"Pennies From Heaven" - Bennie Green
Born from The Great Depression era of American history, the 1936 song “Pennies From Heaven” offers the promise of riches if you know where to look, perhaps a distant cousin of “On The Sunny Side Of The Street” from 1930 or even a descendent of 1926’s “Blue Skies.” Indeed, songs about gloom and doom don’t seem to withstand the test of time. But as historian Ted Gioia suggests in The Jazz Standards, “Pennies From Heaven” became a standard by adopting the traditions of the Roaring Twenties “even though the tune had not been around back in the early days of New Orleans and Chicago jazz.”
Similar to other showtunes and popular songs from the early Twentieth century, the 32-bar ABAC form and melody doesn’t rely on a complex harmony (perhaps the reason for why the beboppers got bored). Add a few ii-V7-I’s and throw in a dominant VI chord as the final turnaround and you’ve got yourself a song. Additionally, this arrangement divides the chorus among the shared soloists, returning back to the melody halfway through the form, a technique utilized in the bebop recordings limited to a single 45 or 78 RPM side.
Once again, Bennie Green proves that he could hang with other bebop players with his economic use of chromatic leading tones over the ii-V7-I progression, as well as the excessive use of the b9 over V7 chords. I even want to believe that he misjudges the tempo of the changes, from the unusual phrasing in the sixth & seventh bar of his solo, arriving at the change before it actually happens. Regardless, Green falls back on his rhythm & blues upbringing with a single Eb played with emphasis and attitude to close out the form.
Here is where I usually include a YouTube video example for reference, however there isn’t much existing footage of Bennie Green in general. Perhaps with enough Patreon support, I could create a video of myself working this tune. *cough, cough*
Recommended reading: “Bennie Green: An Appreciation” by Gordon Jack, as appears on Jazz Profiles