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Anything Goes

June 14, 2012

Back to building my ultimate Jazz set. Got the blues and the bossa. Now is time for the bread and butter of all jam-sessions. Some elegant swing number in a major key that features all what Jazz is about. Ladies and gentleman, I give you the great American songbook.

Hold on a minute. Choosing a couple of golden oldies is going to be a massive tasks given the enormous pile of Tin Pan Alley material that has been adapted to the Jazz scene between 1940 and 1960.  Thanks to the creative minds of Messrs Gershwin, Kern, Porter, Rodgers, Mandel and al, Jazz musicians have got hundreds of standards at their disposal. So how am I going to select 2 of them?

Chord progression and melody are the basic elements. Nothing too predictable but it’s got to be varied enough for the band to have fun. These tunes will need to have different key signatures and offer some modulation. Somehow, I feels like being in the queue at Bertillon in Paris (or William Curley in London) and struggling to decide on what ice-cream to order. Too many flavours and not enough scoops…

Alright, let’s roll sleeves up and dress a shortlist.  A quick flick in my collection of real books pays off. In no time, I have drafted 11 timeless medium-up songs whose chords provide good soloing vehicles:

      • Almost like being in love – Bb
      • Beautiful friendship – C
      • Days of wine and roses  – F/Ab
      • If I should lose you – Bb
      • Long ago & far away  – F
      • (Once I had a) Secret love  – Eb
      • September in the rain –  Eb
      • S’wonderful – Bb
      • This can’t be love – F
      • There will never be another you – Eb
      • Time after time –  C

First standard to join the set: “This can’t be love”. I just love playing it. Chords flow well, easy key and changes, good fun at any tempo. Who could ask for anything more?

The tune is the only survivor from the 1938 musical “Boys from Syracuse” by Rodgers & Hart and has somehow fallen into recording oblivion after the mid 1950’s recording  “Getz meets Mulligan in HiFi”.

Although it has been treated as a slow number by vocalists, Jazz combos have got a habit of doing it fast (check the video of Eddie Lockjaw Davies with the Oscar Perterson trio in the link). Personally, I prefer somewhere in between around the 180bpm mark.

There is little to change about it. The simple chord progression is suited to playing fast. I like it played straight in with the rhythm section playing stabs on the opening notes like this:

I have taken the liberty to spice up the rhythm of the melody and make it less operatic. Same pattern can be applied throughout. The stabs should be repeated in similar section when playing the head. Click here for the full concert chart.

For about the same reasons, I’d get “Almost like being in love” in the pad. The Frederic Loewe number from “Brigadoon” has got a great feelgood factor about it as well a few interesting twists in the chord progression.

For instance, take the opening chord – Eb major. Given the melody line and the key, it could easily have been Cm7 therefore making the first few bars [Cm7][F7][BbMaj7][Dm7 G7]. This is where the magic operates. Having the relative major contributes in establishing the positive mood of the piece and most definitely provides a bit of variety from the usual II-V-I-VI.

I also like bars 29-32 with the extra tag on [Cm7][C#dim7][Bb/D][C#dim7]. It sorts of give a bit of fresh air to the chords, let alone making the chart longer by 4 bars.

Nevertheless, the chart could do with a few modifications:

Firstly, I would tweak the simple turnaround in bars 7-8 and 35-36 (I followed by a II-V in Eb) and  replace it by [BbMaj7 Gb7][Fm7 E7#11], thus adding a bit more alteration without changing the tune too much.

I would also replace the last 2 bars of the bridge [Am7][D7] by [Cm7 F7][Fm7 Bb7]. The initial II-V in G makes the transition to Eb of the next section too brutal in my opinion.

As ever, the initial melody is a bit wooden and is in great need of a hip replacement! Click here to see the end result. I have set the tempo at 152bpm. Bright but not too fast.

If “Almost” has been quite a popular choice of tune in the 50’s with artists such as Sonny Rollins and Chet Baker, it too has fallen into the abyss of the pad. In fact, I could have opted for any tune from my shortlist. There are plenty more contenders from obscure to bestseller but I fancy myself  as a music archaeologist whose mission is to dig out forgotten jewels.

Incidentally, vocalist Rufus Wainwright has recorded the same 2 songs live in 2006 as a medley in his Judy Garland tribute at Carnegie Hall! This is a sign that a revival of both tunes is on the cards although none of them has quite found it’s way back to the average Jazz set. I wonder if it has something to do with neither of them being part of the real book 1…

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From → Without a Song

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