Repost: A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square arrangement

Just in case this one got lost in the shuffle I’m reposting it. Originally from September 2010.

The other day, Andy Volk sent me an email with his arrangement of A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square, a beautiful song from 1940 composed by Jack Strachey and Manning Sherwin with lyrics by Eric Maschwitz.

A Nightingale Sang lead sheet

It is a wonderful song that has been recorded many times by myriad artists, from Nat Cole to Frank Sinatra to Manhattan Transfer to my favorite instrumental version by jazz organist Sam Yahel. Andy provided a version for C6 that was chock full of slants and moves that were a little tough for me; I couldn’t make all the chords flow easily from one to the next and on some slants intonation was an issue (something to be wary of, particularly on a ballad). He thought it would be interesting to see how I might approach it, for better or worse, and I agreed with him that it’s cool blog fodder.

I spent about 1/2 hour with the tune and got it together quickly, trying to keep it simple, but making sure the chord qualities were represented. It took about an hour to notate and tab it, as I was able to copy and paste some sections, keeping it all relatively simple. I hope to find the time to give it a real chord solo treatment where the playing develops and unfolds with each new chorus.

The first pass through this tune I tried to stick true to the melody in arranging it. I made a few changes to the harmony, but rather insignificant ones (although it would have been nice if I hipped the rhythm guitarist to them :)). One favorite of mine is substituting a dominant chord in place of a minor 7 chord in a turnaround. My melody F7 clashes with my rhythm guitar Fm7, but we could fix that in subsequent versions. Sometimes you just have to know when to ignore a chord, such as the Dmi7b5. In that case I went straight to the G7 chord. You have to remember this is not a true solo arrangement, as there is accompaniment. It is a little tough to be Joe Pass on a 6 string lap steel.

Here is my arrangement; simple but effective, I think. Here is a ( very) rough mp3 of it (I really didn’t have time to nail it). Also, I played very loosely with the melody, not following the written chart’s rhythm precisely (played on my Electar Model M with a Rick Aiello Potbelly pickup):
A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square

Nightingale, p.1
Nightingale p.2
Nightingale p.3
Nightingale p.4

I will try to further elaborate on the process and I will publish some more in a bit, but right now it is time for my run, so I’ve got to bolt. I’ll check back in a while. Let me know your thoughts on this one, don’t be shy.

Before I begin reharmonizing and rearranging the first draft of “A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square”, I thought I would take a moment to outline some of the strategies I will consider.

The first area of reharmonization, and probably the most common one, is the Tritone Substitution. The tritone substitution most commonly occurs with dominant 7th chords. When looking for a chord’s tritone sub, we look for the note that is a b5 (3 whole steps) above the root of our chord (i.e., for C, go up 3 whole steps to find F#). F#7 is a tritone substitute for C7 and works beautifully when moving to the next chord F (chromatic bass movement).

The next thing to consider is Chord Qualities. The “quality” of a chord is whether it is major, minor, diminished, dominant, augmented, half-diminished. We can explore changing the quality of a chord, keeping the root the same (i.e., Gmaj becomes Gmin, etc.). This can really have a great impact on the mood of a tune. Lennie Tristano did an arrangement of “Pennies From Heaven” in a minor key and called it “Pennies From Minor.” Retaining the melody notes is still an important factor to consider, though.

We can also insert chords that have a specific harmonic function to create resolution. This is called Functional Harmony. An example of this would be if your piece of music had several static bars of a chord–we could easily insert a V7 chord in the same measure as our original (one measure of C becomes G7 C), or maybe even a turnaround to cycle right back to our original chord, which adds a nice sense of bass movement and harmony. We could also include tritone substitution (one measure of C becomes Db7 C (we subbed Db7 for G7)). We can change our minor function chords, such as the ii7, iii7 or vi7 chords to dominants, the way I did in the case of the F7 chord. This is very much what Charlie Parker did when he reharmonized the blues. Instead of 4 bars of F, then to Bb, he would use F Em7b5 A7 Dm7 Dbm7 Cm7 F7 then Bb. That’s an example of functional harmony.

We can also consider altering our chords so that the extensions, or color tones, create a sense of color and tension, and we can begin to use inner voice movement. Alterations can really add a lot to a piece, and done effectively can really make a part come alive and seem to jump out.

Pedal points are another tool that are often used in creating interesting bridges, for example. A bass note becomes constant while the harmonies on top of it shift. Some of the most effective ways of using a pedal point are to keep the chords on top as simple triads (major triads can be very effective here).

These are just some of the tools I will contemplate using in reharmonizing. It is possible to go overboard and really ruin an arrangement by trying to do too much; however, it is best to learn what going overboard means by doing it. Sometimes you have to know when to say when–if you’ve gone too far, hopefully your ears will hear it. The goal is to begin using these tools to bring about a certain mood. No one can tell you what that mood should be, but making sure you get that point across should be the biggest priority.

Hopefully, I’ll find the time to have another chorus ready in a few days.
Part 3

Continuing on with “A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square”, I worked up another verse with some mild reharmonizations and some stylistic devices, such as behind the bar string pulls which can be very effective, especially when you’re looking for a melody note that doesn’t exist in your particular chord shape.

I’ve highlighted the chords with string pulls in yellow. The easiest way to do these would be to use your ring finger, as your middle finger is busy keeping the bar steady. Some of the bends are on the upper frets which makes the physical act of doing the pull a bit easier, due to the reduced amount of tension as you move further away from the nut. Also, note that I’ve included the new chord names in the space between the tab and the notation. Compare this to the original lead sheet posted in Part 1. All of the chords bascially fit into one of the categories mentioned in Part 2. I used tritone substitution (particularly in bar 3 (A7) and bar 9 (E7b9) and I also used functional substitutions (D7, F7) as well as non-functional substitutions (BMaj7 and DbMaj9)–ultimately, the goal is to make it sound good and I think this certainly qualifies, no matter what you call it.

Below the score you will find a few notes on my choices in the reharmonization.

Nightingale reharm 2
In bar 3, I chose A7 as a tritone sub for Eb7 (actually the lead sheet calls for a Bb-7 to Eb7) because it makes a nice chromatic bass movement to Ab, the following chord.
Bar 4, I subbed D7 for Dmi7b5 (functional substitution) for no other reason that it was available and that there is a inner voice movement as it moves to G7 then finally to Cmi. That is the kind of thing I strive for.
Bar 5, I subbed Db9 for Ab-6–they are very close in structure, but I really like the string pull to the 9th there.
In bar 7 I utilized non-functional harmony and found nice chords which contained my melody notes and had a desirable bass movement, moving up in whole steps back to our tonic.
In bar 8, another functional substitution as I subbed G7 for Eb and created a III-VI-II-V back to Eb. In bar 9 I subbed the E7b9 for the Bb7 or V7 chord and again introduced chromatic bass movement.

I hope you’re enjoying this as much as I am. I will continue to post reharmonization as the inspiration strikes and as time allows; however, please keep in mind that I have a very short attention span and my mind is already onto other selections.


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3 Responses to Repost: A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square arrangement

  1. will segen says:

    nice stuff. all well and good. but not the verse. Very few singers do it, but torme does a nice job. (also surprisingly, Twiggy in her key)Mel does the original Eb. Do you have plans to add the verse?

    • Mike Neer says:

      Thanks for writing. No, I’m afraid at this time I have no plans for doing the verse; in fact, I don’t think I’ve ever heard the verse for this tune, but I’ll be sure to check it out.

  2. Pingback: Sheet Music: Arrangement for Lap Steel of "A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square" | Slide guitars |

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