What makes some songs good on call and response like autumn leaves. But other such as days of wine and roses not work so good?

Just to be clear, with call and response I mean playing melody and chords separate.

To answer a question here, I mean like in this video

  • 4
    Do you mean that you play, say, four bars of melody with no chords and then the same four measures of chords with no melody?
    – Aaron
    Nov 12 at 23:51
  • In Autumn Leaves every second chord change is during sustain of a long note, which in this guitar arrangement is shortened, to play the chords. In Days of Wine and Roses, more chord changes occur together with the melody notes, which makes this type of arrangement less straight forward, though certainly possible if you allow some rhythmic shifts. Nov 13 at 5:02

1 Answer 1


TL;DR: It depends on how much space the melody leaves for responses to fit into.

Given the two songs mentioned, the reason "Autumn Leaves" works and "Days of Wine and Roses" doesn't (rather, doesn't in the same way), is because the "Autumn Leaves" melody leaves more space via its consistent long, sustained notes. In "Days", the spaces between melodic segments are much shorter, so there's less time to interpolate chord "responses".

Here are the first four bars of "Autumn Leaves", with rhythm indicated where chord responses might be placed.

"Autumn Leaves" mm. 1–4

And here are the first four bars of "Days of Wine and Roses", again with melody plus the same rhythm "responses".

"Days of Wine and Roses" mm. 1–4

Clearly the same response pattern can be made to work with "Days"; however, it operates differently in m. 3, for example, because the response overlaps with the final note in the melodic phrase. This latter "problem" persists were we to continue with "Days".

In the end, whether this "works" or not is purely an aesthetic judgement.

But, the less space in the melody, the more difficult a "call and response" with the rhythm becomes. Take "Donna Lee":

"Donna Lee" mm. 1–4

There just isn't room for a rhythmic response between melodic segments, aside from an accent here or there.

A song like "Freddie Freeloader", however, could have all sorts of rhythmic response, because the melody is so open.

"So What" mm. 1–4

  • “So What” is already call and response with regard to this question. The bass plays the melody. What you wrote is just the response which is harmonized and played by the three horns. Incidentally they play a short note on the 2+, not a note sustained for the rest of the measure and into the next. Nov 13 at 7:44
  • @JohnBelzaguy You're right, of course. Bad example. I'll come up with another one tomorrow.
    – Aaron
    Nov 13 at 8:15
  • @JohnBelzaguy Oh, duh! I was thinking of "Freddie Freeloader", not "So What".
    – Aaron
    Nov 13 at 8:23
  • Now “Freddie” makes sense. You can make a case that Wynton Kelly’s improvised fills between the simple melodic phrases completes the call and response. Nov 13 at 8:58
  • You can also use “So What” as part of your answer, just include the bass line. Nov 13 at 8:59

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