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"Footprints" is a jazz standard composed by saxophonist Wayne Shorter and first recorded for his album Adam's Apple in 1966. The first commercial release of the song was a different recording on the Miles Davis album Miles Smiles recorded later in 1966, but released earlier. It has become a jazz standard.
Although often written in 3
4 or 6
8, it is not a jazz waltz because the feel alternates between simple meter and compound meter. On Miles Smiles, the band playfully explores the correlation between African-based 12
8 (or 6
8) and 4
4. Drummer Tony Williams freely moves from swing, to the three-over-two cross rhythm—and to its 4
The ground of four main beats is maintained throughout the piece. The bass switches to 4
4 at 2:20. Ron Carter’s 4
4 figure is known as tresillo in Afro-Cuban music and is the duple-pulse correlative of the 12
8 figure. This may have been the first overt expression of systemic, African-based cross-rhythm used by a straight ahead jazz group. During Davis’s first trumpet solo, Williams shifts to a 4
4 jazz ride pattern while Carter continues the 12
8 bass line.
The following example shows the 12
8 and 4
4 forms of the bass line. The slashed noteheads indicate the main beats (not bass notes), where one ordinarily taps their foot to "keep time."
Harmonically, "Footprints" takes the form of a 12-bar C minor blues, but this is masked not only by its triple time signature but by its avant garde turnaround (series of chords that return to the main, or I chord). In the key of C minor, a normal turnaround would be Dm7(♭5), G7, Cm7. But Shorter doubles the harmonic rhythm of the turnaround, and the progression reads: F♯m7(♭5), F7(♯11), Eaug7(♯9), A7(♯9), Cm7. In jazz jam sessions and for educational purposes, players often choose D7(♯11) D♭7(♯11) Cm7 as turnaround, which also fits with the original melody. Although the song has a C minor feel, the melody is actually in C Dorian, as it has A♮ rather than A♭.