My Foolish Heart

What does My Foolish Heart have in Blue Moon and Heart and Soul, and with many hits from the 1950’s such as Silhouettes on the Shade, Teen Angel, All I Have to Do Is Dream, Duke of Earl, Earth Angel, Donna and Stay? Every Breath You Take by the Police and countless other songs also share this characteristic.

They all use a chord progression called “the ice cream changes.” During the 1950’s, this sequence was so common that some musicians still refer to it as “the 50’s progression.” No one knows for sure why it was dubbed “ice cream changes,” but a consensus has formed around the idea that these chords were simple, sweet and familiar – like ice cream.Technically, the progression is described as I-vi-IV-V, as in C-Am-F-G or G-Em-C-D. Lots of minor variations are possible, such as not going to minor in the second chord (I-VI-IV-V), or by using the relative minor for IV in the third chord (ii). In the latter case, the sequence in C would be C-Am-Dm-G. Also, the final V chord was frequently played as V7, forcing a resolution back to the tonic.

A common substitution used on the tune is Em7-A7 in m2 (in original key, C; ie, iii-VI7). To see what other changes are often used, take a look here.

The tune was written (by Victor Young) in C but the Real Book has it in Bb and Bill Evans played it in A (words and original transposed changes, here). Listen and watch Bill play it here

Pianists and horn players prefer flat keys — horn players because transposition always means adding more sharps (trumpet and tenor add 2 sharps, alto adds 3). A tune in concert A is going to be in F# for an alto player and B for a tenorist. Guitarists are more comfortable with sharp keys, I imagine, because the open strings are tuned to fit sharp keys and each fret adds more sharps, so it’s easier to form sharp key chords than flat key chords, at least on a basic level.