[Smt-talk] Early Tritone Sub

Dmitri Tymoczko dmitri at Princeton.EDU
Thu May 28 06:00:36 PDT 2009

I received this very helpful email from George Ferencz, whose message  
bounced when he tried to post it.

The one thing I'll add is that it's sometimes necessary to check the  
original sheet music.  When we explored this issue on the smt-jz  
list, we found one case -- “Baby, Won’t You Please Come  
Home” (Warfield & Williams, 1919) -- where it seemed possible that  
the original 1919 sheet music contained no tritone sub, while a later  
version of the sheet music added it in.

Here's George's post:


Great Question....I've thought about this often over the years; what  
I don't know as well as DT and many of you is good examples of "going  
back to Schubert" classical examples (can someone suggest a few I can  
offer up to curious students?). As to the pop/vernacular instances:

A few that strike me (not so early, alas) are one or two Irving  
Berlin numbers for "Annie Get Your Gun" (1946); he always had his ear  
out for new-ish harmonic angles, and (one or more of his ballads for  
this show use this-and at the final cadence, to boot: "I Got Lost  
(But Look What I Found)," "They Say That Falling in Love is  
Wonderful," etc. My vocal score is at the office, so I can't peek at  
it just now.

There's a Frank Loesser movie song from about 1945, "I Wish I Didn't  
Love You So," which uses it at the end of the release (bringing back  
the "A" strain, that starts on a tonic chord), and perhaps also at  
the end of the tune. I think he sneaks the tritone-sub sound into  
"Guys and Dolls" (1950), but by then it's a commonplace.

Pulling out the songbooks now, and looking at earlier things DT asked  

George Gershwin's "Dancing Shoes" (1921, Eb) has this progression,  
leading across the barline into the start of the last 8-bar phrase:  
The melody is F#-G, and the chords are E9-Eb. The same thing is used  
at the end of the first ending, going back to the downbeat of the  
main strain.

Richard Whiting's "Ain't We Got Fun" (1921), also in Eb. The last  
cadence (supporting the last two melody notes, G-Eb) is Bb 9/13-to- 
Eb. BUT then the 2nd ending tacks on two more piano chords (under the  
melody holding out the Eb), "E7 add G natural" (that's what the sheet  
music says, no less!) and Eb 6/9 (again, those are the given chord  

A little bit later, Gershwin's "Love is Sweeping the Country" (1931,  
Eb) final-cadences pretty conventionally (though there's a blue Gb  
above the Bb7 chord), but then the piano "tag" in the 2nd ending is  
what the jazz folks would call E9#11 (soprano note is Bb) to an Eb  

Whiting's "Japanese Sandman" (1920, Fm/FM/Fm) has all kinds of  
"Orientalisms," but there's a nice piano postlude at the end of the  
FM section (before a D.S. back to the opening Fm part) that ends with  
Db9 (Eb in the soprano), B9 (C# on top), then FM (C on top).

Walter Donaldson "Love Me or Leave Me" (1928, Ab) has a conventional  
Eb7/Ab progression at the final cadence, but then the piano "tag" in  
the 2nd ending finishes with A7 (and the "blue" C natural in the  
soprano) to Ab 6/9 (Bb on top).

Back to Gershwin with an unmistakable example:

"Mah Johgg" (1923): Eb Major, and the final ti-do cadence ("Mah- 
Johgg!")  is E7-Eb. (BTW: no chord symbols published on this piece,  
like many early publications; I wonder when it was that publishers  
started insisting that these be present on a published song sheet?)

I think this is the "strongest" (or "most blatant") kind--- with the  
bII-I at the final cadence. There are all sorts of other half-step  
slides within phrases and introductions and such in these pieces  
(like DT's third bar of the intro of "Somebody Loves Me"), and  
everywhere one finds secondary dominants preceded by dominants a half  
step above (like Gr6-to-V7) in this period-not quite the same thing,  
I know.

Hmmmm......I wish I had some of my early Rodgers and Arlen and  
Youmans at hand----I bet they'd have some surprises for me. Offhand,  
I have no memory of these in Jopin or the other ragtime  
composers...I'll have to take a peek at Morton and Confrey sometime.  
I don't doubt that the Whiteman arrangers added some of these, but  
that's of course different from seeing them in the consumer sheet music.

Sorry for the ramble, but entertained by the topic,

George Ferencz
U. Wisconsin-Whitewater
ferenczg at uww.edu

p.s. I wish I had my copy of Herbert's "Indian Summer" (1919?) at  
hand---not the pop song adaptation, but his piano original; I recall  
some interesting progressions in the middle section (the part that  
never got lyrics set to it).

Dmitri Tymoczko
Associate Professor of Music
310 Woolworth Center
Princeton, NJ 08544-1007
(609) 258-4255 (ph), (609) 258-6793 (fax)

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