Sep 30, 2012

A Tune-Dex Fakebook and Some Schillinger Symbols

Here is a little story about one of the first fakebooks, and how I finally achieved a sketchy understanding of the Schillinger System of Musical Composition.

Last week a student-dad, Randy, loaned me a fakebook that his father had used, about a half-century ago. Randy's dad (I'll call him "Dr. K.") was an aspiring songwriter in the early 1950s, who later entered academia, received a doctorate in music, and taught at Syracuse University.

This was a very cool fakebook, for a couple of reasons.

First, because it is an original Tune-Dex fakebook. These were the first bootlegged fakebooks, printed beginning in 1949, made by reproducing three Tune-Dex cards on each page. You can read about the (legal) Tune-Dex cards and about early bootleg fakebooks here.

Below is a sample of the format. With three of these little charts per page, on 369 pages, this book included over 1,000 songs. In fact, some "editions" were titled "Over 1,000 Songs" - that was the name of the book.

Tune-Dex fakebook chart

In "The Story of Fake Books," Barry Kernfeld traces the history of this product. It seems to have been owned and used by many musicians in the 1950s and 1960s - actually a very good resource in its day, although the chord changes are often kind of crude.

It turns out that I possess a Bb edition of this book, given to me by my friend Emil, a fine sax player and very nice guy who passed away recently at the age of 96. The tunes and pagination of my Bb book exactly match Randy's original concert key book. The concert-key book was in a 3-ring binder, making it an earlier printing (according to Kernfeld) - Randy thinks early 1950s. My Bb book seems to have been originally in a plastic comb binding, making it probably an early 1960s printing .

The Bb Tune-Dex book reminds me of the Bb edition of the old Real Book - hand copied, in notation not as clean as the concert book, by a "second generation" of musician-pirates who saw an opportunity to make a buck. Actually, the Bb Tune-Dex book was prepared more neatly and more carefully than the Bb edition of the old RB.

But there was something else very cool about the book that Randy loaned me. Dr. K. had marked up many of the tunes with symbols that seemed to be musical analysis, of a sort that I had never seen before. Randy thought that they had something to do with the Schillinger system. Here are three examples, among many:
Schillinger symbols?

Joseph Schillinger was a composer and theoretician who developed a mathematical system of musical analysis and composition that was popular among cutting-edge American musicians from the 1930s through the 1950s. George Gershwin, Glenn Miller, and Benny Goodman studied with Schillinger. So did Lawrence Berk, the founder of "Schillinger House," which later became the Berklee College of Music.

Dr. K. had studied composition with Rudolf Schramm, a Schillinger student who was a leading teacher of the system. Schramm was a prominent musician in his time (see his NY Times obit here); his students also included Jimmy Heath, Mercer Ellington, and Eubie Blake.

Randy's dad had used this fakebook as study material because it was, presumably, the best or most convenient compendium of popular songs available to him. The markings in the fakebook were his Schillinger-system analyses of "Great American Songbook" tunes. Maybe this was for self-study, or perhaps for his studies with Schramm, who did also teach songwriting.

After looking more closely at the way Randy's dad had used those mysterious symbols throughout the Tune-Dex book, some of them began to make some kind of sense. For example:
The first symbol above (the one that looks like a cube root sign) was used to indicate a cadence that goes from a tonic major chord to a major chord a M3 away, then back to the tonic - for example, Eb B Eb. 
The "S47" was used to indicate m6 chords that served as dominant preparation - what I would call an inverted m7b5 chord - e.g., the chord Am6 in a progression that goes Am6 B7 Em. Here the Am6 is really an inverted F#m7b5.
The third one I couldn't decipher.

Then Randy loaned me a Schillinger book that he had inherited from his father. It is a volume containing Book XI and Book XII of "The Joseph Schillinger System of Musical Composition" - the last one-sixth of a 1640-page work. After Schillinger's death in 1943, some of his students assembled and edited his teaching materials into this book. With some effort, I read through several chapters. A glossary included information on the symbols.

I suppose I might have had an easier time if I had first studied the preceding 1275 pages.

I can't say that I truly comprehend all of the Schillinger System, but I at least now have a basic sense of what it is about. It's a way of assigning mathematical or graphic structure to every aspect of music: rhythm, pitch, melody, dynamics, attacks, even emotion. The system involves a great deal of special terminology (jargon).

Here is how the glossary explained the three above examples:
The first symbol denotes root movement of a M3, as I had guessed. The "3" refers to the division of an octave into 3 equal parts - i.e., 4 half steps, i.e. a major third. I don't know where the "2" comes in.
The "S" in "S47" denotes a seventh chord. I couldn't find anything about the "47" part. Perhaps this was a way of showing that Am6 was really a seventh chord (F#m7b5), as I mentioned above. 
The third one indicates "Harmonic continuity as a major generator" - in other words, the predominant force driving and organizing the music in that song was the harmony (as opposed to melody or rhythm).

There have been some brilliant people who have created their own mathematical systems for working with music - besides Schillinger, I'm thinking of Arnold Schoenberg, George Russell, and Nicholas Slonimsky (in his "Thesaurus Of Scales And Melodic Patterns"). One could spend a lifetime mastering these systems. For my own part, I still find enough challenge in the "conventional" approaches to music and music theory. My knowledge of Schillinger, Schoenberg, Russell, and Slonimsky is fairly superficial, and probably is destined to remain that way - although it's fun to dabble.

Like the counterpoint exercises we did in college, these systems provide different perspectives on the materials of music, and help one to be more adept at working with these materials, regardless of the style of music one might pursue. Advocates of each one of these systems will acknowledge that the system is just a set of tools, and that its real usefulness depends on the creativity of the composer or improviser.

Famously, George Gershwin may (or may not) have utilized Schillinger's teachings in composing "Porgy and Bess." A number of composers of film scores have used elements of the Schillinger system. Bugs Bower, who wrote some well-known educational music books, used some elements - check out this interview in which he talks about his book "Rhythms." And I'm pretty sure that Bugs uses some Schillingerian rhythmic permutations in his "Bop Duets," a book that is widely used for teaching swing beat reading.

Some people are still teaching the Schillinger system - just check Google. I'm not in a position to say who is now the real "keeper of the flame."

If any readers have pertinent info on this stuff, I hope you will leave a comment.

Some links:

Wikipedia's article on Schillinger

A brief survey of Schillinger's life and works, in vignette paragraphs

An article on "Porgy and Bess" and Gershwin's use (or not) of Schillinger's teachings

For a continuation of this topic in my next post, click here. For a final word on these symbols from a Schillinger expert, click here.

Sep 9, 2012

“Must-Know” Jazz Tunes: Comparing Lists

After my last post, a review of Ted Gioia's book “The Jazz Standards,” it occurred to me to try comparing various “must-know” lists of jazz standards, and to try to compile some kind of list of mutual agreement. I selected six lists that seemed well-considered; they are listed below. Each one has its quirks.

1) The list of all tunes discussed in “The Jazz Standards” (252 Songs). According to the author’s introduction, this list was first conceived as a “must-know” list for his students. It strikes me as also having a jazz-history aspect, in many of the song choices.

2) The table of contents in Jamey Aebersold’s “Pocket Changes” (335 songs), a changes-only fakebook from (I think) the 1980s. I have an older edition; a newer one is available now. It seems to me that a fakebook can be a sort of de facto must-know list, particularly if it is a one-volume book aimed at jazz players - even more so, if the song choices are not limited by copyright considerations. It is “settled law” these days that chord progressions can not be copyrighted; this book shows only chords, not melodies. At first I considered using the song list from the original bootleg Real Book for the same reason I included “Pocket Changes,” but decided that the old RB (1974) has had such a pervasive influence in defining standard repertoire that it would already in effect be represented in the other lists.

3) The list of jazz repertoire on Pete Thomas’ website, (165 songs). These were chosen with jazz education in mind. I used his entire list, but on his website he has noted which of these 165 tunes he considers “should know” and which are “must know.” If you’d like to see his breakdown, click on the link above.

4) The website lists the top 1000 jazz standards, chosen and ranked by a statistical method related to number of CD recordings. I have used only the top 200 of these; the sample size seemed more or less in keeping with my other sources. Besides, including a larger sample would have produced increasing numbers of “outlier” tunes.

5) Bert Ligon has posted a list on the University of South Carolina website that he compiled by asking “several jazz educators” for their top 100 tunes that “everyone should know” and then adding a few more of his own (428 songs altogether). This method produced a list with quite a few outliers (tunes that appear on no other list). It seems to me that some of his contributors made what I would call eccentric choices. However, since this list actually represented input from several jazz educators, it seemed like exactly the sort of source I was looking for.

6) My own list of “100 Must-Know Jazz Tunes.” This list originated as a “List of Shame” that I compiled for my adult jazz combo classes. The idea was that the combo musicians were all adults, and lifelong players, and should probably never again have to open a fakebook to jam on basic tunes (Blue Bossa, Take the A Train, All of Me, etc.). The original concept morphed into this “top 100” list, which is posted as an article on my studio website. The list also includes preferred (that is, relatively correct) fakebook sources for the 100 tunes. In this article you will also find a further explanation of my criteria.

I should mention here that I initially wanted to include the repertoire list from Chapter 21 of Mark Levine’s “The Jazz Theory Book,” a very good list that is skewed towards more modern tunes (e.g., Wayne Shorter). But as I made a table of these lists, it appeared as though Ligon’s list had already incorporated Levine’s - that is, Levine’s list is an almost exact subset of Ligon’s. That is the only reason that Levine’s list is not among the ones I used. (If I’m right, though, ML actually contributed 227 titles. Just 2 songs on ML’s list don’t appear on BL’s - “How Deep is the Ocean,” and “Witchcraft.”)

The authors of the six lists obviously used widely varying criteria in choosing tunes. There might be regional differences (for example, Pete Thomas is in the UK), generational differences, stylistic preferences, and/or differences in the exact purpose of the list (statistical, historical, educational). It seemed to me that the intersection of these lists would produce an interesting result.

So - I made up a chart of the 618 tunes represented in these six sources, and charted the number of “hits” for each tune - 618 rows for the tunes, six columns for the sources.

If a tune had six hits, the various lists were all in agreement that the tune was a “must-know.”

Five hits had the effect of eliminating one “outlier” source that failed to include the tune for some reason. For example, the list is only statistical, and does not include tunes that someone else might list for pedagogical reasons. My own list is limited in size to just 100 tunes, and of necessity leaves out some likely choices. "Pocket Changes" tends to exclude blues tunes, since the chords are generally pretty much the same from one blues tune to the next. In fact, if a blues tune has 4 or 5 hits, it’s a very important tune to know.

The tunes with four hits also seem to me to be basic repertoire, even if two sources failed to list them. I drew the line there, and am not listing those with three hits or less.

These 6-, 5-, and 4-hit "derivative" lists are really short on blues, IMHO. There are NO blues tunes on the 6-hit list. Blues with 5 hits were "Billie's Bounce," "Blue Monk," and "C Jam Blues." 4-hit blues were "All Blues," "Straight No Chaser," and  "Things Ain't What They Used to Be." That's it. However, the entire list of 618 standards included 44 blues heads (7%), almost all of them well-known classics. Besides the issue with "Pocket Changes" noted above, the 6 compilers seem to have made some widely varying personal choices about which of these classic blues to include.

Note: I address this blues issue in my Oct. 14 post, comparing a total of 12 "must-know" tune lists, to arrive at a ranked list of must-know blues tunes.

Here are the results; you can draw any conclusions you like. 

These tunes appear on all 6 lists (31 songs):
All of Me
All the Things You Are
Autumn Leaves
Body and Soul
Bye Bye Blackbird
Days of Wine and Roses
Donna Lee
Georgia on My Mind
How High the Moon
I Got Rhythm
In a Mellow Tone
Just Friends
Night and Day
Night in Tunisia
Oh, Lady Be Good!
On Green Dolphin Street
Out of Nowhere
Round Midnight
Satin Doll
Softly, As in a Morning Sunrise
Star Eyes
Stella by Starlight
Sweet Georgia Brown
Take the A Train
There Will Never Be Another You
What Is This Thing Called Love?
Willow Weep for Me
Yardbird Suite

These tunes appear on 5 of the lists (47 songs):
Ain’t Misbehavin’
Alone Together
Autumn in New York
Billie’s Bounce
Blue Bossa
Blue Monk
But Not For Me
C Jam Blues
Embraceable You
Fly Me to the Moon
Girl From Ipanema, The
Groovin’ High
Have You Met Miss Jones?
Here’s That Rainy Day
I Can’t Get Started
I Got It Bad
I Remember Clifford
I’ll Remember April
It Could Happen to You
Jitterbug Waltz
Like Someone in Love
Love for Sale
Lover Man
Lullaby of Birdland
Mack the Knife
My Funny Valentine
One Note Samba
Over the Rainbow
Pennies From Heaven
Prelude to a Kiss
St. Thomas
Scrapple From the Apple
So What
Someone to Watch Over Me
Song for My Father
Sophisticated Lady
Star Dust
Stormy Weather
There Is No Greater Love

These tunes appear on 4 of the lists (76 songs):
All Blues
Angel Eyes
Blue Moon
But Beautiful
Come Rain or Come Shine
Darn That Dream
Do Nothing ‘Til You Hear From Me
Don’t Get Around Much Anymore
East of the Sun
Easy Living
Giant Steps
God Bless the Child
Gone With the Wind
I Didn’t Know What Time It Was
I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart
I Remember You
I Should Care
I Thought About You
If You Could See Me Now
It Might As Well Be Spring
Joy Spring
Lady Bird
Lover, Come Back to Me
Maiden Voyage
Man I Love, The
Manha de Carnaval (Black Orpheus)
Mean to Me
Milestones (new)
Moment’s Notice
Moonlight In Vermont
My Favorite Things
My Foolish Heart
My Old Flame
My One and Only Love
My Romance
Nearness of You, The
Nice Work If You Can Get It
Old Folks
Once I Loved
Our Love Is Here to Stay
Polka Dots and Moonbeams
Shiny Stockings
Smoke Gets In Your Eyes
Someday My Prince Will Come
Song Is You, The
Speak Low
Stompin’ at the Savoy
Straight, No Chaser
Take Five
Tea for Two
These Foolish Things
Things Ain’t What They Used to Be
Time After Time
Tune Up
Way You Look Tonight, The
Well, You Needn’t
What’s New?
Work Song
You Don’t Know What Love Is
You Stepped Out of a Dream
You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To

Sep 3, 2012

Book Review: "The Jazz Standards" by Ted Gioia

Any jazz player should have a great deal of curiosity concerning what we call "Jazz Standards" - which ones are most important to learn, where the tunes came from initially, how they acquired the status of basic repertoire, what the classic recorded performances are. Ted Gioia's new book, "The Jazz Standards," does a great job of addressing these questions. It's a book that needed to be written. Gioia is an accomplished jazz pianist and jazz historian, and the right person to have done it.

The "Jazz Standards Canon" is not exactly the same thing as the "Great American Songbook," although the categories overlap. "Jazz Standards" are those tunes preferred (and preserved) by jazz musicians, while "Great American Songbook," or "Golden Era" tunes, are those that have become iconic with a wider public. Any list of "Jazz Standards" would include not just "Golden Era" tunes, but also a number of tunes written by jazz players, yet not widely known by the general public.

Before Gioia's book was published, the definitive reference on standards was Alec Wilder's 1972 book, "American Popular Song." It still is a definitive reference for "Golden Era" tunes. Wilder was a composer of both popular and classical music (and a legendary one), and wrote his book from that viewpoint. The book is organized by songwriter, with chapters on Jerome Kern, George Gershwin, Irving Berlin, Richard Rodgers, etc. Wilder researched virtually every song that these composers had written (thousands), then wrote about the songs that seemed to him significant, particularly representative of the composer, or particularly well-written. Wilder is extremely and openly opinionated, but deeply informed. He knew some of the great songwriters personally, and interviewed others; his book includes some first-hand quotes from Richard Rodgers, Harold Arlen, Cole Porter's get the idea. He frequently offers musical analysis on particular aspects of the tunes that seem to him to explain their success.

Wilder was a friend of quite a few prominent jazz and popular musicians too, but he didn't have a jazz player's perspective. Ted Gioia, writing from a jazz viewpoint, focuses on different information. Reading Wilder, I feel as though I am taking songwriting lessons from an eccentric, opinionated master. Gioia's presentation seems more like taking a course from a well-organized jazz studies professor who has done his research.

To give you some idea of the difference in their approaches, here are summaries of the two writers' discussions of Cole Porter's "All of You." This tune is unarguably a jazz standard.

Gioia discusses the original setting of the song (the 1955 musical "Silk Stockings"), the subsequent 1957 movie with Fred Astaire, and a series of influential recordings: Ahmad Jamal, Miles Davis, the MJQ, Ella, Billie, Sarah, Bill Evans, McCoy Tyner - the recordings that helped to establish it as a "jazz standard." The essay and list of recordings cover about a page and a half.

Alec Wilder, on the other hand, writing in 1972, and certainly knowing that the song was widely regarded as a standard, wastes only a short paragraph on this tune: "I honestly doubt if All of You would have achieved the popularity it did but for the rather dubious wit of the lyric line, 'The East, West, North, and the South of You.'...I mention this line only because the song doesn't have any particular distinction."

So much for that tune. When he likes a song, though, you will find a valuable and informative writeup. I mention this Wilder quote only to point up his frank and honest approach to his subject.

Gioia discusses 252 tunes. "The Jazz Standards" is organized alphabetically by song, rather than chronologically or by composer. Each song receives a one- or two-page essay, covering the origin of the tune, pertinent anecdotes, and the route that led to its popularity. Often Gioia will, in the Wilder tradition, offer his personal opinion on some aspect of the song. He tends to go easy on harmonic analysis, in order not to exclude the general reader. Following each essay is a list of recordings that are either historically significant, or particularly interesting, in the author's opinion. His writing style is clear, entertaining, and scholarly-yet-informal.

In his introduction, Gioia states that his book was conceived primarily as a "must-know" list that is also a reference work. I see it as just as much a historical "must-know" list, though, as it is a list of tunes for aspiring jazz players to learn. I say this as a way of explaining the inclusion of a number of "traditional jazz" tunes that are not really a major part of modern repertoire (e.g., "Dinah," "Tiger Rag," "Tin Roof Blues").

A friend (thanks, Bill!) sent me a copy of a Wall Street Journal review of "The Jazz Standards," in which the reviewer takes Gioia to task for leaving out "Sheik of Araby" and "Some of These Days" on the trad side, but also for leaving out "Something to Live For," "Stablemates," "No Moon at All," and "Green Chimneys." Well, one has to make some decisions! I would have a different set of tunes to include or to excise, but I wasn't the author, and it's a great book as is. Anyone into jazz, player or not, should find it interesting and valuable, both as a good read and as a reference work.

"Must-know" lists of standards are pretty much always subjectively chosen. I'll have more to say about this in a future post. For now, here are a few other takes on the subject. All are a bit different, reflecting the compiler's background and viewpoint. Only the first list uses some sort of "objective" criteria.

  • The list of 1,000 tunes on, ranked for popularity by a statistical method (full disclosure: I have written a few articles for this site).
  • The list in Chapter 21 of Mark Levine's "Jazz Theory Book."
  • De facto choices in collections like the original bootleg "Real Book," the Sher "Standards" fakebook, Dick Hyman's two collections, or other fakebooks. Also in this category: Ralph Patt's "Vanilla Book" list.
  • My own list of 100 "must-know" tunes.

Here are some links to check out:
Ted Gioia's website 
An interview with Ted Gioia
Alec Wilder's biography