Jun 22, 2017

Cole Porter's "Love For Sale" - What are the right changes?

You'll find quite a bit of variation among different charts, and different recorded versions, in the chords to Cole Porter's "Love for Sale." I've often wondered which changes are actually "correct." Recently, I acquired a copy of the 1930 sheet music, showing Porter's original piano arrangement, along with chord symbols for guitar.

In sheet music of this period, it's usually better to look to the piano arrangement, rather than the chord symbols, as a guide to the composer's intentions. In this case, the chord symbols shown in the sheet music show harmony that is pretty close to the piano part, although the symbols do miss some bass lines and voice leading.

Below are the chord symbols shown in the original sheet music. I've omitted the introductory "verse," and made a couple of other small adjustments, such as leaving out a few bass notes indicated in the chord symbols (e.g., "Db/F"). Click to enlarge.

The form is verse A A1 B A2. The introductory "verse," not shown above, consists of two 10-bar phrases; each A and B section is 16 bars. The verse is a good one, and an integral part of the tune, but is often omitted, both in recordings and in published charts. The tune ends with an 8-bar tag, included above, but this is also often omitted both in recordings and in charts. Here's an Ella Fitzgerald version that sticks close to Porter's harmony. Ella includes the introductory verse, as well as a tag with vocal melisma (the tag is different from Porter's, in both melody and harmony):

Although the sheet music almost certainly represents Cole Porter's original intentions, it is not entirely improv-friendly. Jazz musicians want to conceive of harmonies in terms that are more formulaic. A good modern chart would need some alterations. The best modern fake book lead sheet I could find is in the Standards Real Book(Sher Publishing Co.). More about this chart later.

The most glaring harmonic disparities between different versions, both recorded and printed, come at the beginning of the three A sections.

Here's what Porter's original sheet music shows for the first 8 bars of each 16-bar A section (each box is a measure):

The tune is in Bb major overall, but frequently shifts to Bb minor. Eb is a IV chord, Bb or Bbm is tonic. It's pretty clear to me that Porter's shift from major to minor is "word painting" - using the music to reinforce or color the lyrics. Porter employed this sort of coloration in many of his songs. Just one example from "Love for Sale": Right at the beginning of the first A section, Porter harmonizes the first word, "Love," with a major IV chord (bright, happy), but when the lyrics continue "for sale," the resolution is to a tonic minor chord (dark, not so happy). At the end of the first A section the word "sale" is not only harmonized with a minor chord, but finishes on a low Bb, the lowest note of the song.

For an excellent analysis of the interplay of words/harmony/melody in "Love for Sale," check out this article by Michael Buchler. (Incidentally, a footnote in this article quotes another Porter scholar, Matthew Shaftel: "Porter was personally involved in nearly all levels of his sheet music publication including the correction of proofs...so that the printed versions differed only superficially from his own manuscripts.")

Although Porter's placement of tonic major and tonic minor chords was exact and intentional, recording artists have treated the first 8 measures of each 16-bar A section in a number of very different ways. Several different interpretations are listed below (I am looking here just at the basic tonalities of the Bb and Eb chords, and am not discussing any added 7ths, 9ths, 11ths, or 13ths):

Sidney Bechet (1947), George Shearing/Wes Montgomery (1961) - These recordings "bluesify" the tune by playing every tonic chord as Bb or Bb7, every IV chord as Eb or Eb7. Bechet's was the first recorded version to use this interpretation:

Oscar Peterson (1951) - Follows Porter's scheme for two choruses, but in the third chorus all the IV - I cadences except one go to Bb major.

Billie Holiday/Oscar Peterson (1952), Oscar Peterson (1953): Follows Porter except for the last A, which goes to Bbm both times:

Art Tatum (1953, 1955, 1956) - In all 3 recordings, Tatum uses Bbm in the first A section of the first chorus, but generally not after that, going with the Bechet scheme of all Bb major. In the 1956 recording he plays a fourth chorus that uses Bbm in the first A section, and in the last cadence of the last A.

Charlie Parker (1954), Ahmad Jamal (1955), Shirley Horn (1962), Dexter Gordon (1962) - These recordings resolve to Bbm every time. In Parker's recording, he resolves to a concert D note just once in his solo, for the fun of it, while the piano sticks with Bbm. Guitarist Billy Bauer does the same in his solo, with a "Jingle Bells" quote (the tune was recorded in December). In Dexter's recording, pianist Sonny Clark uses Bb or Bb7 through much of his solo. Here's the scheme:

Ella Fitzgerald (1956) - A Youtube clip is above. The arrangement follows Porter's version.

Miles Davis (1958) - A Youtube clip is below. This arrangement alternates minor-then-major tonic chords in every A section. In his solo, Miles insistently hits the major third of each Bb major chord.

Cannonball Adderley/Miles Davis (1958) - Seems to basically use all tonic minor chords on the head, going to all tonic majors for the solo. Soloist and rhythm section occasionally diverge from this pattern.

About commercial fake book charts: Different fake books show different harmonic interpretaions. You can play "Love for Sale" any way that you like, but don't expect different published charts to be compatible. Personally, I like the "Standards Real Book" chart. It sticks close to Porter's original harmony, adding sevenths to reflect modern preferences. Here is how Sher shows the first A section; compare it to the first 16 bars in the Porter chart at the beginning of this post:

The bridge from the Sher chart is shown below. Compare mm 45-48 to the sheet music chart above. The chords in the original chart may seem a bit irrational from the viewpoint of today's jazz players. The Sher chart shows a more modern, functional solution. Sher's version of these measures harmonizes the melody nicely, retains most of Porter's harmonic intent, and makes sense to improvisers.

To its credit, the Standards Real Book shows the introductory "verse" section for "Love for Sale." Unfortunately, it fails to show Porter's 8-bar tag at the end of the song. Most other modern charts skip both the verse and the tag, as do many recordings. The tag can be found in Dick Hyman's Professional Chord Changes and Substitutions for 100 Tunes Every Musician Should Know. Unfortunately, Hyman leaves out the verse!

For the historical background of "Love for Sale," check out this page on JazzStandards.com.

It's hard to say which version I like best. Here's the Miles version, recorded at the "Kind of Blue" session in 1958. Wonderful playing by everyone, particularly Bill Evans:

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