9 February 2016

Post 384: 'THAT'S A PLENTY'

When we are fortunate enough to come across the original piano sheet music for one of our tunes from many decades ago, it is interesting to compare the composer's intentions with the way in which our bands now perform the work.

Usually, we find tricky musical phrases (easy enough for a pianist's fingers) have been modified and 'simplified' to make them playable on a trumpet. Sometimes we find that whole sections of the piece have been dropped.

That's A Plenty was composed by Lew Pollack as a 'Rag or One-Step' way back in 1914. It was stirring as a piano piece. Looking at the original sheet music, we notice it was composed in 2/4 time. Our jazz bands of course play it as 4/4, with all of Lew's quavers treated a crotchets. But the bands stick with his keys: F for the bulk of the piece, going into Bb for the Trio.

As you can see, he opened with a four-bar Introduction. Today, pretty well all bands have dropped this, starting straight away with the Section I have labelled as A. We keep fairly close to his original melody in Section A, though we tend to put in some more rhythmic alternatives and a few more notes, rather than his steady succession of quavers. As in the original, we play the repeat (making 32 bars on A in total).

We then move on to Section B (involving those triplets). Again, we follow Lew Pollack in playing this Section with the repeat (so 32 bars in all). But I think none of us can claim that we actually play more than 60% of the notes Mr. Pollack wrote for Section B. Particularly in Bars 5 - 8, we have devised our own simplification. (Some bands, by the way, leave out Section B [and what I have called Section C] altogether.)

After Section B, most bands go back to Section A, playing it through again (but without the repeat) in much the same way as they did the first time. As you can see above, however, Mr. Pollack made it much more decorative this time round (the part I have marked as Section C) with those leaping triplets in the pianist's right-hand that no trumpet player could possibly play.

We then come to the change of key and the part originally called the 'Trio'. I am labelling it as D.

This is a 16-bar Theme and it also happens to be the part of the composition which our traditional jazz bands use for their improvised solos, of which several are usually offered. It is an easy chord sequence on which to improvise - The Jada Progression, about which I have written in this article - click on to read.  Maybe this explains why bands like to play That's A Plenty: it sounds impressively clever and complicated but in fact the 'soloing' is easy!

Mr. Pollack then has a Section I have labelled E. Again, it is unplayable on the trumpet. But we have kept the spirit of it, turning it into what we call the Bridge (and playing in a kind of Fanfare format, on Pollack's chords) before going back to D for the soloing.
We also follow the composer in the way we end the piece. Essentially, we repeat the melody of D. I have labelled it F (=D2) above. Pollack's markings show he wants it to be played in a slow, stately fashion (marked Grandioso); and he prepares for this with a crescendo and a slowing of tempo in the preceding two bars. There's no reason why our jazz bands should not also give it this slow, special treatment in a final chorus. That would be quite effective. But I have not heard a band do this.

However, on the whole, I think it is remarkable how well our bands have treated Mr. Pollack's music. We still frequently play That's A Plenty; and we adhere to the spirit and structure of the original piece. In fact we even play most of the notes as intended!

Unfortunately, there do not seem to be many good videos on YouTube of 21st-Century musicians playing this tune. You could try one I filmed of The Shotgun Jazz Band (as a quintet in this case) playing it very well at The Spotted Cat in New Orleans in April 2016: click on here to view it.

Many bands play it too fast; and in some videos the sound quality is poor. However, you might also like this one - click on to view. One of the players is Gordon Au (trumpet). I have admired his playing for a long time.