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15 February 2017


Let us have a look at Chlo-e (Song of the Swamp) which is a lovely and unusual tune from the 1920s. Some of our jazz bands still play it and I am very pleased that this is so.
Chloe was composed in 1927 by Charles N. Daniels, under his pseudonym of Neil Moret; and the lyrics were by the great Gus Kahn, who was very important in the history of our music. Working with various composers, Kahn wrote the words for such songs as these:

My Baby Just Cares For Me
That Certain Party
Making Whoopee
Carolina in the Morning
Love Me or Leave Me
I Never Knew That Roses Grew
Yes, Sir, That's My Baby
I Wonder Where My Baby is Tonight
I'll See You in My Dreams
It Had to be You
Pretty Baby
On the Road to Home Sweet Home
It Looks Like a Big Time Tonight
Crazy Rhythm
Toot Toot Tootsie
Ukulele Lady
Ain't We Got Fun
Side by Side
On the Alamo
Nobody's Sweetheart Now
You Stepped Out of a Dream

Dream a Little Dream of Me
Chloe may have been used first in the 1927 musical called 'Africana' but there is no definite evidence for this, even though, on the original sheet music, a picture of the singer Ethel Waters apparently connects it to that show.

Whatever the truth, it must have soon become popular because it was recorded during the late 1920s and during the 1930s by several famous orchestras and singers.

Chloe begins with an interesting but somewhat spooky 16-bar Verse in a minor key (usually A minor). The words of this verse are:

'Chlo-e! Chlo-e!'

Someone calling, no reply.

Night shade's falling, hear him sigh.
'Chlo-e! Chlo-e!'
Empty spaces meet his eyes.
Empty Arms outstretched, he's crying.....

(and so we are led into the 32-bar Chorus in the related major key [C]).

'Through the black of night, I got to go where you are.
If it's wrong or right, I got to go where you are.
I'll roam through the dismal swamp land searching for you,
'Cause if you are lost there, let me be there too.
Through the smoke and flames, I got to go where you are,
For no place could be too far, where you are.
Ain't no chains can bind you,
If If you live, I'll find you,
Love is calling me.
I got to go where you are.'

Searching for a girl at night, through swamp lands, and going through smoke and flames? How on earth did this situation arise? Weird, isn't it? 

The important thing is that the Chorus, which is the only part that most bands play these days (and the only part that is played on many of the classic recordings), has a memorable melody, almost as strange as the words. The way it achieves its effect, I think, is by giving itself a sort of minor flavour while it is actually written in the major key. It does this partly by beginning each 16 with four bars on the dominant seventh rather than the tonic and then following these with some bars on the tonic seventh and, what is more, beginning these bars by using the flattened seventh as the melody note.

I am sorry if I make it sound complicated but it is an easy tune to learn and to improvise upon, so I think bands would be well advised to have it in their repertoire, if only to provide something to contrast with other tunes in their programme.

It is not easy on YouTube to find a simple, straightforward version (featuring both Verse and Chorus). Here's a highly arranged recording by the Duke Ellington Orchestra, but you have to wait till 1 minute 22 seconds to hear the Verse:

There was of course a famous irreverent version by Spike Jones, which you may also find on YouTube if you wish. It includes the Verse.

At least four video-makers have filmed Tuba Skinny playing this tune (Chorus only) and you may find the resulting videos easily enough on YouTube.

The lead-sheet for this tune is readily available: it has been provided in The Firehouse Jazz Band Fake Book, with which all jazz musicians are familiar. 

It is also available on the famous site run by Lasse Collin, though he does not include the Verse and his suggestions for chords are slightly different from those of the Firehouse Jazz Band. Here's the Firehouse version: