Play Mark Houghton’s Dyens-inspired Version of ‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas’
Special Online Article from December 2016
Here’s a wonderful holiday treat: Mark Houghton, one of England’s top composers and guitarists, is sharing his brand-new arrangement of the Hugh Martin-Ralph Blane Christmas standard “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” (which debuted in the 1944 film Meet Me In St. Louis, starring Judy Garland).
Here are Mark’s notes on playing the piece:
I’ve decided to arrange this seasonal popular song in a jazz idiom, in homage to master composer/ arranger/ guitarist Roland Dyens, who passed away recently.
In studying many improvisatory settings of popular jazz standards created by Roland Dyens, I was immediately struck by the level of detail added to his scores, and so I’ve prepared this score with many performance directions, fingerings and dynamic contours. However, here are some additional notes to aid guitarists in creating the right feel for the arrangement.
The song arrangement opens with a 4-bar introduction: try to imagine a brass section in a modern dance band striking chords over a dominant pedal note, followed by a double bass playing a descending chromatic line, closing with an altered dominant chord slide (from the same brass section).
Triplets have been used extensively throughout the piece to convey a lazy lilt approach to the rhythm reading, while positioned rests and staccato dots articulate some passages and highlight others that invite a full legato.
In between the song melody, I’ve added improvisatory passages that serve to connect harmony structures within the song: examples bars 19-20, bar 24, bar 28, bar 48. This is an approach favored by the influential jazz saxophonist, Charlie Parker, whose improvisation of A Night in Tunisia (with its famous “alto break”) was surely the inspiration for the guitar solo version, expertly arranged by Roland Dyens.
A return of the material used in the introductory 4-bar passage occurs at bars 39-40 and this serves to circulate the song’s formal sections again, presented in modified ways to uphold a feeling of improvisation at work.
I’ve added a short CODA from bar 60 that has a brief thematic quote from Roland Dyens’ popular original composition Saudade No.3 (bar 65).