I was going to make this a post about the New Orleans standard tune ‘Iko Iko’, but then realized it is a copyrighted tune, so I decided to go with ‘Polly Wolly Doodle’, which uses the same chord progression and is in the public domain. As it turns out, ‘Polly Wolly’ was recorded by two prominent jazz vibraphonists, Red Norvo and Terry Gibbs; the Gibbs version features a great solo by a pianist named Alice McLeod, who would later marry John Coltrane and become Alice Coltrane. In any case, this progression allows you to focus on dealing with just two chords, F (or F7) and C or (C7), otherwise known as the ‘tonic’ and ‘dominant’ chords in the key of F.
The arrangement of Polly Wolly Doodle below is based on a version I recorded with Chris Dorman, a Vermont singer-songwriter who is also a gifted performer of children’s music. The rhythmic pattern in the left hand is what musicians in the Latin traditions (Latin Jazz, son, salsa, etc.) call ‘3-2 clave’, although in those musics the pattern is played on a pair of wooden sticks while the chord instruments play a different pattern known as guajeo or montuno. When this pattern is used as part of a chordal accompaniment pattern in a rock context, it is often called the ‘Bo Diddley beat’ after the singer and guitarist Bo Diddley who used it in a number of classic guitar parts. The scale outline shows three different ways to approach the progression and suggests a way to use part of the ‘Bo Diddley beat’ in the left hand as a ‘question’ and answer it with melodic phrases in the right hand. This idea is taken from my transcription of Henry Butler’s solo on ‘Some Iko’, a tune based on the New Orleans standard ‘Iko Iko’ he recorded with trumpeter Steven Bernstein. A link to ‘Some Iko’ and my transcription of the beginning of Butler’s solo can be seen in my post on Butler’s visit to UVM.