Chuck Wayne, Sonny & Solar

(photo by Tom Marcello)

Chuck Wayne [Charles Jagelka 1923-1997] was a guitarist and teacher who helped bridge the swing era with the modernist bebop revolution of the mid-1940s. Wayne worked along 52nd Street and took part in recording sessions with Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young, Dizzy Gillespie, Barney Bigard and many others. He was a member of Woody Herman’s band and worked with George Shearing’s Quintet from 1949-52. Wayne toured and recorded with Tony Bennett in the 1950s and eventually became a staff musician for CBS television from 1959-71. He later taught at the Westchester Conservatory of Music and wrote four books on theory for jazz guitarists.

 

When the Music Division acquired the Chuck Wayne Collection last year, we were expecting to find the guitarist’s music scores, manuscripts, photographs, correspondence and other paperwork. There was one item, though, that proved somewhat startling;  an unpublished 10” acetate disc of a  recording session from 1946.

(Larry Appelbaum, Diane Wayne)

While any unpublished recording by Chuck Wayne would be reason to celebrate, this disc documents part of a session in Oklahoma City and contained an intriguing original song by Wayne loosely based on the chord changes to How High the Moon. Wayne titled it Sonny, for the trumpeter Sonny Berman, who is heard on the recording with Wayne.

To hear Wayne and Berman together (they met in Woody Herman’s Orchestra) is a pleasure, but the revelation is that the tune Wayne called Sonny is remarkably similar to a song made famous years later by Miles Davis under the title Solar. With permission from Wayne’s wife Diane, here is an excerpt from the original acetate disc. The grooves are worn and the disc is quite noisy, but the melody is clear, especially to those who know the now famous jazz standard.

 

Wayne failed to register this song for copyright. Seventeen years after the recording of Sonny was made, Prestige Music Co., Inc. registered Solar for copyright. The copyright registration paperwork is dated Aug. 8, 1963 and shows the composer of the song as Miles Davis.

 

 

Wayne told people over the years that his song had been appropriated, and in fact The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz entry for Wayne states: “He performed and recorded with Woody Herman’s First Herd (May-December 1946), and while with Herman composed Sonny, which Miles Davis later appropriated and claimed as his own composition, under a new title, Solar.” This story has circulated for years but only a few have heard the song Sonny as recorded by Wayne and friends, at least not until now.

 

37 Comments

  1. Larry Kart
    July 3, 2012 at 11:18 am

    Bravo!

  2. Gene
    July 3, 2012 at 5:34 pm

    Yet another example of Miles’ tendency to make dubious claims of composership. I hope that the Wayne estate is able achieve economic justice in this matter.

  3. Loren Schoenberg
    July 3, 2012 at 9:35 pm

    Thanks Larry; great work!

    Is there a happy ending to this story for Mrs. Wayne or was Chuck’s inaction the spoiler?

  4. JazzGuitarLV
    July 3, 2012 at 9:57 pm

    Not surprising, as Miles Davis was known for “borrowing” tunes from other musicians and making them his own. There is a similar story about a tune “Four,” that is listed as Miles Davis’ tune.The story I’ve heard, however, attributes this tune to a trumpeter from West Coast, who later showed Miles the tune. And a tune “Blue in Green” on the famous “Kind of Blue” album clearly sounds very Bill Evans like. He was the one who played the first two chords for Miles, from which the tune was created. But again, Miles is typically credited as it’s composer.

    Nevertheless, the history of Jazz can not exist without the artistic contribution from Miles, in writing, playing, and leading the bands.

  5. Brew
    July 5, 2012 at 6:32 am

    Wow! What an interesting find! — Since I’m a big fan of Sonny Berman, I tried to imagine him, improvising on “Sonny” a.k.a. “Solar” before I heard the above acetate sound — And indeed: It’s very much reflecting his trumpet style.

    By the way: There is a reason why Miles called it “Solar”: The 12-bar chord sequence is pointing strongly up to heaven, namely to “How High The Moon”.

    Certainly only for making it not too obvious, Miles hasn’t entitled it “Lunar”.

  6. Steve Provizer
    July 5, 2012 at 10:30 am

    Slightly simpler turnaround, but that IS Solar.

  7. Brew
    July 5, 2012 at 1:14 pm

    Announcement: Whenever I will perform “Solar” with my students in the future, I will point to Chuck’s authorship, and I will also call it “Sonny”.

    Maybe that I’ll even rename the original line I wrote on the changes in 1989 from “Miles” to “Chuck” :) ))

  8. Syd
    July 5, 2012 at 7:30 pm

    There are some subtle differences between the Miles and Chuck version (namely the first chord is C major in Chuck’s version and C minor/Maj7 in Miles’) While some may argue it is not a big difference please note the corrupt practice of several contemporary music publishers to change ONE word in a song and thus gain a new copyright on it!

    Further, it is NOT the changes to How High the Moon,which is a 32-bar tune, not 12 measures.

    Thank you for bringing this to light! What a wonderful story and I sincerely hope the Wayne estate is able to recoup some of the royalties after all these years!

  9. Gilbert Bellec
    July 7, 2012 at 3:27 am

    Très intéressant. Merci pour ce travail.

  10. Yebo
    July 7, 2012 at 10:20 am

    Won’t you let (genius) deadmen in peace?

  11. Gérard
    July 8, 2012 at 7:07 pm

    Sonny>>> Sunny >>>Solar
    Reconnaissons tous de même à Miles le CmM7 (2 first bars) de Solar, par rapport au C6 de Sonny, change franchement le caractère du morceau de Chuck Wayne,

    Miles, truand de grande classe !!

  12. Larry Appelbaum
    July 9, 2012 at 11:31 am

    On review several comments posted here did not fall within our comment policy and we have removed them and will not post comments that quote those comments in full.

  13. Cheryl Devall
    July 9, 2012 at 5:58 pm

    Oh, man! There you go again…
    Well done, Larry!

  14. Dave Askren
    July 9, 2012 at 10:47 pm

    I think back in those days the record companies did a lot of that, without the actual artists being to blame….

  15. Leonard Schilke-Braem
    July 11, 2012 at 12:10 pm

    Thank you very much for this eye-opener of an article, Larry. And of course it’s an ear-opener, too.

    Cheers,

    Lenny

  16. Nikolai Saugtes
    July 11, 2012 at 12:28 pm

    Deeelightful! Thank you!

  17. Horst Seehofer
    July 11, 2012 at 6:11 pm

    It’s so fantastic that truth prevailed after more than 60 years.

    Anyway, it’s an immortal tune, regardless of the composer.

    Vielen Dank from Germany.

    Horst

  18. Lazaro Vega
    July 16, 2012 at 5:48 pm

    Great job.

  19. tonewall
    July 19, 2012 at 5:47 pm

    Miles should be dig up an punished….along with mozart…some of those notes had already been used……give it a rest…..i think the truest statement was “failed to register for copyright”….great songS let it go…..

  20. Ray Matuza
    July 20, 2012 at 1:33 am

    Does any one know if Chuck ever owned and played a sunburst ES 175D?

  21. Adam Rogers
    October 15, 2012 at 4:16 am

    Wow. I hope this can be resolved in the Wayne estates favor. Unbelievable!

  22. Gregory
    October 15, 2012 at 5:39 pm

    Has the excerpt been removed? There is only a blank space–no link or file–following the “here’s an excerpt” paragraph.

  23. Larry Appelbaum
    October 16, 2012 at 5:50 pm

    @Gregory: The excerpt has been restored. Thanks for responding.

  24. Gregory
    October 17, 2012 at 6:11 pm

    Thanks for the restoration. That is clearly the same song as Solar, even if Davis made slight changes to it. It would be interesting to know how Davis heard it, given that Wayne did not record it.

  25. Mymm Ackley
    February 13, 2013 at 10:43 pm

    Recently I was given a CD recorded by a local Albuquerque DJ, of his daily radio show. Though the DJ clearly stated Solar was a Miles Davis tune, I looked it up anyway–since I’d never heard it before. I’m sure glad I did! What an interesting story! The composer line on my iPod will say, “A Chuck Wayne song appropriated by Miles Davis!”

  26. Tim
    March 10, 2013 at 1:25 am

    Unless Chuck played this tune in Miles’ presence, I don’t see how Davis could have heard it without Chuck playing it for someone else who then played it for Miles. The only connection I can find between Miles Davis and Chuck Wayne is George Shearing. Chuck Wayne was an early guitarist for the George Shearing Quintet. A reasonable explanation might be Chuck played it for George Shearing, who remembered it, and played it (probably messing around) during a session with Miles Davis in Jan, 1951 (Metronome All-Stars, with Shearing on piano). They recorded Shearing’s Local 802 Blues–perhaps Sonny was a number they were going to record and changed their minds. Miles could have easily gotten this “idea” from overhearing old George or George discussed it with him.

  27. Larry Appelbaum
    March 11, 2013 at 4:18 pm

    @Tim: Thanks for your comment. You might consult the interview with Chuck Wayne in the August 1996 issue of Cadence magazine. In it, Wayne talks about Miles Davis coming to see him when they were both playing on 52nd St., adding that Miles would always ask him to play the song, “Sonny.” If true, it would certainly explain how Miles might have heard it directly from Wayne. One more possibility is that Miles was friends with trumpeter Sonny Berman, for whom the song was written. Miles might have heard Sonny play it. Of course, this is speculation. I see no evidence that George Shearing played or recorded this song in those years.

  28. Tim
    March 12, 2013 at 6:43 pm

    Thanks, Larry. I agree about the absence of evidence for Shearing playing or recording the tune. My speculation was more along the line of Shearing being aware of the song and perhaps playing it for Miles or discussing it at the ’51 session.

    Your information on the Wayne interview sounds more reasonable to me. I suppose Wayne either did not know about the existence of his acetate or, if he did, he decided that fighting the Davis copyright with it was not worth the trouble.

  29. Larry Appelbaum
    March 13, 2013 at 10:27 am

    @Tim: Wayne certainly knew about the acetate disc. It was in his possession and he referred to it in the Cadence interview. I cannot speculate on his reasons for not fighting the Prestige Music Co., Inc. copyright registration.

  30. Adrian Litvinoff
    November 15, 2013 at 8:11 am

    Very interesting and thanks for all the research. I share the view already expressed that the CmMaj7 of Miles’s version creates a different, very plangent sound compared to Chuck Wayne’s original. The rest of the sequence is not exactly derivative, but uses a device that was to become fairly familiar in bebop. Having said that Wayne’s 1946 acetate is early in the development of bebop, so that should be recognised.

  31. Rog Brotherhood
    March 29, 2014 at 11:04 pm

    Apropos the discussion of the opening chord of this tune, unlike melodies, chord changes can not be copyrighted. The harmony is irrelevant … the melody is clearly Chuck’s.

    … and it’s worth noting that some of the fake books have the first change as C major, which up until now I thought was wrong!

    This is a REALLY interesting find. Now I’d like to know more about the details. I wonder if anyone who might know about this will come forward.

    .rog.

  32. Girish Trivedi
    May 3, 2014 at 12:05 pm

    As a Jazz trumpeter, in the mid fifties and for some time later, Miles Davis was a great crowd puller at clubs, concerts and festivals and
    certainly was considered to be a premier Jazz trumpeter.

    In his personal and public life, Davis was a disaster; not announcing songs, turning his back to audiences and telling an admiring lady who said, ‘Miles, I have all yours LPs”; Davis retorting by saying , “So what ”B—h”.

    Another time , as he lay unconscious in the street of New York under
    the ”influrence of drugs”, trumpet player Clark Terry took him over to
    his (Terry’s) apartment so Davis could rest and get cleaned up. Leaving him alone, Terry went off to take care of his own business;
    upon his return, he was dismayed to find Davis had taken off with
    Terry”s horn and some clothing and hocked them.

    Who the composer the of ”So What” is also suspect.

    Shame Chuck Wayne did not get to enjoy the fruits of Sonny/Solar
    in his life time.

  33. Larry Appelbaum
    May 12, 2014 at 10:40 am

    Commenters speak for themselves. And so does Miles Davis’ music.

  34. Wayne Wallace
    July 18, 2014 at 11:28 am

    Sorry to be late to the party but I was doing some research and found your work here. I am glad that these ambiguities are finally being cleared up as it is important to give credit where it is due.
    Thank you for this. Best regards, Wayne

  35. Dave Bartholome
    July 30, 2014 at 5:21 pm

    To Mr. Trivedi: There’s no doubt Miles could be a bastard sometimes, but he had a more gracious side, as many will attest. Re: the Clark Terry story, Miles was a junkie at the time. That doesn’t give him a free pass, but you have a look at an action like that in the context of his addiction. Charlie Parker did the same stuff!

  36. tom kirkpatrick
    August 25, 2014 at 10:32 am

    When Can we Hear the Entire Cut!? It’s incredible!

  37. Larry Appelbaum
    September 2, 2014 at 10:59 am

    The intellectual property for the recording is owned by the Chuck Wayne Estate. If Diane Wayne wants to release it, she may do so. There are four songs in all on a very noisy disc.

Add a Comment

This blog is governed by the general rules of respectful civil discourse. You are fully responsible for everything that you post. The content of all comments is released into the public domain unless clearly stated otherwise. The Library of Congress does not control the content posted. Nevertheless, the Library of Congress may monitor any user-generated content as it chooses and reserves the right to remove content for any reason whatever, without consent. Gratuitous links to sites are viewed as spam and may result in removed comments. We further reserve the right, in our sole discretion, to remove a user's privilege to post content on the Library site. Read our Comment and Posting Policy.

Required fields are indicated with an * asterisk.