Sordid Sort of Fellow is the second track on Earl MacDonald’s “Open Borders” album. The song includes solos by Josh Evans (trumpet), Sara Jacovino (trombone), Henry Lugo (string bass) and Earl (piano). Here is a live version to whet your whistle:
When commissioned to write a piece for the 2009 Central Massachusetts District Jazz Band, Earl knew the big band would include many strong players from the award-winning band program at Foxborough High School. He wanted to challenge them a step beyond playing the blues. Writing a rhythm changes chart (a piece structurally based on George Gershwin’s “I’ve Got Rhythm”) seemed like the logical choice.
However, Earl found himself wanting to explore ways to depart from the usual, verbatim repetition of the ‘A sections’ within the AABA form. He did this with motivic development (thinking more along the lines of Ornette Coleman than Charlie Parker) and modulating from Eb to B major in the second ‘A section’.
For the improvisations, he kept the harmony more customary, with the exception of incorporated Sonny Stitt’s challenging, chromatically descending bridge from “the Eternal Triangle.” Again you will note that he wrote a full chorus for the ensemble after the initial 32-bar melody statement, before turning control over to the trumpet soloist. There are also plenty of guiding “solo enhancements” to keep his finger, as composer/arranger, in the proverbial pie.
Because this composition features trumpet so prominently, Earl was thinking of some of the trumpet players in his life as he wrote Sordid Sort of Fellow. Frank Burke, was an important mentor to him while growing up in Winnipeg. He remains one of his closest friends. Frank openly tells stories about his connections to Winnipeg’s Chinese mofia, and if his photo isn’t next to the Webster’s dictionary entry for the word “sordid,” it should be.
If your interest is piqued after reading the article, I hope you will consider purchasing your copy of “Open Borders.” Copies can be ordered through the following link: https://earlmacdonald.bandcamp.com/album/open-borders