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 habañero 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!

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Jam Session Song of the Week (4): Diga Diga Doo

There was no jam session this week, but why not look at a song anyway?

This was a very popular song among swing era bands.  It was written in 1928 by Jimmy McHugh and Dorothy Fields.  (Look up McHugh and Fields; you will be surprised how many songs you know from them.)

This is a great jam session song because it could hardly be any simpler.  Except for the bridge, it's almost a one-chord song.  One the one hand, this means that the song doesn't give you a lot of ideas for improvisation.  On the other hand, it's simple and you probably won't play any "wrong" notes.

Below is the chord chart.  (You don't need a written melody for this one!  Learn it by ear!)

There isn't too much more to say about this one, so here are many versions of it:

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:

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Jam Session Song of the Week (2): Beale Street Blues

This song is another new addition to the jam session repertoire, and we haven't yet made it sound very good.  I think we will, though, and I think it's worth it.  It's a song I like very much, and a significant song.

This one was written by W.C. Handy, who was very important in commercializing blues music and introducing the blues to all of America by incorporating blues elements into popular music.  The song refers to Beale Street in Memphis, Tennessee.  There are many versions of this song, but I associate it with Jack Teagarden, who recorded many versions of it, and who was one of the most important and pioneering trombone players of the swing era.  ( claims that it was his signature song, but American sources tend to say that was "Stars Fell on Alabama.")

Here is a version with Jack Teagarden on vocal and trombone, his brother Charlie on trumpet, and Benny Goodman on clarinet:

Here is another with Jack Teagarden, Joe Venuti, Eddie Lang, and Benny Goodman:

One of the interesting things about Teagarden's different versions is how he sometimes invents new lyrics that were not part of Handy's original song.  Here is a lead sheet for the song, from the Firehouse Jazz Band Fakebook.  You can see here an eight bar part coupled to a twelve bar blues form (although not a basic one- this has some interesting variations).  This was a device Handy used frequently.  The shift of key signature between the two parts was also characteristic of  Handy's compositions.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Jam Session Song of the Week (1): Old Joe's Hittin' the Jug

So, we've got this jam session going here in Zürich.  I'm happy to say it's starting to work out pretty well.

I've decided that each week I will write something about one of the songs we play at the jam session.  I hope that this will help people understand what we want to do, why we pick these songs, and where we find them.

For this first post, I have chosen one of the newest songs in our list: Old Joe's Hittin' the Jug.  We've only played it twice, rather badly.  So, that's the first thing you can learn from the jam session-  you've got to be willing to sound bad in order to eventually sound good.

This is not a really famous song.  It is most well-known from the various versions that Stuff Smith recorded.  I can't find much information on it, only that it was written by Palmer and Stride.  That is Jack Palmer, who also wrote Everybody Loves My Baby, Here Comes the Man with the Jive, It All Begins and Ends with You, and I've Found a New Baby.  Apparently he liked titles that formed complete sentences.

Why do we play this song?  Basically, because it's fun and simple (but not that easy).  I would guess that I probably first heard it played on A Prairie Home Companion by Andy Stein, but the first time I really remember hearing it was from the Loose Marbles. I like how it sounds a bit aggressive, and I like the breaks.

Those breaks are the most important part of the song.  They're fun for the players and for dancers.  They have a Charleston rhythm that I like (like in the melody of the song The Charleston).  This rhythm is an important part of the vocabulary of 20's and 30's jazz, so it's good to feature it.

 The tricky part is that the song should be played fast, so you've got to be ready to fill those breaks with something quick and forceful when it's your turn.  And someone has to designate whose turn it is.  Other than that, there is not much to the song.  It is usually played in the key of F minor, but we have been playing it in D minor, because that seems to me to be easier for everyone.

Here is the chord chart in D minor.  You don't really need a written melody for this one.