Tunes on Tuesday: Cherokee

Why this tune?

Cherokee (Indian Love Song) started as a dance tune written by the British bandleader Ray Noble for his orchestra in 1938. According to, it was part of a larger work, a five-movement “Indian Suite” (Cherokee, Comanche War Dance, Iroquois, Seminole, and Sioux Sue).

It quickly became a jazz standard, ranked by as the 39th most popular standard in the repertoire. The already up-tempo tune picked up speed when bebop players like Bud Powell got a hold of it. I think part of the appeal of the song to jazz players is the contrast between the slow melody and the faster accompaniment. The bridge is also a challenge, moving through some more difficult keys before returning to the safety of Bb.

The lyrics, about the singer’s love for a “brave Indian warrior,” “child of the prairie” sound at best dated and stereotypical. Despite this, the song has never stopped being performed by vocalists, from Sarah Vaughan in the 1950s to Kamasi Washington in 2015.

Cherokee is a frequent call at jam sessions, always at a fast tempo, a chance for the players to show off their skills. For my track this week, I went in the other direction, slowing it way down on the opening chorus before applying the gas a bit for the solo.

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Complete track

Bud Powell

Sarah Vaughan

Kamasi Washington

Published by Oren Levine

Jazz pianist and composer from Washington, DC. Also a digital product and technology consultant currently working with nonprofit cllients

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