This fall’s festival is going to offer you the unique chance to explore one the great American popular compositions, Johnny Green’s “Body and Soul,” in at least five different versions.
Pianist Bill Charlap and singer Sandy Stewart will do the piece in its most intimate setting, on the last day of the Festival, and I’m guessing (hoping) that Bill will do something along the lines of this masterpiece by bop pioneer Bud Powell, who is one of Bill’s strong influences.
Our Benefit Gala, on October 21, will feature the remarkable 18 piece Chicago Jazz Orchestra and its singers doing a big band version, maybe along the lines of this classic Billie Holiday version from 1940 with a sweet intro by Roy Eldridge.
And finally, we have the Victor Goines quartet, in a tour de force, taking us through three approaches to the tune, each based on a seminal version by one of three giants of the Tenor Sax:
and John Coltrane.
“I know your theme is 'The Body',” you may be thinking, “but five times for one song? Come on!” Well, to this we say, “Don’t look at us. Look at the tradition.” Next to the blues and pieces based on the changes to “I Got Rhythm,” “Body and Soul” is arguably the most played and recorded tunes in Jazz.
What explains its popularity? Tenor saxophonist Lester Young once famously said you can’t solo over a tune if you don’t know the lyric. But, here the lyric (which remarkably took three people – Ed Heyman, Bob Sour and Frank Eyton – to write) is a real dog. “My life a mess you’re making. You know I’m yours, just for the taking,” which opens the last stanza of the tune’s first chorus, is one of the real bow wow couplets of all time.
The melody is interesting, but it’s a bit discursive and it certainly doesn’t stack up to the best of Gershwin or Rogers. So that just leaves the chords and structure of the tune, which is really where the interest lies. Some songs – “Body and Soul,” “All the Things You Are,” “Cherokee,” and “The Song is You” come immediately to mind – have chords and a structure which wind up being a great platform on which to improvise.
“Body and Soul” starts in the key of D flat (in green, in honor of Johnny), modulates a half step up to the very distant key of D major (in red) and then down a step to C major (in black) and then finally back up another half step to a recap of the opening theme in the opening key of Db flat, and it goes there by way of the Jazz musician's old friend, the Tritone substitution (aqua).
Here it is written out in lead sheet form:
[: Ebm7 Bb7 | Ebm7 Ab7 | Db Ebm7 | Fm7 Edim |
| Ebm7 | Cm7b5 F7 | Bbm Ab7 | Db Bb7 :]
| Bbm Ab7 | Db A7
| D Em7 | F#m7 / Gm7 C7 |
| F#m7 B7 Em7 A7 | D
| Dm7 G7 | C Ebdim |
| Dm7 G7 | C7 B7
Bb7 / || Ebm7 Bb7 | Ebm7 Ab7 |
| Db Ebm7 | Fm7 Edim | Ebm7 | Cm7b5 F7 |
| Bbm Ab7 | Db
As pop tunes go, this is a very unusual and ingenious combination of key centers and harmonic material. This is more than likely the secret to the song's longevity and durability. Listen to how it slips and slides from section to section, how each section provides a contrast to what’s come before. And listen to how the soloists and singers navigate the structure. And, most importantly, let us know which version was your favorite.
#414: Sun, Nov. 7 7:30 - 8:30 PM
Tags: jazz, music, fall festival, performance