Oct 14, 2012

"Must-Know" Blues Tunes: Comparing Lists

For various reasons, my "consensus" list of must-know jazz standards (see my post from Sept. 9, 2012) turned out to be short on blues. This was partially because of the nature of the lists I was comparing, and partially because there are so many blues heads, most of them using generic blues chord progressions. (We are talking about "jazz blues" here, of course - not Mississippi Delta, Chicago blues, '50s rock, etc.)

In this post I will try to find a consensus on which are the most essential blues tunes to learn. This time I have a few additional lists of "must-know" tunes to compare.

Madisonjazzjam.org has a page with 7 "must-know" lists, from 1) The author of the page, 2) Jamey Aebersold, 3) Nick Drozdoff, 4) Pete Thomas, 5) Manhattan School of Music, 6) University of Oregon Jazz Studies Department, and 7) A group of Maryland colleges.

For the present discussion, I have compared 6 of the lists from madisonjazzjam.org, as well as the 6 sources I used in my September 9 post, extracting only blues tunes. Pete Thomas' list was one of the 6 that I had already used, so I didn't count it a second time. Also, one of my sources (Bert Ligon's list) itself incorporated suggestions from "several" jazz educators. So I suppose I'm comparing "must-know" lists from at least 14 different sources.

The results are below. Nine "hits" means that the tune showed up in nine of the lists, eight "hits" means it showed up in eight lists, etc. I don't find too much to disagree with in these results, at least down through the two-hit list. Personally, I'd only vote for about half the tunes on the one-hit list.

Jazz students (that's all of us, right?) should probably try to know most of these blues heads, all the way down to the two-hit list, and a few more besides.

How did these particular blues tunes become "must-knows"? I'd say through a process that involves these factors: 1) inclusion in some landmark recordings, 2) inclusion in well-known fake books, 3) status as popular jam vehicles, 4) the quality of the tunes, 5) if they are easy to learn, 6) currency in the world of jazz education. Of course, these routes to popularity overlap, and influence each other.

9 hits: Billie's Bounce 
8 hits: Mr. P.C. 
7 hits: All Blues, Blue Monk, Tenor Madness 
6 hits: Footprints, Now's the Time, Straight No Chaser 
5 hits: C Jam Blues, Things Ain't What They Used To Be, Watermelon Man 
4 hits: Stolen Moments 
3 hits: Au Privave, Blue Train, Cool Blues, Cousin Mary, Misterioso, Sandu 
2 hits: 
Bags' Groove
Birks' Works
Blues for Alice
Blues Walk
Freddie Freeloader
Night Train
One O'Clock Jump
The Sidewinder
Some Other Blues
Sonnymoon for Two
West Coast Blues 
One hit: 
Beale St. Blues
Bessie's Blues
Blue 'n Boogie
Blue Seven
Blues for Alice
Blues On the Corner
No Blues
Red Top
Royal Garden Blues
St. Louis Blues
Society Red
Tin Roof Blues
West End Blues

Oct 7, 2012

A Tune-Dex Fakebook, Continued

This is an addendum to my previous post, "A Tune-Dex Fakebook and Some Schillinger Symbols." You may want to read that post first.

There is some more information to be gleaned from Dr. K.'s Tune-Dex fakebook.

On some loose sheets inserted before the Table of Contents, Dr. K. had made a tally of the number of songs that various composers had "contributed" to the fakebook. He had made three lists, each organized alphabetically: One showed composers with 10 or more songs; the second list showed those with 5 to 9 songs; the third showed those with less than 5 songs. The lists showed the page numbers for each song. For example, the first list began with :

Arlen     60, 73, 104, 108, 127, 142, 156, 182, 189, 216

Perhaps Dr. K. had made these lists as a way of 1) seeing which songwriters were more successful, and 2) making a quick guide to looking up those songs. For me, those lists were food for thought. Following are a few thoughts.

The lists show which composers were most successful in 1949 (date of publication), by the measure of the bootlegger who put together the book. Clearly, he intended to assemble a fakebook that would be as useful as possible to working musicians (profit motive). This would have entailed an effort to select the "best" (most popular) tunes for this purpose.

According to Barry Kernfeld's "The Story of Fake Books," Tune-Dex cards (the raw material pirated for this fakebook) were produced from 1942 until 1963. George Goodwin, the man behind Tune-Dex, produced about 100 new cards each month during this time, eventually leaving a total legacy of 25,000 titles. In 1949, the apparent year of the fakebook's publication, there would have been something like 7200 Tune-Dex cards for a bootlegger to choose from. For this fakebook, Mr. Pirate had narrowed it down to about 1000 titles.

I should note also that just 266 of the 369 pages were devoted to "Great American Songbook" titles. Dr. K. only tabulated songs from those first 266 pages. Below is the master index; you can see that the rest of the tunes are mostly "ethnic." These "ethnic" tunes were included because of their usefulness to working musicians.

Tune-Dex Fakebook Table of Contents

Just as with the Old Real Book in 1974, the choices made for the collection not only reflect the tunes that were deemed important by the compilers in that time and place; the choices would have also had an effect in shaping the repertoire of the musicians who used the book. And this repertoire choice would, in turn, have had an effect on the tunes deemed important by later musicians (the "canon"). It's just a thought - but that's definitely what happened with the old RB.

The book contains mostly "Great American Songbook" tunes (266 pages, or about 750 tunes), not including the "ethnic" sections. The "Blues and Dixieland" section is generally trad jazz and big band, and only 7 pages. There's no bebop.

The book, though it is a bootleg, does show copyright owners and dates for each tune - these notations were at the bottom of each Tune-Dex card, and were not deleted by Mr. Pirate. Glancing through the book, I didn't see any copyright dates later than 1949. That's a pretty good indication of the date of publication; it also shows that Mr. P. wanted his fakebook to be as up-to-date as possible. Another indication of the date is that Richard Rodgers' tunes include some from "South Pacific" (opened April 1949), but none from "The King and I" (opened March 1951). Kernfeld cites court records in a copyright violation case that set the publication date as 1949.

The end of the "Golden Age of American Songwriting" is often set at 1950.

Below is Dr. K.'s numeration of composer titles. He had originally listed composers alphabetically, but I have arranged the names in order of the number of songs in the Tune-Dex fakebook. I'm only listing songwriters with 5 or more songs in the book.

Richard Rodgers 32
George Gershwin 24
Cole Porter 24
Harry Warren 17
Richard Whiting 14
Jerome Kern 13
Buddy De Sylva 12
Walter Donaldson 12
Sigmund Romberg 11
Arthur Schwartz 11
Harold Arlen 10
Charles Henderson 10
Jimmy McHugh 10

Nacio Herb Brown 9
Vincent Youmans 9
Joe Burke 8
Hoagy Carmichael 8
Johnny Green 8
Rudolf Friml 7
Con Conrad 6
Victor Herbert 6
Ray Noble 6
Ralph Rainger 6
Spencer Williams 6
Milton Ager 5
Harry Akst 5
Harry Barris 5
J. Fred Coots 5
Noel Coward 5
Dave Dreyer 5
Duke Ellington 5
Burton Lane 5
James Vincent Monaco 5
Harry Tierney 5

A lot of the songs in this fakebook have fallen by the wayside. Popular tastes have changed. It was really a different world then. Jazz performers have preserved a narrow selection, mainly tunes that are good improvisation vehicles. Who nowadays can name 24 Cole Porter songs?

One would think that there must be some good tunes in this old book that have not been exploited much. On the other hand, I recall spending some time digging through songbooks looking for hidden gems by Jimmy Van Heusen, and ultimately deciding that the jazz world had already done that, and very well, too. All the good ones were already in the "canon." It was like I had been trying to reinvent the wheel.

One of my old professors had been a swing band trumpeter before becoming an academic. Once I said, "Gee, Professor Crowley, they sure wrote a lot of great songs in the old days." He replied, "Yes, but you have to remember, they wrote a lot of bad ones, too."