Music/Lyrics: Anastasio, Marshall
Albums: A Picture of Nectar, A Live One, Stash, Hampton Comes Alive, At the Roxy, Live Phish 02, Live Phish 10, Live Phish 16, Walnut Creek, High Neighbors: Dub Tribute to Phish, Coral Sky, Hampton/Winston-Salem '97, Ventura, Amsterdam
Historian: Jeff Goldberg (Jeff_Goldberg)
Last Update: 2015-10-02
In the late 1980's, Phish was but a mere sapling compared to what the band, as a whole, is today. Interestingly, however, this unique era of Phish’s musical development, where the band members, still relatively young, were riding a wave into stardom unfathomable at the time, was in many ways a pinnacle in Phish’s maturity as a band.
Although one never ceases to learn and advance musically, the band members were still very much music students themselves, engaging in group exercises such as a cappella vocal lessons and frequent jazz jam sessions. Trey in particular was listening to a heavy dose of jazz at the time. Lawn Boy had been completed (recorded in 1989, released 9/90) and he was thirsty for musical expansion, as well as some into new material. Trey was also exploring new ways of musical communication through study of theory-based concepts such as tension and release – the bare-bones foundation for Western harmony. Trey wrote several new songs during the early months of 1990, many of which would debut at New York's Wetlands Preserve (9/13/90) shortly after Lawn Boy's release and would form the basis of Phish’s subsequent studio release, A Picture of Nectar.
"Stash" – 12/30/94, New York, NY
Several Phish songs still to this day rely heavily on this tension and release concept: “Split Open and Melt,” “Run Like an Antelope,” “David Bowie,” and even “Mike’s Song” all at least flirt with the concept during their jams. Trey capitalizes on this by engaging the audience in a musical journey where he is at the driver’s seat, and he leads us into the unknown. One song, however, stands out among Phish’s vast repertoire as the “grandfather” of tension/release jams, and thus was appropriately chosen to represent this facet of Phish’s live jamming on their 1995 compilation release, A Live One: “Stash.”
At the time “Stash” was written, Trey was listening to many of the jazz greats of the mid-20th century. The Benny Goodman Quintet with Charlie Christen on guitar, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and Charles Mingus all found their way into the still-growing list of Trey’s influences, and many of Nectar’s songs directly reflect this. Musically, jazz is fundamentally based upon what is called a “ii-V7-I” progression, which is vocally pronounced “two-five-one.” Many of Benny Goodman’s songs took advantage of the tension created by going from the fifth degree of a key back to the root note, or “home base.” It was simply a reinterpretation of the same music theory and harmony that Mozart and Bachused to write their symphonies, applied in a modern context.
"Stash" – 11/14/95, Orlando, FL
Trey has admitted openly that “Stash’s” chord progression is a direct rip-off of Charles Mingus’ “Jump Monk” with a simple key change and a slinky calypso drum beat underneath. “Jump Monk,” which Phish has covered, was written as a tribute to jazz pianist and composer Thelonious Monk, another one of the greats. The title apparently came from the fact that Monk was always jumping and dancing around. “Jump Monk” is a i-bVI7-iiø-V7b9 (which is pronounced “minor one-flat six-two-five”) progression in the key of F minor, and is usually played with a standard swing beat. “Stash” is a i-bVI7-iiø-V7b9 in the key of D minor, and as noted, uses a slowed down calypso beat instead.
Lyrically, the song is nonsensical. It is comprised of several of Tom Marshall’s poems. Trey simply compiled little lines out of each poem (a common trend for many of the songs on Nectar, as vocals were not their focus at the time.) Musically, however, “Stash” is ingenious. Phish has taken the concepts that Goodman and Mingus were known for and made itself known for the very same phenomenon, only taken to an entirely new level. Instead of using the tension and release within the chord progression, expressed solely through lines and runs, Phish improvises over the “tension chord” (a.k.a. the “five” or “dominant”) for extended amounts of time, integrating several other theoretical tactics to increase the tension harmonically. The end result is an orgasmic release at the end of the jam, creating a universal blast of energy amongst the musicians and the audience alike.
"Stash" – 6/22/97, Koblenz, Germany
Despite the fact that the general pulse stays the same throughout the jam, the band members are improvising by changing the harmonic structure of the song as it goes along. They also take advantage of another musical technique of tension/release by playing rhythmic patterns that counterpoint one another through different time signatures. Trey himself stated in an interview that “It’s normally just a D-minor jam, but the whole time you can look back at it and figure out what the harmonic structure [is,] and jam over unusual degrees of it. Going to the five chord, and the five of five, and to the two chord, for example… I don’t really know other bands that do that. The thing is, you couldn’t do that in a normal soloist, backup band atmosphere. The backup band is trained to support and define the chord progression and let the soloist do his thing. We kind of look at it from a different light, more from a King Sunny Adé band perspective, where there is no soloist, everyone is playing.”
Another source of inspiration for “Stash” was a book written by Ted Dunbar that Trey was studying at the time. The book was all about different ways to take advantage of the tense sound created when playing two tones that are an interval of a tritone (three whole steps on the chromatic scale) away from each other. The human ear that is trained to hear music in a “Western” way does not “like” the sound of a tritone. It is unsettled and dissonant. Tritones are the intervals that cause tension in your ear. Literally, they are an augmented fourth (or a diminished fifth, depending on how you look at it) and you ear wants the interval to resolve. Due to the nature of the half and whole step relationships of Western music, a tritone can resolve to two different keys.
"Stash" – 9/23/00, Rosemont, IL
If you own a piano, or any other musical instrument, try playing, for instance, a C and an F#. They will sound very tense together. Now you can either resolve the notes in or out by a half step in order to relieve the dissonance. In other words, if you raise the C to a C#, and lower the F# to an F, you have resolved the tritone to the key of Db. The C and the F# imply a C diminished chord. This is the more obvious resolution; i.e., when the tritone is used to form a chord that is the dominant (or V7) of the key you’re in. In other words, in “Stash,” we are in D minor. The dominant (or V) of D is A. So we take A as the tonic (root), and form a dominant seventh chord over it, making an A7. Interestingly, if you resolve the tritone by moving the notes a half-step farther away from one another (lowering the C to a B,and raising the F# to a G) you resolve the tritone to a completely different key, and alter the entire flavor of the tritone and key change. By bringing the notes out by a half step, we now resolve to the key of G. Same tritone, different keys, different relationship. This is what Trey means by "analyzing the harmonic structure of the song."
Western music is based on this very V7-I cadence. In other words, you are either playing on a chord or to another chord. Again, “Stash” is a i-bVI7-iiø-V7b9 progression. Since the pattern repeats over and over, you see that we have that magic V7-i cadence in there between the last chord and the first. In the key of Dm, these chords are Dm-Bb7-Em7b5-A7b9. The A7 (or any seventh chord for that matter) contains a tritone. For example, play an A7, then resolve it to a Dm. You’ll hear tension, then release when you land on the Dm. The same concept applies to the “Stash” jam, but instead of just using strictly chords to cause the tension and release, Trey uses phrasing, scales, and arpeggios.
So now we know that A7 resolves to D.... but why? Musicians, pay attention. If you spell out the A7 chord, you have A, C#, E, and G. The third (C#) and the lowered seventh (G) of a dominant seventh chord create the tritone relationship. When you resolve those two notes by raising that C# to a D again (making the D harmonic minor mode fit nicely over the progression) you release the tension.
"Stash" – 10/31/10, Atlantic City, NJ
Well, let’s expand the progression a bit. We’ve already examined the V7-i cadence; so let’s expand it into the ii-V7-i cadence. Now the “ii” is theoretically the V of the V. Get it? The A7 is the V7 of Dm, and the Em7b5 is the V of the A7. Thus, we have the first tension/release relationship, the ii to the V. Interestingly, the ii-V7 cadence doesn’t fully resolve. It still leads your ear to want it to resolve again. Thus, now you go from V7 to i, and poof! You’re in "release-land," as Trey calls it.
Now, understanding it is one thing, but putting it into use is another. So, guitarists, here’s some tips on soloing with this style of jamming, specifically with regard to “Stash.”
1. Learn where every single D is on the fingerboard. Every one.
2. Learn how to connect every D to any other D using a minor scale. Practice correct shifting patterns. Go up and down. Use natural minor, harmonic minor, and melodic minor.
3. Then learn how to connect every D using minor arpeggios. Up and down. Count (or sing) the degree of the scale out loud as your playing it. For example when playing a Dm7 arpeggio, sing “one-three-five-seven.”
4. Once you do that, do the same thing only this time, sing the actual note names. By this time, you should really know what every note is on the fretboard by name, and apply the tritone concept using intervals.
"Stash" – 7/14/13, New York, NY
Now, you have the ammo to use proper phrasing. As another exercise, starting with Dm, go around the entire circle of fourths and fifths, using ii-V7 cadences the whole way around. In other words, Dm7, G7, Cm7, F7, Bbm7, Eb7, Abm7... and continue all the way back to Dm. You hear how the tension never ends? Your ear is waiting the entire time for the resolving “I” chord, but never gets it. Well, in the “journey” part of “Stash,” Mike sits on the five (A) while Page plays tritone-filled bedding chords, and Trey is free to roam back and forth between "tension-land" and "release-land." At the climax of the song, Mike resolves to the D finally, along with Trey and Page, creating the musical orgasm that we all know and love. The vibe is felt universally throughout the room when this occurs, and has developed into a definitive technique of Phish-style jamming.
In 1994, Phish knew that they were going to be releasing a live album to more accurately represent their sound than had their previous studio releases. In order to prepare for this event the band purchased all new recording equipment. They decided that they were going to record the entire year of 1994 on a digital 24-track recorder, and see what they came up with. The resulting music from that year was quite improvisational and exploratory. Late ‘93 brought long, extended jams never heard before (i.e.,“Bathtub Gin,” 8/13/93) and thus led to many of the staple ‘94 versions of songs fans refer to whimsically, as if it’s common knowledge. Whether or not the recording of the live album subconsciously had a direct effect on pushing the band to new levels in this domain is up for debate. Whatever the case, the summer of ‘94 brought some of the most revolutionary versions of “Stash” heard to that point. Summer ‘94 also marked the beginning of a to-be common trend at Phish shows of audience involvement in written Phish tunes. There is a point in the recorded Nectar version of “Stash” where Fishman hits his wood block during a break. During the ‘94 tour, this wood block hit developed into a universal triple-clap from the audience, which slowly replaced the sound of the wood block. The version chosen to best represent the tension/release concept for A Live One ended up being taken from Great Woods on 7/8/94.
The origins and musical structure of “Stash” are ideal vehicles for extended, interesting, yet varied jams, and thus it is almost universally adored amongst most fans. An extensive list of notable versions can be found on the phish.net “Stash” jamming chart. Every version however, by the nature of the origins of the song, along with its harmonic structure, encapsulates the tension/release jam that is so very… Phish.
"Stash" – 8/12/15, Philadelphia, PA