Feb 8, 2017

"I Got the Blues" (1908), the first published blues

Here's the original sheet music for the first published "blues" tune - that is, the first published music that 1) had "blues" in the title, and 2) used what we now call a 12-bar blues progression, and 3) had blue notes (i.e, b3) in the melody. I found it online at the Tulane University library.

Some things to note:

  • many b3-to-3 blue note licks in the melody
  • G7 chord (V of IV) in bar 4 of the first repeated section - this became a basic feature of blues
  • C#dim7 chord (#IVdim7) in bar 6 - this too became a standard harmonic feature in many later blues
  • rhythmically and structurally a rag, but with a 12-bar blues progression in the first section, and a 12-bar "minor blues" in the second section

Here's a nice, straight reading of the sheet music by Marco Fumo:

In his book Creating Jazz Counterpoint, Vic Hobson quotes a 1955 article by the composer, Anthony Maggio, a "classically trained musician of Sicilian descent." Maggio writes about how he came to write the tune, in 1907:
I took the ferry boat from New Orleans across the Mississippi to Algiers. On my way up the levee, I heard an elderly negro with a guitar playing three notes for a long time. I didn't think anything with only three notes could have a title so to satisfy my curiosity I asked him what was the name of the piece. He replied, "I got the blues."
Hobson comments, "...why the elderly guitarist on the levee in Algiers chose to call the tune "I Got the Blues," we are not told. It may have been just a reference to his own state of mind, or it may have related in some way to "I've Got De Blues" (1901), the first major hit for the African American vaudeville entertainers Chris Smith and Elmer Bowman." [Smith and Bowman's tune, however, was not what we would call a blues.]

Maggio continues,
I went home. Having this on my mind, I wrote "I Got the Blues," making the three notes dominating most of the time. That same night, our five-piece orchestra played at the Fabaker Restaurant (in New Orleans) "I Got the Blues" which was composed with the purpose of a musical caricature, and to my astonishment became our most popular request number. 
During this time people asked me for copies, but I had only my manuscript. I had no intention of publishing it because my interest in music was entirely classical. However, the people's demand by now was so overwhelming that our first violinist, Barzin (later to play first violin with Toscanini, at the Met) persisted until I finally consented to publish 1000 copies for piano, 500 for band and 500 for orchestra...This took place in 1908. The copies were sold in a very short time. I wasn't interested in another edition for the reason already explained.
The chord progression was not original with Maggio; similar 12-bar harmonic sequences had been used before in "Just Because She Made Them Goo-Goo Eyes," a 1900 hit tune by Hughie Cannon, and also in other tunes by Cannon. Similar 12-bar progressions had been used even earlier in the folk tunes "Stagolee," "Frankie and Johnny," and "The Ballad of the Boll Weevil."

The early history of blues is hazy; it's not clear if 12-bar tunes specifically called "blues" were being played in New Orleans or in rural areas previous to this. Certainly the 12-bar sequence was being played, and certainly blue notes (b3, b7) were a common feature of Southern popular music. "I Got the Blues" represents the first time that these elements came together in published form, under the title "blues."

Some other posts on early blues:

Early Blues, blue notes, and blues scales
"St. Louis Blues" and other early published blues

Jan 25, 2017

Kenny Hing, a great tenor player

Recently I was given 20 years of Saxophone Journal magazines, nearly complete from 1981 through 2001. I had not been a subscriber, and I've been enjoying a lot of cool articles. The Winter 1987 issue featured a story on the Count Basie sax section, including interviews with the members at that time. In the interview with tenor player Kenny Hing, I ran across the name of my old teacher in Portland, Eddy Flenner:
At about the sixth grade I started studying privately and I guess I showed some promise on the clarinet because my folks decided to get me a better horn. We went to a music store to get a wood clarinet, like the pros played, and there was a clarinet and saxophone teacher there named Eddy Flenner: a very fine player and gentleman and I owe so much to him...I studied the clarinet privately with Eddy clear through high school. I got very involved and as soon as I started taking clarinet lessons I wanted to be just like Benny Goodman or Artie Shaw. Then, during my freshman year in high school, I got a new Martin alto saxophone; this was about 1951. I remember seeing my teacher at clarinet lessons, with his shiny alto sitting there, and I couldn't wait to get my hands on that alto! 
Some of the first books I used were the Klose method, Langenus, Rose, and Twenty-seven Virtuoso Studies for Saxophone...During my sophomore year in high school I started playing professionally...Then I ran away from home when I was a junior...
Kenny supported himself playing music, eventually establishing himself in Las Vegas, playing in the house bands at the Sahara, the Dunes, and the Flamingo. He joined the Count Basie Orchestra in 1977, replacing Jimmy Forrest, and stayed for 25 years. He's retired now, living in Oregon.

According to Leonard Feather's Biographical Encyclopedia of Jazz, Kenny Hing started lessons with Eddy in 1946. Eddy would have been 32 then, not long after he started teaching. I studied with Eddy in the early 1970s, at the end of his teaching career. Eddy passed away in 1974, shortly after I left Portland. I owe a lot to him, too.

According to the Saxophone Journal interview, Kenny was self-taught as an improviser; apparently he worked mostly on "legit" skills with Eddy.

Kenny has of course taken his playing a lot further than I have. Clearly, it has more to do with talent and dedicated practicing than who your teachers were.

I hadn't been aware of Kenny Hing, but this article sparked my interest. There are some Basie clips on Youtube that feature Kenny's soloing. He's a wonderful player!

In this video, Kenny plays first, Eric Dixon second:

He plays the tenor solo on this Basie/Sarah Vaughan recording of "All the Things You Are":

Kenny recorded one CD, "The Little King." It's a tight band, with fine players: Bob Ojeda, trumpet; Mike Abene, piano; David Jackson, bass; and Dennis Mackrel, drums. Kenny plays with a beautiful tone, and absolutely tastefully - a model of solid tenor playing. You can get the album on iTunes.

Here's a link to a discussion on saxontheweb.

And here's a short but fun interview on Tim Price's website.

For sax players, here's a link to the online magazine Saxophone Today, a worthy successor to the no-longer-published but excellent Saxophone Journal.

For more about Eddy Flenner, check this earlier post. If you knew Eddy, please leave a comment!

Dec 30, 2016

That "A Train" Lick, Part 2 - Jimmie Rodgers!

Don't blame me. My friend Adam (last name withheld) just came up with this one. Adam is the one who started our tune-detective project on earlier use of "that A Train lick" (see Part 1 here),

Adam's new example is Jimmie Rodgers' "Blue Yodel No. 1," a big hit in 1928 - before any of the other tunes listed in my previous post.

Ridiculous? A year-end joke? Maybe! But...

The A Train lick -

Jimmie Rodgers, "Blue Yodel #1," 1928. The yodeling lick is at 0:30 -

The yodeling phrase actually does resemble "that A Train lick" in several ways: a leap up to the third of the key, back down to the fifth, then chromatically down to the fourth, leap to the second, moving to the tonic (delayed by several notes in "Blue Yodel"). It is similarly placed, at the end of the musical phrase.

Here's the Wikipedia page for Blue Yodel #1 (AKA "T for Texas"). Jimmie's recording sold half a million copies. He built on the success of "Blue Yodel #1," recording eight more Blue Yodels for Victor between 1928 and 1930, as well as many other titles. Louis Armstrong and Lil Hardin Armstrong were featured on the last one, "Blue Yodel #9." All the Blue Yodels are on YouTube.

Of course, Jimmie didn't invent yodeling, either. It was not just an alpine thing, but was part of "Western" music in the 1920s-1930s. Roy Rogers was pretty accomplished too; supposedly as a youth he used yodeling to communicate on the family farm.

However, from what I can find on the web, there seems to be disagreement over whether yodeling was actually something cowboys did to communicate on the range, or whether it was just a showbiz gimmick, perhaps inspired by alpine yodeling in vaudeville.

You'd have to at least concede that this yodeling lick was "in the air" by the 1930s, when most of the other tunes on our list were written. Maybe the lick just sort of floated into Harold Arlen's creative mind, and so on, down the line:

Blue Yodel #1 - 1928
Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea - Harold Arlen, 1931
Shuffle Off to Buffalo - Harry Warren, 1933
I've Put all My Eggs In One Basket - Irving Berlin, 1936
Take the A Train - Billy Strayhorn, 1939
Tiny's Tempo - Tiny Grimes, 1946

I know - you are thinking, "Give me a break!" - right? But like I said, you can't blame me for this one.

Happy New Year!

Dec 25, 2016

That "A Train" Lick, Part 1 - Harold Arlen, Irving Berlin, Billy Strayhorn, and Tiny Grimes

My friend Adam called my attention to the Irving Berlin song "I'm Putting All My Eggs In One Basket" (1936), which contains a phrase that strongly resembles one in the A section of Billy Strayhorn's "Take The 'A' Train" (1939). Adam wondered where that lick might have originally come from.

Here's the lick from "Eggs":

Berlin wrote "Eggs" for the Fred Astaire movie "Follow the Fleet":

I'm sure you already know the "A Train" lick:

Duke Ellington's classic 1941 recording:

I didn't have a good answer for Adam about the origin of the lick, but I did recall another tune with a similar lick, "Tiny's Tempo." Guitarist Tiny Grimes recorded this one in 1946, with Charlie Parker as a sideman:

This week I've been re-reading Alec Wilder's landmark book, American Popular Song: The Great Innovators, 1900-1950(1972). If you are at all interested in jazz standards, you owe it to yourself to read it. It's extensively researched, authoritative, and amusingly opinionated. Wilder's opinions are pretty well-informed - he was himself a successful composer, both classical and popular, and personally knew some of the composers he wrote about.

In his Harold Arlen chapter, Wilder mentions an early Arlen tune, "Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea" (1931), calling this phrase "a marvelous riff which I must believe was written before the lyric":

That's the piano part, from the published sheet music, copied from Wilder's book. "Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea" was written for a 1931 Cotton Club show, "Rhyth-mania." Arlen was familiar, and comfortable, with the jazz world. He was adept at incorporating blues licks and blues harmonies into his compositions - I've always enjoyed that aspect of Arlen's work. Note the Ab in bar 2, a moment of a b3 blue note. As Wilder notes, Arlen was pretty advanced for his time.

Here are the dates of the songs mentioned:

"Between the Devil" - 1931
"Eggs" - 1936
"A Train" - 1939
"Tiny's Tempo" - 1946

Harry Warren's Shuffle Off to Buffalo (1933) has a related lick - a simpler version, without the initial reach to the higher note, but with the chromatic movement from the fifth to the fourth, followed by a reach up, to the second and the tonic. As in the first 3 tunes above, the lick comes at the end of the musical phrase.

"Between the Devil" is the earliest instance that I can find of any lick resembling this one. I have to wonder if it was a part of the jazz vocabulary of the day, even before Arlen wrote the song.

If any blog readers can think of an earlier example, please leave a comment at the end of this post!

Update 12/27/16:

Here's a similar sequence from 1929. I was just reading Wilder's chapter on Hoagy Carmichael. I'm not sure if this counts, as the melodic sequence is placed differently, both harmonically and in its placement in the measure, but I'd be remiss not to mention it:

About this musical example, Wilder comments, "If ever there was an instrumental phrase, as if improvised at that..."

Update 12/30/16: Click here for That A Train Lick, Part 2 - Jimmie Rodgers!

As a side note, this post led me to check out Tiny Grimes' biography. Tiny played with Art Tatum in the early 1940s, recorded four tunes with Charlie Parker in 1946, and later recorded with Johnny Hodges, Coleman Hawkins, Illinois Jacquet, Pepper Adams, Roy Eldridge, and Earl Hines. Tiny Grimes is also regarded as a contributor to the origins of rock and roll:

Trivia: According to Wikipedia,
In the late 1940s, he had a hit on a jazzed-up version of "Loch Lomond", with the band billed as Tiny "Mac" Grimes and the Rocking Highlanders and appearing in kilts. This group included top tenor saxman Red Prysock and singer Screaming Jay Hawkins.
Screaming Jay (remembered for his 1956 hit, I Put a Spell On You) was featured on vocals, sax, and keyboards with the Rocking Highlanders. Jay doesn't sing on the "Loch Lomond" track, but if you want to check it out, "Loch Lomond" is from 8:00 to 11:05 in the first recording below. The saxophones get an interesting bagpipe effect in the intro:

Here's one last one - Tiny Grimes with Art Tatum and Slam Stewart:

Dec 16, 2016

"I Didn't Know What Time It Was" - A Few Observations

A few months ago I picked up a copy of the original sheet music to the 1939 Rodgers and Hart song "I Didn't Know What Time It Was," at a book sale. I finally got around to taking a closer look at it last week, and noticed some interesting things about the harmony.

Below are the first eight bars of the "chorus" (main body of the tune, after the introductory "verse"), first as shown in the Standards Real Book(Sher Music), and then as shown in the 1939 sheet music.

Sher's fakebooks are a sort of gold standard; they are well-researched and generally will give you an intelligent, mainstream-jazz version. This chart is pretty representative of modern fakebook versions of this song. Click to enlarge.

Here are a few observations about the harmony, sticking just to the first 8 measures.

It's best to look at the piano part, not just the guitar chord symbols. Chord symbols in many older sheet music charts are not always well-considered. The piano part is likely to be a better representation of what the composer originally had in mind.

1) The first chord in the sheet music's piano part is not F#m7 (as in Sher, and every other fakebook version I could find), but rather F#7sus4 (the chord symbol in the sheet music calls it "F#7 add B"). The melody note B is anticipating the B7 chord that follows. The F# chord has no third.

2) The second bar of the sheet music shows just Em, not Em7 A7 as in the Sher version (and other fakebooks).

3) Bar 4 of the sheet music shows just an A triad, not Em7 A7 as in Sher (and other fakebooks).

4) Bar 5 of the sheet music shows just Am, not Am7 D7 as in the Sher chart.


The differences reflect the tendency of current jazz lead sheets to frame harmonies in terms of II V sequences, and other standard concepts that constitute "jazz theory" as it is taught today. In bars 2 and 4 of this tune, the fake book editors have overdone it a little.

1) I do think that turning the first chord of bar 1 into F#m7 makes sense. Functionally, F#m7 isn't too different from F#7 with no third. F#m7 is II in E major, followed by B7b9, a V with minor-key color, resolving to Em. This conforms to standard jazz harmonic practice.

2) Showing Em7 A7 in bars 2 and 4 is misleading. This looks too much like a II V in D, and I'm quite sure that was not Rodgers' intention. Jazz recording artists don't play these measures as II V, but rather as a simple resolution to a tonic Em. I think the A7 found its way into fake books because it incorporates the note C# as part of a voice-leading line that threads through bars 1 and 2 in half notes: E, D#, D, C#. You can hear this voice-leading line in the Sarah Vaughan track below (this version is down a fifth from the sheet music key, so the line is A, G#, G, F#):

I suppose you could look at Em7 A7 as a sequence in E dorian, but that's fussy and misleading too. It's really just E minor.

3) The A triad in bar 4 of the sheet music is a nice twist by Richard Rodgers, but doesn't seem to have been picked up by jazz players. An A triad has a rather different harmonic meaning here than the Em7 A7 shown in most fakebooks (again, the Em7 A7 here is not actually a II V, and most players play lines in this measure that just convey a tonic E minor).

4) In showing Am7 D7 in bar 5, the fakebook version indicates a II V where Rodgers wrote simply Am. This II V works, though, setting up the Em in the next bar (or Sher's alternate chord here, G6).

These differences don't mean that the modern fakebooks are "wrong"; it just goes to show how a tune's harmonic setting can change in the course of 70+ years in the jazz repertoire. I will say, though, that you probably won't want to plug in II V licks in soloing over bars 2 and 4. The rhythm section can play Em7 A7 if they like, but if you use your ear, you'll probably end up playing tonic Em ideas over the whole measure.

Following are two more more great recordings of "I Didn't Know What Time It Was." The Ella Fitzgerald version includes the introductory verse. Ella delivers the lyrics perfectly. Shirley Horn's version is more modern and harmonically spare.

Nov 17, 2016

"Autumn In New York" - Comparing Charts

Vernon Duke's "Autumn In New York," a beautiful ballad that is an essential part of jazz repertoire, was first introduced as the closing number in a 1934 Broadway show, "Thumbs Up." For a nice writeup on the tune and the composer, check this article on jazzstandards.com.

Charts for "Autumn In New York" can differ considerably regarding the chord changes. A couple of weeks ago I finally decided to look into what was what, and ordered a copy of the original 1934 sheet music. The sheet music really helped clarify what Vernon Duke had in mind.

Sheet music for tunes in this era consisted of the melody, printed above a complete piano arrangement. Chord symbols were generally an afterthought, added above the piano staves in case someone wanted to play along on guitar (or ukelele or banjo). The chord symbols would produce a rough approximation of the more carefully-composed piano part.

Modern charts consist of just melody and chord symbols. A lot of subtleties in the piano part may be lost, while the chord pattern may be adjusted to be more improvisation-friendly. I looked at nine relatively modern charts, comparing them to the sheet music and to each other. In this post I'll make some observations about these nine charts. I'm only looking at these printed versions - analyzing the ways that various performing artists and arrangers have harmonized the tune would be another question entirely.

The original arrangement includes a lead-in "verse" that shows up in only one of these modern charts; it's left out in most classic recordings of the tune. That's a shame, as it's quite well-written. In Vernon Duke's piano arrangement, the verse begins like this (click to enlarge):

Note the parallel motion of five maj7 chords in the first and second measures, with the first three moving by whole step - an impressionistic, Debussy-like device (Duke had studied with Gliere, and besides writing popular music, also had a career as a modern classical composer). This opening reminds me very much of the introduction to Tadd Dameron's "On a Misty Night" (1956), which uses the same parallel-harmony device. I don't think this is a coincidence.

In the excerpt above, note also the bass line in bar 5, reflecting the first notes of the familiar melody of the "chorus" (main body of the tune).

Perhaps the verse is often omitted because it's tough to sing. Here's a recording by Mel Torme that includes the verse - "Autumn In New York" is the first 4 minutes or so:

The song was written with two sets of lyrics, involving a repeat of the "chorus" section. This makes for a song that was perhaps too long to be performed in its entirety on pre-LP records; I couldn't find any early recordings with both the verse and all the lyrics.

About the charts: We are considering only the familiar chorus section of the tune. In consideration of copyright, I am not showing the melody - you can find that in any fake book, and it will be almost exactly the same as the sheet music.

The charts I looked at are from these sources:
There are at least ten spots in the tune where you will find disagreements between these charts:

measures 2 (and 18), 3-4 (and 19-20), 7-8, 12, 14, 16, 20, 23-24, 26, 28.

Below are the chords as shown in four of the charts - the original sheet music (chord symbols only), Old Real Book, Hal Leonard Real Book "6th Edition," and Dick Hyman (only half of the Hyman version is shown, because IMO its copyright value is largely as a harmonic arrangement). My comments follow.

Here are the problem spots (measure numbers are for the chorus only):

Measures 2 and 18: Some charts (including the chord symbols in the original sheet music, as well as HL 6th ed., above) show Gm7, but the piano notes actually show Bb6. The Bb bass note makes for a nice ascending bass line that is important to the song. Here is a clip from the sheet music:

mm 3-4 and 19-20: As you can see in the clip above, the original harmony is static - just Fmaj7 (or F6, or F6/9 if you like). The Dm7 symbol is incorrect. The piano part fills this space with a moving line and an embellishment. In modern charts, this space is sometimes filled in with an ascending chord sequence, mirroring the ascending movement in mm 1-2 (see Old RB and HL 6th ed., above). I like Hyman's solution, with a voice-leading line (not the same as in the sheet music) specified, and Am7 D7b9 in bar 4. However, specifying voice-leading lines like this might be more detail than is necessary for a jazz chart.

mm 7-8: Originally, two II V sequences, as in the first chart above, with a voice-leading line and melodic decoration. In pretty much all modern charts, this is changed to one "long" II V, one bar per chord.

m12: In the original symbols, Cm is not really correct, I think. To me, the first two beats of m12 comes across as a continuation of the Ab chord that precedes it. The Ddim symbol is not quite right; it's actually Dm7b5 in the piano part. Old RB and Hyman get this right, but many other charts replace the Dm7b5 with G7b9. To me this sounds weak; it's an apparent effort to make everything conform to clich├ęd dominant-tonic harmony. Dm7b5 sounds better; it's what Vernon Duke wrote. Dm7b5 is II of the Cm that follows. What's wrong with that?

In mm 11-12, the "6th ed." chart takes some real liberties with the harmony, crowding this space with a sequence that doesn't work for me, and that I've seen in no other chart.

m14: For the first two beats, Duke wrote a problematic D7 to harmonize a G in the melody (see clip above). The F# in the chord clashes. Maybe he wanted a little moment of dissonance to illustrate his mixed feelings in the lyrics, "making me feel I'm home." Or maybe it was just an oversight. Many charts eliminate this clash by changing the D7 to Dm7; I agree. Hyman suggests some voice leading in showing G13 to G7+ in the last 2 beats of this measure (the original is a bit different, showing G7+ to G7 in the piano part).

m16: The last chord in the first half of the tune sets up the second half (see clip above). Duke uses C7+ on beat 4, which moves into Gm7 (actually Gm9, melody on the 9) by way of chromatic motion of the top two voices. Hyman changes beat 4 to F#m7, providing a completely chromatic approach. I like it, though it's a departure from the original score. Hyman's charts generally do tend to be more like "arrangements," and not so much "vanilla" charts. Some other charts (HL 6th ed., HL Real Jazz Standards, Aebersold vol. 40 and 93) set up the return with a conventional Am7 D7 (or D7b9, D7b5, or D7#9). To me this sounds a lot less interesting.

m20: In the original score, mm 19-20 are exactly like mm 3-4. However, some modern charts (Old RB,  HL 6th ed., iReal) fill the space as in the two middle charts above - an OK solution, but not what Duke wrote. Aebersold vol. 93 uses Dm7 on beat 3, Dbm7 on beat 4, which sounds odd to me.

mm 23-24: This is an important spot. The original piano part, and many classic recordings, have this as  | Bbm    | Bbm#5  Bbm6 | (the chord symbols in the sheet music are misleading). This line harmonizes the word "pain" in the lyrics, "Autumn in New York is often mingled with pain." Hyman keeps this progression. Aebersold vol. 93 has a sightly different line in the same spirit: | Bbm7  Bbm7#5 | Bbm6 C7#5 |. Old RB, HL 6th ed., and iReal have | Bbm6 Abm7 | Gb7   |, which doesn't work for me.

m26: The original score has this measure as | Fm Ab7+ |. HL Real Jazz Standards and iReal turn the last 2 beats into a II V, Ebm7 Ab7. This seems like another effort to turn every change into stock jazz chord movements. I don't think the chart needs this; after all, a soloist can always play a II V over a simple V, anyway. HL 6th ed. and both Aebersold charts insert a chromatic passing chord, Em7, resulting in this bar looking like | Fm Em7 Ebm7 Ab7 |. To me this is unnecessary clutter.

m28: The sheet music chord symbols show Fm7b5 on the last beat. However, it follows 3 beats of Dbmaj9, so in effect the Fm7b5 is really Db9. Note that the top notes of this chord, Ab C Eb, spell Abm, a chromatic upper neighbor to the Gm7 that follows. Great writing! If a chart expresses the last beat of m28 as either Db7 or Fm7b5, it's fine. HL 6th ed. and HL Ultimate Fake Book show Abm7 and Abm6 here respectively - not quite as effective, but following the same basic idea. However, iReal and Old RB show Ab7 (subV of Gm7), another example of changing a more interesting sound into "correct" predictability. Aebersold Vol. 93 shows D7+4, essentially the same thing as Ab7. The four-chord sequence shown by HL 6th ed. in mm 27-28 seems stilted to me.

After all that, what is the best chart? That depends on what you are looking for. For a chart that is more of an arrangement, I think Dick Hyman's is excellent. If you are looking for a basic, serviceable "vanilla" arrangement that is mostly correct, then perhaps the chart from the Hal Leonard Real Jazz Standards Fake Book, which also has the virtue of including the verse. Use the alternate changes. And actually, the Old RB chart isn't too bad. I wonder who at Berklee c.1974 was responsible for it?

Here's a chart with combined features, intended as a sort of common-practice-yet-correct version:

Finally, though, how you handle any song is your call, as long as it sounds good. This arrangement, for example: