Koto Song

Written by Dave Brubeck, arranged by Russell Gloyd
Available in arrangements for Orchestra & Jazz Combo, Orchestra Only, Combo Only

“Koto Song” was inspired by two female musicians in Kyoto. In the notes to the original album, [Jazz Impressions of Japan] Brubeck describes the instrument and delicate music it produced: Of the classical instruments I heard, I was most fascinated by the koto, a thirteen-string convex-shaped zither, that traces its ancestry to the Chinese dulcimer. The koto is an instrument of rare delicacy and beauty, which blended with voice or flute, seems to suggest the ethereal quality of Japan’s gardens and misty landscapes. Brubeck’s composition is based on a repeated descending melodic pattern. It is based on a pentatonic scale, but Brubeck varies the interval pattern by including two half-steps, between F and G-flat, and between C and D-flat (the remaining melodic note is B-flat). Harmonically, the tune is based on a 12-bar blues in minor. The simple harmonic structure made it easy for alto saxophonist Paul Desmond and Brubeck to improvise on the piece, but it was only when the quartet pulled the melody away from the blues harmony that “Koto Song” became a profoundly moving piece of music.