Mar 24, 2017

New Feature at

If you are not already familiar with, 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 six: 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 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 four lists. The home page of the site is here:; 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!

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: