May 6, 2017

"It Don't Mean a Thing" - The chord changes

I've often wondered about the correct changes to Duke Ellington's "It Don't Mean a Thing." One of the players in my Saturday adult combo class called the tune a couple of weeks ago (thanks, Mike!), which reminded me that various fake books conflict on the chords, and I really didn't know which were right, if any. So I finally got around to checking into it.

I have a book with reproductions of the original sheet musicfor many of Duke's tunes. Often the original sheet music will reflect the composer's intentions, so this seemed like a good place to start. Below is a clip from the sheet music for measures 1-10 of the main theme (click to enlarge):



As is often the case, the guitar symbols do not accurately represent the harmony in the piano arrangement. For example, the Gm7 symbol in measure 2 is there only for the piano's bass note F; bar 5 could have been C7/G; bar 6 might have been better expressed as Gb7b5.

However, the way Duke actually played "It Don't Mean a Thing" follows neither the sheet music chord symbols nor the piano notes. In a number of Youtube clips, he plays mm 1-8 more like this:

| Gm | Gm | Gm | Gm G7 | C7 | F7 | Bb | Bb D7#5 |

Note (among other differences) that the sheet music resolves to Bb in bar 8, while the sequence above resolves in bar 7.

Here is a terrific live version of Ella Fitzgerald with the Ellington band:





Some fake book charts show the first 4 bars as:

| Gm | Gm#7 | Gm7 | Gm6 |  (Sher New Real Book Vol. 2)

or

| Gm  Gm/F# | Gm/F  Gm/E | Eb7 D7 | Gm |  (Hal Leonard "6th Ed." Real Book, old Real Book, Hal Leonard "Real Jazz Book")

Although these alternatives both sound good, I don't hear Duke doing either one. I don't think there's a specific required bass line or moving "My-Funny-Valentine" upper line for the string of Gm chords in bars 1-4.

The most nearly-correct printed chart I found is in the Sher New Real Book, Vol. 2. A clip of mm 1-8 is below. Aside from the moving upper voice in bars 1-4, the rest of the chart seems OK, simple and uncluttered. You might add a G7 in the last 2 beats of m4.




The Sher chart also shows two sets of alternate changes (interesting, but not "vanilla"), for mm 1-8 and for mm 5-8:

mm 1-8:

| Gm  Gm/F# | Gm/F  Gm/E | Eb7  D7 | G7#5 |
| Em7b5  Ebm6 | Bb6/D | C7  F7 | Bb6  (D7#5) |

mm 5-8:

| C7  C#dim7 | Bb6/D  G7#5#9 | Cm7  Bmaj7 | Bb6  (D7#5) |

The bridge, by the way, is the often-used "Montgomery Ward" bridge, tweaked a little in the last 2 bars. Most charts agree on this:

| Fm7 | Bb7 | Ebmaj7 | Ebmaj7 |
| Gm7 | C7 | F7 | D7 |

Unfortunately, most charts leave off the lead-in introductory "verse," nicely performed here by Louis Armstrong:




Anyway, the bottom line is that if you are choosing a fake book chart for this song, I'd suggest the one in New Real Book Vol. 2 - pretty close to correct, and easy to work with.




Apr 6, 2017

"Theft! A History of Music" - A comic book must-read

"Theft! A History of Music" is a monumental, very cool graphic-novel presentation of music history, changing music media, borrowing, and copyright law, created by James Boyle and Jennifer Jenkins, professors of law at Duke University. In 251 pages, it covers 2000+ years of music history, from Plato to rap.

You don't want to miss this.


Click here to view online, get a free download, or purchase a hard copy.

Here's a clip from the book's web page ("fair-use"!!):
The history in this book runs from Plato to Blurred Lines and beyond. You will read about the Holy Roman Empire’s attempts to standardize religious music with the first great musical technology (notation) and the inevitable backfire of that attempt. You will read about troubadours and church composers, swapping tunes (and remarkably profane lyrics), changing both religion and music in the process. You will see diatribes against jazz for corrupting musical culture, against rock and roll for breaching the color-line. You will learn about the lawsuits that, surprisingly, shaped rap. You will read the story of some of music’s iconoclasts—from Handel and Beethoven to Robert JohnsonChuck BerryLittle RichardRay Charles, the British Invasion and Public Enemy.
 To understand this history fully, one has to roam wider still—into musical technologies from notation to the sample deck, aesthetics, the incentive systems that got musicians paid, and law’s 250 year struggle to assimilate music, without destroying it in the process. Would jazz, soul or rock and roll be legal if they were reinvented today? We are not sure. Which as you will read, is profoundly worrying because today, more than ever, we need the arts.
See the video below for a lecture on the subject by co-author Jennifer Jenkins. I'd recommend that you read the comic book first, though.




Mar 24, 2017

New Feature at JazzStandards.com

If you are not already familiar with JazzStandards.com, you should check it out. Jeremy Wilson, who runs the site, has ranked the top 1000 jazz standards according to frequency of inclusion in currently-issued CDs by 700 jazz artists. Each song has a page; the first 300 song listings include notes on the song's origin, historical information, and analysis. Recently, Jeremy has added Youtube playlists of approximately 6 versions, for each of the first 300 songs.

A couple of years ago, Jeremy invited me to write some theory pages for the site. I wrote up seven: Theory Overview, Performance Practice vs. Composer's Intention, Harmony and Form, Blues, Rhythm Changes, Modal Jazz, and Bossa Nova. The theory pages are getting some great page view counts, and I hope they are proving useful to readers. I tried to write them in a way that would be useful to musicians but at least somewhat understandable by non-musicians (i.e., not overly technical).

A couple of weeks ago, Jeremy wrote to ask me if I'd like to come up with some video playlists to enhance the theory pages. Criteria, as per Jeremy's suggestion, were: live performance if possible, good camera work, good sound, and of course interesting performances. So far I've come up with playlists for the Performance Practice vs. Composer's Intention, Blues, Rhythm Changes, Modal Jazz, and Bossa Nova pages, with 6 videos per list. It's been fun researching the video selections, and I'll be doing the remaining two theory pages soon.

Check out the playlists! I've discovered some outstanding performances on the pages that Jeremy curated, and in the process of putting together my own five playlists. The home page of the site is here: JazzStandards.com; the theory pages start here: Theory Overview.

Mar 2, 2017

That "A Train" Lick, Part 3 - Jelly Roll Morton's "Jungle Blues"

My friend Adam has run across another, even earlier instance of "that A Train lick." In previous posts, we had it traced back to 1929. But here it is in 1927, in Jelly Roll Morton's "Jungle Blues."

The lick as used in "A Train":


You can hear a very similar phrase in "Jungle Blues" at 1:54, 2:37, and 3:09.





Here are links to my two previous posts on our "tune detective" project regarding the A Train lick:

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

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

In "Jungle Blues," another interesting melodic phrase is the one played at 1:40 and 3:00. This is the same lick that was the basis for the first published blues, "I Got the Blues" (Anthony Maggio, 1908). These notes are repeated over and over:



 The sheet music for "I Got the Blues" and some history are in this post:

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


The "I Got the Blues" lick was subsequently appropriated by W. C. Handy for the third section of his "St. Louis Blues" (1914). It's kind of archetypal - b3 to 3 to 1. I'm sure it goes back a lot further than 1908. Here's how Handy used it in "St. Louis Blues":




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!