The story sounds like a sequel to breaking bad: a drug-laced apple; a murderous old queen trying to kill a buxom brunette; characters like Dopey, Sneezy, Doc, and Humbert the Huntsman. The Disney movie Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs first hit the big screen in 1937, featuring songs that became treasures of musical Americana: “Heigh Ho,” “Whistle While You Work,” and the perfectly composed hit from the film, “Someday My Prince Will Come.” Composer Frank Churchill crafted “Someday My Prince Will Come” into a beautiful movie memory, which subsequently became a hugely popular and oft-recorded standard. Dave Brubeck brought the song to the attention of the jazz world on his 1957 album Dave Digs Disney [Columbia, Norman Bates on bass]. Bill Evans recorded the song on his brilliant foray with Scott LaFaro, Portrait in Jazz [1960, Riverside]. Miles Davis famously recorded it with Paul Chambers [Someday My Prince Will Come, 1961, Columbia], in what has become the standard reference version for jazz cognoscenti. “Someday My Prince Will Come” endures as a popular waltz played in jazz clubs, hotels, and at weddings.
What makes “Someday My Prince Will Come” a great tune? Let’s look at some of the key features of the composition, and how to approach the song on the bass. The form is four eight-bar sections: A, B, A, C. The A sections are the same, but the B and C sections have different harmonies and melodies. The song is in 3/4, and usually played in the key of Bb major. This month’s étude, “Another Prince” (Ex. 1) outlines the chord progression of “Someday My Prince Will Come” with a bass line for the first 18 bars (a two-bar intro, plus the A and B sections), and a solo line for the last 16 bars (the A and C sections).
“Another Prince” starts with a high F pedal, similar to the intro on the famous Miles Davis version with Paul Chambers. The high F, repeated in a constant stream, provides a strong rhythmic flow, but obfuscates the downbeats. Make sure you count and know where to find the one in bar 3.
The compelling harmony to “Another Prince” moves in major-3rd intervals in two spots in the A sections: Bbmaj7 to D7(#5), and Ebmaj7 to G7(#5). Many standard songs move in intervals of 4ths and 5ths, but “Another Prince” stands out with its less-common tertian (built in intervals of 3rds) root movement. Other songs that feature major-3rd root movements include “Georgia,” “All of Me,” “I’ll Be Seeing You,” and “On the Sunny Side of the Street.”
The bass line in bars 3–18 outlines the root movement of each chord change, with a couple of twists. In bar 8, the low B is the 3rd of the G7(#5) chord. Bars 7–10 offer a four-bar IIm–V progression (Cm7 to F7), with the G7(#5) providing a momentary V7 to frame the Cm7. Bars 11–14 move down from the IIIm chord (Dm7) to the bIIImº7 (Dbdim7) to a IIm–V (Cm7 to F7). Bars 15–18 repeat the turnaround, which leads into the second half of the song.
The solo section of “Another Prince” begins in bar 19 with the recapitulation of the A-section harmony. Note that the solo line outlines the chords by placing an important harmonic tone on beat one of each bar. For example, the last note in bar 19 (F) moves to an F# on beat one of bar 20. This emphasizes the F#, the 3rd of the D7(#5) chord.
The placement of the 3rd of the chord on beat one occurs nine times in the solo section, in bars 19, 20, 22, 23, 25, 28, 29, 32, and 33. The chord progression reaches a climax in bars 29–30 when the line reaches Ebmaj7 and Edim7. The solo line uses arpeggios to clearly outline the difference in sound between the two chords. An obvious pattern emerges: The bass line in bars 1–18 places the root of most chords on beat one. The solo line in bars 19–34 often places the 3rd of the chord, or another important chord tone, on beat one. Practice alternating bass lines and solo lines through the changes and see if you can nail the appropriate chord tones on the first beat of each measure.
The 3/4 time signature gives a floating feel to the song’s rhythm. If you’re playing “Someday My Prince Will Come” for dancers, you should emphasize beat one of every bar in your bass line. Don’t confuse the father of the bride when he’s out on the dance floor, trying to waltz with his daughter while wearing his ill-fitting, rental-tux shoes. Make sure you and the drummer broadcast the three-beats-to-a-bar feeling. You should generally avoid walking in 3/4 (playing three quarter-notes to a bar) when playing for a dance or quiet lounge crowd. If you’re playing the song on a jazz gig, though, you have limitless musical options—let your ears and your spirit channel your inner Disney prince.
Ask working musicians for a short list of songs in 3/4, and they’ll probably name “Someday My Prince Will Come.” It’s a go-to standard that every bassist should know.
Visit John on the web at johngoldsby.com for sound samples, videos and answers to all of your bass-related questions.