Jazz! Goes the Weasel is a fun, jazzy elementary piano solo that piano students are learning all over the world. The rhythms pop out like surprises in a pop-up book. Today’s post is full of tidbits that will add pizzaz to your performance. You’ll learn about the origins of the music, both the traditional tune and the stylistic inspiration.
How did Diana Krall influence “Jazz! Goes the Weasel”? In today’s post you’re going to find out!
5. The original “Pop! Goes the Weasel.”
I grew up singing this nursery song, learned orally from neighbourhood kids. When we sang the line, “Pop! Goes the Weasel!” we jumped up like frogs. It was a fun little game. Being Canadian, I was exposed to the American lyrics:
This is the tune I remember from my childhood, which was the basis for Jazz! Goes the Weasel:
It might be helpful for your student to compare and contrast the original folk tune with my reinvention of it. Print this free teaching aid.
6. Composer notes. The influence of Diana Krall.
“Jazz! Goes the Weasel,” written on Wednesday, May 20th, 2009, was the second piece composed for my piano book Old MacDonald had the Blues. The title piece of the book, based on “Old MacDonald had a Farm,” had been written just two days prior. I had a feeling that if I could find several traditional tunes that were equally adaptable to popular styles, I’d be able to fill a book. I needed to find tunes that had titles I could twist, and music that was naturally inclined to the popular style suggested in the new title. I got my wish with Pop! Goes the Weasel. Even though the title already suggested pop music with the word pop, I thought the inference would be lost due to familiarity. Before I even sat at the piano to work on the piece, I knew I wanted to change the title to “Jazz! Goes the Weasel.” I wanted jazz.
Am I a jazz pianist? No, I’m a composer who was born with an ear like a sponge. When I hear music that I like, I’m able to assimilate the style and reproduce it by ear. I’ve never been taught jazz but love the sounds and create jazz music by intuition.
Inspired by Diana Krall’s Quiet Nights concert (which I had attended in Halifax just the week before), I played around with the original Weasel tune. The original was in 6/8, but in the spirit of Krall’s understated style, I changed the opening rhythm into straight quarter notes in 4/4.
In my inner ear I hear Krall playing the single notes of the opening as a piano solo. The LH (left hand) rests help thin out the texture to create the solo effect. Then, when the music bursts out with the jazzy texture and rhythm at the sfz (sforzando), I hear a big jazz band jump in. With each jazz chord and syncopated rhythm, it’s like a shot of pure music adrenaline. It is important to shape the dynamics between these two textures, solo piano and piano-plus-band.
The mp from measure 1 continues through the first six measures except for the sfz moments. Beginning at measure 5, it’s like the piano and band are playing together in a laid-back, jazzy collaboration. The LH plays the chromatic descending line (G – F-sharp – F-natural – E). This chromatic bass line continues down through the signature “Jazz! Goes the Weasel” phrase in measure 7 (E-flat – D). A harmonic analysis of measures 5-8 could be:
G (I), D/F# (V6), G7 (I7), Em (vi), Am/E-flat (v of V/E-flat), D7add2 (V), G (I)
The second half of the piece opens with a new theme. Both hands play simple fifth intervals, LH A-E and RH C-G, which together form a juicy little A minor 7th chord, which is given lots of play throughout the remainder of the piece. Each time you play the A minor 7th chord (v7 of V), think of the full band playing in a casual, restrained way, and each time the RH finishes the phrases solo on the D chord (V), imagine it’s the solo piano.
This section is suspended in an interplay between these textures and chords, back and forth, before returning to the signature “Jazz! Goes the Weasel” phrase. It all wraps up on a pianissimo G add6 chord, in the cool style often heard at the end of songs on Diana Krall’s orchestrated jazz albums.
Between May and December of 2009 when I wrote the pieces for my piano book Old MacDonald had the Blues, I didn’t realize how much Diana Krall’s Quiet Nights CD had influenced my writing. Jazz! Goes the Weasel is the piece most heavily influenced, but when I reflect back on the book as a whole, I can hear her influence in at least five of the pieces.
Have you seen Part I of this series? Teaching Tips for “Jazz! Goes the Weasel”
7. The ossia measure is easier than it looks. And it’s fun!
Perhaps the biggest Diana “Krallism” in Jazz! Goes the Weasel is the chromatic slide in the ossia measure. The ossia is an optional measure, and only appears above measure 10 of the original Old MacDonald had the Blues version.
It looks tricky, but it isn’t. Place your right hand fingers on the chromatic line starting with 2 on F-sharp – G – G-sharp – A (black-white-black-white keys in a row), and play all four keys in an upward “finger roll,” like you’re drumming your fingers on a tabletop. Voila! You’ve played the ossia. The reason the quarter notes are in a triplet grouping is because after the slide, it feels right to take time getting to the D. You’re indulging in a jazzy solo moment, so take it slowly, maybe with a slight rubato. It’s okay if you listen to my YouTube video and play it by ear. Lots of jazz is played by ear. Go ahead and give it a try and have fun!
With or without the ossia, it’s a fun piece and great introduction to jazzisms like rhythmic anticipations (syncopated tied notes) and complex chords. I wish you and your students many happy play-throughs and performances.
8. Addendum: Media Resources.
Sometimes students want to research a composer of the piece they are learning. Here are some media resources that might prove useful:
In January, 2018, Hants Journal reporter Carole Morris-Underhill interviewed me for our local newspaper. “Hantsport woman with passion for music sees her composition become an international training aid.”
Several days later, Colleen Jones of CBC TV visited for a spot on the suppertime and late night news. Here is the CBC’s accompanying web article: N.S. piano teacher lands alongside Mozart in prestigious U.K. composition book.
It was a busy Tuesday, because CBC Radio’s As It Happens also called for an interview for their national evening radio show. “After it was picked up by a British conservatory, Nova Scotia music teacher’s composition will be taught to piano students across the ocean. Which is impressive, because it will sit alongside work by some other pretty decent composers. Like Mozart.” Here’s the link to the As It Happens January 23, 2018 episode transcript. Here’s the link to the radio show.
After decades of working hard, it’s nice to get a little recognition. A while later I received this in the mail, sent from my Member of Nova Scotia’s Legislative Assembly (MLA):
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I appreciate shares, comments and likes. Happy teaching!
Love, Love, Love teaching kids music from this book! It’s nice that there are a variety of levels so they can progress over time with a favourite book. And they learn nursery rhymes…a lost bit of childhood that affects so much about language, rhythm , and memorization.
Laura, I’m so happy to hear this! I feel there’s so much here that connects us with centuries of childhood playfulness and present-day musical relevancy. It takes the past and dresses it up for today. Some kids haven’t heard these staple nursery rhymes, so it’s a wonderful opportunity for them to become literate in our collective culture. Thanks for letting me know!
Hi Rebekah, I’m currently a 3 year student doing my junior cert and I love all your work, but I have a question what was your inspiration for jazz goes the weasel as I’m currently writing a sort of information leaflet on that piece as do for a CBA and then perform in practicals any information would be great thanks!
Hi, Charlie, how exciting! My inspiration for Jazz! Goes the Weasel was the traditional children’s song. I’d learned it as a child, myself, so I based it on that. I was also inspired by Diana Krall and her very minimal way of playing great jazz on the piano. When she plays, rather than dressing up the music, she simplifies it. I wrote the piece to sound like a piano playing with a jazz band. When the RH plays the tune alone, that’s the piano solo. When it is joined by multiple notes, that’s like the jazz band joining in. It’s this change of texture that makes the piece so exciting to play. All the best with your leaflet and performance! ~ Rebekah