So, Skylark has been on my mind a lot lately. You know, Skylark, the 1941 Hoagy Carmichael ballad with lyrics by Johnny Mercer. So I went to www.grooveshark.com and searched "Skylark," which led me to a plethora of different versions by different artists! So I thought it would be interesting to look at what each of these artists does with the song. When learning jazz standards, it can often be confusing because sometimes it is hard to determine which set of chord changes to use. This tune is particularly challenging because different versions present drastically different harmonizations of the melody. In this blog, we will be examining only the A section of this AABA tune.
The A section changes in the Gene Krupa & Orchestra version (recorded in 1941 and released in 1942; featuring Anita O'Day, this is possibly the first major recording of the tune) are as follows:
|Eb6 Ddim7 |C-7 Bb7 |Abmaj7 G-7 |F-7 Eb6 |
|AbMaj7 G-7 |F7 Bb7 |Eb6 C-7 |F-7 Bb7 |
The first four bars of this progression show a bass line that just descends down the Eb major diatonic scale one full octave. The fifth bar does the same thing starting on the IV of Eb (Ab), and once it gets to the ii (F), it does a II7-V7-I to a two-bar turnaround in the 7th and 8th bars. Note that the two is a dominant seven instead of a minor seven chord as is often seen in ii-V-I progressions. This gives a little more rich tension to the sound of the tune.
Now we'll take a look at a slightly later version of the tune: The Glenn Miller Orchestra version from 1942. This version features two variations on the changes within itself! There is an instrumental introduction that features a unique set of chord changes, and then a different rendition once the vocals come in.
Let's take a look at the instrumental introduction's chord changes:
|Eb6 F-7 |G-7 Abmaj7 |G-7 Edim7|F-7 Abmaj7 |
|G-7 Gbdim7 |F-7 Bb7 |Eb6 F-7 |G-7 F-7 E6 |
As you can see, this set of changes is quite different than the arrangement that the Krupa band recorded just a year earlier. While the Krupa arrangement features a diatonically descending bass line, this version has the bass line ASCENDING for the first two measures! Then, in measures 3 and 4, they descend from the IV chord and then jump from the ii chord to the IV chord again in measure IV. Note the frequent use of the IV chord in both arrangements as a springboard for descending diatonic bass motion. The 5th-8th bars of this version show similar ascending/descending bass motions, but this time, there are some non-diatonic bass notes as embellishment chords, namely the Gbdim7 (a flat three diminished chord) and the E6 (a flat two chord, known in the classical world as a NEAPOLITAN CHORD).
For the sake of time, we'll skip the Glenn Miller changes from the vocalist section and move on to a version performed by alto saxophonist Lee Konitz. I couldn't find the recording date, but what we know for sure is that this version is significantly later than the first two versions, given that Konitz really started coming into his own in the later 1940s and early 1950s and has been recording from then up until the present day. He has several recordings of Skylark, but the one we will study is played by a saxophone quartet: saxophone, piano, bass, and drums. HOWEVER! The melody is stated WITHOUT PIANO, making the statement of the melody essentially a SAXOPHONE TRIO! This absence of piano means that the bass line does not connote specific chord qualities for Mr. Konitz, giving him more harmonic freedom. Because of this, we will only look at the bass notes, because it doesn't make sense to give the chords a specific quality; the beauty of a saxophone trio is that there is harmonic freedom for the horn player, and the music can go different places as a result. Now,
Here are the bass notes:
|Eb D |Db C |B Bb |A Ab |
|G Gb |F E |Eb C |F Bb |
Here we see a completely new idea of the chord progression. The first six bars are literally just chromatically descending with two beats given to each note. The math works out so that the bass line lands on the Eb, or the ROOT, by bar seven, just in time to do a traditional turnaround. Because of the lack of piano in the melody, there is a somewhat open and dry sound to the music; a barren, stripped-down sound that I find to be extremely beautiful.So there it is. Of course, there are MANY, MANY MORE versions of this tune, as is the case with most jazz standards. Further studies of different versions would give us more variations on the tune, further teaching us that FINDING AN AUTHORITATIVE VERSION OF A TUNE LIKE THIS IS PROBABLY IMPOSSIBLE!!! A study of history can give us a probable idea of what the first version was, but even then, it is hard to distinguish which changes to use! Especially since the Glenn Miller version, so far as my experience has told me, is more commonly seen as the definitive changes than the earlier Gene Krupa version.I hope you've enjoyed this blog and if you have any comments, concerns, corrections, or further insights please feel free to comment below or reach me using the form on the CONTACT/EPK section of this site.
With that, I'm going to bed!!!
is a saxophonist/composer residing in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex.