(by Billy Strayhorn )
Written in 1941 for Duke Ellington’s Orchestra, Take the A Train became the band’s signature tune. The piece is often attributed to Duke himself but history tells us Billy Strayhorn is the actual composer. It was during an ASCAP strike. [Read more here on JazzStandards.com …]
This tune is usually played as an up tempo swing; that’s the reason why it’s hard to play a lot of chords as a chord melody on it: too fast! The chord melody arrangement presented here is very minimalist because of the tempo. Here again, you’ll have to experiment and find how you like to play that song.
Theory Note: G Sharp!?!
Take the A Train features the use of a G note (as a held note) for the first pitch of the piece, followed by another rather long G# note in bars 3 and 4. You might be wondering what a G# has to do with the key of C major after all. There are several explanation.
The most obvious reason for is that G# is a relatively common passing note in the key of C. It resides chromatically between the fifth and sixth degrees of the scale (the G and A notes). We often hear that G# (often written Ab) even in classical pieces, since it gives the dominant chord in the key a “dominant 7th flat 9” type of sound. In this case: G7(b9).
But the G# in bars 3 and 4 of Take the a Train is sounded during a D7 chord, functioning as a II chord! For the theory buffs out there: think of the G# as the #11 of the D7 chord … simply coming the melodic minor counterpart. That’s right, D7(#11) is the fourth diatonic chord in A melodic minor. And we all know that A minor is very close to C major. 🙂
The Infamous Duke Ellington Orchestra… do I need to say more? Ok, ok… listen to the exquisite female singer Betty Roche; I love her voice and performance on the “Take The A Train“. I heard it on “Duke Ellington’s Greatest Hits” on Columbia]