Contra Contrafact


The term contrafact has gradually made its way into the jazz lexicon, establishing an increasingly firm toe-hold for itself in recent years. For those lucky enough not to be familiar with it, a “contrafact” is defined in jazz terms as “a composition created by overlaying a new melody line on the harmonic structure of a pre-existing song” – or put more simply, the borrowing of another song’s chord changes to create a new one.

I describe those not familiar with the term contrafact as “lucky”, because, frankly, I don’t have much use for it as a word, though I like the musical practice it describes. I’ll go into more detail about my objections later on, but for now, suffice it to say that to me, it has a whiff of the ivory tower about it and is yet another $300 word, which jazz has enough of already, thanks. It’s also nowhere near as expedient as the practice it describes. None of this is meant as a rebuke to any people who’ve used contrafact or continue to. For one thing, some of them are my friends; I’ve used it myself and will throughout this essay because it’s already established and convenient.

Early Bebop Contrafacts

The practice which “contrafact” describes was a common and important one in the early days of bebop, beginning in the early-1940s. There were earlier examples, such as Duke Ellington’s “In A Mellotone”, based on “Rose Room”, but it was the younger turks of bebop who really ran with the idea. First-generation beboppers put new melody lines to the chord changes of all manner of old standards, with Gershwin’s “I Got Rhythm” (minus its tag) as a favourite source – Charlie Parker’s “Anthropology”, Dizzy Gillespie’s “Salt Peanuts” and Thelonious Monk’s “52nd St. Theme” are but three early examples among dozens of so-called “rhythm-change” tunes or “heads”.

Charlie Parker was, not surprisingly, a master at it. His line on “Embraceable You” was the fluent, medium-tempo “Quasimodo” and “Rosetta” formed the basis of his eponymous “Yardbird Suite”, just two examples of many of his contrafacts. Either he or trumpeter “Little” Benny Harris, or both – there seems to be an endless scholarly debate about this – wrote “Ornithology” on the bebop anthem “How High the Moon”. Parker also wrote “Confirmation”, one of the great bebop tunes which wasn’t a contrafact as both its melody and chord progression were entirely original.

Dizzy Gillespie dressed up an old chestnut with some classic bebop harmonic moves and melodic shapes, turning “Whispering” into “Groovin’ High”. His fellow trumpeter Fats Navarro created “Nostalgia”, a line on “Out of Nowhere”.

“All God’s Chillun Got Rhythm” was another favourite set of changes for the beboppers; Bud Powell’s “Reets and I” and “Little Willie Leaps” by Miles Davis are two contrafacts based on them. Davis and Parker collaborated on the ebullient and difficult “Donna Lee”, based on “Back Home Again in Indiana”.

With its attractive maze of chord changes and modulations, “All the Things You Are” was maybe the ultimate bebop anthem and a ready source for contrafacts, such as Kenny Dorham’s “Prince Albert” and Tadd Dameron’s “Jahbero”. Parker recorded the song as “Bird of Paradise”, adding the dramatic intro and outro which are often used even when playing the original tune itself.

Dameron was one of bebop’s greatest arrangers and composers, contributing both original songs and contrafacts. Among the latter were his “Tadd’s Delight”, based on “But Not For Me”, and one of the most ingenious of them all, “Hot House”, based on “What Is This Thing Called Love?”. He also wrote a lovely song called “On A Misty Night” which I’ve played and admired for years, only recently realizing that it’s based on “September In the Rain”.

Of course, Thelonious Monk contributed dozens of highly original tunes as well as some contrafacts, including “Hackensack”, his boppish take on “Lady Be Good”, and “In Walked Bud”, based on “Blue Skies”, but with an original bridge. His most brilliantly abstract one was “Evidence”, with its audacious tensions and rhythmic displacements, based on “Just You, Just Me”. It’s also a prime example of the practice of sometimes naming a contrafact using some obtuse reference to the original’s title or subject. In this case, the word play goes something like this: “Just You, Just Me” = “Just Us” = “justice”, which is based on “Evidence”. And they said Monk was crazy. Columbia released a live record by Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers from the Olympia in Paris where “Evidence” is called “Justice”, so maybe that was the original title.

One is tempted to ask, what of the blues? Before, during and after bebop, musicians have concocted hundreds upon hundreds of “blues lines” or “heads”, ranging from simple little riff tunes like Oscar Pettiford’s “Blues in the Closet” to complex, fully-fledged blues compositions, like Monk’s “Mysterioso”, Parker’s “Cheryl” or “Two Degrees East, Three Degrees West”, by John Lewis. Are these contrafacts too? Well, maybe yes, but technically, no. The method and process were the same, but while the blues form is an infinitely adaptable and renewable one, there is no single, copyrighted original blues “song”, so these heads aren’t quite contrafacts. This in no way downplays the seminal importance of the blues as a form, or as a guiding aesthetic and stylistic principle, a paradigm.

Necessity Is the Mother

Bebop players created their contrafacts for a number of reasons, all of them practical. Firstly, there were economic considerations – by writing their own melody over an existing set of chord changes, musicians received credit for a new composition – a melody can be legally copyrighted, whereas chord changes and rhythmic figures (such as the “Charleston” and “Bo Diddley”) cannot. So, when they recorded these contrafacts, they were entitled to collect royalties for their own compositions, while avoiding the payment of a mechanical licensing fee for recording someone else’s song. (The collecting of recording royalties for one’s own compositions has always been somewhat of a jazz “hypothetical” though, more of a dream than a reality.)

Secondly, there were considerations of aesthetic continuity, in that the melody lines the beboppers wrote were more in keeping with the style of music they were playing and with the improvisation which would follow – more jagged, angular rhythms and more intricate, chromatic harmony, using upper partials of chords as melody notes. As they were trying to establish their own musical lingua franca, this made sense.

And thirdly, contrafacts had a Darwinian effect of selectivity – they were hard enough to play and sufficiently “inside” that they kept amateurs and dilettantes off the bandstand, which was highly desirable.

Later Contrafacts

So contrafacts caught on, outlasting the first-generation beboppers and continuing right up to this day. Lennie Tristano and his disciples contributed many, theirs were among the more interesting and abstract lines and often also the most difficult to play. Among many others are the following well-known ones: Tristano’s “Lennie’s Pennies”, which is a line on “Pennies From Heaven” translated to a minor key; Warne Marsh’s “Marshmallow” (“Cherokee”) and “Palo Alto”, Lee Konitz’s almost atonal line on “Strike Up the Band”.

Horace Silver was a frequent flyer in the 1950s, with, among others, “Split-Kick” (“There Will Never Be Another You”), “Mayreh” (“All God’s Chillun Got Rhythm”) and “Quicksilver” (“Lover Come Back To Me”). In the early 1960s, John Coltrane took the process one step further, creating contrafacts by applying the dense chord changes of his “Countdown” (itself a contrafact on Eddie Vinson’s “Tune Up”) or “Giant Steps” to standards and jazz tunes, devising new melodies to fit them. “Satellite” (“How High the Moon”), “26-2” (“Confirmation”) and “Fifth House” (What Is This Thing Called Love?”) are examples. He also largely reshaped “Body and Soul” using this method, while stopping short of actually writing an entirely new melody. Contrafacts have largely been displaced by several generations of musicians who are increasingly writing and playing their own fully original compositions, but not entirely – there are still players who like to improvise on a familiar set of chord changes rather than structures that are entirely new and may lack the resonance of memory.

Some Local Contrafacts

I’ve worked a lot with a couple of Toronto musicians who include their own contrafacts in their repertoire and also with David Braid, whose sextet played his original compositions, the one exception being his treatment of John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps”, which stood the whole process on its head. Braid kept Coltrane’s melody intact but recast it in an entirely new harmonic and rhythmic setting, stretching out the form to long-metre with a straight-eights feel and devising new, very different chords. The melody is entirely recognizable, yet it feels like a fresh, new composition, much less dense and more open than the original, though just as challenging to play. I guess this is a “reverse-contrafact” and, by law, Braid had to call his treatment “Giant Steps” because he used the copyrighted melody. It’s an interesting and quite daring idea, one entirely typical of David, but the proof of its worth is that it sounds good, at least to these ears.

Saxophonist Mike Murley has written a number of clever ones, beginning with “On the Spot”, which uses the chords of one of Mike’s favourite tunes, “Yours Is My Heart Alone”. This early one was part of his attempt to do an end-run around the “Can-Con” (Canadian content) stipulations governing the Canada Council’s policies on touring grants for musicians. The repertoire of Murley’s first trio with Ed Bickert and me was mostly made up of jazz standards written by Americans; in fact, playing these with Ed was the main reason Murley formed the trio in the first place. The group seemed like a natural for touring because it was small and had very few requirements – no need for a piano or even a sound system, meaning we could play almost anywhere. Mike was told to not even bother applying to the Canada Council for touring assistance unless the trio started playing more originals; our repertoire was too American, an extreme example of bureaucratic idiocy run amok. The government “culchie” goons completely overlooked the fact that most of what we played consisted of improvising, even if on American songs, meaning that our music was mostly coming directly from inside of three entirely Canadian musicians, ones that other people around Canada actually wanted to hear. The Council turned us down on the grounds that we didn’t have enough Canadian content – honestly, have you ever heard of anything so ridiculous in your life? This is the kind of thinking that sent out bands consisting of three chickens, a goat, a chainsaw, two cellos, bongo drums and a fucking ocarina, drawing a crowd of eleven people over the whole tour. But as long as they were playing written, “original” Canadian music, they got touring money. I mean, what could be more Canadian than music with farm animals and chainsaws, eh? This is (or was) our tax dollars at work and but one example of the stupid crap real jazz musicians have to face in this country.

Anyway, in the grand tradition of bebop, Murley thought writing a few contrafacts based on standards would solve the Can-con problem and it might have, but the idea fizzled out amid frustration and having other fish to fry. The trio never did tour in Canada, though we did twice in Mexico, where they seem to care more about the quality of music and less about where it comes from. In the ensuing years, Mike has written some other good contrafacts, usually with humorous titles. His “Nest of the Loon” – now there’s some Canadian content – is based on “East of the Sun, (West of the Moon)”. He wrote one on “You Stepped Out Of A Dream” in 3/4, called “Sheep Walking”, a clever pun, as in “Ewe Stepped Out of A Dream”. His most recent one is based on “Somebody Loves Me”, a line which the trio played in unison on our most recent recording. Originally he titled it SLM, an acronym of the model song’s title, but has changed it to “I Wonder Who?”, borrowing a line from the lyric. In their use of abstraction and subtle rhythmic displacement, Mike’s contrafacts owe something to the ones by Tristano/Marsh/Konitz, but his are a little less dense and contain sly little melodic allusions to the songs they’re based on.

Toronto’s king of the contrafact though is pianist Mark Eisenman, who has written reams of them over the last twenty or more years. Like Mark himself, his reasons are entirely logical. He’s essentially a modern-bebop player who likes to play fresh-sounding material, but also likes to blow over some changes that have some meat and familiarity to them, hence the contrafacts. He uses a wide variety of approaches; some are linear in spots, but others use rhythmic figures, lots of space and involve more interaction from the bass and drums than is usual. He also hasn’t been shy about making with the pun titles.

His earliest one was “Sweet Spot”, based on “Alone Together”. The first section recalls a Bobby Timmons-Art Blakey shuffle, but by the second system Mark is into George Russell, Lydian-Chromatic territory, the bridge on the head is left open for blowing. It’s a beauty, both clever and exhilarating. From “How Deep Is the Ocean”, Mark fashioned “Fathom” at a grinding medium-tempo and with a bebop-gospel feel. Charlie Parker’s “Confirmation” yielded “Bird’s Assurance”, with some stop-time, call and response figures from the rhythm section and some nice re-harmonizing on the bridge. Maybe his best-known one locally is “Sosumi”, based on “Lullaby of the Leaves”. The title is a kind of cringe-worthy Japanese-Jewish lawyer pun – “so sue me”. It’s very well-constructed and Rob McConnell liked it so much he asked for a copy of the sheet-music so he could write an arrangement of it for his Tentet, but never got around to doing so.

Mark formed his quintet about ten years ago and with two horns to write for, he really went to town. “Apparition” is his take on “You Stepped Out of A Dream” and also the name of our first and only record. “Stella by Starlight” was transformed into “Gilt, Be All Thy Stars”. I must take the blame for the title, which is an anagram of the original – I do a lot of cryptic crosswords, so Mark asked me to come up with one and I’m afraid that was the best I could do. The idea for this came from the tune Bill Evans wrote for his friend Sonny Clark after he died – “N.Y.C.’s No Lark” – a brilliant anagram of Clark’s name. Mark wrote a recent one on “Love For Sale”, called “Transaction”, but perhaps his most attractive and ingenious one is “My Mahi”, derived from “On Green Dolphin Street”. He translates it into a waltz and subtly alters the harmonies, the transformation is so complete that “contrafact” hardly covers it, really it’s a fully-fledged composition. Another waltz by Mark is “N.O.O.N.” – an acronym of “Not Out of Nowhere”, to give away its source. It has two melody lines working as counterpoint and eventually follows the chords of “Nowhere” where they take you – from G to A-flat.

Mark has even written a contrafact on a contrafact. Back in 1951, when he was playing guitar in Stan Getz’s quintet, Jimmy Raney wrote a contrafact based on “Cherokee” which he called “Parker ’51”. Mark expands on some of Raney’s ideas, so he calls his “Parker 102”. The beauty of Mark’s contrafacts is both their ingenuity and their practicality – his quintet only works sporadically, so when we do a gig for the first time in a while, we have our hands full reading all the music. But at least when it comes to the blowing, there are some familiar chord changes to deal with and everybody can relax a little.

Standard or Contrafact?

I have mixed feelings about the musical nature of contrafacts, though mostly on the positive side. Jazz musicians have certainly benefited from them and the better ones have furnished jazz with an interesting part of its repertoire and a productive kind of musical recycling I’m in favour of. The most intelligently composed contrafacts show new ways of creating melody and of subtly re-harmonizing a song which have been highly useful, especially as they are written down and can be studied. The use of new melody lines over familiar chord changes can bring a fresh perspective to improvising over these old tunes, which is desirable. But sometimes that’s also the problem, this perspective is almost entirely harmonic. By retaining only the chord changes of an old song, contrafacts imply that chord progressions are the sole important basis for improvisation, which I no longer entirely agree with, a song’s melodic intervals and its rhythmic contours are also important. The problem is exemplified by the following: One occasionally encounters a jazz student who knows and can play, say, Bird’s “Quasimodo” quite well, but has absolutely no idea about “Embraceable You”, its parent song. This is all backwards, you’re supposed to learn the original first and then maybe the contrafact. The kid has learned the Parker line because he thinks it’s hip and assumes the old song is square, whereas it’s actually quite beautiful. The downside is that he maybe knows how to improvise over the changes to “Embraceable You”, but only in a manner suggested by Parker’s boppish melody, if that. If somebody asks him to play “Embraceable You”, or he has to play a solo or an obliggato on it behind a singer, he’s dead in the water, or at least stylistically limited. I think the simpler, often more restful melodies of the original standards are more abstract and stylistically neutral, thus offering more options for the improviser to play by ear, rather than by theoretical knowledge. The melody lines of many contrafacts are stylized and sound closer to improvisation (in fact some of them began as improvised solos), leaving the question: after playing them, where can you go?

With a few exceptions, I don’t think contrafacts can quite be considered the equal of the songs they come from, which are original in both their melody and harmony and also have words, another important consideration when improvising, at least according to no less an authority than Lester Young. Sonny Rollins and Lee Konitz are two examples of musicians who came up through bebop and moved well beyond it, becoming complete, superlatively inventive improvisers, though totally different from one another. Each dabbled with contrafacts, (Rollins with “Oleo”, “Doxy” and to an extent, “Valse Hot”) but they’ve generally continued to mostly play songs, using all aspects of their melodies – intervallic, rhythmic, lyric – as a basis for improvising on them, along with their chords and whatever else they find interesting. Their examples and many others, including a host of singers, have meant that standard songs continue to hold their place in the repertoire, along with contrafacts and jazz originals and this is as it should be, the diversity is encouraging. Often standards and the contrafacts based on them are presented together, as a piece. For example, it’s not unusual to hear a band play, say, “How High the Moon” and follow the original melody with “Ornithology”, either in the next chorus or on the out-chorus. Or even played together, as counterpoint, sometimes that works. I like this type of historically inclusive presentation, it’s smart and fun. Mostly I like contrafacts because they combine the old and the new in interesting and intelligent ways and because they sound good. Also because they were born of necessity and have provided a means for jazz to renew itself, to move forward and evolve logically.

The Word Contrafact: A Bad Idea, Poorly Executed

While I approve of the idea behind contrafacts, I deplore the term, it’s egg-headed, dreary and cumbersome, utterly lacking the earthiness and humour of jazz. It’s so dry and serious, it sounds like something a university student came up with while writing his doctoral thesis and it turns out this is largely true, though the word goes way back and predates jazz by many years. It’s derived from the Latin “contrafacere”, meaning “to counterfeit”. Its original musical application had liturgical roots: “a 16th-Century musical setting of the mass or a chorale or hymn produced by replacing the text of a secular song with religious poetry”. As far as I can determine, credit for coining its usage as a jazz term goes to one Robert E. Brown in 1961, when he was teaching and writing his thesis in Ethnomusicology at Wesleyan University in Connecticut. I’m speculating, but likely he came across the earlier meaning of contrafact in his reading, perceived some similarity to jazz practices and thought “Eureka! That’s like what the bebop guys did, I think I’m on to something here!”. My problem with his adoption of contrafact for jazz use can be summarized by the following quotation:

“I don’t see why we need a French critic to tell us how to play American music – I wouldn’t dream of telling them how to jump on a grape”. – Eddie Condon.

This is one of the best and funniest of Condon’s many trenchant lines, a riposte to the various narrow pronouncements of French jazz critic Hugues Panassie on what did and didn’t constitute the “real jazz” in his (at least to him) infallible mind. I might paraphrase Condon by saying I don’t see why jazz musicians need an academic to co-opt a term to describe something they’d been doing successfully for over twenty years, especially when that term has very little, if anything, to do with jazz.

My objections are so vast that I hardly know where to start, perhaps with the etymology of the word itself and its inaptness in relation to jazz. Firstly, there’s the “counterfeit” aspect of the original meaning, which is implicitly insulting and jazz has been insulted enough over the years. The best contrafacts are not counterfeit in any way, but the products of some of the most creative compositional minds music has known. Take Tadd Dameron’s “Hot House” as only one example, it’s just brilliant in every way. Its use of chromaticism has profound harmonic implications and its motivic rhythmic shapes and contours make it a deep, beautifully integrated and flowing composition of the highest order. It deserves a better term than one with even a small trace of counterfeit in it, and so do many of its brethren.

Then there’s the religious aspect of its liturgical roots, do we really want to go there? Bebop was not in any way formally religious, but secular in the extreme. It evolved in the back rooms of dingy bars like Minton’s Playhouse, amid whores, pimps, loud drunks, hostile policemen, rounders and dope dealers. Heroin ran through it like the Mississippi River, and the best idea an academic can come up with is to borrow a term with religious overtones? Contrafact, my eye.

And, if you deconstruct contrafact in more modern terms, it’s neither logical or specific enough for what it purports to mean. “Contra” means “against” or “running contrary to”, and “fact’ means something which can be proven to exist in reality. Joining these,  “contrafact” could mean almost anything which runs contrary to reality, like a fantasy or a delusion. And songs aren’t really facts, they’re creations. Contrafact seems to imply that jazz composers are working contrary to the original song, but one could make an equally strong case that by borrowing the harmonic progression of the model, they’re working with it. The term contrafact has received the consecration of academic approval so people use it automatically now without thinking, but I just don’t see that it works at all, linguistically speaking.

Also, to raise the spectre of race, “contrafact” in no way reflects African-American culture, it’s entirely white and European in derivation, whereas the majority of musicians who created this practice and its compositions were black and American, so this isn’t quite right either.

Returning to the “groves of academe” and Robert Brown……If in fact it was Brown who co-opted contrafact for jazz use, I have no wish to run him down or lay all these objections at his feet alone, not really. For one thing, he’s been dead for ten years, so he’s not around to defend himself. For another, he seems to have been a very good musician and a greatly respected musical scholar. His field was ethnomusicology and he was something of a pioneer in it, coining the term “world music” and doing much to advance that concept in music education. He founded the Center for World Music in 1973 and embraced the concept of “bi-musicality”, whereby a student studied the music of their own culture and a foreign one, becoming competent in both. Brown’s dissertation was a study of the drumming of South India, he played the Indian hand drum called the mridangam and later became primarily interested in the largely percussive traditional music of Indonesia known as gamelan. This is all well and good, I’m sure Brown did a lot to further music education and awareness of world music and so on, but my problem is that he didn’t really have much to do with jazz, yet saw fit to saddle the music with a term it could have done nicely without. He probably meant no harm and likely hasn’t done much, but I do wish non-jazz music scholars would stay on their side of the fence and be a little more considerate and light-handed when it comes to dreaming up the heavy-artillery words. Study the effects of the tse-tse fly on Southeast Asian drone tonality if you must, but leave jazz alone, okay?

I’m neither anti-intellectual or anti-academic, appearances to the contrary. Nor do I think jazz has to be “dumbed down” in order to be understood or made more popular. But, having said that, jazz is already seen by many as dry and abstruse enough, so it doesn’t really need to be tarted up with another faux-intellectual term either, especially one as spurious as contrafact. It’s the kind of word that makes people run from jazz, hands over their ears and screaming. I’ve been on bandstands when leaders have used it in their intro to a tune – “Ladies and gentlemen, we’re going to play a contrafact now – a contrafact is a blah, blah, blah……..” I feel the audience drifting and myself squirming and I think,“Don’t do that to them…..”. Better to just say, “We’re going to play a bebop tune now called ‘Ornithology’, based on ‘How High the Moon’ ” and get on with it.

But most of all, I struggle with contrafact as a term because I have a hard time imagining Louis Armstrong or Lester Young saying it, even if it had been in use when they were alive, which thankfully it wasn’t. I don’t imagine they would have understood it, or maybe even known how to pronounce it. This is not to say that I think they were stupid, far from it, obviously. They were visionaries, supreme adepts of the music, with all kinds of street smarts, or what Lester called “mother wit”. But neither one of them was an intellectual or got anywhere near a university, they were far too busy actually creating music and being geniuses for that. As Armstrong answered when asked what jazz was, “Jazz is what I play for a living”. And when asked if jazz was folk music, he answered “All music is folk music – you ain’t never heard no horse sing a song, have you?”  What use would somebody with that kind of warmth and humour have for a tone-deaf, dirty little word like contrafact?

An Alternative: The “Scrapple”

I can certainly see the need for having one word to define and represent such a common and important practice – this is handy, to be sure. The Germans are very good at this sort of thing, inventing a single word to describe a complex idea or emotion. There are many examples, but my favourite is “schadenfreude”, which means “the small sensation of pleasure we derive from someone else’s misfortune”. It’s also pretty mellifluous, as German words go. Recently, I received a very funny email, entitled “Why Germans Don’t Play Scrabble”. It consisted entirely of absurdly huge, real German words, some of them 30 or 40 characters long – try making any of those with seven tiles.

Having objected so strenuously to the term contrafact, it’s only right that I should put forward an alternative, though I have no illusions that anything I might devise would replace contrafact, that “bird” has already flown, pun fully intended. I chewed on this for a while, and finally came up with “scrapple”, which I quite like for a number of reasons.

First of all, it’s lighter and more colourful than contrafact, is more in keeping with the spirit of jazz. And, like bebop, scrapple is onomatopeiac, it sounds like what it’s trying to describe, the scrabbling together of a new tune from the scraps of an older one

Secondly, it pays tribute to Charlie Parker and his “Scrapple From the Apple”, one of the great contrafacts. In fact “Apple” is a hybrid, because it borrows the chords from “Honeysuckle Rose” but uses the changes from the bridge of “I Got Rhythm”, making it a “double-contrafact”. This reverses a common bebop practice of writing tunes based on “Rhythm” changes, but using the “Honeysuckle” bridge.

Also, as it’s shorter, “scrapple” is linguistically much more flexible than contrafact. One could call the compositions “scrapples”, their composers “scrapplers” and the process of writing or playing them “scrappling”. Contrafact doesn’t really work this way, it’s far too unwieldy.

Scrapple comes from both Pennsylvania Dutch and African-American cuisine and is defined as “corn-meal mush mixed with pork scraps, seasoned with onions, herbs, spices and shaped into loaves for baking, or sliced for frying”. In terms of its meaning and etymology, I like its aptness in relation to the music. Like jazz, it’s American, is derived from both black and white people, it involves a kind of spontaneous creation of an almost impromptu dish which combines a couple of essential ingredients with whatever spare ones happen to be available. Essentially it’s cornbread, but with one delicious and important addition – pork. As “Brother” Jack McDuff once said, You don’t have to be black to play the blues, but you gots to eat pork!”.

So, let’s get this straight…..Scrapple, a kind of cobbled-together soul food evolved from elements of both European and African-American culture. Sounds like jazz to me. I’m going to run along now and see if I can make me some.









© 2015, Steve Wallace. All rights reserved.

16 thoughts on “Contra Contrafact

  1. That explains why every time I hear Oscar’s Hymn to “Freedom I want to sing
    Margaret whiting’s Tree in the meadow.
    Just love reading your thoughtful work.

  2. Delightful column Steve… and educational. I knew of quite a few contr..oops ..Scrapples but I certainly am more enlightened on them all. When I finished reading I couldn’t help but think of the term renaissance/re birth; would that fit as the original tune is being re-born? Just a thought… no I don’t want to argue!
    Great writing … A+… all the best .. Jack

    • Steve – I found this a refreshing and brilliant look at those compositions!
      Well researched.
      Scrapple it is from now on
      Well done!

      William Magnuson

  3. Oooops…forgot…when you mentioned the German use of a term to describe a sensation… my favourite.. Gemutlikeit (hope it is spelled correctly). When you walk into a Gasthof/restaurant/coffee house and the aromas, lighting, colours, hum of conversation, warmth etc., make you feel good… it has Gemutlikeit!

  4. A “contrafact” that’s a favourite of mine, but not often noted by fans is “Take The “A” Train”, pretty closely based on “Exactly Like You”. The story is that Billy Strayhorn spun it out pretty quickly on a cross-continent train trip to California to join up with the Ellington band. Duke couldn’t keep using the current theme song on the radio due to the ASCAP strike, but Strayhorn was with BMI, so his composition was acceptable. It stuck.

    Charles Mingus did a great duo-version with one segment of the band doing “A Train” and another playing “Exactly…” for a Mercury album.

  5. Steve,
    Loved it! Very informative. And a heartfelt explanation of why the “C” word makes some of us uncomfortable. (Even those of us who teach at university level music programs) I choke on the word. And promise to use scrapple from now on.

    By the way, Sue Hall (my lovely wife, for those of you who don’t know) came up with the title for my scrapple based on “Love For Sale” …
    “Transaction” ….
    get it?

    • Nice one Steve. But to clarify I never actually applied for Canada Council funding to tour with our trio with Ed. After a phone discussion with the head of the touring office at that time (almost 20 years ago, before email), I decided not to apply. When I tried to explain that the legendary Ed Bickert’s forte was playing standards I was literally told, “Well, he should learn to play some originals.” Right.

  6. “When I tried to explain that the legendary Ed Bickert’s forte was playing standards I was literally told, “Well, he should learn to play some originals.” Right.”

    God, what an ignorant SOB

  7. Nice essay. I stumbled on it because I couldn’t remember whether or not Confirmation was an original or not.
    Anyway, a couple remarks (entirely reflective of personal bias and practice):
    Hot House is one terrific tune; but Subconsciouslee (also on What Is This Thing Called Love) is wilder and, because it’s through-composed and so presents even more opportunity for flying off the handle while somehow referring to the original. Which is what I love most about Lee’s best lines. And if you think Palo Alto is out there (and it is), then take a look at Soundlee…and while we’re at it, Progression, which is supposed to based on a Goodman tune called Lullaby in Rhythm (you can find a nice version of that by Mary Lou Williams, out there in the internets.) also, Mingus has a couple lines on the same tune, What Love (great Dolphy performance on Candide) and Wham, Bam, Thank You Ma’am, which just cracks me up.
    Warne Marsh’s Background Music (All of Me) is also great fun to play. It is, like I think most (all?) of Lennie’s wonderful lines, written to reflect the original reprise structure of the song (meaning: without a bridge. a lot of musicians drifted toward tunes like that in writing new lines — another fine dissertation subject for somebody at the NJ School of Lo-Fat Chitlins and Hi-Fly Jazz Considerations.)

  8. ah, I think you’re right. schaap, by way of dizzy gillespie, thinks you’re right. miracle of the internets.
    like lots of things, it hadn’t occurred to me before, but once you point it out it seems obvious…

  9. Beautiful piece. Contrafact always bothered me too. scrapple is entirely appropriate. Just as ‘mondegreen’ a misheard lyric has been coined so should scrapple.

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