Oct 26, 2014

"Pennies" and "How About You"

In my previous post, I noticed a harmonic similarity between bars 13-14 of "How About You," and bars 13-14 of "Tangerine," a device perhaps traceable to a couple of earlier Ray Noble tunes.

Looking at "How About You" (Burton Lane, 1941) I also noticed some interesting similarities to "Pennies From Heaven" (Arthur Johnston, 1936):

1) In bars 1-6 and 17-20 of both tunes, the opening melodies stick to the first, second, and seventh scale steps.

2) In bars 1-6 and 17-20 of both tunes, the supporting harmonies are often shown with the same changes (depending on your printed source).

3) In mm 21-24, both tunes move to the key of the IV, and the melodies have a definite resemblance.

I'd like to discuss bars 1-2 in this post (the same changes are used for mm 5-6 and mm 17-18).

Let's start with "Pennies":

Various sources show these measures differently. Takes on mm 1-2 of "Pennies" include:

|  Cmaj7  F7  |  Em7  A7  |
|  Cmaj7  F7  |  Em7  Ebdim7  |
|  Cmaj7  Dm7  |  Em7  A7  |
|  Cmaj7  Dm7  |  Em7  Ebdim7  |
|  Cmaj7            |           Ebdim7  |
|  Cmaj7            |  Em7  Ebdim7  |
|  Cmaj7  Em7  |  D7sus4  D7  |
|  Cmaj7  Em7  |  Am7  D7  |
|  F#m7b5  Fm6  |  Em7  Ebdim7  |

or even just

|  C                |                  |.

These all work OK for harmonizing the "Pennies" melody. Not all of them work as well for "How About You," if you want to avoid half-step clashes with the melody (the second progression above is perhaps the better one for "How About You"). On the other hand, once you are into comping for solos, these are all pretty much interchangeable, for both tunes.

The concept is pretty simple: How can you harmonize two bars of what basically is a tonic chord, to provide some movement, and set up the II chord in bar 3? These are all reasonable solutions.

Of course, I wondered about the original harmonizations for these songs. For a few dollars each plus postage, I obtained the original sheet music.

Notice that - as is often the case with old sheet music - the chord symbols are a poor representation of the piano arrangement. If a guitarist plays the symbols, the resulting notes won't clash with the piano, but the symbols really don't describe the functional harmony. What the piano part actually shows is one measure of C with a descending left-hand bass line, then two beats each of D9sus4 to D7. Bar 3 is really Dm7, not an F triad. So the first 4 bars are more like: 

|  C          |  D9sus4  D7  |   Dm7  |   G7   |

Most of the reharmonizations above actually sound better than the original. I recall an Alec Wilder quote to the effect that if generations of musicians work out a common-practice change to a song, it is probably an improvement.

Now, how about "How About You?"?

Here the chord symbols are closer to the arrangement. For a modern lead sheet, I'd just use Gmaj7 or G6 for the first 6 beats. 

The sheet music symbols miss the bass line in bars 2-3, but including the line in a lead sheet would be a little too fussy:

|  G6  Gmaj7  | G/B  Bbdim7  |   Am7   |   D7   |

Note that in both tunes, the the original sheet music shows the V chord in bar 4 as anticipated, starting on the last beat of measure 3. That's not unusual in tunes of this era. It's a convention that works well with a 2-beat bass pulse, a "period" sound.

The first two bars of the sheet music are basically:

|   Gmaj7   |              Bbdim7  |      (the fifth version on the "Pennies" list above, when transposed to C).

As a side note, both tunes have a "verse," or introductory section. The verse to "Pennies" is not entirely forgotten. The verse to "How About You," on the other hand, is pretty much completely forgotten, perhaps with good reason. But there's an interesting moment that uses a whole-tone scale (bar 13, below) - a clever touch in 1941.

For more on these tunes, including references to classic recorded versions, check the entries for "Pennies" and "How About You" on jazzstandards.com.

This post would not be complete without a reference to the classic parody, "Benny's From Heaven." Wikipedia says that the lyrics are "possibly" by Eddie Jefferson. Here's James Moody singing it. Terrific tenor solo, too!

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