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3 November 2017


If you want to play jazz, one of the most important things to master is The Sunshine Chord Progression. It occurs time and again in our tunes, particularly in the final eight bars (measures) of 32-bar songs. It feels so right and natural as a musical progression - taking the listener through a sequence of chords all related to the tonic, and eventually - after a brief 'circle of fifths' - landing happily on that tonic chord.

You should practise improvising on this progression in all the usual keys. This will give a terrific boost to your playing. 

I was told by a banjo-playing friend that it derived its name from the great English clarinet player Monty Sunshine (1928 - 2010); but I doubt whether that is the correct derivation, because The Sunshine Progression was used in hundreds of tunes well before Monty was born.

Maybe it's called the 'Sunshine' progression simply because it seems to be so 'sunny' - in the sense that it is so bright, happy and perfect.
Monty Sunshine

It's interesting (and it makes life easier for the performer) that so many tunes played by the traditional jazz bands end with the same simple and pleasing sequence of chords. Here are those chords in the key of C.

What they amount to is:

Bar 1 : Major chord on the fourth note of the scale - setting out on a new adventure.

Bar 2 : Minor chord on the fourth note of the scale - a slight hint of danger.

Bar 3 : The Major Chord of the Home Key - We're safe!

Bar 4 : A Seventh based on the sixth note of the scale - Oh no, someone has just made us laugh.

Bar 5 : A Seventh based on the second note of the scale - one corner yet to turn.

Bar 6 : The Dominant Seventh - always the last step before Home.

Bars 7 and 8 : The Major Chord of the Home Key again - this time for good.

Here's how it looks in the Key of G:

There can be very slight variations. For example Bar 2 is often IV# diminished (i.e. C# diminished in the example above). Bar 5 can be a Minor Seventh based on the second note of the scale. The final two bars could throw in, for example, the major chord on the fourth note of the scale for the final two beats of Bar 7. But essentially it's all the same pattern.

Here are just a few examples of tunes ending with the sequence:

All of Me
April Showers
At The Mardi Gras
Baby Face
Beneath Hawaiian Skies
Bill Bailey
Bourbon Street Parade
Coney Island Washboard
Darktown Strutters Ball
From Monday On
Hiawatha Rag [final theme]
I'm Looking Over a Four-Leaf Clover
If I Had A Talking Picture Of You
If Someone Would Only Love Me
It's a Sin to tell a Lie
It's Only a Shanty
Knee Drops
Merci Beaucoup
Milenberg Joys
My Little Girl
Running Wild
Second Line
Some of these Days
Spanish Eyes
Tell Me Your Dream
Tiger Rag
Too Late (the Dave Nelson - King Oliver composition introduced into Tuba Skinny's repertoire in 2018)
Who's Sorry Now

Some tunes essentially use the Sunshine sequence, though with slight or subtle variations.

An example is

I Can't Give You Anything But Love

and, as my friend John Burns has pointed out to me, the chords of the eight bars are sometimes compressed into four half-bars, as in

At the Jazzband Ball
When I'm Sixty-Four.

Finally, here's something I find striking: the following tunes BEGIN pretty well with the eight bars that the tunes above use as their FINAL eight. I think that's what gives them their special character:

After You've Gone

I Can't Believe That You're In Love With Me

Glad Rag Doll
That's My Home
When It's Sleepy Time Down South.

Correspondent Tom Corcoran let me know what a pleasure it can be to experiment with 1st inversions while running through the sequence. He says he tried it on his ukulele: starting at the first inversion of C and going up up the neck to the other chords; and I realised what a sweet progression it really is. The right chords in the right place made all the difference. Playing around with other progressions I've found some that work well in first-position chords and others that sound better in a descending pattern, depending on the mood of the melody I suppose. Always a new twist and always something new to learn.
The book Playing Traditional Jazz, by Pops Coffee, is available from Amazon.