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26 October 2016


With thousands of tunes available in the traditional jazz repertoire, there are bound to be many that musicians never learn or get to play. However, I am sure we all keep striving to learn new ones - especially those we have been intending to pick up for months.

That's why I set about learning I'm Coming, Virginia today. It was a tune composed in 1927 by Donald Heywood and Will Marion Cook. I first enjoyed it on a Jack Teagarden recording decades ago. And of course the Bix Beiderbecke version is a classic.

I wanted the full song - Verse included. So I found the 'dots' on Lasse Collin's wonderful site (many thanks, Lasse!) and I entered them into my mini filofax system.
But what was this? The verse was in a minor key but the Chorus was in the major.

This made me wonder how often this switch from minor to major occurs in the popular old songs.

I guess there must be many whose verses in minor keys have been long forgotten and only the Chorus is now played.

I think I'm right in saying that At The Jazz Band Ball, That Da Da Strain, She's Crying For MeWillie The Weeper and Lil Hardin's Droppin' Shucks all start with a minor theme and then have a second theme in the related major key. And the 1929 song The Ghost of the St. Louis Blues by J. Russel Robinson, with words by Billy Curtis, certainly has a 'spooky' minor Verse with a major Chorus. Exactly the same is true of Chloe.

Another is a nearly-forgotten song called I Don't Know Nobody Here and Nobody Knows Me, composed in 1924 by Jo Trent and Will Donaldson. The piano music shows a 16-bar Verse in D minor leading into an 18-bar Chorus in the key of D major.

And Lil Hardin uses the minor very heavily in the early stages of Perdido Street Blues before inviting the musicians to play 12-bar choruses in the related major key.

Cole Porter worked wonders with the minor-major effect in I Love Paris, where the first sixteen bars offer a lovely melody in a minor key and the second sixteen - like a flower suddenly blossoming - use virtually the same melody an octave higher but now in the major key.

Cole Porter plays a similar trick in My Heart Belongs to Daddy, which is essentially in a minor key, though there is a 'blossoming out' into the major in the second half of the Chorus, before the tune settles back on the minor in its final bar. And if you look closely at Cole Porter's You'd Be So Nice To Come Home To, you discover that he very skilfully contrasts minor with major chords.

There are tunes such as I'm The King of the Swingers, where we begin in the minor (I'm the King of the Swingers, the Jungle VIP.....) and then switch to the related major key (Oh oobee do, I wanna be like you.....) for the second half of the Chorus. And I think Mama's Gone, Goodbye may be said to have a minor verse leading into a major chorus.

But I am stumped in trying to think of other interesting examples.

Maybe you can help me? If so, please kindly email details. I'm:
ivantrad (@) outlook (dot) com
Reader responses

It seems that readers are just as stumped as I am. Only two responses have arrived so far. Robert Duis in the Netherlands offers Chega De Saudade, which has a verse of 32 bars in the minor, followed by a 36-bar chorus in the major. It is a 1958 bossa nova by Antonio Carlos Jobim. I have not personally heard a traditional jazz band play it. And Richard Bogen in Phoenix, Arizona, has told me that Shine On Harvest Moon (music composed in 1908 most probably by Nora Bayes-Norworth) has a 16-bar Verse in the relative minor. I did not know the Verse, but I have found it on the internet and yes: Richard is right.
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