The Charleston is a jazz composition that was written to accompany the Charleston dance. It was composed in 1923, with lyrics by Cecil Mack and music by James P. Johnson, who first introduced the stride piano method of playing.
The song was featured in the American black Broadway musical comedy show Runnin’ Wild, which had its premiere at the New Colonial Theatre in New York on October 29, 1923. The music of the dockworkers from South Carolina inspired Johnson to compose the music. The dance known as the Charleston came to characterize the times. Lyrics, though rarely sung (an exception is Chubby Checker’s 1961 recording), were penned by Cecil Mack, himself one of the most accomplished songwriters of the early 1900s. The song’s driving rhythm, basically the first bar of a 3-2 Cuban clave, came to have widespread use in jazz comping and musicians still reference it by name.
This arrangement includes some fresh harmonies while keeping the bounce that was a part of the Charleston dance and rhythm. A slight swing is indicated, but it not necessary.
Key: B♭ major
Mood: giddy, slightly rebellious, excited
Pedagogy: Charleston rhythm, dynamics, repeats, 1st and 2nd endings