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"Solar" (Davis) or "Sonny" (Wayne)?

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Chuck Wayne
A long-running discussion (or argument) about the authorship of a major jazz tune may have been resolved once and for all. The tune is “Solar,” copyrighted in 1963 with name of Miles Davis as composer, nearly a decade after he recorded it. It is a 12-bar piece based, with certain departures, on the harmonic structure of “How High The Moon.” Here, from the compilation album Walkin’, is the trumpeter’s 1954 recording with Davey Schildkraudt, alto saxophone; Horace Silver, piano; Percy Heath, bass; and Kenny Clarke, drums.

Keep that melody and its harmonies in mind. Among musicians and jazz insiders it has long been alleged that “Solar” is in fact a piece called “Sonny” written in the mid-1940s by guitarist Chuck Wayne (1923-1997) and later lifted by or credited to Davis. What has been missing until now is aural evidence of Wayne’s claim that he wrote the tune. Larry Appelbaum, the Library of Congress jazz maven, and Wayne’s widow have posted on the Library’s website a recording of Wayne, trumpeter Sonny Berman and unidentified others playing Sonny. At the time of the recording Wayne and Berman were members of Woody Herman’s First Herd. The MP3 is only one chorus of melody and a few bars of Wayne improvising, but it leaves no doubt of a similarity to “Solar” that it is all but impossible to credit to coincidence.

To see Appelbaum’s story of the discovery, pictures of him, Mrs. Wayne, the acetate recording, the Davis copyright claim and—most important— to hear the 1946 “Sonny,” go to this Library of Congress page.

It will be disappointing if Appelbaum does not release the complete performance of “Sonny.” This discovery has stirred up anew claims and counter-claims about other compositions that Davis allegedly appropriated from others, among them “Four,” “Tune Up,” and “Blue in Green.”

As for Chuck Wayne the guitarist’s guitarist, here he is with George Shearing in the late 1940s in one of the pianist’s most successful quintets. The other players are Don Elliott, vibes; John Levy, bass; and Denzil Best, drums.

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This story appears courtesy of Rifftides by Doug Ramsey.
Copyright © 2016. All rights reserved.

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