The designated tune for the January 20th jam is Sweet Georgia Brown, a jazz standard with music composed by Maceo Pinkard and lyrics written by Kenneth Casey. The 1925 recording by Ben Bernie’s Hotel Roosevelt Orchestra greatly increased the tune’s popularity as well as its commercial success. Ben Bernie was later given co-composer status as a result. The chord changes of this tune have been used with new melodies by several composers, including Miles Davis’ Dig, Thelonious Monk’s Bright Mississippi, and Clifford Brown’s Sweet Clifford. Musicians have long enjoyed improvising over these chords due to the long duration of one harmonic area, as well as the preponderance of dominant seventh chords.
The tune is in 32-bar form. The sections can be broken down into A-B-A-C. The first four bars of the A section start on F7, which is the VI7 chord of the tonic key Ab. The second and third four-bar sections move in fourths, thus retaining the dominant seventh quality. The last four bars of the B section resolve to the tonic Ab. The last bar of the B section is a minor two-five (a deceptive cadence setting up F minor), but then goes back to F7 at the start of the A section. The form repeats until the C section, where F minor is clearly established by a minor two-five-one. The fourth bar of the C section is a two-five-one to Ab, but then turns into a deceptive cadence going to Ab7. The harmony ends with a circle progression, seven (tritone substitution for three)-six-two-five-one, resolving to Ab.
Remember to start with listening to a good recording. One of my favorites is Red Nichols’ Five Pennies recording from 1930. You can find the recording, which features Benny Goodman, on this page: http://www.redhotjazz.com/rn5p.html – listen to Sweet Georgia Brown (b).
Make sure you can play the head at several tempos comfortably. Start with embellishing the tune. Next, as you explore improvising, slowly add other ideas based on the harmony.