Sunday, September 25, 2011

Tempo changes - more tunes

Continuing on the theme of tunes that change tempo mid-song...

I associate tempo-changing tunes with older styles of music, from the early days of jazz when the tunes had crazy structures to them instead of just just straight 32 bar phrasing, and all of the New Orleans musicians still played in marching bands in addition to night clubs. Taking a slow tune out with a piping hot chorus must have be a standard Dixie trick.

As far DJing goes, tempo changers are almost always strictly novelties. I play them sparingly for fear of getting a reputation as a jerk who likes to mess with the dancers. But I do enjoy them myself, especially when you can feel the change coming on and dance through it. Here's my list of tunes with fun tempo changes, starting with the ones that all the DJs probably know:
  • All the Cats Join In - Jessica Molaskey - A Good Day - 4:15 - 125/250/125. Slinky, groovy, then all of a sudden really flipping fast, then back to groovy. Jessica Molaskey is really a Broadway singer, but she dabbles with jazzy stuff and is married to the guitarist John Pizzarelli.
  • Bei Mir Bist Du Shane - Janis Siegel - Swing Kids soundtrack - 4:11 - 150/90/180. There was a time when I watched this video over and over and over again. If you've been dancing for more than 8 years, admit it, you were watching it too.
  • Darktown Strutter's Ball - Alberta Hunter - Amtrak Blues - 5:24 - 90/150. More evidence that these sort of tempo changes come from old-time show music, since Alberta Hunter was there at the beginning. I know of one other version of this tune that mimics the tempo changes in this one: Jeff Healey - It's Tight Like That - 4:51 - 115/215. It's fun and peppy, though I don't care for the electric guitar in this (it's there because Healey was originally a rock guitarist, who turned to jazz only later) or the fiddle solo.
Tunes that I have DJed to good effect:
  • Honeysuckle Rose - Louis Armstrong - Satch Plays Fats - 2:56 - 85/170. The slow intro, featuring a seldom-heard verse of this tune, will fool people into thinking it's a blues. Then it doubles, forcing them to swing out. Hahaha gotcha. (You could also fade in after the slow intro.)
  • Yesterdays - Carmen McRae - Carmen McRae Sings Lover Man - 4:54 - 60/120. Starts as a very slow ballad, truly spell-binding. I could listen to nothing but Carmen McRae for days on end. Midway through, the tempo doubles to a very comfortable, groovy 120 bpm. Great song for transitioning and notching up the energy.
Old school jazz with crazy bits:
  • Honeysuckle Rose - Adrian Rollini - 1934-1938 - 3:13 - 105/185. A live recording that starts as a deceptively mellow vibraphone solo before jumping into a surprising, swinging jam session.
  • Swing It Way Down Low - Louis Prima - Complete Brunswick & Vocalion Recordings - 2:43 - 130/260/130/260. Danceable small combo jazz with one of Prima's distinctive vocals, plus extremely fast interludes.
  • Tin Roof Blues - Louis Prima -Complete Brunswick & Vocalion Recordings - 2:59 - 90/205. Classic Dixie blues number, with a peppy out-chorus.
  • Dear Old Southland - Sidney Bechet - Perdido Street Blues - 4:01 -90/215. Almost dirge-like blues, taking on a much more up-beat mood for the fast finish. (Note that Bechet recorded this tune many times, at different tempos. Another good version can be found on Classic Sides, 1931-1937, at about 140 bpm throughout.)
  • Ain't Misbehavin' - Fast Waller - The Very Best of Fats Waller - 4:00 - 100/260/100. Starts as a genteel, delicate piano feature, then adding Waller's vocal to one of his best known songs. A long, building drum-solo takes things into an exciting up-tempo chorus, then everything slows down again for the last little tag.
  • That's A Plenty - Ella Fitzgerald & Bing Crosby - Bing Crosby with Ella Fitzgerald & Peggy Lee - 2:24 - 185/230. Snobs will object to Bing Crosby being put on the same footing as Ella Fitgerald. Whatever. Before discovering this track, I didn't realize that there were lyrics to the tune. Ella & Bing do a nice duet, then there's a fast instrumental interlude, pure dixieland, and then a fast vocal verse for good measure.
Tunes that are too theatrical or showy to use for DJing:
  • Prince Nez - Squirrel Nut Zippers - Hot - 253 - 175/300+. I have a soft spot for this one (again, showing my age here). This starts as a duet, then has a minute-long outro that sounds like the finale of a Vaudeville show.
  • St. Louis Blues - The Deep River Boys - London Harmony - 2:50 - 120/300. This is like something out of a Vegas rat-pack show, complete with big brass arrangement and (I can imagine) flashy choreography for the Deep River Boys. And of course, since it's St. Louis Blues, you have the rhythm changes in addition to the tempo changes. A train wreck of a tune.
  • Bill Bailey - Patsy Cline - The Last Sessions - 2:48 - 70/140. Yeah, sure, Patsy is pure country. But the arrangement here is so jazzy, that I could almost play it at a dance. If only Patsy could have ditched her male backup singers.
So these are just a few that I had marked in my iTunes library. I know I must be missing many more, especially big band numbers (Chick Webb? Jimmie Lunceford?). Some commenters on the previous post have already added to the list. Let me know if you have a favorite tempo-changing swing tune by leaving a comment.


  1. I have to admit, I'm super psyched you'll be DJing at CodeBLUE. I'd be happy to hear some sweet sweet Carmen McRae for sure. <3


  2. one more off the top of my head...

    "Sister Kate" off of new Gordon Webster album "Live in Philadelphia"

    I played it last night at fizz and got a good response. That song really cooks at the end.

  3. @Tia: readinginskirts?....or....readingmymind? Carmen McRae coming up.

    @Bob: That one is interesting because it actually speeds up, as oppose to having an abrupt shift--what fancy-pants classical types would call accelerando.