22 February 2018


It is vital for those learning to play traditional jazz to become familiar with The Picardy Chord Progression because it occurs frequently in our music. The Picardy Progression (which is actually the end of the 'Circle of Fifths') is simply:

IIm -  V  -  I

(occasional alternative II7  -  V7  -  I)

However, it is rarely used at the beginning of tunes. 

Examples of songs that do begin with this progression are:

Body and Soul
Can't We Be Friends  (II7 - V7 - I)
C'Est Si Bon
Forty and Tight
I Get a Kick Out of You - by my count this song uses the progression THIRTEEN times!
I'm Crazy 'Bout My Baby
King Kong
Prisoner of Love
Rose Room (II7 - V7 - I)
In a Mellow Tone (the entire tune has virtually the same chord progression as Rose Room)
Roses of Picardy
Scrapple from the Apple
Take Your Tomorrow
You Brought a New Kind of Love

Also Chloe begins with IIm  -  V  repeated.

So it is specially helpful to think 'Picardy Progression' when you are about to improvise on these tunes.


The book 'Playing Traditional Jazz' by Pops Coffee is available from Amazon.

21 February 2018


The band-leader announced that we would play I Get The Blues When It Rains.

The clarinet-player leaned across to me and quietly said, 'Just remind me how the Middle Eight goes.'

I hummed the tune and soon had to stop. 'Hey, wait a minute!' I said. 'I Get The Blues When It Rains doesn't have a Middle Eight. It's a 16 plus 16.'

'Ah yes. Got it!' he replied. And away we went, with no problems playing the tune.

But the incident reminded me that Middle Eights can cause problems and anxiety.

In case you don't know what I'm talking about, let me tell you most of our standard tunes are written in a 32-bar form. Sometimes (as in I Get The Blues When It Rains) the structure could be described as A1 (16 bars) + A2 (16 bars), in which A1 and A2 are very similar, beginning in identical ways for the first few bars.

But a huge number of the 32-bar tunes are structured in 8-bar segments, of which the first (A1), second (A2) and fourth (A3) are almost identical, while the third (B1) is something quite different. This 'B' section is called the Middle Eight (even though it does not come in the very middle); and it is sometimes called the Bridge or the Release.

(Incidentally I'm reminded of a very old joke. Two jazz musicians walked past a newspaper hoarding on which were the words Indiana Bridge Disaster. 'That's funny,' said one of them. 'I didn't think there was a bridge in Indiana.')

Although there are some stock patterns for Middle Eights (making it easy to improvise), there are also a few tunes that defy conventions. In these cases, you have to learn the Middle Eight the hard way and keep it in your head with regular practice.

All musicians have trouble with Middle Eights occasionally. I have even heard some of the 'big names' being flummoxed at this part of their improvisation.

Examples of tunes needing practice and care with the Middle Eight are I'm Putting All My Eggs in One Basket, RosettaBlue Moon, You Took Advantage of Me, Have You Met Miss Jones?, Polka Dots and MoonbeamsYearning, Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams, Do You Know What it Means to Miss New Orleans?, and C'est Si Bon. Although very few bands play them, Body and Soul and When Smoke Gets in Your Eyes need care, too.
In more complex multi-part tunes, you may find several themes, each of which has a challenging Middle Eight. Think of Deep Henderson, which contains three themes with Middle Eights that have to be thoroughly mastered. The Middle Eight of the final theme is a real thriller (arpeggios descending over unlikely chords). But Shaye Cohn, Barnabus Jones and Jonathan Doyle make it sound easy at 1 minute 53 seconds in this video:

The book Playing Traditional Jazz by Pops Coffee is available from Amazon:

19 February 2018


'What chord were you playing in Bar 3?' the pianist asks the banjo player.

'C minor.'

'That's odd. It's Eb7 in my book.'

Conversations of this kind can be heard constantly at rehearsals - and even at performances. The trouble is that so many thousands of chord books have emerged over the decades. Some of them have been commercially published. But most have been painstakingly built up for their personal use by individual musicians over many years, during which their repertoire has constantly increased. Here is the hand-written chord book belonging to a banjo-playing friend of mine. As you can see, it's alphabetical and loose-leaf, so he can easily add new tunes to it from time to time.
So every musician has his or her ever-developing chord book and they all like to think their chords are 'right'.

One of the problems is, of course, that there can be alternative chords in so many places in most tunes. Such alternative chords can sound correct if the entire band agrees to use them. And the truth is that there is much similarity between certain chords. For example, Bb major has much in common with G minor 7th, so it's no surprise when those chords are used by different players at the same point in the tune.

Another problem is that - over the years - the chord sequences of many of the good old tunes from a hundred years ago have been simplified for traditional jazz purposes. For example, in some of those tunes, the composer may have used four different chords over the four beats of a bar. But the chord-book writers have substituted just two chords - for two beats each. Or they may even find it possible to get away with just one chord for the entire bar.

Maybe one day a definitive 'correct' chord book for the hundreds of tunes we play will be produced. But I doubt it. While we wait, there is always something of interest to be found by those of us who enjoy investigating these matters.

I am largely self-taught and have always regretted not having had some music education that would have introduced me to more of the theoretical stuff. But even I find alternative chord structures fascinating.

Love Songs of the Nile is one of the tunes that throws up a particularly interesting conflict of opinions. It is a beautiful tune I first came across when I heard that very fine English trumpeter Cuff Billett playing it with his band in the 1990s. I also enjoyed hearing the late Lionel Ferbos singing and playing it at The Palm Court in New Orleans very shortly afterwards. I still have a treasured CD of his band and I'm pleased to say it includes that song.

Love Songs of the Nile was written for a 1933 film called 'The Barbarian'; and it was sung in the film by Ramon Navarro. The composers were Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed. (Nacio Herb Brown also wrote You Stepped out of a Dream and You Were Meant for Me.)

The chord problem arises in the Chorus. Assuming the tune is played in the key of C, some chord books have Bar 9 on the chord of F and Bar 10 also on F, while others prefer Ab and Ab7 respectively. There's a similar problem with Bars 13 and 14.

To my ear, the versions using Ab and Ab7 sound better. In fact, John Dodgshon of California wrote to me about this very matter and he is convinced that this is the correct version, meeting the intentions of the composer. Here is the lead-sheet John has kindly sent me. It includes the Verse.

18 February 2018


I mentioned a couple of months ago that I had discovered for the first time pocket music notebooks (made by Moleskine). I have since had a lot of pleasure filling them with useful straightforward lead-sheets of tunes played by traditional jazz bands - particularly those that are the more difficult to remember, or that have verses worth hearing but rarely played.
I have made such progress that I have filled three books, with a total of over 400 tunes so far. Of course, I also keep and regularly update an Index, so that I can find any tune in a moment.

Although they truly are pocketable, I like their robustness, the amount of space they give on and between staves (just right for me) and the way the books stay open at the desired pages when playing an instrument.

Moleskine Pocket Music Books
I intend to start a fourth soon. However, I have noticed (as at late-February 2018) that Moleskine seem no longer to be producing the notebooks for music in pocket size. So I may have to buy a plain pocket notebook and draw the staves myself. That should work just as well.

================== Footnote

The book 'Enjoying Traditional Jazz' by Pops Coffee is available from Amazon.