Early Jazz and Swing Songs for Guitar

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Learn to play jazz-age classics on guitar. Add to your repertoire and reinforce your technique with this collection of 15 jazz standards, available in print or as a digital download.

Early Jazz and Swing Songs for Guitar includes melodies in standard notation and tab with chords, chord diagrams, lyrics, and notes on the song origins and arrangements. The companion audio features a two-guitar recording of each tune.

Introduction from the author, David Hamburger:

Early jazz refers to a period in American popular music that lasted from the late 'teens through the 1920s; the swing era basically refers to the 1930s. These periods overlap, of course, since musicians from the '20s continued playing throughout the 1930s and beyond, and the swing players of the '30s likewise continued to perform and record into the subsequent decades.

With one exception, the 15 songs in this book were composed by professional songwriters in the first quarter of the 20th century. They were written as popular songs, to be sung in theatrical shows and revues and to be sold as sheet music, which at the time was still a bigger business than the sale of recordings. By the mid-1920s, as Louis Armstrong was hitting his stride with his Hot Five and Hot Seven sessions, recorded music was having its first big boom, and the interpretations of jazz musicians like Armstrong began to create a whole second life for certain popular songs. Jazz groups recorded these tunes with looser, more swinging interpretations of the melodies, new chord voicings, and a jazz pulse, generally using the songs as vehicles for improvisation. This fresh approach served to pull the songs in this book into what was then just becoming the jazz repertoire.

By the 1930s the swing orchestras of Fletcher Henderson, Count Basie, and Benny Goodman were streamlining and refining the innovations made by Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton, and others. Having cut their teeth on the music of the 1920s, Henderson, Basie, Goodman, and their peers and sidemen naturally gravitated toward reinterpreting those tunes, even as they composed new pieces and chose current show music to arrange. So we get Basie's and Goodman's version of "Rose Room," Basie's and Fats Waller's versions of "I Ain't Got Nobody," Goodman's and Jimmy Lunceford's versions of "Avalon" - all songs written a good 15 to 20 years before and given new life in the latest popular style.

History exerts a winnowing effect on the music of the past-the 1960s' reputation as a golden era of rock 'n' roll, for instance, rests as much on forgetting the work of the Archies as on remembering that of the Beatles and Bob Dylan. With the jazz age, too, certain songs have emerged as standards while countless other topical, novelty, and sentimental songs lie crumbling in the dust where they probably belong. In terms of the jazz repertoire, a standard is simply a song still in circulation because at some point an artist with sufficient influence saw fit to treat it as jazz material, and enough others subsequently ratified that first musician's judgement by recording and performing the song themselves.

Early Jazz and Swing Songs includes the melody and chords to 15 standards. The audio includes a two-guitar recording of each arrangement, but to really learn how to play these tunes, especially the melodies, I suggest tracking down at least one original recording of each song. I have stayed close to published sheet-music versions of the melodies, and more than a few of the tunes sound somewhat square when played that way. I did so, however, because even by the 1930s, many jazz musicians' renditions of these tunes were loose interpretations of the original theme, and if you want to understand the kind of improvisors they were, there are few better places to start than observing how they ornamented and re-created these melodies.

I hope you have fun learning to play these tunes. Like fiddle tunes or classic rock songs, early jazz and swing standards are a great meeting ground for casual jamming with friends and fellow musicians. So once you've got a few of these under your fingers, don't hesitate to try them out the next time you're doing some picking. Good luck!

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