[Monday Notes no. 53] My Funny Valentine is a song by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart. Chet Baker, Frank Sinatra and Sarah Vaughan have made particularly memorable interpretations of it. The song is a great jazz classic and is composed in a very special way. Let’s try to unveil the secret of its creation.
Jazz standards often have a ‘block’ form, the most typical being AABA and ABAC. In these cases, the A section is repeated several times unchanged, only the words change. My Funny Valentine, on the other hand, is based on a process of melodic variation, and although it has a very solid form resembling the AABA form (at least as far as harmony is concerned), nothing is actually repeated. From this point of view, it is a very unusual piece, perhaps unique in the jazz repertoire. Let us observe the first motif at measure 1.
The theme begins on the root of the chord (G). In measure 9 the same motif repeats itself rhythmically, but this time it originates on the 3rd of the chord (B♭).
The second section (measures 9-16) is thus derived from the first, through a procedure of variation. At measure 17 the piece modulates to the relative major key B♭, while the concluding section (measures 25-36) is different again, taken from motifs 1 and 2, this time closer together. The piece finally resolves in the major mode, which we have already heard in measures 17-24.
In this 1954 version we hear Sarah Vaughan, one of the greatest female voices of jazz. Sarah Vaughan’s voice always has the same timbre, regardless of the pitch.
At the end of the song we can also hear a real virtuosity: a very long and warm vibrato (almost ten seconds!), which goes almost unnoticed in Richard Hayman’s rich arrangement but shows the total control of the voice of this incomparable singer.
Until next Monday!
download the lead sheet of di My Funny Valentine
This song is part of the list How to Learn 100 Jazz Standards