One of the keys to composing is filling a need. Break up songs? Dime a dozen. Songs about Toothpaste? There’s plenty of room there for newcomers. Settings of Psalm 23? Yours needs to be better than the hundreds of well-loved versions that have already been written. But if you set Psalm 7 to music, yours might be the most popular, simply because the competition is so thin.
The same is true with jazz. When working on a new song, I try to write something that will fit the musicians well while filling a gap in the existing repertoire. For example, our violinist loves to play Hoagy Charmichael’s “Georgia.” It’s an irresistible song that lets her get her fiddle on. It also fills a need in a lot of setlists: songs in “two” that bridge the gap between upbeat swing and full-on ballads. But you can only play “Georgia” so many times.
Goodbye “Georgia.” Hello “Charlotte”!
“Charlotte” is close to Georgia on the map and it’s similar to “Georgia” in musical style. Though it shares the easy swing feel and opening rising minor third of “Georgia,” it quickly parts musical ways. Some of the traits that make “Charlotte” “Charlotte” are the syncopated rising lines that end each phrase of the melody and a few sudden shifts in harmony, especially in the B section. Those shifts tripped up the musicians during solos because the song was brand new to them. I have no doubt it will become second nature when “Charlotte” takes its rightful place in the pantheon of jazz standards.*
*That was a joke.