4 modulations for Mack the Knife

Discussion in 'Jazz Technique [DB]' started by redwookie, Jan 3, 2015.

  1. redwookie

    redwookie Gold Supporting Member Supporting Member

    Dec 28, 2005
    Is it really common to perform easy jazz standards with 4 modulations?

    My band hosted an open mike a few days ago on New Years Eve and I doubled with elec. and upright bass. After our opening set, a drummer and guitar guy ask me to play 3 with them for the open mike.

    OK, first off, a bit of background. I've only been playing upright 12 months with jazz instruction. And I don't play a lot of open mikes but I have more time to get out now.

    What are we playing? "Blah,blah and Mack the Knife. We like to hit hard and fast. We like to make it interesting" guitar guy says. "Sure, no problem. Vi-I-ii-V right?" I reply. "I've never played it but I'll pick it up."

    The first 2 songs are all sounding good. Then we started Mack the Knife. Guitar guy is good but he's playing Green-style four changes to the measure and I'm having a h-ll of a time figuring out the song. I'm looking at the drummer who advised me to just walk the chords. Sure, why not : )

    THEN, the modulations start. Guitar guy did (I confirmed later) 4 key modulations in that one arrangement. I just couldn't keep up and it wound up sounding like a train wreck. Luckily we ended with an easy Willie Dixon number and kept the packed bar happy.

    Now, I've got long-time supportive friends at this place and it IS only an open mike. But I practice every day, work on my theory, and like to hold my end up musically. So I like to be prepared for the call, so to speak.

    Anyone else here do this or play with people who insist on 4 modulations with on-the-fly performances?
  2. Don Kasper

    Don Kasper Gold Supporting Member

    Sounds like you were thrown into the pool and told to "swim". The fact that you knew you knew you were floundering is, (in the long run), a good sign.
    For "Mack the Knife", it IS common to modulate up a half-step, many times, with the modulation usually signaled by the vocalist (or instrumentalist).
    This is the classic version which starts in Bb major, and ends up in.... - I'll let you discover when, where, and how it modulates, and where it arrives at the final key:

    I'll bet you'll sound better next time somebody calls "Mack the Knife".
  3. Carl Hillman

    Carl Hillman

    Jan 1, 2010
    Yeah, that's a standard treatment for that tune. The number of modulations is usually only limited by the length of the tune or the singer's range. That's why it's smart to memorize changes to a tune by harmonic number and relation to the root key.

    Wait til you get on a gig with a singer and they want to do "I Could Write a Book" in E or "Unforgettable" in B.
    redwookie likes this.
  4. redwookie

    redwookie Gold Supporting Member Supporting Member

    Dec 28, 2005
    Thanks for chiming in Carl and Iona Bass. Yeah, I've been working on half and whole step modulation changes the last couple days.
    Don Kasper likes this.
  5. "Fever" is another song where it is common practice to modulates the form up a semi-tone with each new verse.

  6. INTP


    Nov 28, 2003
    Dallas, TX
    There's a fine line between being a bit challenged and being a bit overwhelmed. In the former, you work hard, and you pull it off. In the second, you may wish you'd stayed home. But as far as one's development, they can be very close.

    I'm just offering this as encouragement, not as a critique. I was in a band that hosted a blues jam and I was thrown a lot of curves, some of which I handled well and some not-so-well. But I learned a ton and my ear got better. Keep doing what you're doing and you'll grow in ways that you could never have planned for yourself.
    redwookie likes this.
  7. elgecko


    Apr 30, 2007
    Anasleim, CA
    Here's another tune that seems to keep modulating and never really go anywhere.

    Bobby Darin - Beyond the sea:
  8. Febs

    Febs Supporting Member

    May 7, 2007
    Philadelphia, PA
    Beyond the Sea is a AABA form. The A sections are in F. The B section modulates to A and then C, but it then returns to F for the final A section. It's not quite the same as Mack the Knife or Fever, which modulate up by 1/2 steps and never return to the original key center.
    redwookie and Don Kasper like this.
  9. We play all of those..... I use the dots!
  10. elgecko


    Apr 30, 2007
    Anasleim, CA
    True, but that's why I used "seems". I always get the "where are we going with this?" feeling when playing it. :)
  11. redwookie

    redwookie Gold Supporting Member Supporting Member

    Dec 28, 2005
    Finally caught up with my upright instructor after a short break. He was kinda dragging through the lesson (he's human, I teach for a living too) but he perked up when I mentioned the open mike. And when I mentioned 'Mack the Knife' his head jerked up and with a big grin said "key changes, right?"

    He did agree that 4 chord changes per measure through most of the song was 'not the standard way' to play it : D