Sep 10, 2017

Review: "Choro: A Social History of a Brazilian Popular Music"

Since this blog is primarily aimed at jazz players, I am guessing that some readers may have some familiarity with choro, others perhaps not. Choro is a Brazilian musical genre that - like jazz - began to take shape in the late 1800s, evolved stylistically over the years and through several periods of popularity, and continues today. It has always involved an element of improvisation, and incorporates Afro-Brazilian rhythms. Choro as performed today may take a form that is traditional (that is, retrospective to some earlier period in its evolution), or may take a more modern direction.

Here is Anat Cohen and the group "Choro Aventuroso," with a modern take on the 1937 standard by Severino Araujo, "Espinha de Bacalhau":

Although this book came out in 2005, I had not gotten around to it until just now: Choro: A Social History of a Brazilian Popular Music, by Tamara Elena Livingston-Isenhour and Thomas George Caracas Garcia. It's a well-written and well-researched account of the origins of choro and its evolution over the last 150+ years, with particular regard to the place of the genre in Brazilian culture, including a discussion of the role of historical Brazilian attitudes towards race and popular music.

The book is meticulously organized, which makes a review pretty easy. Here are the chapter titles, with a few comments on the contents:

1) Introduction

An overview of the book. Describes the defining features of choro in terms of style, melodic characteristics, bass, rhythm, and spirit ("malicia").

2)  Race, Class, and Nineteenth-Century Popular Music: The Modinha, the Lundu, and the Maxixe

These were the musical antecedents of choro. The modinha, a sentimental song genre, contributed lyricism to Brazilian popular styles, and contributed the basic instrumentation to choro: the "terno" of guitar, flute, and cavaquinho. The lundu was an African-influenced rhythmic dance and music style; the maxixe was a popular dance and music style that began in the 1870s. "Some believe the maxixe to be the link in the stylistic continuum between the old lundu dance and the modern urban samba."

3) The Roda de Choro: Heart and Soul of Choro

The "roda de choro" is a informal gathering to play music - a jam session - a tradition that began long before choro reached the "respectability" of recordings and radio broadcasts. The roda de choro is still an essential part of the choro ethos. A quote from Villa-Lobos biographer Vasco Mariz: "The chorão [choro devotee] had a deep feeling for spontaneous improvisation. He would put his entire soul into playing. He had a true religious feeling for the cult of choro, in which one lives to play, compose, and sing."

4) From Plantation to the City: The Rise and Development of Early Choro in Rio de Janeiro (1870-1920)

Many black musicians received musical training as slaves, in order to serve in plantation bands, which were a status symbol for the owners. After Brazilian emancipation in 1888, former slave musicians moved to the city, combining their talents with city musicians. It was in this period that the music and the term "choro" developed. Although many musicians today believe that "choro" derives from "chorar" (to cry), the authors believe it derives from "choromeleiro," a type of ensemble in colonial Brazil.

In Rio de Janeiro, choro developed as a middle-class music. "The middle-class aspects of choro practice were order to be able to buy an instrument, whether, flute, cavaquinho, or guitar, one had to have at lease a modicum of disposable income. Secondly, the locations where choro gatherings took place were characteristic of middle-class dwellings and venues..." In this environment, choro developed as a primarily instrumental music, based on the form and harmonic structure of the polka, played by terno-type ensembles, wind bands, or piano. Early published choros were called "polca serenata" or "polca ligeira"; the first use of the term "choro" in published music was in 1889. This chapter includes sections on several of the most important figures in early choro: Chiquinha Gonzaga, Ernesto Nazaré, and others.

5) From the Terno to the Regional: The Professionalization of Choro

The terno, a trio of flute, guitar, and cavaquinho, was the original core choro ensemble. With the advent of silent films (requiring theater musicians), followed by recordings and radio, professional groups were formed. Choros were written in a more technical style, to show off the virtuosity of the musicians. Groups were larger (this was the period when the pandeiro and seven-string guitar came to be a standard part of the ensemble); these groups were called "regionals." The career of the legendary choro composer and bandleader Pixinguinha began in this period, c. 1915. Under the regime of dictator Gétulio Vargas (1937-1945) choro was encouraged and promoted by the government, particularly on the radio, to instill a sense of national identity and pride.

6) The Velha Guarda in the New Brazil: Choro in the 1950s and 1960s

"Velha guarda" means "old guard." As American and American-influenced music increased in popularity in Brazil in the 1950s, choro came to be regarded by the general public as a music of the past. Bossa nova emerged in the late 1950s as a music of "modernity." In the 1960s, increasing social awareness led to an increased interest in "samba de morro" (samba of the favelas) and other "roots" music. "Choro is conspicuously absent from the cultural resistance movement even though it had been strongly accociated with Brazilian nationalism since the 1920s." The authors give several reasons for this: that "as an instrumental genre, choro could not serve as a vehicle for protest lyrics"; that as a middle-class music, "choro was not associated with an oppressed class of people"; that "the Americanized style and instrumentation in the late 1940s and 1950s had come to be viewed as mainstream music without political value."

At the same time, however, "velha guarda" figures such as Garoto, Jacó do Bandolim, and Waldir de Azevedo were pushing the choro genre towards "increasing professionalism," and adding new compositions to the repertoire.

7) The Choro Revival

The 1970s saw a return of popularity of choro among young musicians and listeners, including rodas de choro, and competitions with awards. The military government of 1964-1985 played a role in supporting the choro revival; as a mostly instrumental music, choro did not have a protest content. The authors discuss the nature of musical revivals generally, and why a choro revival came about at that point in time. This choro revival ebbed in the 1980s.

8) Contemporary Choro

"By the late 1990s, choro had rebounded with a force that still shows no sign of weakening." This chapter considers stylistic trends, choro publications, pedagogy, choro on the Web, and choro abroad. A description of then-current (2005) activity presents a snapshot of the revival at the time of the book's publication.

9) Choro and the Brazilian Classical Tradition

The Brazilian classical music culture before the 1920s looked to France and Italy for a stylistic model. Beginning in the 1920s, Brazilian composers began to look to their own rich national musical traditions, including choro. Co-author Thomas Garcia is a guitarist and Villa-Lobos scholar, and Villa-Lobos' work is covered in some detail.

If you are interested in learning more about this music, I highly recommend Choro: A Social History of a Brazilian Popular Music. Click on the link, and you can order it from Amazon. It's been especially valuable to me, since I don't read or speak Portuguese; I haven't seen a better English-language book on the subject.

Far more importantly, though, you need to listen to this music. The history of recorded choro is on Youtube, and plenty of great contemporary performances. Here are just a few tracks, to get started:

A broadcast featuring some great players, playing Jacó do Bandolim's "Noitas Cariocas":

A backyard party, with Romualdo Costa (sax) and Leo Lima (accordian) playing "Espinha de Bacalhau":

Yamandu Costa and Dominguez, playing Pixinguinha's "Lamentos"

A classic video - Armandinho with the group Epoca de Ouro, playing Jacó's "Assanhado"

Aug 7, 2017

Review: "The Best 101 Children's Songs," arranged by Dr. Bugs Bower

Dr. "Bugs" Bower has quite a variety of musical accomplishments over his long career. He is the author of a number of printed educational methods, and as a record producer, has had eight million-seller "Gold Records" and two Grammies. He has produced jazz, rock and roll, Broadway, spoken word, and children's records.

One of his more recent productions is a 3-CD set called "The Best 101 Children's Songs." It's available on CD from Bugs' website. Amazon has it too, including an MP3 version and a streaming version.

At my music lesson business, Hope Street Music Studios, I'm the person assigned to answering email inquiries (when I'm not teaching saxophone or clarinet). We regularly get inquiries from parents of very young children, who want advice on how to get their kids started on an instrument. My answer is that the best thing they can do is to get the kids singing. It's the most natural way to begin making music - no matter how young - and will provide a foundation for any instrument they may choose later, when they are old enough (issues of coordination, hand size, and attention span are the reasons that school instrumental music usually starts in fourth or fifth grade...although with the right teacher, piano, violin, or voice lessons can be started earlier).

When I put up my last post, a review of Bugs' book of music biz stories, I sent Bugs an email as a courtesy, to let him know. The next day, I received an email back from him, thanking me for the post. Not long after that, I got a phone call from Bugs, and we had a nice chat. Among other things, he mentioned an idea he had: using childrens' songs to learn English (adults or kids). My reaction was, sure - why not? People often use comic books and sitcoms to learn foreign languages. Kids' songs use entry-level vocabulary and grammar, and are also a basic part of the culture.

Besides just about every well-known American kids' song and many folk songs, "The Best 101 Children's Songs" includes originals that use "finger games" to teach addition and subtraction, plus jokes and riddles here and there. The content is intelligent and educational, as well as entertaining.

Whether you use this with your kids or grandkids, or perhaps even as an aid to learning English, this is a great product. Here's a sample:

Jul 31, 2017

Review: "Nice Stories About Nice People," by Dr. Bugs Bower

I've been a fan of Maurice "Bugs" Bower's work for years, before I really knew anything about the guy. Back in the 1970s, a friend hipped me to his Bop Duets book, and I've been using it for teaching ever since. (I've also used his Rhythms Complete book).

Some years later, I got to know an older-generation sax player who, as it happened, had served in the 89th Infantry Division band with Bugs during World War II, and had a story about him (see this post). Subsequently, I learned a bit more about Bugs - he was not just the author of educational materials, but had been quite active in the recording business as a producer, with eight gold records (i.e., they sold a million copies each), and two Grammies.

So when I learned that Bugs had written a book of his reminiscences about the music business, I had to get a copy. It's called Nice Stories About Nice People. This little book (93 pages) is, as the title indicates, entirely positive and upbeat. It includes short chapters about recording with Cab Calloway, Perry Como, Kool and the Gang, and Steve Allen; the time he turned down a job directing merchandise sales for a rock group (they turned out to be the Beatles - but who knew?); the recording of "Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini," which earned him a gold record as producer as well as royalties for the song on the flip side; musings about famous musicians with perfect pitch; his creative brainstorms for various commercially successful recordings (e.g., aerobics, children's records, "Tijuana Christmas"); and advice to the reader for a happy life and how to get started in the music business. It's a fun read.

Bugs' 95th birthday was this past July 16.

Here's a short video made for the NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) Oral History Program, in which Bugs describes how he used the Schillinger system to write his "Rhythms" book in the late 1940s. I'm pretty sure he used the same approach in Bop Duets, as he often sets licks to varied rhythmic patterns. And actually, that's a great pedagogical approach in teaching students to read rhythms. It's also a great technique for jazz players: using different rhythms to get many different licks from one basic one.

Judging from the number of Youtube videos, Bugs' bop duets are still quite popular for teachers, on a number of different instruments. They were probably written originally for trumpet, as that was Bugs' main instrument, but they certainly work well for sax and clarinet.

Here's a link to an excellent article about Bugs in the Jacksonville (Fla.) Times-Union, with a lot more biographical information.

Here's a link to Bugs' own music book website.

Here's Cab Calloway at age 85, singing with a big band arrangement that Bugs did for a recording of Cab's, and that Cab used for years afterwards (the story is in the book) (BTW, I have a feeling that I've played a knockoff of this arrangement in some big band or other):

Finally, here is a 1964 recording by Donna Lynn of a tune written, and I assume produced, by Bugs: "My Boyfriend Got a Beatle Haircut." Cute, but it did not go gold.

Jul 4, 2017

Saxophonist Fred Staton

Check out this New York Times article on tenor saxophonist Fred Staton, still gigging in New York at age 102.

There are a few videos featuring Fred Staton on Youtube; here's a studio recording with vocalist Catherine Russell. Everyone sounds terrific. Fred was 100 years old at the time of the recording. What an inspiration!

Here's one with Fred talking a bit about his life:

Jun 22, 2017

Cole Porter's "Love For Sale" - What are the right changes?

You'll find quite a bit of variation among different charts, and different recorded versions, in the chords to Cole Porter's "Love for Sale." I've often wondered which changes are actually "correct." Recently, I acquired a copy of the 1930 sheet music, showing Porter's original piano arrangement, along with chord symbols for guitar.

In sheet music of this period, it's usually better to look to the piano arrangement, rather than the chord symbols, as a guide to the composer's intentions. In this case, the chord symbols shown in the sheet music show harmony that is pretty close to the piano part, although the symbols do miss some bass lines and voice leading.

Below are the chord symbols shown in the original sheet music. I've omitted the introductory "verse," and made a couple of other small adjustments, such as leaving out a few bass notes indicated in the chord symbols (e.g., "Db/F"). Click to enlarge.

The form is verse A A1 B A2. The introductory "verse," not shown above, consists of two 10-bar phrases; each A and B section is 16 bars. The verse is a good one, and an integral part of the tune, but is often omitted, both in recordings and in published charts. The tune ends with an 8-bar tag, included above, but this is also often omitted both in recordings and in charts. Here's an Ella Fitzgerald version that sticks close to Porter's harmony. Ella includes the introductory verse, as well as a tag with vocal melisma (the tag is different from Porter's, in both melody and harmony):

Although the sheet music almost certainly represents Cole Porter's original intentions, it is not entirely improv-friendly. Jazz musicians want to conceive of harmonies in terms that are more formulaic. A good modern chart would need some alterations. The best modern fake book lead sheet I could find is in the Standards Real Book(Sher Publishing Co.). More about this chart later.

The most glaring harmonic disparities between different versions, both recorded and printed, come at the beginning of the three A sections.

Here's what Porter's original sheet music shows for the first 8 bars of each 16-bar A section (each box is a measure):

The tune is in Bb major overall, but frequently shifts to Bb minor. Eb is a IV chord, Bb or Bbm is tonic. It's pretty clear to me that Porter's shift from major to minor is "word painting" - using the music to reinforce or color the lyrics. Porter employed this sort of coloration in many of his songs. Just one example from "Love for Sale": Right at the beginning of the first A section, Porter harmonizes the first word, "Love," with a major IV chord (bright, happy), but when the lyrics continue "for sale," the resolution is to a tonic minor chord (dark, not so happy). At the end of the first A section the word "sale" is not only harmonized with a minor chord, but finishes on a low Bb, the lowest note of the song.

For an excellent analysis of the interplay of words/harmony/melody in "Love for Sale," check out this article by Michael Buchler. (Incidentally, a footnote in this article quotes another Porter scholar, Matthew Shaftel: "Porter was personally involved in nearly all levels of his sheet music publication including the correction of that the printed versions differed only superficially from his own manuscripts.")

Although Porter's placement of tonic major and tonic minor chords was exact and intentional, recording artists have treated the first 8 measures of each 16-bar A section in a number of very different ways. Several different interpretations are listed below (I am looking here just at the basic tonalities of the Bb and Eb chords, and am not discussing any added 7ths, 9ths, 11ths, or 13ths):

Sidney Bechet (1947), George Shearing/Wes Montgomery (1961) - These recordings "bluesify" the tune by playing every tonic chord as Bb or Bb7, every IV chord as Eb or Eb7. Bechet's was the first recorded version to use this interpretation:

Oscar Peterson (1951) - Follows Porter's scheme for two choruses, but in the third chorus all the IV - I cadences except one go to Bb major.

Billie Holiday/Oscar Peterson (1952), Oscar Peterson (1953): Follows Porter except for the last A, which goes to Bbm both times:

Art Tatum (1953, 1955, 1956) - In all 3 recordings, Tatum uses Bbm in the first A section of the first chorus, but generally not after that, going with the Bechet scheme of all Bb major. In the 1956 recording he plays a fourth chorus that uses Bbm in the first A section, and in the last cadence of the last A.

Charlie Parker (1954), Ahmad Jamal (1955), Shirley Horn (1962), Dexter Gordon (1962) - These recordings resolve to Bbm every time. In Parker's recording, he resolves to a concert D note just once in his solo, for the fun of it, while the piano sticks with Bbm. Guitarist Billy Bauer does the same in his solo, with a "Jingle Bells" quote (the tune was recorded in December). In Dexter's recording, pianist Sonny Clark uses Bb or Bb7 through much of his solo. Here's the scheme:

Ella Fitzgerald (1956) - A Youtube clip is above. The arrangement follows Porter's version.

Miles Davis (1958) - A Youtube clip is below. This arrangement alternates minor-then-major tonic chords in every A section. In his solo, Miles insistently hits the major third of each Bb major chord.

Cannonball Adderley/Miles Davis (1958) - Seems to basically use all tonic minor chords on the head, going to all tonic majors for the solo. Soloist and rhythm section occasionally diverge from this pattern.

About commercial fake book charts: Different fake books show different harmonic interpretaions. You can play "Love for Sale" any way that you like, but don't expect different published charts to be compatible. Personally, I like the "Standards Real Book" chart. It sticks close to Porter's original harmony, adding sevenths to reflect modern preferences. Here is how Sher shows the first A section; compare it to the first 16 bars in the Porter chart at the beginning of this post:

The bridge from the Sher chart is shown below. Compare mm 45-48 to the sheet music chart above. The chords in the original chart may seem a bit irrational from the viewpoint of today's jazz players. The Sher chart shows a more modern, functional solution. Sher's version of these measures harmonizes the melody nicely, retains most of Porter's harmonic intent, and makes sense to improvisers.

To its credit, the Standards Real Book shows the introductory "verse" section for "Love for Sale." Unfortunately, it fails to show Porter's 8-bar tag at the end of the song. Most other modern charts skip both the verse and the tag, as do many recordings. The tag can be found in Dick Hyman's Professional Chord Changes and Substitutions for 100 Tunes Every Musician Should Know. Unfortunately, Hyman leaves out the verse!

For the historical background of "Love for Sale," check out this page on

It's hard to say which version I like best. Here's the Miles version, recorded at the "Kind of Blue" session in 1958. Wonderful playing by everyone, particularly Bill Evans:

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)


| 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.