Why we use the term "footballs"

Don Sickler: "The term footballs was introduced to me many years ago by the gifted pianist and composer Rodgers Grant, a man very important to me personally, and to Second Floor Music. The strength and beauty of his compositions, starting with Morning Star, convinced me that I had to leave the world of corporate music publishing to start my own company. There was so much great music, like Rodgers', that wasn't being developed by the big publishers. They wouldn't do it, and I knew I could.

"Morning Star is actually the cornerstone of our company Second Floor Music; it's the first recorded composition we published. We've had a quintet arrangement of it clip of the Frank Wess/Johnny Coles recording available for years, and now the lead sheet is on jazzleadsheets.com. It was first recorded by Hubert Laws in 1972 clip2 and next in 1977 by Stan Getz, with more artists following.

"I met Rodgers in 1967, soon after moving to NYC, when I did my first gig (at the Pines Hotel, in the Catskills). Rodgers was the pianist on that gig, and he not only became my best friend, he opened my mind and ears to a different way of thinking about how chords should move in a chord progression. Rodgers had a tremendous harmonic sense and would often come up with several different harmonic ways to approach a tune. Each way had its own basic harmonic rhythm progression, usually consisting of half notes and whole notes, with sometimes occasional quarter note pulses. Isolating an individual Rodgers Grant chord would often reveal additions or alterations to the basic chord language. What was in the individual chord wasn't what was important to Rodgers; it was how each voice led to the next. The only way a particular voicing came into existence was through the process of voice leading: it logically (and musically) came from the previous voicing and would logically move to the following one.

"He didn't care what the voicing would be called (the chord symbol you would use to describe it). Rodgers always preferred 'footballs' (written voicings in whole and half notes), which, unlike chord symbols, show the vertical placement of each note—that was crucial to him. As you might have guessed, the name 'footballs' comes from the open notehead shape. In fact, the solo chord progressions Rodgers would hand me when we were playing together would often contain just basic major, minor and dominant chord symbols. What he actually played would stretch my ears. I can't tell you how many times I would stop Rodgers, saying, 'What was that chord you just played?' His stock answer was, 'Let me write out some "footballs" to the harmonic progression, so you can check out what I hear.' The term footballs for harmonic rhythm voicings became part of my vocabulary, thanks to Rodgers. For him, voice leading was always the name of the game.

"When I asked pianist Glenn Zaleski to give me some descriptive comments for his à la voicings, I saw that my use of the term had also stuck with Glenn. His general text comments describe the voicings as "notated as 'footballs.'"

"Rodgers Grant passed away in 2012, but fortunately his music is alive and well, and you'll be seeing a lot of it coming up on the new jazzleadsheets.com. Thank you for the music, Rodgers, and also for the term 'footballs.'"