the melody and continuing that for four bars. He concludes after two choruses and we return to the melody (c. 2:40). He plays a single chorus and then another. Now you can hear very clearly how the final bar of the melody leads right back to the beginning (at c. 3:35). This time Handy is joined by Booker Ervin, also on tenor sax. They conclude this second time through at c. 4:30. Listen to what happens at the very end.


Now we have a very different version, from May 2022 at the Blue Note in New York City. We have the melody stated by Stanley Clarke on bass (starting at c. 0:17), with Cory Henry providing keys/synth backing. I don’t know who the rest of the players are. Cameron Graves (keys) and Jeremiah Collier (drums) are listed on the video. Another video from the same gig lists Emilio Modeste on tenor sax.

Cowell plays freely, no fixed tempo, embellishing the melody, finishing at 2:00, when the band kicks into a fixed tempo. Cowell plays the melody again, starting at 2:33, shadowed by the tenor sax. Listen to the vigorous drumming. Now the volume drops dramatically, c. 3:40, to finish out the melody, with both organ and sax shadowing. Now we have a sex solo. Listen to how the background changes up from moment to moment. This performances is very different from Mingus’s.

Cory Henry at 7:40 on keyboards. You can do your own commentary. Back to Cowell at 10:22. Listen to the deep lines from keyboards behind Cowell’s solo. Sax comes back to help finish it out.

I should note that the bass is not normally a front-line instrument, but this is Stanley Cowell. Putting him in front requires adjustments, with much of the bass-slack being taken up by keyboards.


  1. Cool tune. I just like saying "pork pie hat". Lol!

  2. I'm wondering about the pork pies this hat style is named after. I wonder if there's a pasty hat somewhere?