A Look at Oscar Pettiford’s “Tricotism”

I’d like to give a big thanks to everyone for their encouraging words on my first column; John Goldsby shared that he and John Patitucci have recorded “Bohemia After Dark”, and I’d encourage folks to take a listen to their respective versions of the tune.

Now, back to the show.

In our second installment on Oscar Pettiford, we are going to take a look at another one of his tunes, “Tricotism”, which I consider a good contrast to “Bohemia After Dark”.

Oscar Pettiford is known as one of the forefathers of the upright bass, but its important to focus on the fact that he is a great composer as well, an often overlooked element of his legacy.

I first heard this tune as recorded by Ray Brown on the cello, which was another of Pettiford’s groundbreaking ideas. I met Ray Brown briefly a couple of times, and on one occasion when I asked him about working on pulse, he shared that listening to Oscar Pettiford helped to give him his concept. The version that I think most people know of is from a Lucky Thompson record; I believe Lucky Thompson meets Oscar Pettiford has their first recording of it.

Here is the A section of the piece:

“Tricotism” is an excellent example of a so called ‘be-bop’ style melody; mostly eighth notes with a couple of well placed triplets that help move the phrases along. The melody also contains some tri-tone substitutions. In particular the seventh bar of the melody, where the phrase moves to ‘A7’ both harmonically and melodically really has some beautiful color.

This brings up the point that “Tricotism” is in a not as well-worn key, especially for a Bass feature; 5 Flats-whew! Years ago, I saw a somewhat well-known piano player take it down a half-step to ‘C’ just so it could be more easily played. On the Bass, however, bringing it down just a half step takes away the spots where you have open strings that facilitate playing the melody; so the veteran New York Bass player who was playing with him that night wasn’t feeling quite right about it. (he shared this, although he pulled it off quite well). Side note: When I chose this piece I hadn’t thought about the fact that Db also is the best color contrast to G the key of “Bohemia after Dark”.

Aside from the fact that this can be a flashy Bass Solo, there are some key things that makes it a well written piece of music. Tricotism contains the same elements that we find in almost all great music — be it a minimalist John Cage piece, a Bach Sonata or a Billy Strayhorn suite — motivic development and shape. Focus your attention on the opening 4 notes of the melody, the motive, not including the pick up note. Those notes frame the question and the following phrase begins the answer, which O.P. continues to develop through the rest of the song. I want to point out that the opening two phrases form a nice bit of call and response as well.

This tune may take a bit of practice to work up to the point where you can play it fluently.

I’d definitely suggest for most folks that tackling it in phrases wouldn’t be a bad way to dive in.

During your practice I’m sure you’ll find any number of elements that are still left for you to discover, great music runs deep.

See ya next time, and as a bonus for being patient here is the Bridge:

Or you can download the PDF for this piece for better viewing.

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Share your thoughts

  1. Bart

    I agree, Tricotism is a great tune. The transcription shown here however is not Lucky Thompson’s version. For instance, bar 5, the triplets on the 4 should be an 8th rest, and an 8th D flat. Bar 7, last 8th note and bar 8, 1st 8th note should be an octave higher. I could go on but checking things yourself is what you should do, you’ll learn more.

  2. Bart

    To avoid misunderstanding, with “you” I mean everyone in general, not Mark.

  3. Mark

    Thank Bart-
    I actually used a couple of versions of the tune for the transcription; Ray Brown’s version on the cello was a main source of it- although I did change a couple of things from what he played that I felt more closely reflected the standard way of playing the tune.
    For example- Ray Brown plays the second A section slightly differently than the first, but I don’t think that is very common…


  4. Bart

    I’m not so shure it isn’t. The Oscar Peterson/ Niels Pedersen version has a different 2nd A part, and I know a lot of bassists that play that version. Personally I like the original better. If you like I can send you my transcription.

  5. Spencer

    I realize I’m about a year late to the party-
    I hear this misplayed all the time. A big part missing from this transcription is how Ray treats bars 1 and 2 in the 2nd and 3rd A sections, which is more audibly different from the original than anything else.
    Recently heard a piano/bass duet…two of the world’s greatest straight ahead musicians…one of them called it and by the 3rd bar they were playing different versions…
    The original>>>>

  6. Kirk

    There appear to be many errors in this transcription, both melody (mostly the accidentals) and chords. The transcription in Real Book 3 is much more accurate, but it’s in the key of Eb.