Jazz & Oldies, with a Side Order of Ukulele

Standard presentations of jazz theory start with a study of a few chord structures: major 7, 7, minor 7, minor 7b5, diminished 7, and then go into the question of which type of scale (or “mode” as they often incorrectly call it) to play for each one. It has always seemed to me that, for someone interested in getting their ear together, this approach is singularly useless. Sure, armed with a saxophone, you can play a C major scale against any background you want, whether an F# minor chord, or a Boeing 747 crashing into your living room (hmm, this seemed sort of funny before 9/11, before our sense of irony was hijacked). But try singing it: that is a very different story, and one which I suspect a lot of instrumentalists would rather not get into.

My solution was to come up with three ways of approaching tunes. The first one is based on guide tones, in which you sing a line which draws only on specific parts of the chords, such as thirds & sevenths, ninths & fifths and so on. As an example, I have included something you can sing over the changes to “All the things you are”. I think you’ll get the idea. The second technique is a matter of running the changes, but in a way which suits the voice as far as range goes, and with a conscious decision, again, to limit oneself to certain parts of the chord. The result is a challenging but very singable line, part scale, part broken chord, which of course you can do whatever you like with in terms of rhythm. As an example, I have included a line using only the roots, thirds, fifths, and sevenths, over the changes to “Autumn Leaves”. A third technique has to do with shifting the melody. Once we remember that every chord supports an entire scale, you can see how, allowing for chromatic adjustments, it would be possible to sing a tune, say, with every note in the original raised either a tone or a semitone. To give you a clearer idea, try singing my example based on a famous tune, whose identity I leave in your capable hands.

A few years ago, I taught a course at the RCM incorporating some of these ideas. It was called “Jazz: a vocal approach”. Since it was the first year, it was a bit of a trial balloon for me, but the students definitely got a bunch out of it. It ran a second time (and a third?), and then the RCM dropped it without ever bothering to contact me at all. For those who know the reality of the RCM behind the glitzy public image, this sort of inconsiderate and unprofessional behavior will come as no surprise.

I wrote the above paragraphs a number of years ago. I’m concentrating more on European art-music these days, and whatever happened at the RCM doesn’t really matter to me anymore. I still love jazz standards, though — actually not just the standards, but the crazy music of people like John Gilmour, Pharoah Sanders, Ornette Coleman, and Roland Kirk (“Rip, Rig, and Panic”). In any case, I’ve stuck in a few more leadsheets here, their main distinguishing characteristic being the inclusion, in some cases, of voicings for ukulele (my newest passion). I’ve also thrown in a few old-timey songs, didn’t know where else to put them. Buy a uke! Amaze your friends! Peace.

Jazz Standards
Autumn in New York. Vernon Duke (1934) click here
I remember you. V. Schertzinger & J. Mercer (1941) click here
Isn’t this a lovely day (to be caught in the rain?) Irving Berlin (1935) click here
Laura. J. Mercer & D. Raksin (1945) click here
Let’s face the music and dance. Irving Berlin (1935) click here
Music, Maestro, Please! H. Magidson, A. Wrubel (1938) click here
Under a blanket of blue. J. Livingston, M. Symes & A.J. Neiburg (1933) click here
Jazz Standards – Ukulele
By the light of the silvery moon – chorus. Lyric: Ed. Madden / Music: Gus Edwards (1909) click here
Dinah. Harry Akst, Sam M. Lewis, Joe Young (1925) click here
Lulu’s back in town. Harry Warren, Al Dubin. (Broadway Gondolier, 1935) click here
Lulu’s back in town – uke solo, after youtube lesson by B. Bordessa. Harry Warren, Al Dubin. (1935) click here
Vintage Popular Tunes
A bird in a gilded cage. Arthur J. Lamb & Harry von Tilzer (1900) click here
Blue Hawaii. L. Robin, R. Rainger (1936) click here
Brother, can you spare a dime? Music: Jay Gorney / Words: E.Y. Harburg (1931) click here
Cocktails for two. From the Paramount picture “Murder at the Vanities” (1934) click here
Hard times, come again no more. Stephen Foster (1855) click here
Hawaiian Paradise. Harry Owens (1935) click here
I dream of Jeannie with the light brown hair. Stephen Foster (1854) click here
Paddlin’ Madelin’ Home. Harry Woods (1925) click here

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