Aug 20, 2018

"My Romance" - What are the right changes?

Rodgers and Hart's song "My Romance" first appeared in the musical "Jumbo" (1935), produced by impresario Billy Rose. From Wikipedia:
The musical opened on Broadway at the Hippodrome Theatre on November 16, 1935 and closed on April 18, 1936 after 233 performances. Directed by John Murray Anderson and George Abbott, it starred Jimmy Durante, Donald Novis, Gloria Grafton, and a number of circus specialty acts. Jumbo tells the story of a financially strapped circus. At the end of each performance, Durante lay down on the stage and permitted a live elephant to place its foot upon his head.
The large 5,000-seat theatre was turned into a circus tent where the various specialty acts (including acrobats and animal acts) performed during the show. The music was played by Paul Whiteman and his orchestra.
Other notable songs that first appeared in this musical were "Little Girl Blue," and "The Most Beautiful Girl in the World."

Incidentally, this was not the first show at the Hippodrome that had featured a live elephant. The song "Poor Butterfly" (1916) was written in an elephant pen in the basement of the Hippodrome; Harry Houdini performed a "disappearing elephant" trick there too.

Here's a newsreel from 1935, covering the opening of "Jumbo," including some rehearsal footage:





In a recent interview, bassist Steve Swallow mentions that the chords to "My Romance," as shown in the old bootleg Real Book, are the "Bill Evans changes." This, of course, sparked my curiosity about what the original changes were. 

I was able to locate a copy of the original sheet music. In looking at "Golden Age" standards, original sheet music is generally a pretty good indicator of the composer's intention, as it is likely that the composer approved it for publication. Besides that source, I have a version of the song from the "Tune-Dex" fakebook, a popular bootleg from (I think) the early 1950s, which shows bare-bones chord changes for hundreds of standards, probably copied from the sheet music, with a high degree of inaccuracy. 

We can also refer to this 1936 recording by Donald Novis and Gloria Grafton, the stars of "Jumbo." There is a good chance that this arrangement is at least somewhat close to the way the song was presented in the show:





There are two modern fakebooks that show some version of the original sheet music changes, side-by-side with a modern reharmonization - The Best Chord Changes for the Most Requested Standardsby Frank Mantooth, and the Real Jazz Standards Fake Book, both published by Hal Leonard.

The sheet music puts the tune in the key of C, as does the Tune-Dex book, but for some reason the 1974 bootleg Real Book shows it in Bb (the Hal Leonard "6th Edition" Real Book, copying the old RB, also has it in Bb). The 1936 recording is in Eb, probably to accommodate the singers. Bill Evans played it in C. To make comparisons easier, the charts in this post are all in the key of C.

The sheet music includes a "verse" (introductory lead-in) that no one really uses any more; I won't discuss it here. It's included in the "Real Jazz Standards" version.  

In deference to copyright, I won't post the complete sheet music, but I think it's within "fair use" to show this clip:




As is usual in old sheet music, the chord symbols do not really represent the piano arrangement. Below is a chart with the chord symbols as shown on the sheet music:



However, the actual piano notes indicate a harmony closer to this:


Some features in the piano arrangement: 

1) stepwise bass lines in mm1-2, 5-6, 17-18, 21-22. The chord symbols miss this. Modern charts suggest different bass lines here (see "Evans" chart, below).

2) triads with added 9 - a sweet, bright sound.

3) a lot of IV chords - sweet and simple, in keeping with the theme of the lyrics.

4) F#m7 rather than F#m7b5 in m13. Modern charts all use F#m7b5, presumably because it seems like the right way to do a minor-key II V. That's not what Hart wrote, though.

5) D9 in m28 resolves to C/G in m29. In classical terminology, C/G is a cadential tonic six-four chord. This device (II dominant to I with fifth in the bass, followed by a final cadence) is common in classical music. It occurs in the original harmonic setting of several jazz standards, e.g. "After You've Gone," m16; "I Remember You," m32; "There Will Never Be Another You," m28. The fifth in the bass sets up a brief dominant pedal for the cadence.

The II dominant to tonic six-four device has fallen out of favor in jazz. It seems like just about every modern chart of the tunes listed above replaces the IIdom approach with something else. Some modern charts of "My Romance" preserve the G in the bass under the tonic C chord, keeping the dominant pedal effect, while replacing the D7.

Here's an image of the beginning of the Tune-Dex chart:



This chart really cuts to the essence of the tune. The Tune-Dex fakebook was probably the most complete bootleg collection of tunes available to popular music performers in the late 1940s and early 1950s. I got my copy from the father of one of my students; his father ("Doctor K.") had been an aspiring musician in New York in the early 1950s. The notations in the margin are Doctor K.'s; he was studying the Schillinger system. The Schillinger symbol ΣIV indicates a #4 melody note; it occurs in m3. The note in the margin says, "going to ΣIV more surprising more intense."

For comparison, here is a chord chart with the bare-bones Tune-dex changes. Try playing the melody with this harmony - I think it preserves the simple, sweet quality of the tune pretty well: 

As Steve Swallow relates in his interview, the old bootleg Real Book was created in 1974 by two Berklee students. Many of their charts originated with some of their instructors, or friends of their instructors. Swallow describes the "My Romance" chart as using "Bill Evans" changes. Here are the chords as shown in the old RB, but transposed to C, rather than the RB key of Bb:


Some features of this version:

1) The bass line in mm1-2 and 17-18 is changed to a familiar I  II III bIIIdim progression. The bass line in mm 5-6 and 21-22 is replaced with a familiar "My Funny Valentine"-type voice-leading line over a static minor chord - the line here is A to G# to G, over the A minor chord.

2) The measure-long IV chords are gone.

3) In mm9 and 11 a bVIIdom chord (Bb7) is added to transition from IV to I - again, a standard device. 

4) In m14 Eb7 is added, a tritone sub approach to the Dm7 that follows.

5) mm27-28 are reworked, replacing a short chain of dominants with a minor II V and a II bIIdom. It's a fancier way to get there, but the Ab7 still sets up a tonic six-four chord.


I think you will find that virtually all modern charts derive from the old RB "Bill Evans" changes, with a few alterations here and there. If you want to learn the tune today, you should probably learn this version. Personally, I favor the key of C rather than Bb. The New Real Book vol. 1 (Sher Music Co.) has the tune in C, with Evans-like changes.

I don't know exactly where the old RB compilers got their chart, but it's pretty close to the way Bill Evans plays "My Romance" in the 1961 Village Vanguard recording:





Here's a link to a transcription by Jorn Swart of Bill's first chorus.

Bill Evans played "My Romance" through his entire career. He recorded it a number of times, including on his first album, "New Jazz Conceptions" (1956) and his last, "The Last Waltz" (1980). Of course, the lead sheet does not even begin to show what he did with the tune; his approach evolved continuously. Here's his last recording of "My Romance":






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