Instructor
John Proulx
Quick Tip
Intermediate
19:38

Learning Focus
  • Analysis
  • Songs
Music Style
  • Jazz Ballads
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Whether you are a piano hobbyist, a semi-pro or a professional, the classic Rodgers and Hart ballad “My Funny Valentine” is a beloved jazz standard that is richly rewarding to play. In today’s Quick Tip, Play ‘My Funny Valentine’ Lead Sheet on Piano, John Proulx helps you go beyond the fake book when performing this popular jazz ballad. You’ll learn:

My Funny Valentine: Song Facts

The jazz standard “My Funny Valentine” was written in 1937 by composer Richard Rodgers (1902–1979) and lyricist Lorenz Hart (1895–1943). The song was part of the Broadway musical Babes in Arms, which also gave rise to the jazz standards “Where or When” and “The Lady is a Tramp.” The original performer of “My Funny Valentine” was teenage star Mitzi Green, however she never recorded the song.

“My Funny Valentine” gained widespread popularity in the 1950s and has now been recorded well over 1000 times. The tune is frequently associated with Chet Baker, who was fascinated by it and made it his signature song. In fact, Baker recorded “My Funny Valentine” nearly 40 times and would rarely perform a show without including it.¹ ²

My Funny Valentine: Song Analysis

Song Key

Rodgers and Hart’s “My Funny Valentine” is in the key of C minor and/or E♭ Major. These closely-related keys possess a relative minor and relative major relationship to one another and share a key signature of 3 flats.

If you were forced to pick just one key, the presumptive choice might be the relative major simply because the song ends with a 2-5-1 progression in E♭ major. On the other hand, the majority of the tune is in C minor, including the opening chords and melody. In fact, some arrangements, such as Chet Baker’s 1954 recording, even end on the darker color of the relative minor. Consequently, a hasty “either/or” assertion regarding the song’s key is frankly shortsighted and overlooks the compositional prowess inherent in this song.

A Closer Look…

The genius of “My Funny Valentine” is that it possesses a deliberate duality in its lyrics, melody and harmony. The song is without question a love song; however, it is more honest than most. The narrator, rather than painting an idealized portrait of his or her valentine, gives undue attention to their faults. Consider the following lines from the bridge:

Is your figure less than Greek?
Is your mouth a little weak?
When you open it to speak, are you smart?

Yet, the narrator affirms his or her love for the funny valentine, despite their human imperfections…

Your looks are laughable, unphotographable,
Yet you’re my favorite work of art.

This dualistic theme of the valentine’s “perfect imperfections” is mirrored musically in the yin-and-yang relationship between C minor and E♭ major throughout. For example, the first A section opens with the melody notes C-D-E♭-D -E♭-D, which are scale tones 1-2-3-2-3-2 in C minor. Afterward, the next A section remains harmonically in C minor but the melody contains the notes E♭-F-G-F -G-F, which are scale tones 1-2-3-2-3-2 in E♭ major. If fact, this melodic mirroring through the axis of relative keys extends throughout the entire A section, peaking on the 7th scale tone in bar 6 of each section and coming to rest on the 4th scale tone in bar 8.

The bridge section enters with two phrases that possess a solid commitment to E♭ major. However, the shadow of C minor returns in final phrase of the bridge, which sets up the final section of the song. When the C section begins in bar 25, we quickly get a recapitulation of the 1-2-3-2-3-2 melodic theme in both C minor and E♭ major. Then, we reach the melodic apex in measure 31 with a prolonged high E♭. Perhaps it should come as no surprise that this climactic high E♭ is harmonized with none other than a C minor chord?

Upon careful analysis then, we see that a superficial conclusion of C minor or E♭ major actually misses much of the richness of “My Funny Valentine”—indeed, as much as the narrator would have missed the endearing worth of their valentine had they been given over to superficiality.

Song Form

Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart’s “My Funny Valentine” follows an AABC song form. This means that the structure of the song contains 4 identifiable sections. Both of the A sections are in C minor and are each 8 measures long. The B section is also 8 measures long; however, it is primarily in the key of E♭ major. Afterward, the final section returns to C minor and draws on material from the A sections. However, since the final section is 12 measures long, it is more fitting to describe it as a C section rather than as a return to the A section.

One unique aspect about the form of “My Funny Valentine” is that the A sections contain the same essential chords but with a notable change in the melody. In particular, the second A section, while preserving the same melodic contour, is transposed up a diatonic 3rd. For this reason, the form of “My Funny Valentine” can also be represented as AA’BC. In this case, A’ is pronounced “A prime” and represents a section with similar ingredients as the initial A section, albeit with some modification.

My Funny Valentine: Lead Sheet

In today’s featured Inside the Arrangement video tutorial, John Proulx presents a breathtaking solo piano rendition of  “My Funny Valentine.” Since John’s performance includes some passing chords and reharmonization, let’s first examine the basic chords for “My Funny Valentine.” That way, you’ll be able to better appreciate John’s harmonic ingenuity as you see the modifications he has made.

Due to publisher’s restrictions, the lead sheet with the melody for “My Funny Valentine” that appears in today’s featured Quick Tip tutorial is available from our partners at MusicNotes.com. However, the examples in this section contain all the chords you’ll need to play “My Funny Valentine” on piano. In fact, PWJ members can download these PDFs from the bottom of this page after logging in with their membership. You can also each transpose the chords for “My Funny Valentine” to any key using our Smart Sheet Music.

Lead Sheet with Basic Chords

Here are the basic chords for “My Funny Valentine.” The sections in C minor feature a blue font for the harmonic analysis. Conversely, the sections in E♭ major feature a purple font for the harmonic analysis.

My Funny Valentine Chords

Lead Sheet with Reharmonization

Now let’s take a look at the chords that John uses in his performance of “My Funny Valentine.” One of the best ways to develop your harmonic instincts is to observe where and when professional performers apply chord substitutions and passing chords.

My Funny Valentine Advanced Chords & Substitutions

My Funny Valentine: Inside the Arrangement

In this section, we’ll discuss some the jazz piano techniques that John uses to bring the lead sheet for “My Funny Valentine” to life.

Intro

For John’s intro (0:31–0:59) to “My Funny Valentine,” he uses the chord progression for the first A section while injecting his own original melodic hook. This entire intro is played in the upper register of the piano to present a tender and delicate opening.

Melody

John remains in the upper register of the piano for his initial statement of the melody during the first A section (1:00–1:27). As such, he is actually playing the melody of “My Funny Valentine” an octave higher than it would appear in a fake book. This 8va melodic treatment combined with his sparse accompaniment allows the melody to really grip the listener and draw them in. When John gets to the second A section (1:27–1:52), he settles into the middle register of the piano which elicits a warmer sound and allows the arrangement to start building momentum. John also adds harmony to the melody using parallel 3rds.

During the B section (1:53–2:20), John adds chord extensions and alterations beneath the melody on every strong beat. This creates a rich and full texture that is commonly associated with jazz piano ballads. Then, during the C section (2:21–2:54), John throttles back just a bit, returning to the thinner texture of a single-note melodic treatment and some 3rds. However, John also begins introducing countermelodies that differentiate this final section from the initial statements of the A section melody.

Left Hand Accompaniment

When performed as a ballad “My Funny Valentine,” most often has an straight 8th-note feel. John establishes this straight-8th ballad feel by using a broken chord texture in the left hand. Early in his arrangement, John incorporates a lot of space by uses fewer 8th notes per measure. Then, as the arrangement builds, he fills in the rhythmic grid with a denser use of 8th notes in the left hand.

Perhaps you’re wondering how to construct this broken chord texture in the left hand? To get started, play the root of the chord when the chord symbol first arrives. This is generally on a strong beat such as beat 1 or beat 3. However, if you see a slash chord like Cm/B♭, then you should play the bass note first, which is the note to the right of the slash (in this case, the B♭). After playing the root (or specified bass note) on beat 1, then you’ll want to frequently include an 8th note on the “and of 1.” This is because playing an 8th note on the “and of 1” helps to clearly establish the straight 8th feel.

For major chords, the “and of 1” should be a consonant note like the 5th or the 8th. (Note: the 8th is the same note as the root, except an octave higher). Depending on the register, the 3rd or 7th of a major chord may also work on the “and of 1.” For minor 7th chords and dominant 7th chords, the 5th, 7th and 8th all work well on the “and of 1.” Then, on beat 2, play another chord tone slightly higher than the previous note. For a denser 8th note texture, you can reuse notes later in the measure that you played earlier in the measure.

Solo Section

After John finishes playing the melody, he then transitions to an improvised solo section (2:54–3:54). On medium tempo and up-tempo tunes, a solo section will typically last for an entire chorus, or even multiple choruses. However, since ballads move at a slower pace, it is common to solo over the first half of the form only and then bring the melody back in for the bridge. Such is the case here with John’s piano solo on “My Funny Valentine.”

The majority of the chords in the A section are diatonic chords from the C Natural Minor Scale. Therefore, the C Natural Minor Scale (C–D–E♭–F–G–A♭–B♭) is also a great choice as an improv scale for this section. However, you’ll have to be careful to avoid the note A♭ in bars 4 and 12 where the chord symbol is Cm/A♮. (Note, some lead sheets for “My Funny Valentine” may show this chord as Cm6 or Aø7.) If you’re more of a beginner improviser, you can play a great sounding solo by sticking to the C Minor Pentatonic Scale (C–E♭–F–G–B♭) in bars 1–14.

If you’re an intermediate student, consider adding the 9th to the C minor pentatonic scale for additional color. The resulting scale (C–D–E♭–F–G–B♭) is called a C Minor Hexatonic Scale or a C Minor Pentatonic Add9 scale. If you look closely at John’s solo, you’ll notice that he is primarily using this scale in bars 1–14. However, John also uses the Locrian ♯2 Scale over Dø7 (D–E–F–G–A♭–B♭–C) and the Altered Scale over G7 (G–A♭–B♭–B♮–D♭–E♭–F). Then, in measure 13 where we have A♭m6, John uses the A♭ Dorian Scale (A♭–B♭–C♭–D♭–E♭–F–G♭).

Outro & Ending

After soloing over both A sections, John reinstates the melody over the bridge, or B section (3:54–4:22). However, he adds a clever twist to the harmony here. Rather than playing the bridge in the same manner as he did before his solo, he instead opts to use a dominant pedal or pedal five. This technique uses the 5th scale degree of the key as a persistent bass note while various chords change above it. Since the bridge is in E♭ major, the dominant pedal note is the note B♭. For the tonic chords here, John uses E♭▵7/B♭. However, he alternates this chord with several other chords that contain various amounts of tensions. These chords, from lesser to greater tension, include A♭(add2)/B♭, A♭▵7/B♭, D♭13/B♭, A♭º/B♭ and E♭º7/B♭. John maintains this dominant pedal tone from measures 17–20 before returning to regular root position chords.

After the bridge, John returns to the C section (4:23–4:54), playing it in a similar manner to his initial treatment. However, he adds a coda section which tags the last phrase of the melody (4:55–5:11). This tag repeats the lyrics, “Each day is Valentine’s…” two times.

After the melodic tag, John could have promptly ended the tune. However, he instead returns to a dominant pedal and the tender color of the upper register (5:12–5:48). This creates a striking effect that sounds like a plane’s final descent before landing or perhaps even a sunset at sea. The chords he uses here are E♭▵7/B♭ and B♭7(♭9sus4). The latter chord is equivalent to Fø7/B♭, which is probably an easier way to think of it for most students. This mournful-sounding dominant 7th sus(♭9) chord is sometimes called a Phrygian sus chord.

For more ending ideas, check out John’s course on 32 Colorful Jazz Endings (Int).

My Funny Valentine: Recommended Listening

One of the ways that professionals learn to go beyond the lead sheet on songs like “My Funny Valentine” is by listening. Therefore, this section contains some of the earliest recordings of “My Funny Valentine” as Rodgers and Hart envisioned it. In addition, we’ve included important historical recordings and other hand-picked piano recordings to inspire your creativity. But first, we have John Proulx’s 2009 recording from his album Baker’s Dozen: Remembering Chet Baker.

John Proulx

“My Funny Valentine” (2009)

Early Recordings

The earliest recording of “My Funny Valentine” is an instrumental rendition from 1937 by Fairchild and Carroll and their Orchestra. The first vocal recording comes from 1945 and features the Hal McIntyre Orchestra with Ruth Gaylor on vocals. Since there was no recording of the tune by the original 1937 Broadway cast with Mitzi Green, the New Jersey Orchestra made a recreation of the tune in 1989 that used the original orchestrations. This recreation features Judy Blazer on vocals, although it is often incorrectly cited as featuring Mitzi Green.

Fairchild & Carroll

“My Funny Valentine” (1937)
Hal McIntyre & Ruth Gaylor

“My Funny Valentine” (1945)
New Jersey Orchestra

“My Funny Valentine” (1989 recreation)

Standout Recordings

Baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan and his quartet, which featured Chet Baker on trumpet, recorded “My Funny Valentine” in 1952. This recording propelled the popularity of the tune and was inducted into the Library of Congress’s National Recording Registry for its “cultural, artistic and/or historical significance to American society and the nation’s audio legacy.”³ Two years later, Chet Baker recorded his enduring vocal version of the tune on Chet Baker Sings. Then in 1956, the Miles Davis Quintet recorded the tune on his Cookin’ with the Miles Davis Quintet. This recording, on which Coltrane sits out, features Red Garland on piano.

Gerry Mulligan Quartet

“My Funny Valentine” (1952)
Chet Baker

“My Funny Valentine” (1954)
Miles Davis Quintet

“My Funny Valentine” (1956)

Piano Recordings

Here are a few piano versions on “My Funny Valentine” that you’re likely to enjoy. First, we have a 1960 recording by Bobby Timmons, which opens and closes with a whirlwind of virtuosic piano flourishes. By contrast, the middle section contains a swingin’ and energetic piano solo that is sure to inspire. Next, we have Red Garland’s 1982 recording in which he presents the melody with impeccable phrasing. Lastly, we have an irresistible duo version by Kenny Barron and Buster Williams from 1987.

Bobby Timmons

“My Funny Valentine” (1960)
Red Garland

“My Funny Valentine” (1982)
Kenny Barron

“My Funny Valentine” (1987)

Conclusion

Congratulations, you’ve completed Quick Tip on Play ‘My Funny Valentine’ Lead Sheet on Piano. With the tools and tips this lesson, you’ll soon be on your way to adding this timeless jazz ballad to your piano repertoire.

If you enjoyed today’s lesson, then be sure to check out the following PWJ resources:

 

Thanks for learning with us today! We’ll see you next time.

 

 

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¹ Inman, Davis. “Chet Baker, ‘My Funny Valentine.’” AmericanSongwriter.com, 2 Oct. 2018.

² Gioia Ted. The Jazz Standards : A Guide to the Repertoire. Second ed. Oxford University Press 2012, p 280–282.

³ Micucci, Matt. “My Funny Valentine (Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, 1937).” Jazziz.com, JAZZIZ Magazine, 14 Feb. 2017.


Writer
Michael LaDisa

Michael LaDisa graduated from the University of North Texas with a major in Music Theory & Composition. He lives in Chicago where he operates a private teaching studio and performs regularly as a solo pianist. His educational work with students has been featured on WGN-TV Evening News, Fox 32 Good Day,...

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