Archives: Episode 46, Stolen Chord Sequences (Jazz Contrafacts)

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Here is another favourite episode of mine that I thought would be more popular than it was. Originally posted last November, this is all about new melodies that were written over chord sequences of another tune, and then became famous.

Did you know, for example that 46 jazz tunes are listed in wikipedia as using the chords to “I Got Rhythm”? It’s so common that in a jazz jam it’s not unusual for somebody to simply call out “rhythm changes”. And everybody knows what they mean.

Another one is Fats Waller’s Honeysuckle Rose—and one very famous jazz tune, Charlie Parker’s “Scrapple From the Apple” uses the changes to both Honeysuckle Rose AND I Got Rhythm, one in the chorus and the other in the bridge (middle part).

Another famous Charlie Parker tune, Donna Lee, is taken from an old standard called Indiana, and on this program I start out by playing both of those tunes so you can see how Donna Lee re-adapted that sequence. Quite brilliant, actually.

Then there is Irving Berlin’s “Blue Skies”—and here I play two versions of it, by two amazing pianists. One is the great Art Tatum, and the other is a man who melded jazz, folk, popular, and classical into something truly masterful That’s Don Shirley, who was portrayed in last year’s Academy Award winning film, Green Book. And the contrafact? It’s a Thelonious Monk tune. You’ll hear a version of it by Monk himself with a vocal by Jon Hendricks.

You’ll also hear Tony Bennett, Miles Davis and Sonny Rollins, a bit of Charles Mingus, Sarah Vaughan, and Toronto’s Mike Murley & David Occhipinti with “Nest of the Loon”. (Guess which tune that chord sequence is taken from).

One more thing while I have you on the line. Toronto bassist and jazz musicologist, Steve Wallace, made a valiant attempt to take that pretentious term (‘contrafact’) out of the English language and replace it with a word he thought fit so much better—-‘Scrapple’. I don’t think it worked. But we can always hope.

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