Listen to the Guitar version: https://youtu.be/edCSL57v_MU
Listen to the Piano version: https://youtu.be/OTzQvSKYO0Q
This Jazz standard was written by J. Lewis in 1954. It is a tribute to the Belgian-born Jazz Guitarist Django Reinhardt who died the previous year in 1953. It was first recorded in 1956 by the Modern Jazz Quartet, of which Lewis was the pianist and musical director, in the album Django.
This theme reminds the Jazz played in New Orleans during funeral marches. Concerning the Solo sections, it looks like the Jazz played after the funerals, as it was the tradition, which didn’t show any lack of respect for the person being buried.
This piece is made up of a 20 measures theme, 3 solo sections of 12, 8 and 12 measures and an intermediate 8 measures section to play between each solo (this one doesn’t appear in the Guitar and Piano version, since it would be too long for a single instrument to play more than one solo).
On the lead sheet, it is indicated Straight, so eighth notes should be played without swing... This theme is based on a 2 measures downward pattern. In the first measure of this motif, note the syncopated rhythm (2nd and 4th beats). In the second measure, note the 2m interval, which occurs most of the time between the 3rd and the 9th of the chord of the moment.
We could compare this motif to some other themes from J. Lewis like Fontessa or Cortege, or even to the more recent Carla Bley’s One banana.
From mes. 1 to 4, this motif is played twice over a I IV V I progression in the key of FA harmonic minor.
From mes. 5 to 10, this riff is repeated again over a harmonic sequence. This one begins on the V/IV chord (F7b9) and follows an upward 4th sequence on the FA natural minor scale (F7b9 to Bb-, Eb7b9 to AbM, DbM to G-7b5). Note the short modulation to the relative LAb major key from mes 7 to 9.
In mes. 11 and 12, only the second measure of the motif is repeated. As a result, there is an impression of acceleration and mes. 12 rather sounds like a half-close cadence.
From mes. 13 to 20, a 4 measures stepwise downward melody with a syncopated rhythm (2nd and 4th beat again) is repeated twice, first in a soprano register and then an octave lower in an alto register. This melody goes from the degree II (G) to the mediant (Ab). It is played over the same I IV V I progression as in the 4 first measures.
However, what is important is that this melody is made of double grace notes over each root, and in fact those notes belong to some approach chords. Finally, this downward melody is a one measure motif of 2 notes repeated 4 times.
In mes. 13, the approach chord is E° and goes to the target tonic chord F- (dominant over tonic bass), in mes. 14 AbM goes to Bb, in mes. 16 C#°7 goes to F-. Together with the syncopated rhythm, those disonances and resolutions really sound like something definitive.
Removing passing and neighbour tones from the melody, this could be as simple as Ab, F, Bb, Ab and C, Db, Bb, C and Ab, Bb, B, C !
From mes. 21 to 32, chord changes consist in a harmonic sequence, the same as in mes. 5 (upward 4th sequence between roots) except that there are 2 chords in each bar and that it begins on the D-7b5 chord, a pivot chord between the FA melodic minor key and the DO minor key (dominant key).
This sequence could divided in 3 groups of 2 measures : mes. 21 to 22, 23 to 24 and 25 to 26. Note the short modulations to the dominant and the relative key.
Also notice that the tonic and subdominant minor chords are kept, whereas the other chords are changed in dominant chords. Indeed, all roots belong to a FA minor scale, whether a melodic or natural scale.
From mes. 33 to 40, instead of being based on the harmonic sequence of the theme, this solo section is rather inspired by the last mesures of it and approach chords over root bass. Indeed, there is an alternation between V/IV and IV over a tonic pedal bass and so it sounds in the SIb minor subdominant key.
Measures 41 to 52 should be divided in 2 groups of 4 and 8 measures.
From 41 to 44, the chord progression is the same as in mes. 21 to 24 but it is transposed in the SIb minor subdominant key.
From 45 to 52, there is an alternation between I7 and V7 in the SOLb blues major key. It should be played with a boogie bass line. Note that this time, instead of being used as V/V like in measure 25, the bVI7 chord (Gb7) becomes a real tonic chord for a moment. At the end of this section, the Db7 chord, which root is the relative major of the SIb minor key, is used again as a V/V of the FA minor key, to bring the theme back !
About the Guitar version
As usual, arranging standards for a solo instrument is the opportunity to try some intervals and other techniques. This time it is the interval of 6th. After a 4 measures introduction, the theme is played together with a downward harmonic 6th interval over a root bass.
In the solo sections, melodic 6th are used over a root and 5th bass. During the tonic pedal bass section, note the use of eighth notes played in 2 groups of 3 notes and 1 group of 2 notes.
After the « boogie section », there are some harmonic modifications : Ab-7 (II of SOLb), Gb°7, a 2nd inversion of GbM and Db7sus4 (both V in the SOLbM key and V/V in the FA minor key). This one brings back the tonic key in a surprising way: after a one measure silence, a 2nd inversion of F- and a C7 chord are played.
Finally the theme is played again with some melodic modifications.
About the Piano version
The « boogie section » is used as an introduction, but with some rhythmic modifications and with parallel 6th in the alto and tenor intermediate lines.
The theme is played with parallel 6th over a walking bass. In the last section of the theme, approach chords are played over arppegios.
In the solo sections, melodic 6th are played over a walking bass. Note the use of triplet notes.
During the tonic pedal section, note the use of the diminished scale on the F7b9 chord.
After the « boogie section », only the end of the theme is really played. Chord changes at the beginning of the theme are used for a rather free solo over a root and 5th bass.