Composed by Cole Porter
What is this Thing Called Love is a great jazz standard that was composed in 1929 for the musical Wake Up and Dream. Most major players in jazz have recorded, reharmonized, and otherwise reinvented this tune since the 30s. In fact, some even went as far as taking the changes for the tune and writing a contrafact over it. For example, Tadd Dameron’s tune Hot House is a contrafact over this tune.
Note A contrafact is when a composer takes a set of chord changes for a given song and writes a new melody over it.
Recently, I heard a trombone player call this tune at a jam session, only he wanted to play the A sections with a C bass pedal and the B section with a walking bass. It gave the tune a really neat modal flavor and felt great to play over. Try it some time!
Always try adding your own touch to these tunes as you learn them. Of course, you’ll want to honor the original changes and melody in some way, but you also want to add your own flair.
The Nuts and Bolts
Players typically take this tune in a straight-ahead feel at an “up” tempo. The comfortable 32-bar form offers the improviser a simple yet challenging harmonic setting for soloing.
Cole Porter seems to like the deceptive resolution of a minor ii-V progression going to a major chord. Have a look at bars 5-7. There is a Dm7b5 to a G7alt, then it resolves to a C major chord where it would typically be a C minor. You can find this sort of thing in some of his other tunes such as I Love You and Night and Day.
What is this Thing Called Love: Comping Ideas
Here are some very basic chord shapes that you can use to begin comping over this tune right away.
What is this Thing Called Love: Chord Melody
Nothing too fancy here. Just showing you how you can voice the melody with chords underneath. Take liberties with it. Cole Porter tunes have similar characteristics that are fun to explore!
What is this Thing Called Love: Single-Note Solo
Here we are simply showing you some arpeggios and melodic content that you can use in improvising over this tune.
What is this Thing Called Love: Backing Track
If you’d like to download the backing track, you can do so here.
What is this Thing Called Love: Chord Reference Sheet
As usual, we’ve included a chord reference sheet that shows you some extensions you can use over this tune.
-Ed Bickert and Don Thompson’s At the Garden Party released in 1979. This is just top-tier duo playing and a must have for any guitar player. They take the tune at a nice up tempo.
-Ella Fitzgerald’s Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Cole Porter Songbook collection released in 1997. Here’s a nice medium tempo version with the wonderful Ella backed by an orchestra.
-Mel Torme’s version of this tune from the Cole Porter Songbook – Night and Day. I believe his particular version is from 1959 and it features some really nice vocal comping.
Marc-Andre Seguin is the webmaster, “brains behind” and teacher on JazzGuitarLessons.net, the #1 online resource for learning how to play jazz guitar. He draws from his experience both as a professional jazz guitarist and professional jazz teacher to help thousands of people from all around the world learn the craft of jazz guitar.