22 December 2016

Post 458: MUSICAL TUNE 'GOING DOWN THE LADDER'

I'm going to be a bit technical today, so you will have to excuse me. I want to point out something about a particular chord sequence I find interesting. It's the sort of thing that for me makes our music a constantly fascinating study.

I have written before about the JaDa Chord Progression. You find it at the start of such tunes as these:
It Had To Be You
Ja Da
I'm Alone Because I Love You
I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas
Nobody's Sweetheart Now

The JaDa Progression goes from the tonic to the 6th and then follows the Circle of Fifths. So, in the key of G, for example, the first few bars could be:

G
G
E7
E7
A7
A7
D7
Etc.

Now consider that 1931 classic song entitled Need a Little Sugar in my Bowl, composed by Dally Small, J. Tim Brymn, and Clarence Williams, and made famous by Bessie Smith.

Its Chorus consists of 18 bars (basically 16 bars plus a tag); and it could be said to use the JaDa Progression from Bars 1 to 8, and then again from Bar 9.

But there is a subtle difference from the standard JaDa Progression. Using the key of G again for my example, you will see that - to get from the opening tonic G chord down to the second chord of the progression (E7), it 'goes down the ladder' - passing in half-bars through the chords of F#7 and F7.
G:F#7
F7:E7
A7
A7
D7
D7
G
Etc.
That's what helps to give this song its special flavour. Can you think of any other similar tunes? I can offer Blue Turning Grey; but then I'm stumped.

By the way, if you listen to Bessie Smith performing the song by clicking on here, remember that the chord sequence does not occur immediately at the start (which is the Verse). It comes where the Chorus begins (with the words 'I need a little sugar....').

One other point I can add about this business of 'going down the ladder' concerns the tune I'm Beginning To See The Light. The Middle Eight begins on the chord of III7 and works its way through to the chord of V7. That is normal enough. But it gets there in a most unusual way, which also involves going down a ladder.

The sequence of chords in the eight bars is:
III7 - III7 - IIIb7 - IIIb7 -  II7  -  II7 -  VIb7 - V7.

It produces a very interesting and unusual effect. I think the technique going on here is what is known as Tritone Substitution - but now I am becoming so technical that I'm out of my depth!