12 February 2017


Having been told I would be asked to play Yaaka Hula Hickey Dula in a band that had been put together for a particular occasion, I remembered that I have always been puzzled by the number of bars (measures) in the VERSE of this song.

Yaaka Hula Hickey Dula was written in 1916 by E.R. Goetz, Joe Young and Pete Wendling. It was one of those 'Hawaiian' songs fashionable at the time. Its CHORUS is no problem: eight bars on a very familiar and easy chord progression (IV  -  IV  -  I  -  I  -  II7  -  V7   -  I  -  I ) - repeated to make sixteen bars in total.

But the VERSE is unusual in that it contains 25 bars. This is weird because:

(a) virtually all musical phrasing in traditional jazz comes in multiples of 4 (or 8) bars, so we would expect the verse to consist of 24 bars; and

(b) standard chord books I have consulted present the verse as 24 bars.

Listen to any of the 'big name' recordings (Kid Ory, George Lewis, Bunk Johnson) and they all play 25-bar verses. If you play the tune, I expect you play 25 bars too. Certainly The Shotgun Jazz Band plays the 25 bars as in this video (click here).

So how is this explained?

In the early days, the tune was for singing rather than for playing by jazz bands. It was written with a Verse that ran to 38 bars: 

Within those 38 bars, note the repeat of the first 13 bars. Repeated sections of THIRTEEN bars in trad jazz are so unusual as to be almost non-existent. But that 13th bar is the apparently 'extra' bar that will make up the jazz band's 25.

Jazz bands OMIT the REPEAT that should occur after Bar 13 above. This means they play the 38 bars MINUS the repeated first 13. Result: 25 bars.

Regular readers will known I'm obsessed by that great band Tuba Skinny and you may be wondering how they play this tune. Well, watch this video and you will see they play the 25 bars: CLICK HERE.

You can also find Loose Marbles, with Barnabus on trombone and Shaye on piano, sure enough going for 25 bars:
(What a super video, by the way!)

For an earlier classic sample (the Bunk Johnson version),