24 November 2015

Post 306: 'SHAKE IT AND BREAK' - SORTING OUT THE CONFUSION

You may have noticed that our jazz bands play two quite different tunes that are both called Shake It and Break It. This used to cause me confusion and I learn from correspondents that it has puzzled some of you too.

Although I may be wrong on some points, I will try to sort out the confusion by explaining what seems to have happened, as far as I can tell.

SHAKE IT AND BREAK IT  (1)

This tune was composed in 1920 by Lou Chiha (music) and H. Qualli Clark (lyrics). No, I did not make these names up!

It consists, after an Intro, of three strains of 16 bars each.

As played by our jazz bands, the first strain (normally played twice) seems to be in a minor key and involves some arpeggios being prettily run around. The second strain is in the related major key and its main characteristic is that it is a stuttering melody allowing for two two-bar breaks.  This is the strain used by most bands for the improvising of solo choruses.

The original words of the song suggest that it's about a 'new dance' in which the ladies 'shake' their taffeta dresses.

There is a terrific recording of the King Oliver Band playing what I have described so far. They play that first strain and then stick entirely on the second strain. Listen to the recording by clicking here.

Today's top band - Tuba Skinny - uses only the same two strains as King Oliver: CLICK HERE.

Many other bands (like Oliver's and Tuba Skinny) omit the third strain completely - finding quite enough to work on in the first two strains.

However, the tune and lyrics of the third strain dominate in blues singer Charlie Patton's recording entitled Shake It and Break It from 1929. So, although this has the same title, it sounds quite different from the King Oliver version. Charlie plays just this melody - not the two strains heard on the Oliver recording.

When the tune is played today by jazz bands, the third strain is sometimes added to the two previous strains and is played in the same key as the second strain and there is a vocal for this third strain only - a vocal that freely adapts the words of the original.

A reader has kindly sent me a photo-copy of Chiha and Clark's original printed music:
SHAKE IT AND BREAK IT (2)

This tune is often introduced by bands as Shake It and Break It; but it is actually Weary Blues, composed in 1915 by Gates, Matthews and Green. As you probably know, Weary Blues (which sounds anything but weary), has three strains. The first two are both 12-bar blues, usually played in F. The melodies are snappy and memorable.

Then there is a third strain, usually in Bb. This is exciting, with rapid riffs full of quavers, and a chord sequence on which musicians love to improvise. So this is the strain on which solo choruses are played.

Why do some bands announce this tune as Shake It and Break It? I am fairly sure it is because they fit words to that third strain. They are pretty well the same as those of the third strain in the 'official' Shake It and Break It ('Shake it! Break it! Hang it on the wall', etc). That, I think, is what has caused the confusion.

CLICK HERE for a performance of Weary Blues - played brilliantly by one of today's greatest bands and without the vocal - but under the title of Shake It and Break It.
For a performance of Weary Blues (correctly titled) but with the Shake it and Break It lyrics sung by Ben Polcer at  4 minutes 11 secs, click here.

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By the way, it could be that there is even more confusion than I had noticed. Since I wrote the above, reader David in New Zealand has since sent me this:

...in 2003 Chris Barber recorded a CD with a Vancouver band called Sweet Papa Lowdown. The CD is called 'One Of Your Smiles.' I purchased a copy direct from the band leader, Jeff Shucard in Vancouver. On this CD is a recording of a tune called Shake It 'N Break it. It is nothing like the two versions you have written about. Unfortunately I can't put my hand on the CD at the moment as some of my effects are in storage, but Sweet Papa Lowdon also recorded this track on another CD called 'Til Times Get Better.