Nov 26, 2015

Who Really Wrote "Walkin'" (aka "Weirdo" aka "Sid's Ahead" aka "Gravy")?

The question of who really wrote the blues tune "Walkin'" takes us into some very murky territory. The song was made famous by Miles Davis; most of his recordings credit the song to "Richard Carpenter."

I'm currently reading Dameronia, Paul Combs' biography of Tadd Dameron. Combs describes Richard Carpenter as a "shadowy figure in the jazz world," who had some sort of long-term financial hold over Dameron. Combs avoids making accusations of illegality, but he is pretty clear that Carpenter made a business in the 1950s of buying musical rights from musicians with drug problems, who needed a little quick money. A Google search turned up some references to Carpenter from jazz writers who were more straightforward in their choice of words. For example, Chet Baker biographer James Gavin, in an interview on jerryjazzmusician.com (see page 2): "Chet wanted to kill him, literally. Carpenter is remembered as the greatest leech the jazz world has ever known." (Gavin's Chet Baker bio is Deep in a Dream: The Long Night of Chet Baker.)

Carpenter's hold on Dameron may or may not have had something to do with Dameron getting off more easily on a 1956 drug conviction because his previous arrest records had somehow disappeared from city files, according to Combs.

But let's get back to the question of who composed "Walkin'." It wasn't Carpenter. Miles recorded an extremely similar tune in March 1954 that he called "Weirdo," listing himself as the composer.




In April 1954 he recorded the same tune as "Walkin'," listing Carpenter as composer. The track was released on a 10" LP in 1954, and again in 1957 on the album "Walkin'."




In 1958 Miles recorded the same song under the name "Sid's Ahead," crediting himself this time. It was released as part of the album "Milestones."




Miles' later recordings of the song under the title "Walkin'" credited Carpenter; Miles frequently played the tune in live performances as late as 1965.

But Miles didn't compose "Walkin'," either. In 1950 Gene Ammons had recorded "Gravy," crediting Jimmy Mundy as composer. It's the same tune. Here's a link to listen to it.

I guess "Walkin'/Sid's Ahead" should be added to the list of tunes that Miles may not have written.

Combs, in Dameronia, offers his take: "...some maintain that ['Walkin''] was written by Lucky Thompson, and others cite Gene Ammons. The author is inclined to agree with the latter assignation but cannot prove it."

According to this 1964 Downbeat article, Richard Carpenter at one time managed Gene Ammons. According to James Gavin's biography of Chet Baker, Jimmy Mundy had been a client of Carpenter's too. From Gavin's book:

"After Mundy's death in 1983, Don Sickler, a trumpeter and music publisher who handled Dameron's catalogue, found the copyright certificate at the Library of Congress for a tune originally called 'Gravey.' Mundy was believed to be the composer, although some argued that it was Gene Ammons or Miles Davis. The title had been partly erased; 'Walkin'' was written over it and Carpenter's name inserted as composer." (This excerpt was quoted in a discussion of Carpenter at organissimo.org. If you're interested, there are some more details there.)

It's impossible to know exactly how that erasure and altered composer credit could have happened, but there would have been (and still is) a bit of royalty money at stake. Perhaps it was all legal, though.

Nov 18, 2015

David Raksin's "Laura" - Soundtrack vs. Sheet Music

"Laura" is a brilliantly composed song by David Raksin, first presented as the theme of Otto Preminger's 1944 movie of the same name. The melody occurs throughout the film, but is never heard in full; the nearest it gets to a complete playing is in the opening credits, where it stops three measures short of its full 32 bars, leaving listeners with an unfinished song and a tense chord, as the movie's story begins.

"Laura" was published as sheet music in 1945, with lyrics by Johnny Mercer. No lyrics appear in the movie; they were added for the sheet music version, as was the unremarkable introductory "verse." Mercer's lyrics have pretty much nothing to do with the film's storyline, but they do create a mood, and certainly contributed to the song's popularity.

There's an excellent writeup of the tune's origins at JazzStandards.com, where it is rated number 35 on their list of the top 1000 standards.

"Laura" is one of the very few "Golden Age" jazz standards that ends in a different key (C major) than it begins (G major). The only other tunes I can think of that do that are "Unforgettable" and "Autumn Leaves" - and that one only if you count relative major (G) and relative minor (E minor) as being different keys.

A couple of weeks ago my wife and I watched "Laura" via Netflix streaming. As the title theme played, I noticed an unusual modulation halfway through the tune. I checked it out, and as it happens, this modulation allows the song to end in G (or rather, it would have, if the last three bars had been played). I could guess that Raksin might have originally set up the tune to end in the same key it started, but later changed his concept when preparing the sheet music.

Below is how the changes appear in the sheet music. This is a bare-bones version; I've omitted some superfluous chord symbols. Most modern fakebooks show similar changes, but with the Fdim7 replaced by Dm7b5  G7b9.


       

And here's an outline of the way the movie's opening credits presented the song. The melody starting in bar 17 matches the sheet music, but is pitched a fifth higher than in the sheet music, beginning with an F# in the melody, over the Em7 chord.



The sheet music version smoothes out the tune by beginning the second half in the same key as the first half, as one might normally expect in a commercial song. The modulation halfway through in the movie version worked in the soundtrack, but may have seemed a bit strange for a popular sheet music version, hence the revision. The trade-off was that by beginning the second half conventionally, in G, the tune would have to end in a key (C) different from the one it began in.

This is just speculation, of course, but it might be why "Laura" ends in a different key. Just a guess!

Here's Charlie Parker playing "Laura" with strings, recorded live. This arrangement employs a modulation, but not the same one heard in the movie.