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14 March 2017


Ballin' The Jack is one of the oldest tunes in our repertoire and it is a really good one because its melody has a distinctive appeal and because the Chorus follows The Salty Dog Progression, enabling good improvising musicians to be freely creative. The Salty Dog Progression is also found in such tunes as Shine On Harvest Moon, Since My Best Girl Turned Me Down, Sweet Georgia Brown, Seems Like Old Times, Up a Lazy River and Jazz Me Blues. It involves starting on the chord of the VI7 and then following the Circle of Fifths, thus:
VI7  -  II7   -  V7   -   I

Chris Smith wrote the music for Ballin' The Jack in 1913; and words were contributed by Jim Burris. These words give listeners instructions for performing the Ballin' The Jack Dance associated with the tune:
First you put your two knees close up tight;
Then you sway 'em to the left; then you sway 'em to the right.
Step around the floor kind of nice and light...etc.

Why am I concerned with this tune today? Because I heard Tuba Skinny playing it in Royal Street, New Orleans, on 20 February, when I was there for a brief visit. And I was reminded that it is a powerful tune and well worth inclusion in every band's repertoire. I made a video of the Tuba Skinny performance and you can watch it BY CLICKING HERE.

Whenever possible, I enjoy comparing the way tunes are played today with the form in which they appeared when first published. Fortunately, the original sheet music of Ballin' The Jack is available and my conclusion is that modern performances (including Tuba Skinny's) tend to be very faithful to it.

It begins in the key of G. Today's bands normally omit the Introduction and Vamping and begin directly on what appears as the seventh bar in the original sheet music (though you will notice that Tuba Skinny creates its own Introduction by playing the final four bars of the Chorus):

...and so we are into the 16-bar verse with its emphatic chords, ending with a strong D7 and transitional F7 that lead perfectly into the change of key to Bb and the G7 chord that opens the Chorus: 
So here is the Chorus, also 16 bars, using The Salty Dog Progression, in Bb:

Bands usually stick on the Chorus, though some go back to the Verse for a final run through of the complete song to finish (as Tuba Skinny do at 2 minutes 54 seconds in the video).

Bands also stay faithful to the keys of the original. I don't think I have ever heard this tune played other than in G →  Bb.