Jan 28, 2015

"Chovendo na Roseira" - Jobim and Debussy

Listening the other day to Debussy's "Reverie," I noticed a definite similarity to Jobim's "Chovendo na Roseira" ("Raining on the Rosebush").

I did a little internet searching - apparently everyone knew all about this except me. "Chovendo" gets its first theme from "Reverie," and its second theme from another Debussy composition, "Le plus que lente, valse."

These are all incredibly beautiful pieces, of course. Here's "Chovendo na Roseira" from Jobim's "Terra Brasilis" album, arranged by Claus Ogerman. On this album it is retitled "Double Rainbow."

Here is Debussy's "Reverie":

Here's Debussy's "Le plus que lente, valse." The Jobim-like theme occurs at about 2:45:

This little revelation reminds me of the time I was helping a student work on "Moonlight in Vermont." I was trying to get him to phrase the melody (on sax) as though he were singing the lyrics:
Pennies in a stream
Falling leaves, a sycamore
Moonlight in Vermont
He tried it, then stopped playing and said, "Hey - that's a haiku!"

It is, of course. It's common knowledge, and has been since the tune was written. Everybody knew it except me.

BTW, one of the sources I ran across quoted Jobim as saying that "One-note Samba" is based on Chopin's "Prelude in Db Major." The only resemblance that I can hear is the constant repeated Ab note (a dominant pedal, but in a middle register). So, maybe. But I'll also stick with my observation that the "A" section of "One-note" is, harmonically, "I Got Rhythm" with some tritone subs and the chord durations doubled.

Here's the Chopin prelude:

And lastly, one more great recording of "Chovendo na Roseira" by Jobim and Elis Regina, from the "Elis and Tom" album:

Jan 11, 2015

"St. Louis Blues" and Other Early Published Blues

Browsing in our local used bookstore, I came across the sheet music for W. C. Handy's "St. Louis Blues." For $1.95, I had to pick it up.

As nearly as I can tell, this arrangement is the original one from 1914, although the cover art is from 1928. Sheet music publishers often changed the cover design to feature a currently fashionable performer, or in this case a Broadway revue. (Scroll through here to see a number of other covers for this tune.)

"St. Louis Blues" was not the first published 12-bar blues; it was predated by "I Got the Blues" (1908), "Dallas Blues" (1912), "Baby Seals Blues" (1912), and "Memphis Blues" (1912). Oddly enough, "Oh, You Beautiful Doll" (1911) also has a verse that is a 12-bar blues.

First, some disclaimers:

1) The blues tradition is obviously deeper than just the printed notes in published sheet music.
2) Blues (in one form or another, depending on your definition) had existed for many years before these songs were published. All the elements of blues that I'll discuss here, including harmonic devices, 12-bar form, and blue notes, were being played long before they were put into printed form.
3) This is just a blog post with some observations about these tunes, and not an attempt to make any sort of definitive historical or musicological statement.

Anyway, since I had acquired the sheet music, I thought it would be interesting to look more closely at the original printed version of "St. Louis Blues," to see which elements of what we now call "blues" were present in this 1914 song. But one thing led to another - checking various online sources, I found references to the other early published blues tunes mentioned above; I was able to find reproductions of the original sheet-music versions and/or youtube audio clips for all of them.

One great source of information was this dissertation by Vic Hobson. If you are interested in some eye-opening scholarship concerning the early development of blues as a genre and as a form, you should download it and read it.

What makes a tune a "blues"? For present purposes, let's say it's the distinctive 12-bar chord progression and the use of blue notes. For vocal blues, we might add the three-line pattern for lyrics (first 4-bar line repeated once, with a concluding 4-bar "punch line").

Below are the tunes I checked out, in chronological order, with comments.

"I Got the Blues" (Anthony Maggio, 1908) - A youtube clip is here. This tune sounds like ragtime, has a ragtime form with several distinct sections, and was marketed on the cover of the sheet music as a rag. Instrumental, no lyrics. The "A" section was probably the first published 12-bar blues with what we now call a standard blues chord progression. The melody uses the m3/M3 "blue note" device (the m3 note on the beat, moving up to the M3). This sort of notated "blue note" use seems pretty tame by modern standards. The opening riff, b3 - 3 - 1, shows up in some of the other early blues listed here, including "St. Louis Blues." The first theme returns later in minor - a very early example of a minor-key 12-bar blues.

In bar 4 of the blues section, a b7 note is added to the tonic chord, turning it into a V of IV, setting up the IV chord that follows. This is a basic feature of blues harmony. Other than that, chords are simple: triads on I and IV, and a dominant V7.

"Oh, You Beautiful Doll" (Seymour Brown, 1911) - The sheet music is here. The "verse" section, after the intro and the vamp, is a 12-bar blues. Has lyrics; more a "song" than a rag, though the melody has some rag-like syncopation. Marketed on the cover of the sheet music as a "song" - not titled, or marketed, as a blues or a rag. The A section melody begins with the same b3 - 3 - 1 sequence that was noted in "I Got the Blues." Again, bar 4 adds a b7 to produce a V of IV. Other than that, chords are simple I, IV, and V7.

"Dallas Blues" (Hart A. Wand, March 1912) - Hobson's dissertation has two versions: the 1912 version on page 81, and a later revised version on page 82. Neither version has lyrics. The earlier version is a 20-bar song: a typical 12-bar blues form with bars 5-12 repeated in bars 13-20. The 20-bar song is then repeated on the next page, with variations. This piece does not sound like a rag. The V of IV device is present in bar 4 (and bar 12), with a melody note stating the b7 (melody on the b7 here is a common feature of blues as we know it today). In addition, the melody in bar 6 (and bar 14) adds a b7 note to the IV chord (a Db note, in the key of Bb, in effect producing an Eb7 chord). This is another feature that has become an essential part of blues, melodically and chordally. The melody in bar 5 (and 13) uses the b3 - 3 "blue note" device.

The later, "revised" version changed the form to a standard 12 bars, and added a new 12-bar section preceding the original melody. The new section's melody also uses the b7 notes in bar 4 and bar 6; bars 7-12 of the new section's melody are the same as the original melody. A still later, 1918 printing of "Dallas Blues" added lyrics and a new piano arrangement.

"Baby Seals Blues" ("Baby" Seals, August 1912, arranged by Artie Mathews) - Hobson's dissertation, page 84, shows the first two pages - the "verse." As in "Dallas Blues," the verse is twenty bars, but unlike "Dallas Blues," the additional 8 bars is new material, rather than a repeat of bars 5-12. "Baby Seals Blues" also features "blue" melody notes in bars 4 and 6 (we are in the key of Bb; the notes are Ab in bar 4, and Db in bar 6). The harmony in bar 6 of the piano part is a #IVdim7 chord (Edim7) - this also has become a common feature of blues.

Citing the music itself, and Seals' career as a widely traveled entertainer, Hobson makes a case that "Baby Seals Blues" may have been composed first, perhaps as early as 1910, and Wand's "Dallas Blues" may be derivative.

The composer of "Baby Seals' Blues" is variously listed as "Baby F. Seals," "Arthur Seales," "Arthur Seals," "Franklin Seals," and "H. Franklin Seals." For more on Seals' career, see this interesting article by Erwin Bosman.

"Memphis Blues" (W. C. Handy, September 1912) - The sheet music is here (the 1912 version is found on pages 9, 10, and 11 of this archive). "Memphis Blues" is definitely a rag, in its melody and in its form. The last section modulates to the subdominant key, as in the "trio" section of many marches. In fact, the first recording of this piece was by the Victor Military Band; it strikes me as a merging of blues, ragtime, and march. It's played with a straight beat, not a swing beat. This piece was at first marketed as an instrumental; words were added by a lyricist for a 1913 edition, after Handy had sold the song to publisher Theron Bennett.

The first and third sections of this tune are 12-bar blues. The first section (in the key of F) uses an Ab note over the IV chord (adding up to a dominant-quality Bb7). The third section (in Bb) uses the b7 note in bar 4 (Ab, turning the Bb tonic chord into a V of IV). The b3 - 3 melodic shape shows up in several places.

Here's a Eubie Blake version of "Memphis Blues" from a piano roll (1921). Eubie plays it with a feel that is sometimes fairly straight, sometimes more pronounced swing. You'll hear a "third hand" part on the roll, presumably added by Eubie.

A note about swing: In college some years ago, I took a summer class in "American Music" taught by William Bolcom and Joan Morris. They had known Eubie (1887-1983). I asked Mr. Bolcom whether rags were originally played with a straight beat or a swing beat. He answered that Eubie had said that performers would go back and forth, whichever way they felt; both were correct. I took this to be as close to a definitive answer as I was ever likely to get.

"St. Louis Blues" (W. C. Handy, 1914) - The sheet music is here. This tune consists of an introduction with a bass line in habanera rhythm (a rhythm used in tango; Handy conceived of this section as a tango), a 12-bar blues "A" section, a 16-bar habanera/tango "B" section, and a 12-bar blues "C" section with a different melody.

The first recording (1916) is played with a straight beat throughout. Handy's 1923 recording (the youtube title showing 1914 is incorrect) has more of a swing beat; it also adds a minor-blues section and a non-blues closing section.

Getting back to my original question, in the 1914 version of "St. Louis Blues" we can see a number of important features that have come to define blues:

We are in the key of G. Looking at the first blues "A" section,

1) Dominant quality tonic chord in bar 1 (G7)
2) Dominant IV chord in bar 2 (C7, set up by the G7 in bar 1).
3) Melody note Bb in bar 2, coming across as a b3 of the key of G (blue note), supported by the C7.
4) Dominant quality tonic chord (G7) in bar 4.
5) Dominant IV chord in bar 6.
6) Melody note Bb in bar 10, coming across as a b3 of the key - but played against a supporting D7, producing a D7#5. Using an augmented V chord is an effective way of incorporating blue notes into the harmony.
7) 3-line lyric scheme, where the first line is repeated, with a third "punch" line, all 3 lines rhyming.
8) Both blues sections use the b3 - 3 melodic device (e.g., the first bar of each blues section). This was apparently intended to convey a bent-note effect.

"St. Louis Blues" was hugely popular in its day, and is still a jazz standard. Jazzstandards.com rates it as the 20th most recorded standard tune, and lists 16 versions that ranked anywhere from #1 to #24 on sales charts between 1916 and 1940. "St. Louis Blues" was not the first published blues, and W. C. Handy certainly didn't invent blues, but this tune apparently had a lot to do with establishing the features of the blues form as we know it today. Hobson puts it this way:
But in a different sense perhaps W. C. Handy was the father of the blues, in that it was his 1914 composition “The St. Louis Blues” that brought together all of the features that today we associate with the blues in a single composition. In “The St. Louis Blues,” W. C. Handy brought together the twelve-bar form of the blues, a blue-note melody and lyrics using the AAB stanza form. “The St. Louis Blues” was perhaps not the first composition to do this (arguably this distinction belongs to “The Negro Blues” by Lasses White) but the enormous popularity of the “St. Louis Blues” has ensured that this is the standard blues form. In this sense that W. C. Handy can rightly claim to be the father of the “formal blues.”
Thanks to Vic Hobson for permission to quote (and paraphrase) from his dissertation. Dr. Hobson also referred me to his recent book, "Creating Jazz Counterpoint: New Orleans, Barbershop Harmony, and the Blues." I'll be checking that book out next.

To close this post, here's Jelly Roll Morton in 1938, playing "Mamie's Blues" as he remembered it from his early years in New Orleans, perhaps not long after 1900: