Thursday, May 5, 2016

Jam Session Song of the Week (11): Big Chief Battle Axe

I'm sorry there was no song of the week last week-- I just didn't get to it.

This week, another simple song: Big Chief Battle Axe (not to be confused with Big Chief).  (Simple is always good, especially for a jam session.)

I'm featuring this one because Yves seems to like it so much.  It's not really a standard, but it is moderately well-known in the "dixieland" repertoire.  I don't know much about its history, but it was written in 1907 by Thomas S. Allen.  I can't find any trace of it in jazz history until Bunk Johnson recorded it during the 1940s revival of traditional jazz.  Where did Bunk know it from?  Had he played it all along?  I don't know.

When I google this, I see that nearly everyone who has recorded it is someone I know... so I guess it has not spread too far.  I learned it from the Loose Marbles, and we play it like the Loose Marbles. That means we don't play the verse- or we play a very altered version of it.  Maybe in the future we will play it the way it was written, and like Bunk played it.

It's fun to play because it switches from the key of G minor to the related major key of Bb.

Here is a very basic lead sheet for it from the New Orleans Jambook site (be aware that the chords are in concert pitch but the melody is transposed for Bb instruments).

And here is Bunk Johnson's version, which should be considered the reference:

Here are some other versions by modern bands:

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Jam Session Song of the Week (10): Ja-Da

Here's a song that has everything.  It's short (more or less an A A B A form in 16 bars instead of 32), it's simple, and it's got really stupid lyrics and melody.  That's the recipe for a hit.

This song was written in 1918 by Bob Carleton, and achieved quite a lot of popularity, probably for the reasons above.  That also makes it a perfect jam session song.  The A parts are basically I-VI-II-V-I turnarounds, so that should make it easy to get through... if not, here's your chance to practice those turnarounds.

So here's the song, courtesy of the New Orleans Jambook site:
The Firehouse book has slightly different chords, and suggests making it 18 bars.  That's a fine idea, but we'll keep it simple, like above.

That's about all there is to say about it.  So here are some examples:

Monday, April 18, 2016

Jam Session Song of the Week (9): Egyptian Fantasy

I would not have featured this song for the song of the week, but Christopher asked me to.  So, let's take a look.  The song was composed in 1941 by Sidney Bechet, as far as I can tell.  It's far from being a jazz standard, but it does get played a good deal in the "trad jazz" scene, especially by Bechet fans.

The song itself is very simple.  There is a section in G minor that is close to a vamp (staying on one chord).  Then there is the B flat section (the relative major key of G minor), which also has very little chordal structure.  The song is played with a habaƱero rhythm in the minor section, and a swing rhythm in the major section (like St. Louis Blues and Dear Old Southland often are).

I like the song quite a lot...  so, why didn't I consider it for song of the week?  I think because it is one of THOSE songs; there is not a lot to it, which means it depends on the performer to bring it to life and really make something out of it.  These are often songs that you want to play, because the famous versions are so good, but if you are not a Sidney Bechet, attempting it might only reveal your mediocrity.  Even so, we will attempt it!

Here is a lead sheet with chords written in concert pitch and melody for Bb instruments (from the "New Orleans Jam Book" site).  But remember, this is only a guideline and if you want to learn this you should learn it from the recording.

Here are a couple of recordings, with the essential one first. (My favorite clarinet player, Bruce Brackman, plays it, but I can't find that on YouTube.)

Sidney Bechet:

My friends, the Royal Roses:

Monday, April 11, 2016

Jam Session Song of the Week (8): China Boy

This week, I had a special request to write about the song Egyptian Fantasy.  But it's been a difficult week and now it's the last minute...  And I need to think a bit more about that song.  So, next week.

Instead, I'm going to feature a widely-recorded standard of pre-bop jazz:  China Boy.

This song has the character of a lullabye, but it's often played blazingly fast instead.  It has an odd, irregular form.  This makes it a bit of a challenge to solo, until you know the song.  Most importantly, there is an implied key change in measures 17-24.  If you miss that, it's going to be quite obvious!

This is a good one to pick your favorite recording and see if you can keep up.  Or challenge yourself against the metronome.  It's well worth learning because (unlike some other songs we play) this is really a standard.

Here is the lead sheet:

And here are a few of the many recorded versions, for inspiration.

Bud Freeman, my favorite:

Benny Goodman:

Django Reinhardt:

Red Nichols in a great Soundie:

Sidney Bechet:

Joe Venuti, late in life:

Paul Whiteman:

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Jam Session Song of the Week (7): Coquette

Here is another song that has had a long life and been recorded countless times...  and yet it is not necessarily a well-known "standard."  It's strange how that happens.  Anyway, I like it, and it meets an important requirement: it's very simple.

Coquette (aka Little Coquette) was written in 1928 by Johnny Green, Carmen Lombardo, and Gus Kahn.  It was recorded by several bands at that time...  in, actually, not-very swinging versions (Guy Lombardo 1928, Paul Whiteman 1929, Dorsey Brothers 1928).  It should not be confused with the song of the same title written by Irving Berlin in the same year!

For our dancing purposes, things get interesting a little later.  Bob Crosby's band applied their unique style to this song in 1937.  This probably was the version that set the song on a new, dancing path.  To see how far it evolved, be sure to look at the last video below.

The song itself is quite simple in chords and melody, but the melody has a big range, making it somewhat hard to sing.  Still, for jam sessions, a song this simple is good.

Here is the lead sheet from the Firehouse Fakebook:

I'm not sure why they mark the sections as "A" and "B."  I would call it an AABA form.

Here is our simplified chord chart:

There is not too much more to say about this song.  But here are a lot of great versions...  Especially the Louis Armstrong.

This one is a little silly...

The inimitable James Booker:

Western Swing:

Rock and Roll!

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Jam Session Song of the Week (6): I Can't Believe That You're In Love With Me

This week's song of the week is a good one for the singers.  It has a lovely melody, and you might even call it a jazz standard.  It was written in 1926 by Jimmy McHugh and Clarence Gaskill, but it remained popular long enough to be recorded by Frank Sinatra.

Musicianers, this one has some tricky chords...  but it's not too hard.  The augmented C7 adds a lot of flavor, but it happens so fast that no one will notice if you miss it.

There is also a rarely-sung verse, but I don't seem to have sheet music for it.

We have only played this two or three times at the jam session, but we really like it and it would be perfect for one of our great guest singers to learn.  I'm going to keep it short this week and not try to analyze the song...  So here are some recordings to check out:

And here is the lead sheet from the Firehouse Fakebook:

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Jam Session Song of the Week (5): The Heebie Jeebies

This week's song is another that is well-known, but is not played enough to be called a standard.  But it's got a lot of history, and the recorded versions have some great lessons.

This song was written in 1925 by Boyd Atkins.  The title refers a slang expression (one that was new at that time) for a feeling of discomfort.  This song is a good example of how much misinformation there is in jazz history.  Some sources say that Atkins presented it to Armstrong as an instrumental and that Armstrong wrote the lyrics.  At least one source says that Connee Boswell wrote the lyrics.  (The simple and likely explanation is that they each wrote some lyrics.)

Many sources repeat the story that Armstrong "invented" scat singing when he dropped the paper with the lyrics during his recording session.  (This is untrue: he may have scatted on the recording because he dropped the paper.  Or because he simply wanted to.  In either case, scat singing was not invented at that moment.  It existed before.  Some argue that this was the first time it was recorded, but that can only be true if you define "scat singing" very narrowly.)

Adding to the confusing history of the song, there was a Heebie Jeebie dance, which was popularized through printed instructions.  The lyrics of Armstrong's recording refer to a "heebie jeebie dance," but it is likely that the dance was created after the recording.  Here is more about all of this history.

In any case, the song is a simple one, and it's fun to play.  I think it is worth studying because of what the recordings can teach us.  Armstrong's recording is not considered one of his greatest, but I think that his scatting in this recording is a powerful lesson for horn players.  This scatting is very simple in melody, but it is so inventive and swinging in rhythm.  It is also typical of the scat style of the 20s and 30s, which is very different from the scatting of the 50s.  Today, it is the 50s style that is widely imitated.  Here it is, from 1926:

The later versions by the Boswell Sisters are also swinging, rhythmically inventive, and make great use of dynamics (loudness changes).  I see many horn players and singers who neglect the potential of dynamics, which are a crucial ingredient.  (If you don't know the Boswell Sisters, you should!  They were the inspiration for the more famous Andrews Sisters, and they were far more interesting.)

 The Boswells recorded several versions.  Here is a filmed version (It also features Bunny Berigan, and Eddie Lang, two of the greatest musicians of the time, who often recorded with the Boswells):

Here is a recorded version which again shows the complex arrangements and extreme tempo changes that were the trademark of the Boswell Sisters:

Finally, here is the lead sheet, from the Firehouse Fakebook:

We play only the "C" section, and we play it Bb.  I don't remember why we changed the key, but probably because it is a better key for Christopher to sing.  Here is our chord chart:

As a bonus, here is a totally different song with the same name!