Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Jam Session Song of the Week (3): A Porter's Love Song to a Chambermaid

Partly because we don't want our band to be just like others, and partly because we're not very good at doing things the "proper" way, our band has an odd collection of songs.  I realize that, so far,  I posted one song that is not a standard to anyone (Old Joe), and one song that may be a standard in the dixieland genre (Beale St.)...  but I'm not sure if it is.  So I thought I should post a real swing standard this week.  But, instead, I'm posting one that is somewhat forgotten, because I can't even follow my own rules. 

This is a song with music by James P. Johnson, one of the most important piano players in jazz, and the composer of many great songs, including The Charleston.  It has words by Andy Razaf (Andriamanantena Paul Razafinkarefo), who frequently collaborated with Fats Waller.  And, the most well-known recording is by Fats Waller.  It's not the most famous of Waller's songs, but I really like it, and it is much easier to play than most of Waller's own compositions, like Honeysuckle Rose or Ain't Misbehavin'.  (The chords are simpler.)

Most of these old songs have a verse and a chorus, but the verses were rarely performed by swing/jazz bands, and that remains true.  In this case, we play the verse, using it as an introduction, just as Waller did.  This song is a good example of typical swing/jazz chord ideas:  The "A" parts have a I-VI-II-V-(I) pattern, with a I-vi-ii-V-(I) turnaround at the end.  This pattern is common in all kinds of music, and is the basis for I Got Rhythm, which must be the most well-known jazz standard.  What adds interest here is that the changes are one chord per two bars, then one chord per bar, then two chords per bar.  This adds variety and give a sense of momentum.

An "A" part:

The bridge of this song is an altered/elaborated version of the Montgomery Ward bridge (or commercial bridge), which is probably the most common bridge in music of the 20s and 30s.  I think almost half the songs we play have this bridge.  So, this song is very typical of the genre, and has a lot of lessons in it.

The bridge:

In addition, I just think it's a great song.  Here is Waller's version:

(Julia Lee and the Washboard Rhythm Kings also recorded a great versions, but I can't find either online.)

Here is the lead sheet from the Firehouse fakebook:

Note: The verse and chorus are clearly marked here.  However, the chorus is broken into A and B sections.  You could also see it as an A-A-B-A pattern, except that the second A has a different ending to lead into the bridge (B).

Another version by Red Norvo and Mildred Bailey:

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