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10 October 2017

Post 556: 'MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS' - A TUNE WORTH PLAYING

It struck me recently that a very good tune to play is Meet Me in St. Louis, Louis. Why?

First, it is a good melody but is rarely heard these days. With or without a vocal, it is a great tune to include in a programme.

Next, if you examine its structure - particularly the chord progression - you will find it is very simple, and therefore a good one for learners to master. And it trains you in so much that will be the basis for more difficult tunes as you progress in your studies.

For example, it is a 32-bar tune, with an AABA structure. You will discover that about 80% of all the traditional jazz tunes we play are based on such a structure.

The Middle Eight uses the chord progression:
III7  -  III7 - VI7  - VI7 - II7  - II7  - V7  - V7.

It is essential to become fluent in improvising over this progression because dozens of our tunes use it for the Middle Eight (sometimes with very slight variations).

The 'A' sections also use essential, basic chord progressions, all beginning with three bars on the tonic chord (I).

So beginners would do very well to practise improvising over this tune. It is an archetype for so much of the music you will have to learn to play in a traditional jazz band. If you can succeed with this tune, you are launched on your career as a jazzman.

I was surprised to discover that this song is well over 100 years old. It was composed in 1904. The music is by Kerry Mills, who also contributed such tunes as At a Georgia Camp Meeting, Whistling Rufus and Redwing to the repertoire that our bands still play. The words are by Andrew Sterling, who collaborated with several well-known composers over a number of years. (He also wrote the words for Wait Till The Sun Shines, Nellie, for example.)

In original performance, it had seven narrative verses (interesting in the context of their time), each followed by the Chorus. But generally it's best these days to forget the verses and work with the very fine Chorus. Here's my attempt to write it out. I hope this helps someone. By the way, it was originally composed - like several of the tunes we play - in waltz time (3/4) but it works very well as a typical jazz number in 4/4.

Finally, here, as a matter of interest, is how the beginning of the first verse looks in the original sheet music: