Saturday, September 24, 2011

Tempo changes - After You've Gone

For whatever reason, my latest obsession is songs that have tempo changes (purposeful...not just because the drummer can't keep steady time for three minutes). I remember years ago, my (future) wife and I were at the late night of an exchange in Portland, Maine, and the DJ played a slow, slinky version of "All the Cat's Join In" and everybody was getting into the groove of it when all of a sudden it doubled in tempo and basically the whole crowd went "WTF?!?!?" as the DJ cackled. I went up to him afterwards to ask what the song was (it was Jessica Molaskey, off the album A Good Day) and tell him that he was a jerk for taking everyone off guard.

When I think of tempo changes, the other thing that always comes to mind is the routine that Zach Richard & Carla Heiney did a few years ago, to the Titan Hot Seven's version of After You've Gone. They had to heavily edit the recording, since the original is way too long, but they did it quite seamlessly so all of the umpteen tempo changes sound natural. It's a great routine, made all the more engaging by the way they capture the different character of the slower and faster sections of the song.

After You've Gone is the quintessential tempo-changing tune. Of the 22 versions of the tune in my iTunes library, 6 have tempo changes:
  • Tuba Skinny - Tubaskinny - My current favorite. Starts off around 100 bpm, then doubles without feeling at all frantic.
  • Sidney Bechet - Blues in the Air - Great soloing from Bechet, at 90 bpm but with a lot of momentum. Then a short drum solo and it is suddenly TRIPLE time. Yes, a blazing 270 bpm. Don't mess with Bechet.
  • Fats Waller - Yacht Club Swing 1938 - This is only a snippet, barely 2 minutes long, just a glimpse of Waller & his Rhythm at their perfectly laid back, swinging best. The thing that kills me here is how Waller handles the ritards. At 0:58 he stretches out his break, then rolls into his solo at full time. Then at 1:12 he plays the same stretched out break, but this time it is a signal to move to half time. If only this were a full recording with a vocal! Two other recordings of his (both off the Definitive Fats Waller, Vol 1.) do have the full vocal treatment, but the tempo changes aren't handled as artfully.
  • Cecile Mclorin Savant - Cecile. I love this woman's voice. Great modern treatment of the tune, which I would totally play at a dance if it weren't for the extended drum solo that starts the fast section.
  • Katherine Whalen - Jazz Squad. This version goes from 75 to a relaxed 210 bpm, then back to 75 at the very end, handling the transitions nicely. The ensemble is an odd hybrid of a modern combo with Dixie leanings. Very danceable throughout.
  • LaVern Baker - LaVern Sings Bessie Smith. This version starts out really slow (under 65 bpm), acts as if it is wrapping up, and then finishes out at about 230 bpm (that's quadruple time!). The transition is a bit corny though, and the fast section has a stagey feel.
As you've probably guessed, I'm completely smitten with this tune at the moment, and have been driving my (present) wife nuts by playing all 22 versions on repeat all day long. Please leave a comment and let me know if you have a favorite version, so that I can continue obsessing.

Also, in a future post: other tunes with tempo changes.


  1. Chick Webb - My Wild Irish Roses (84-290-100-290-...)
    Andrews Sisters - Is You Is Or Is You Ain't My Baby? (118-80-182-80)
    Una Mae Carlisle - There's Something About The Boogie, A One Minute Journey To Boogieland (120-70-230)

  2. Thanks a lot! A tunes with tempo changes, like these, can work very well with an idea I had in mind.

  3. That version of Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen from the Swing Kids soundtrack (Janis Seigel? Or similar?) - changes tempo from mid to slow, to a very gentle acceleration back up to mid-fast, lovely!

    Lots of Louis Prima tunes have sneaky super-fast tempo changes. When You're Smiling is a pretty mean one to play! Think everyone is familiar with the slow start of Buona Sera by now though...

  4. James, you'll love this one...

    "It don't mean a thing..." by the Boswell Sisters. I'll think of others, but this one immediately came into my head.


  6. Judy Garland did the reverse...Starts at a Bop tempo then slows to a Blues Drag....Picks back up for the ending. VERY effective.