Friday, February 27, 2009

This Bitter Earth – Gladys Knight

This philosophical ballad was composed by Clyde Otis in 1959 for Dinah Washington. This rendition by blues singer Gladys Knight is remarkable for its jazz style (click on the link).

This bitter earth, what fruit it bears,
What good is love that no one shares?
And if my life is like the dust that hides the glow of a rose,
What good am I? Heaven only knows.
Lord, this bitter earth can be so cold.
Today you’re young, too soon, you’re old.
But while a voice within me cries,
I’m sure someone may answer my call,
And this bitter earth may not be so bitter after all.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

I’ll Close My Eyes -- Dinah Washington

I’ll Close My Eyes (1945)
Performed by Dinah Washington (1962)
Music by William Gordon Reid; lyrics by Buddy Kaye

Heaven sends a song through its doors
Just as if it seems to know I'm exclusively yours
Knowing this, I feel but one way.
You will understand it, too, in these words that I say:
I'll close my eyes to everyone but you,
And when I do, I'll see you standing there.
I'll lock my heart to any other caress.
I'll never say yes to a new love affair.
Then I'll close my eyes to everything that's gay
If you are not there to share each lovely day
And through the years in those moments when we're far apart,
I'll close my eyes and I'll see you with my heart.

Tragically, Dinah Washington (1924-1963) died from an accidental overdose of diet pills and alcohol at the age of 39 in December of 1963. She had been a successful blues, jazz and gospel singer. Her penetrating voice, excellent timing, and crystal-clear enunciation added her distinctive style to every piece she recorded.

She made a strong impression at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1958, but the 1959 release of “What a Diff’rence a Day Makes” was the track for which Washington won a Grammy Award for Best Rhythm and Blues Performance; the song was her biggest hit, reaching #8 on the Billboard Hot 100.

She was married seven times, and divorced six times while having several lovers, including Quincy Jones, who was then her young arranger. She was known to be imperious and demanding in real life, but audiences adored her. In London she once declared, “…there is only one heaven, one earth and one queen…Queen Elizabeth is an impostor”, but the crowd loved it!

An up-tempo instrumental version:

Performed by guitarist Dave Wilkinson, drummer Caspar St. Charles and organist Abel Boquera at the Bel-Luna Jazz Club, Barcelona (Spain), July 13, 2006.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Here's That Rainy Day

How times change -- Frank Sinatra sings under an open tasseled umbrella and smokes his way through this poignant ballad about a love that turns into a cold, rainy day. From the pen of Jimmy Van Heusen and Johnny Burke, this song was the only success from a 1953 Broadway musical titled "Carnival in Flanders," which closed after just six performances.

The song has sophisticated, complex harmonies and an unusual bass line, but the melody is perhaps its most distinctive feature; it never goes where one would expect.

Solo piano version from pianist Bill Evans (album was called "Alone"):

Sunday, February 8, 2009

I Can’t Get Started

Music by Vernon Duke, lyrics by Ira Gershwin

This rendition features the complete lyrics and a superb (but uncredited) saxophonist.

This song was introduced by Bob Hope, who sang it to Eve Arden in “Ziegfeld Follies of 1936.” It was sung for laughs, while Eve Arden made caustic comments about Bob Hope’s passionate interest.

“Ziegfeld Follies of 1936" trivia:
This was Fanny Brice’s last appearance in a Broadway show and George Balanchine’s Broadway debut as a choreographer. Despite the name, Florenz Ziegfeld had been dead for over three years (the Schubert Brothers had purchased the rights to Ziegfeld’s name).

Bunny Berigan (trumpet & vocals - 1937)

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Exactly Like You

Music by Jimmy McHugh and lyrics by Dorothy Fields (published 1930). The song was introduced by Harry Richman and Gertrude Lawrence in the 1930 Broadway show Lew Leslie's International Revue which also featured "On the Sunny Side of the Street."

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

All of Me - Dinah Washington

1958 Newport Jazz Festival
Dinah Washington, vocals (and vibes!)
Terry Gibbs, vibes; Urbie Green, trombone; Max Roach, drums.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Lotus Blossom (waltz)

Composed by Billy Strayhorn (1947)
Performed by Duke Ellington, piano

Trivia: Ellington claimed that Lotus Blossom was the piece Strayhorn most liked hearing him play.

From Ellington's eulogy upon the death of Strayhorn:
...Billy Strayhorn successfully married melody, words, and harmony, equating the fitting with happiness. His greatest virtue, I think, was his honesty, not only to others, but to himself. His listening-hearing self was totally intolerant of his writing-playing self when, or if, any compromise was expected, or considered expedient...He spoke English perfectly and French very well, but condescension did not enter into his mind. He demanded freedom of expression and lived in what we consider the most important and moral of freedoms: freedom from hate, unconditionally; freedom from self-pity (even throughout all the pain and bad news); freedom from fear of possibly doing something that might help another more than it might help himself; and freedom from the kind of pride that could make a man feel he was better than his brother or neighbor.

Another rendition by Charles Lloyd (tenor sax) with Geri Allen (piano)
Marc Johnson (bass), Billy Hart (drums), and John Abercrombie (guitar).

2001 Montreal International Jazz Festival

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Black Coffee

Vocalist Sarah Vaughan.
A blues song written in 1948; music by Sonny Burke and lyrics by Paul Francis Webster. Sarah Vaughan's 1949 recording on Columbia made the charts.

Perhaps the definitive bop version of this song is by Sonny Criss (alto saxophone):

Trivia: Lyricist Paul Francis Webster holds the record among lyricists for the most number of Academy Award nominations — sixteen.

I'm feeling mighty lonesome, haven't slept a wink.
I walk the floor and watch the door and in between I drink
Black coffee. Love's a hand me down brew.
I'll never know a Sunday in this weekday room.

I'm talking to the shadows from 1 o'clock til 4.
And lord, how slow the moments go when all I do is pour
Black coffee. Since the blues caught my eye
I'm hanging out on Monday my Sunday dreams to dry.

Now a man is born to go a lovin', a woman's born to weep and fret,
To stay at home and tend her oven
And drown her past regrets in coffee and cigarettes.

I'm moaning all the morning, and mourning all the night
And in between it's nicotine and not much heart to fight
Black coffee. Feelin' low as the ground.
It's driving me crazy just waiting for my baby
To maybe come around... around
I'm waiting for my baby to maybe come around.

My nerves have gone to pieces, my hair is turning gray
All I do is drink black coffee since my man's gone away.


Another rendition by vocalist K.D. Lang
and saxophonist Grover Washington, Jr.