This song just may fall into the category of overdone, but that’s for a reason. Its beginnings are ensconced in our jazz history with singers like Billie Holliday crying the lyrics to a Harlem audience in a dark, smoke-filled club back in the 1930’s. It’s hard not to add this to any vocal repertoire because you’ll have to pull it out of the bag when it’s inevitably requested. This is a jazz standard vocal staple.
Amanda Carr, jazz vocalist/pianist
“Mean to Me” is based on the most common song form, known as A-A-B-A. The A section features a common chord progression (also found in “Easy Living,” “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” and “Witchcraft”) which has a natural rise and fall. The bass line moves up in half steps from C to F, then back down from F to C.
The melodic contour follows the same arch form. The three-note shape applied to the words “mean to me” is repeated slightly higher (“why must you be”), then higher (“mean to me”), and higher still (“gee, honey”) before the melody begins to descend (“seems to me”) in parallel with the harmony. This harmonic and melodic arch form creates a natural tension and release that is attractive to composers, improvisers, and listeners alike.
The eight-bar bridge consists of two parallel four-bar phrases, one in F (“You treat me coldly each day in the year”) and one in D minor (“You always scold me whenever somebody is near, dear”). It’s very “user-friendly”: if you understand the first half, the second half is easy to follow.
Randy Halberstadt, jazz pianist and professor
I use this for women who “heavy up” their bottom range. It starts middle and goes high, with many intermediate leaps to the bottom. No pseudo-depth allowed! Useful for the chromatic character of the low portions of melody. In a fast tempo it can help a gasping breather learn to relax.
Marty Heresniak, Voice Teacher, Actor, Writer, Singer
Quoted from: Heresniak, Marty and Christopher Woitach, “Changing the Standards -- Alternative Teaching Materials.” Journal of Singing, vol. 58, no. 1, Sep./Oct. 2001.
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