Jun 5, 2012

“Poor Butterfly” and "What Makes a Good Chart?" - Part 1

In this post, and the one to follow, I’ll toss around a few ideas on what qualities we should look for in a lead sheet, and how one might approach creating a good lead sheet, using the standard tune “Poor Butterfly” as an example. I’ve tried to do my homework on this tune, and have some opinions about what a chart should look like.

My friend Tom Simpson did some research on this song, and I did some more of my own (thanks, Tom!). I can’t say that we did an absolutely complete research job, but I think these posts will provide a fairly good model of how to do “due diligence.”

“Poor Butterfly” was written for a 1916 production at the New York Hippodrome called “The Big Show.” The composers were Raymond Hubbell (music) and John L. Golden (lyrics). The song was composed in an elephant pen in the basement of the Hippodrome (see this article on JazzStandards.com).

The song became popular almost immediately; several recordings were hits in 1917. It has remained a standard since then, with many recordings by jazz and popular artists over the decades. To name just a few: Red Nichols, Benny Goodman, Art Tatum, Erroll Garner, Arnett Cobb, Ahmad Jamal, Sarah Vaughn, Cannonball Adderley, Sonny Rollins, Count Basie and Oscar Peterson, Jim Hall and Paul Desmond (see this Wikipedia article for a more complete list of recordings).

If you don’t know the tune, first listen to Cannonball Adderley’s version, then to Sarah Vaughn’s very-close-to-the-original version (including the introductory "verse"), then to any of the others mentioned in these posts. I first became acquainted with “Poor Butterfly” when I was playing with a local big band in the ‘70s and ‘80s; we had a transcription of a great Les Elgart arrangement with a nice tenor spot.

So how would one come up with a good chart for this song? Just looking at print versions, we can find a number of different takes on the harmony. Listening to recordings by jazz artists, we find still more variations.

Following are the first print versions I consulted, with comments (more in the next post):

Original sheet music (1916)
Sheet music from musicnotes.com (2010) 

You can download the original sheet music here. It’s in the public domain, as it was copyrighted in 1916. It has a piano accompaniment, but no chord symbols. The sheet music from musicnotes.com is an almost exact re-engraving of the original, but with chord symbols added; these chord symbols reflect almost exactly the notes in the original piano accompaniment. Below is basically what these "original" charts show:

This chart would be OK if you were playing ukelele or guitar, reading the sheet music, accompanying a pianist and singer - as might have been the norm in, say, 1925. It may be the original, but this chart is not useful for jazz players. The harmony is too simple, and the chords move in ways that back up the melody, but are not improv-friendly (however, it’s interesting to note that the 1916 harmony does use dominant ninth and major ninth chords). Also, the chart needlessly shows a chord change whenever the melody moves from 9 to 1 or from #5 to 5 (e.g. mm 3-4, 5-6, 7-8). 

Hal Leonard Real Book vol. 3 (2006)
Jamey Aebersold vol. 80 (1997)

These more recent charts are aimed at jazz players, and they are fairly “vanilla” - that is, they keep the changes simple. Below is a common-denominator chart for this approach (I’m not reproducing the Hal Leonard or Aebersold charts in respect of copyright). I’ve called this “PB Basic” (PBB).

Comparing it to the “original,” note the insertion of Bbm7 chords to create II V progressions in bars 1, 15, 17, and 29; also note that the harmonic rhythm has generally been squared off so that the changes come either on beat 1, or on beats 1 and 3. Bar 26 uses the IVm chord for the full measure. If a ninth or other extension is in the melody, it is not notated into the chord; it’s expected that players will voice chords their own way, with or without 9ths, 11ths, or 13ths.

The Hal Leonard chart (from this book) differs from “PBB” in a few ways:
mm 11-12: | Fm7 C7#5 | Fm7 | (possible)
m 15: Bbm7b5 (not to my taste)
m 26: | Dbm7 Gb7 | (possible)
mm 27-28: | Abmaj7 Db7#11 | Cm7 F7 | (OK, but not my choice) 
The chart in the Jamey Aebersold playalong vol. 80 (Mark Levine on piano) differs from PBB as follows: 
m11: | Gm7b5 C7#9 | (possible)
m26: Eb7 (not good, we lose the IVm sound)
however, the separate "solo changes" show mm26-29 as in the Hal Leonard chart:
| Dbm7 Gb7 | Abmaj7 Db7 | Cm7 F7 |

Old Real Book vol. 3 (bootleg, 1980s?)
Jamey Aebersold vol. 39 (1987)

Below is the chart from “Old RB3,” a bootleg from (I think) the 1980s. It works fine but seems to me a little fussy - too many changes, too many extensions shown. I prefer a chart to be more “vanilla” than this. But I do like the Abdim7 in bars 3 and 19 (see the Cannonball version in the post to follow).

The Bdim7 in bar 28 is meant to be on beat 4 of the measure (it’s a vestige from the original sheet music).

The chart from songtrellis.com seems to be cribbed from the old RB chart - the chords are identical, except for m28, where the Bdim7 has been mistakenly entered as on beats 3 and 4. Played on beat 3, it would make a brief clash with the melody - not awful, but not something the songwriters had in mind (and a nonprofessional moment).

The chart from the Jamey Aebersold playalong vol. 39 (Hal Galper on piano) is remarkably similar to the old RB chart, with these differences:
mm 1-2: | Bbm7 | Bbm7 Eb7 |
mm 27-28: | Cm | Bdim | (clash with melody on m28, beat 3.)
mm 31-32: | Ab Db7 | Cm7 F7 |
this chart also adds a coda

To be continued - in the next post I'll look at several more print and recorded sources.


Anonymous said...

On Bar 26, Either the Dbm6 or it's inversion, Gb7 , but not both ( too busy ) works for me. On Bar 27, Its a problem for me, finding just the right chords. The melody is Db, and for me, a Cm7 just doesn't work ( a m7 with b9? Yech) If Ab is the root, and some charts have an Abmaj there, and that doesn't work for me either, because that would make it an maj11 chord, and that's a bad chord to my ears. So possibly an Ab9sus4, perhaps, though it sounds weak. I play a C7b9, it's not great, but the C to Db root movement is good. To my ears, bar's 27 and 28 are a weak spot in the tune, and if were composing the song, I would have kept working on these two bars until I found something that's as great as the rest of the tune. Otherwise a georgeous song. Patrick Lockwood ( www.jazzytunes.com )

Peter Spitzer said...

About mm 27-28: I don’t see that as a weak point in the song at all - I think that melodically, it is charming. The problem there is that the melodic movement doesn’t lend itself to the now-common lead-sheet approach, that generally specifies 4 beats or 2 beats for every chord. With a piano arrangement geared to the melody alone, as in the original sheet music, there’s no problem. In 1917, or course, they were writing the chart for a singer with piano acc., or for piano solo, not for jazzers, and not for musicians expecting to play block chords. Heck, they didn’t even get around to using chord symbols for about another decade.

I’d just leave the Abmaj7 in the chart. If you are a pianist using a chart that shows Abmaj7 in bar 27, and you don’t like the suspended sound of the Db note, you could just leave out the third, or else play the suspension along with the melody, or leave a rest in the comping for one or 2 beats. During solos, both pianist and soloist can handle this spot any way they like. “Clashes” may happen, but it usually just doesn’t matter.