— 2011 — Nov 19

First Post: Ode to a Ballad

by Anton Schwartz

For several years I’ve been sending out a mailing every few months about my teaching activities. In most I’ve included a little discussion about at topic in jazz music or jazz education.

While I’ll continue to send out those mailings (go to my contact page to sign up if you like), I’ll be making those sorts of discussions a part of my website’s blog. To start things off, here’s one I wrote about a favorite ballad of mine, Moonlight in Vermont

DON’T KNOW IT? LEARN IT.

For those of you contemplating what to add to your memorized repertoire, let me suggest John Blackburn and Karl Suessdorf’s classic 1943 composition. It’s right in the jazz sweet spot in many ways. Practically speaking, it’s one of those tunes that you want to call because it’s common enough that the rhythm section ought to know it, but not so common that they’ll roll their eyes at the suggestion…. It’s a short form that makes perfect harmonic sense, so it’s an easy learn, but it packs an whole lot of beauty and even surprise… It’s a classic AABA form, but it has an unusual 6-bar A section.

KNOW IT? LOOK AGAIN.

Have you heard Moonlight in Vermont sung? If not, have a listen to Sinatra’s version. There’s a quality to the lyric that feels unusual. I played the song for many years before someone pointed out to me what that something is: the lyrics are in blank verse. They don’t rhyme. How many standards can you name that don’t rhyme? More recently I realized the uniqueness goes even further. Check out the first A section:

Pennies in a stream
Falling leaves, a sycamore
Moonlight in Vermont

Not only do the A sections not rhyme… but each each consists of a series of noun clauses with no verb. In fact, each is a haiku! Check for yourself.

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