by Dan Wallach

This coming Sunday, Dec 2, 2012 we’ll be doing,“It Don’t Mean A Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing),” a jazz standard composed by Duke Ellington in 1931 with lyrics written by his long time collaborator, Irving Mills. The title of the tune is a saying that Bubber Miley former Ellington trumpeter often repeated. The original recording featured Ivie Anderson on vocals. I encourage all players to listen to the original recording to hear phrasing and improvisational ideas from Johnny Hodges, the Alto Saxophone soloist.


The tune is a 32-bar AABA form. The A section starts out in g minor then the 5th bar suggests a move to Bb major the relative major. The final bar of the “A” section 1st time through, sets-up a strong cadence going back to g minor. Players should not be lead astray by the Eb7 in the third bar as it is a tritone substitution for the two chord. More experienced players should experiment with the descending line created through the suggested bass notes in the first three bars.

The first four bars of the bridge are a straight forward 2-5-1 progression to Bb major. The next three bars sets-up a false cadence to “F” but resolves to “F7” spinning us back to g minor in the final A section.

Please remember that a good solo starts with knowing the melody, and slowly embellishing the tune based on the information from the chord.