9 February 2015


In the beginning there was a Columbia recording made in New York in 1929 by The Seven Gallon Jug Band of a 32-bar tune (without vocals) called What if I do?. Who wrote it? 'Clarence Williams and Johnson' (presumably James P. Johnson, unless someone can provide me with further information). The Seven Gallon Jug Band was one of the musical groups led by Clarence Williams.

Then in 1930 came the recording What if we do?, (same melody) sung by the niece of Clarence Williams - Katherine Henderson (sometimes spelt Catherine Henderson) - accompanied by Clarence Williams and his Orchestra.
What if we do? is sung very prettily at a gentle tempo and the whole performance runs for just over 3 minutes 20 seconds. Thanks to the kindness of Nico Fournier, you can enjoy it on YouTube. You will find it addictive:
As you will hear, after a short introduction, Katherine sings the 32-bar Chorus. It's a simple a-a-b-a structure typical of those times. There's a Georgia pattern chord structure in the 'a' sections. Harmonically the whole song is very similar to Five Foot Two and Please Don't Talk About Me. And like those songs, it has this familiar Middle Eight:
III7 |   III7  |  VI7  |  VI7  |   II7  |  II7  |  V7   |  V7

After the Chorus, Katherine Henderson sings the Verse (16 bars) before singing the Chorus again and, with that, the record ends. There are no instrumental interludes.

Katherine sings the song in the key of C, with which she is obviously comfortable.

I would not have known this song existed had it not been for its appearance in January 2015 as the latest addition to Tuba Skinny's impressive repertoire. It appeared on YouTube (thanks to the fine video-maker RaoulDuke 504):

Goodness knows how Tuba Skinny constantly find these long-lost gems and then revive them for our pleasure.

As you see, Tuba Skinny have chosen to play What If We Do? entirely as an instrumental number. They take it rather more quickly than Katherine Henderson and Clarence Williams. They also choose to change the key to Bb. And they omit the Verse. In this Tuba Skinny street version, the Chorus (32-bars) is simply played through four times (128 bars in total), with no introduction or coda - no frills, in fact. Barnabus gives a lusty performance on trombone and Todd takes the lead on the second half of the third chorus. It is a typical workmanlike Tuba Skinny performance - thoroughly enjoyable and a lesson to us all.