As soon as I opened this project I knew that I wanted to write a Charleston. I have always loved the 1920s with it’s Art Deco and fashion, and I was a ‘flapper’ in a production of ‘Bugsy Malone’ many years ago; I even got caught in the splurge-gun fire!
The Charleston is such a famous piece of music that I felt that this would be a relatively straight-forward composition but of course, I needed to understand the origins and history of it and did some research.
The Charleston song was the music written to accompany the dance, which became fashionable between 1926-27. James P Johnson composed the music with Cecil Mack providing the lyrics (despite being rarely sung) and the song shot to fame in the Broadway musical comedy ‘Runnin Wild’.
The dockworkers of South Carolina are thought to have inspired Johnson and the music is characterised by the 3 2 clave rhythm where the chords fall on every 1st and 2.5 beat. A five-chord jazz progression is featured in the harmony (I – VI7 – II7 – V7 – I) and when played by a jazz band, you have the unmistakeable sounds of the Charleston.
The following video clip helped to cement the style in my mind before attempting to write my own piece. It epitomised the character and energy of the dance:
Here is my take on the Charleston for dance band, which I have written for 3 saxophones (2 altos and 1 tenor), 2 trumpets, a trombone, string bass, tenor banjo, piano and drum set:
And it sounds like this: