Saturday, January 31, 2009

Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most

Song (1955) lyrics by Frances Landesman; music by Thomas Wolfe, Jr.; Recorded in 1961 by Ella Fitzgerald (another Virginia native!), her version contributed to the tune's becoming a jazz standard. Her final phrase descends to the very lowest end of her register, for an unforgettable effect (click on the link, then click on the PLAY button in the upper right hand window).

Trivia: Lyricist Fran Landesman, born in New York, is known as the Dorothy Parker of jazz. She continues working from her present-day home in London.

The poignant lyric can perhaps trace an inspiration back to T. S. Eliot's "April Is the Cruelest Month," the opening lines from "The Waste Land" (1922). Quite a pedigree! The song is a narrative about being out of phase with the seasons, describing a winter romance that faded long before the arrival of spring, a time when everyone else is focused on the hope and bloom of new love. "All I've got to show is a splinter for my little seemed sure around the New Year, now it's April and love is just a ghost...spring arrived on time, only what became of you, dear? Spring can really hang you up the most."

Here, a contemporary performance by chanteuse Jane Monheit.

And a video of a live performance by tenor sax man Stan Getz:

A complete performance of the song by June Christy (arranged by Pete Rugolo)

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Something Cool

Performed by June Christy (1955)
Written by Hollywood composer/lyricist Billy Barnes.

"Something Cool" is an unusual jazz standard that became June Christy's signature song. Its lyrics are an extended narrative, full of emotional complexity.

In response to an offer to buy her a drink, a girl in a bar tells you she wants "something cool." It's warm here, she tells us, and she's far from home. She can't seem to remember your name, but she must know you from somewhere, because she never drinks with strangers. You offer her a cigarette:

"A cigarette? / Well, I don't smoke them as a rule /
But I'll have one / it would be fun / with something cool."

She tells you about her glory days, when she lived in a large house, had lots of suitors and took trips to Paris. But that's in the past. Returning to the moment:

"About a date? / Oh wait / I'm such a fool /
He's just a guy / who stopped to buy me /Something cool."

This ballad contains so much narrative, emotional baggage and character development, that it is a unique entry in the library of jazz standards.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Moonlight in Vermont

Nat King Cole Trio

Early in his career, Nat King Cole formed a ground breaking trio in 1937, playing piano with Oscar Moore on guitar and Wesley Prince on bass (no drums!). Prior to that, Nat was known primarily as a jazz pianist – not a singer. But with the King Cole Trio (as it was known) he played a mixture of novelty songs, jazz and pop tunes, often with unison singing from all three members, as well as his own lead vocals.

When Prince was drafted into the Army, Johnny Miller took over on bass in 1942, but by this time, Nat's singing was more prominent in their performances. The trio kept going until Nat's career really took off as a ballad singer, backed mainly by orchestras. By that point, Nat was not playing much piano, which was a pity, since he was a brilliant and influential jazz pianist.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

How High the Moon

June Christy (vocals), Nat King Cole (piano), Mel Tormé (drums)

In the 1950s, when this was televised, music alone was able to transcend segregation. Here we have a black man (Cole), a Jew (Tormé – born with the surname Torma) and a white woman (Christy, who was Anita O’Day’s replacement in the Stan Kenton Orchestra) uniting in joyous music making. Many fans of Cole and Tormé in the latter part of their careers are not aware that Cole was a superb pianist, nor that Tormé played drums; they both gave up their respective instruments and later worked exclusively as vocalists.

Monday, January 26, 2009

What a Wonderful World

George Adams (tenor sax)
Ben Sidran (piano)

Written by Bob Thiele (using the pseudonym George Douglas*) and George David Weiss**, What a Wonderful World was first recorded by Louis Armstrong in 1968. Intended as an antidote for the increasingly racially and politically charged climate of everyday life in the U.S., the song also has a hopeful, optimistic tone with regard to the future, with reference to newborn babies having much to look forward to. The song was not initially a hit in the United States, where it sold fewer than 1,000 copies, but was a major success in the UK, reaching number one on the singles chart, becoming the biggest-selling single of 1968. The song made Louis Armstrong the oldest male to top the UK charts, at sixty-six years and ten months old.

The song gradually became something of a standard and reached a new level of popularity. It was re-released in America shortly after Armstrong's death in 1971 and became a top ten hit. It is also a jazz standard, ranked number 945 at

*Some of the songs Thiele wrote are credited to George Douglas or Stanley Clayton. These are pseudonyms Thiele used, made from the names of his uncles, Stanley, Clayton, George, and Douglas. Thiele was a record producer and husband of singer Teresa Brewer.
**Weiss was president of the Songwriters Guild of America; among other notable songs he penned was Lullaby of Birdland.

Another rendition of this classic tune:
Duet by K.D. Lang & Tony Bennett

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Billy Taylor & Ben Webster

This 10-minute video documentary by Bret Primack (Jazz Video Guy) recounts the first time Washington DC based pianist Billy Taylor worked with tenor sax legend Ben Webster in NYC. Webster was known for his distinctive breathy lip-vibrato, especially evident on ballads.

In 1994, Billy Taylor was appointed to the position of artistic adviser on jazz for the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, where his knowledge, expertise and influence are still in demand. In 1997, he was responsible for the launching of the Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage, where free jazz concerts are often featured.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

I Got Rhythm

Performed by pianists Billy Taylor & Ramsey Lewis
(video excerpt from Billy Taylor’s show Jazz Counterpoint)

Everyone would want to play piano if it could be this much fun!

"I Got Rhythm" was composed by George Gershwin with lyrics by Ira Gershwin in 1928 (published 1930), and became a widely-known jazz standard. It comes from the stage musical Girl Crazy, which yielded another hit song, "Embraceable You." Ethel Merman sang the song in the original Broadway production of the show. I Got Rhythm is iconic of the Gershwins, of swing, and of the 1920s.

Trivia: I Got Rhythm was originally published in the unusual key of D-flat major.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Marian McPartland

In a Mist, composed in 1927 by cornetist Bix Beiderbecke

Since April 1979, pianist Marian McPartland has welcomed a stellar line-up of musicians for one hour of conversation and jazz improvisation on her award-winning radio program. Each week, McPartland, with her engaging personality and improvisational savvy, hosts a variety of performers in her radio living room. She has recently reached the 90-year-old mark, yet remains active as a performer and radio personality.

Piano Jazz is a forum for jazz legends and influential performers as well as up-and-coming talents. Oscar Peterson, Herbie Hancock, Dave Brubeck, Diana Krall, Max Roach, Cassandra Wilson and Tony Bennett are among the 500+ guests who have joined McPartland to create dynamic duets and discuss their lives and music.

A production of South Carolina Educational Radio and distributed nationally by NPR, Piano Jazz is the longest-running national performance program on public radio and was called "an oasis of intelligence and grace and probably the best hour of jazz on the airwaves" by The Washington Post.

For Ms. McPartland's radio program (spring, 2000) about Bix Beiderbecke, go to:

For audio streams of dozens of her other Piano Jazz programs, visit:

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

At Last - first song at the Inaugural Balls

On January 20, 2009, President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle danced to various renditions of this song at each of the 10 official balls honoring his inauguration. Beyoncé Knowles, who portrayed Etta James in the film Cadillac Records, sang the song live for the Obama's first dance during the Neighborhood Ball, the first they attended on the night of his inauguration.

I found a dream that I can speak to,
A dream that I can call my own.
I found a thrill to press my cheek to,
A thrill I've never known.

“At Last” (1941) was written by lyricist Mack Gordon and composer Harry Warren and debuted in the film musical Orchestra Wives, performed on screen by the Glenn Miller Orchestra. The song was a major hit for Miller, reaching number 14 on the Billboard pop charts in 1942. It soon became a standard, recorded by Nat King Cole (1957) and Etta James (1960), who was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999 for her recording of this song. Aside from the lyric, there was another facet of appropriateness in using this song at the inauguration of our nation's first black president, since Nat King Cole was the first black person to have a weekly radio and TV program (1956-57).

In this video clip from Orchestra Wives, the Glenn Miller Orchestra introduces the song to the public in its original form, as a swing tune (1942), far removed from the R&B version popularized by Etta James. Trivia: Note that Jackie Gleason (string bass) and Cesar Romero (piano) are in the orchestra! Gleason had a successful side career as a musician (composer, arranger and conductor), and Romero was an accomplished ballroom dancer. The film is of interest in that it depicts the lives of working big band musicians.

Monday, January 19, 2009

At the Movies - Dave Koz & Friends

"Smooth Jazz" saxophone king Dave Koz released a concept album in 2007 that featured guests (Anita Baker, Chris Botti, Vanessa Williams and India.Arie, among others) on six of the dozen tracks. Unfortunately, the result is just one step ahead of elevator music*, but details revealed in some "making of..." videos give some valuable insights of the decisions that go into producing an album. All the tunes were movie themes: The Pink Panther, Somewhere, As Time Goes By, The Summer Knows, Schindler's List, etc.
*But that's just me -- the album sold like hot cakes.

In this video, Anita Baker recalls hearing Koz mentioning the incipient project on his syndicated radio show while she was talking on the phone. Of interest is the trial and error method of finding the right key and other details that led to the final arrangement of her track: Somewhere (West Side Story). Ms. Baker also reveals that she preferred "Moon River" (ick!) to "Somewhere," but that track ultimately went to Barry Manilow (double ick!).

In this revealing video clip, Koz interviews esteemed lyricists Alan and Marilyn Bergman, regarding their 1973 academy award Best Song winner "The Way We Were".

Bebop jazz style

My Old Flame performed by Charlie Parker (alto sax), Miles Davis (trumpet), Duke Jordan (piano), Tommy Potter (bass), and Max Roach (drums). Words by Sam Coslow with music by Arthur Johnston (1934).

The Bebop jazz style traces it origin to the early 1940s, and the term “bebop” was first used during the beginning of WWII. Bebop differed drastically from the straightforward compositions of the swing era, and was instead characterized by asymmetrical phrasing, intricate melodies, and rhythm sections that expanded beyond their role as mere time-keepers. The music itself was jarring to the public, which was used to swing’s bouncy, organized, danceable tunes of Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller. Instead, bebop sounded nervous, racing, frantic and often fragmented. But to jazz musicians and aficionados, bebop was an exciting revolution in the art of jazz.

While swing music tended to feature orchestrated big band arrangements, bebop music was more free in its structure. The classic bebop combo was a quintet consisting of saxophone, trumpet, bass, drums, and piano. Typically, a theme would be presented at the beginning and end of each piece, placed like bookends around improvisational solos based on the chords of the tune. Thus, the majority of a song in bebop style would be improvisation, the only threads holding the work together being the underlying harmonic pattern.

Bebop musicians also employed several harmonic devices not typical of the jazz music that had come before. Complicated harmonic substitutions for more basic chords became commonplace; these substitutions often emphasized dissonant intervals such as the flat ninth, sharp ninth and the sharp eleventh (or tri-tone).

Notable musicians identified with bebop:

* Cannonball Adderley, alto sax
* Art Blakey, Drums
* Clifford Brown, trumpet
* Ray Brown, bass
* Kenny Burrell, guitar
* Don Byas, tenor sax
* Paul Chambers, bass
* Charlie Christian, guitar
* Kenny Clarke, drums
* John Coltrane, tenor sax
* Tadd Dameron, piano
* Miles Davis, trumpet
* Kenny Dorham, trumpet
* Carl Fontana, trombone
* Curtis Fuller, trombone
* Dizzy Gillespie, trumpet
* Stan Getz, tenor sax
* Dexter Gordon, tenor sax
* Wardell Gray, saxophone
* Al Haig, piano
* Sadik Hakim, piano
* Barry Harris, piano
* Percy Heath, bass
* Milt Jackson, vibes
* J. J. Johnson, trombone
* Duke Jordan, piano
* Lee Konitz, alto sax
* Stan Levey, drums
* Lou Levy, piano
* John Lewis, piano
* Dodo Marmarosa, piano
* Howard McGhee, trumpet
* Charles McPherson, Alto Sax
* Charles Mingus, bass
* Thelonious Monk, piano
* Wes Montgomery, guitar
* Fats Navarro, trumpet
* Charlie Parker, alto sax
* Chet Baker, trumpet
* Oscar Pettiford, bass
* Tommy Potter, bass
* Bud Powell, piano
* Max Roach, drums
* Red Rodney, trumpet
* Sonny Rollins, tenor sax
* Frank Rosolino, trombone
* Sonny Stitt, tenor and alto sax
* Lucky Thompson, tenor sax
* George Wallington, piano

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Sophisticated Lady

Music by Duke Ellington (1932); lyrics by Irving Mills & Mitchell Parish.
Chick Corea
(piano) & Gary Burton (vibes)

Note: The attribution to Billy Strayhorn, as labeled in the video, is incorrect (Strayhorn did not meet Ellington until six years after this piece was written). Also, Irving Mills (lyrics) was the manager of the Duke Ellington Orchestra until 1939; whether or not he actually wrote the lyrics for which he is credited is widely disputed. The issue was one of royalties. Ellington frequently took credit for music he didn't write; he paid a flat fee for compositions, then credited himself, so that he could collect royalties. Sadly, Billy Strayhorn, who willingly lived his life in the shadow of Ellington, was often on the losing end of many such transactions. Strayhorn, an openly gay black man in the era of extreme homophobia and prejudice, was Ellington's "right hand, left hand, and all the eyes in the back of my head", as stated by Ellington himself. Strayhorn was, however, accurately credited with composing "Take the A Train," Ellington's theme music.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Lush Life

Lush Life is a jazz standard with both lyrics and music written by Billy Strayhorn in the 1930s. However, the song was only performed privately by Strayhorn until he and vocalist Kay Davis performed it on November 13, 1948 with the Duke Ellington Orchestra at Carnegie Hall. The song's lyrics describe the author's weariness of the night life after a failed romance, wasting time with "jazz and cocktails" at "come-what-may places" and in the company of girls with "sad and sullen gray faces/with distingué traces". Strayhorn was only 16 years old when he wrote the majority of the song, which was to become his signature composition, along with Take the A Train.

Performance by Queen Latifah (from the 1998 film Living Out Loud).

This Marvyn Warren arrangement was subsequently included on The Dana Owens Album in 2004 (Dana Owens is the real name of artist Queen Latifah). This is an interesting title sequence, in that it begins with Queen Latifah and at the end switches to Holly Hunter finishing the song dressed in only a bra (I would not lie to you).

If you have any recollection of that movie at all, it’s likely the scene in which Eddie Cibrian massages Holly Hunter (and introduces a whole new generation to “At Last” as sung by Etta James – at the 3 minute mark). Warning – it’s erotic as all get out, so you might not want to watch this with your grandmother.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Liza (piano duo)

Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea light a fire under Gershwin's LIZA. It's rare to hear a jazz performance that does not utilize drums in any way. An amazing performance!

Liza is the only surviving number of the 27 Gershwin items furnished for the hastily improvised musical, Show Girl. In mid-June 1929, Florenz Ziegfeld pressed a reluctant Gershwin to compose the score in a scant two weeks, to which Gershwin responded that he couldn't. "Mr. Ziegfeld smiled up at me and said, 'Why, sure you can -- just dig down in the trunk and pull out a couple of hits.'" The upshot was more a scrappy revue than a musical which, despite a run of 111 performances, aggravated critics and lost money. During the Boston tryout, Ruby Keeler, backed up by 100 leggy chorines, launched into Liza when Al Jolson, from the audience, rose and sang the chorus to his visibly startled bride. This electrifying effect was replicated for the New York première, and thereafter Liza became a virtual Jolson property. As Gershwin remarked, "It caused a sensation and gave the song a great start!" The lyrics by Ira Gershwin and Gus Kahn are pure fluff --

Liza, Liza, skies are gray, but if you'll smile on me,
All the clouds'll roll away...

-- but the surging, harmonically piquant music to which they are set is irresistible.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Faces of the Heart (Dave Koz, saxophone)

From 1993 to 2004, this tune was the title theme music of the TV soap opera General Hospital. Dave Koz (his surname shortened from Kozlowski) was born the same year that General Hospital debuted - 1963.

Faces of the Heart, composed by Dave Koz, Jeff Koz (Dave's older brother) and Jack Urbont.

Dave Koz was born in Los Angeles. From an early age, he and his sister took piano lessons. "My mom basically forced my sister and me to play piano from when we were toddlers. I hated piano; I was never any good at it. But I have to thank her now for making me do it, because I write most of my songs on the piano." Around age nine, he began taking drum lessons, but notes that he was not very good at drums, "I am the world's worst drummer. I could not keep time to save my life." At age 13, his brother, Jeff, had a band that Dave wanted to be in, but his brother told him over and over that there was no way he could be in it. Dave eventually wore him down, and his brother told him that the only way he could be in the band was if he could play the saxophone, because their band did not have a saxophonist. That was all he needed to hear. Two years later, he was in the band and working gigs with the band and by himself, and a stellar career as a “smooth jazz” saxophonist was launched. He most often plays alto sax, but has recorded on soprano, tenor and baritone saxophones, as well.

In 1994, Koz began hosting a syndicated radio program, featuring the latest music and interviews with who's-who in the genre. For six years Dave co-hosted The Dave Koz Morning Show With Pat Prescott on 94.7 The Wave, a smooth jazz station in Los Angeles. He decided to leave the show in January, 2007.

In an April 2004 interview with The Advocate (a magazine that serves the gay community), Koz came out publicly as a gay man, basically to clear his conscience. Increasing fame was putting pressure on him to suppress his private life, as he feared the truth about his sexual orientation would end his musical career. Instead, Koz experienced a surge of popularity after his coming out. Later the same year, he was named by People magazine as one of their "50 Hottest Bachelors" in their June issue (!). Koz bears a striking physical resemblance to fellow “smooth jazz” saxophonist David Sanborn, and their musical styles are similar. Dave's performances, enhanced by his expressive command of the saxophone, good looks and infectious stage presence, leave audiences exhilarated. While jazz purists blanch at the genre of smooth jazz, such artists as Dave Koz frequently serve as bait to lure new aficionados to classic jazz artists.

Koz and Ramsey Lewis have recently made major contributions to the education of the masses in matters relating to jazz, since both host popular syndicated shows about jazz music and musicians. Since 2005 Koz has been the star attraction for popular annual cruises marketed as “Dave Koz & Friends Jazz Cruises,” the most recent of which took place in November, 2008.

Koz is endorsed by Yamaha and plays primarily Yamaha horns.
Dave serves as a Global Ambassador for the Starlight Children's Foundation, a charity based in Los Angeles that helps children and teenagers cope with serious illnesses.

Obsesión (Dave Valentin, flute)

Robby Ameen - drums
Richard Flores - conga drums
Bill O’Connell - piano
Joe Santiago - bass

Of Puerto Rican descent, Dave Valentin practically owns the underpopulated role of the flute in Latin jazz. A performer, composer, arranger and band leader, Dave boasts a command of both Latin and non-Latin styles. He has performed on more than 15 albums and is a GRAMMY Award winner. Dave’s success stems from his eagerness to absorb any style of music – and his passion for mastering the most challenging instruments in the flute family.

In the following video clip, be sure to pay special attention to the cadenza at the 4:21 mark for some of Dave’s trademark special effects (Obsesión, composed by Pedro Flores).

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Take Five

Kurt Elling (left) and Al Jarreau (right) tackle the seldom-performed lyrics and modulate their way through an astonishing scat-singing performance on the LEGENDS OF JAZZ public television series.

Take Five
is an instrumental jazz composition first recorded by the Dave Brubeck Quartet on its 1959 album Time Out. Composed by Paul Desmond, the group's saxophonist, it became famous for its distinctive, catchy saxophone melody and use of 5/4 time, from which its name is derived. It has since become the most identifiable jazz composition in history.

The Time Out album contained only seven tracks totaling a scant 38.5 minutes of playing time. Each was an original composition written in a time signature unusual for jazz – 6/4, 9/8, 5/4, etc. – which accounted for the album title. Blue Rondo à la Turk (written in 9/8 time, the rhythm of the Turkish zeybek folk dance) echoed Mozart’s “ronda alla turca” from his piano sonata #11, written in 1783.

Carmen McRea’s 1961 version of Take Five included lyrics written by Dave Brubeck and his wife Iola.

Upon his death in 1977, Paul Desmond left the licensing rights for Take Five to the American Red Cross. Since that time, the organization receives all the royalties related to the performance of the song.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

One for my baby (and one more for the road)

Toots Thielemans - harmonica
Jamie Cullum - vocals

One for My Baby (and One More for the Road) was written by Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer for the film musical The Sky's the Limit (1943) and was performed in the film by Fred Astaire. The song was popularized by Frank Sinatra and became one of his signature tunes.

Harold Arlen described the song as “another typical Arlen tapeworm” – a “tapeworm” being the trade slang for any song that exceeded the conventional 32 bar length. He called it “...a wandering song. Lyricist Johnny Mercer took it and wrote it exactly the way it fell. Not only is it long – forty-eight bars – but it also changes key. Somehow Johnny made it work.”

A famous and acclaimed performance of the song was by Bette Midler, sung to Johnny Carson on the penultimate night of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. Both Midler and Carson got caught up in the emotion of the song (Mr. Carson was visibly blinking back tears), and an unusual camera angle on the set framed the two in a poignant fashion. It earned Midler an Emmy Award (1992) for Outstanding Individual Performance in a Variety or Music Program. The lyrics were adapted to suit the occasion – for example, “...and John I know you're getting anxious to close.”

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Matt Belsante (vocals)

Blame It on My Youth: a new album of mostly jazz standards released September, 2008. These arrangements, all by Chris McDonald, are really cookin'. Unfortunately, Mr. Belsante's voice, while steady and pleasant, is one dimensional and doesn't match the standard of the brilliant arrangements. If they ever release a karaoke version of this disc, grab it and go trounce the competition.

All the Things You Are

An amazing dialogue between Pat Metheny & Brad Mehldau, performing at the 2007 San Sebastian Jazz Festival (Spain).

All the Things You Are is a song composed by Jerome Kern to lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II. It was written in 1939 for the musical Very Warm for May. Recordings by Tommy Dorsey and Artie Shaw (with vocalist Helen Forrest) earned the song its initial popularity. The song, which has a unique harmonic structure, is a favorite with singers and jazz musicians. The song’s success was surprising, because it was unusual for its time in the way it shifted tonal centers and alternated from major to minor. Kern wrote it to satisfy his own creative urge and felt it was far too complex for popular appeal.

The chorus is 36 measures long (not the standard 32), in an altered AABA form. The second A section is transposed down a fourth (both melody and chords!), and the final A section adds four additional bars. The modulations in this song are unusual and present challenges to a singer or improviser, including a semitone modulation that ends each A section (they start with measure 6 in the first two A sections and measure 9 of the final A section, and a striking use of enharmonic substitution at the turnaround of the B section (last two measures of the B Section), where the G# melody note over a E major chord turns into an A-flat over the F minor 7th of measure 1 of the final A section. The result is a tune that in the space of every chorus manages to include at least one chord built on every note of the Western 12-tone scale. Amazing!

Charlie Parker was quoted as saying this song had his favorite lyrics. He used to call it "YATAG" which is an acronym for the words "you are the angel glow" in the B section.

A classic rendition from Ella Fitzgerald:

Friday, January 9, 2009

Cry Me a River

An over-the-top performance by cabaret singer (tenor) Sam Harris:

Cry Me a River was written by Arthur Hamilton and published in 1953. The lyrics are about an anguished loss of a relationship. A torchy, jazzy blues tune, Cry Me a River was originally written for Ella Fitzgerald to sing in the film, Pete Kelly's Blues (1955), but the record producer insisted Hamilton remove the word "plebeian," since audiences wouldn't accept a black woman in the 1950s using that word. Hamilton tried but eventually refused to make the change, and the song was dropped from the film, although Fitzgerald released a recording of the song in 1961. The song's first release and most famous recording was by actress/singer Julie London in 1955.

While Mr. Harris (above) bleeds all over the stage, Diana Krall delivers the polar opposite performance, a controlled offering that features a superb guitar solo (at the 2:33 mark), during which night scenes of Paris along the river Seine are projected.

Straight No Chaser

Cannonball Adderley (alto sax)
Nat Adderley (trumpet)
George Duke (piano)
Walter Bocker (bass)
Roy McCurdy (drums)

From the Newport Jazz Festival, the Cannonball Adderley Quintet performs Thelonious Monk's jazz classic, Straight No Chaser:

Thursday, January 8, 2009

My Foolish Heart

Supreme jazz pianist Bill Evans performs with his trio (from the 1960s). Pianist Marian McPartland said that, after Evans' death, she could not bring herself to perform "My Foolish Heart."

My Foolish Heart is an Academy Award-nominated song published in 1949. The music was written by Victor Young with lyrics by Ned Washington. The song was introduced by the singer Martha Mears in the 1949 film of the same name. The song became a popular success, with two recordings of the song listed among the top 30 on the Billboard charts in 1950. Gordon Jenkins's recording of My Foolish Heart reached #22 and Billy Eckstine's version reached #28.

Later recordings were made of this standard by numerous artists, including Bill Evans, Joe Williams with George Shearing, Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra, Tom Jones, Carmen McRae, Elkie Brooks, Astrud Gilberto and Mel Tormé. More recently, "My Foolish Heart" has been covered by pianists Liz Story and Keith Jarrett, guitarists John McLaughlin and John Abercrombie, Charlie Haden's Quartet West, singers Kurt Elling, Al Jarreau, Jane Monheit, Ann Hampton Callaway and (a capella quartet) The Idea of North.

To hear the lyrics, listen to this straight-forward vocal rendition by cabaret singer Margaret Whiting:

The night is like a lovely tune, beware my foolish heart!
How white the ever constant moon, take care, my foolish heart!
There's a line between love and fascination,
That's hard to see on an evening such as this,
For they give the very same sensation.
When you are lost in the passion of a kiss.
Your lips are much too close to mine, beware my foolish heart!
But should our eager lips combine, then let the fire start.
For this time it isn't fascination, or a dream that will fade and fall apart,
It's love this time, it's love, my foolish heart!

I was privileged to hear Kurt Elling perform this song at the Montreal Jazz Festival in July, 2007. Interestingly, he incorporates a 7th-century poem by Rabi'a of Basra (the first female Suni Muslim mystic saint) in the middle of his rendition.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Bye-Bye, Blackbird

Performed by Toots Thielemans (harmonica)

If it's always seemed as if something's missing from this song lyric, it’s because there is.

Eddie Cantor, Carmen McCrae, Frank Sinatra and many others who have recorded Bye Bye Blackbird have only sung the chorus:
“Pack up all my care and woe, Here I go singing low: Bye, bye, blackbird...”

The verses of the 1926 song written by Ray Henderson (music) and Mort Dixon (lyrics) are far less known. Here is the first of two verses:

Blackbird, blackbird singing the blues all day right outside of my door.
Blackbird, blackbird why do you sit and say there's no sunshine in store?
All through the winter you hung around.
Now I begin to feel homeward bound.
Blackbird, blackbird gotta be on my way where there's sunshine galore.

But is the blackbird just a black bird? No. The lyrics were written with heavy-handed symbolism. A Boston area jazz singer popular in the '30s and '40s named Mae Arnotte claims the song was originally performed as a slow blues number and used the phrase "Bye Bye Blackbirds." Supposedly, the singer was leaving the big city: "No one here can love or understand me, oh, the hard luck stories they all hand me." The "they" she refers to are the blackbirds or “johns” in the big city. Then the singer was going home to her mother: "Where somebody waits for me, sugar's sweet, so is she." "I'll be home late tonight" supposedly indicates she lived a short distance from the city.

Whoever the singer is, he/she is tired of what they originally left home for and now want to make a prodigal return, referred to in the second verse:

Bluebird, bluebird, calling me far away, I've been longing for you.
Bluebird, bluebird, what do I hear you say?
Skies are turning to blue, I'm like a flower that's fading here,
Where ev'ry hour is one long tear.
Bluebird, bluebird this is my lucky day. Now my dreams will come true.

So there are really two birds in the song. The color of the birds symbolizes the singer's feelings about leaving the big city for home. The blackbird stands for the hopeless days of no sunshine, while the bluebird represents clear skies and hope.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Bossa Nova & Samba

Chega de Saudade (1958)
"Big Band Jazz Brazil" performs the classic Chega de Saudade (No More Blues), the first Bossa Nova song written by “Tom” Jobim; lyricist was Vinicius de Moraes, who was working in Montevideo, Uruguay, at the time, so Jobim and Moraes composed several bossa nova songs over the telephone. The hey-day of Bossa Nova ("new trend" in Portuguese) was 1958-1963.
Mili Vizcaino, vocals (not revealed in the video until the one minute mark)

The recordings of Stan Getz and Antonio Carlos (“Tom”) Jobim during the 1960s set in motion an international craze for Latin Jazz, particularly samba and bossa-nova.

One Note Samba
Garry Mulligan (on clarinet!) learns the intricacies of samba rhythms from Antonio Carlos Jobim (known by Brazilians as “Tom,” and not pronounced at all as in English). The rare video footage was recorded in Mulligan’s own apartment.