I love road trips. There’s nothing quite like leaving city traffic behind and hitting the highway for parts more or less unknown.
Flying was fun back in the days when you just bought your ticket and walked up the steps to be greeted by the friendly crew, possibly even the captain, and when it seemed that passengers were also a friendly lot – nobody fighting over places to stow their cumbersome bags or refusing to put the seat up for take-off.
My only experience on an ocean-going vessel did not leave me impressed. So I remain a devotee of the rails. For real romance, nothing beats the train.
I come from a railroading family and have been riding the rails, so to speak, since I was a mere babe in arms. When I was a child of about 8 or 9 I took the train by myself from our little town to the little town 50 miles away where my grandparents lived. I thought this was pretty hot stuff, but found out later that every conductor and porter knew when my grandfather’s little granddaughter was on board.
I still love to ride the trains and I love music about them, too.
I’m going to move around the musical map a bit (no pun intended) with some tunes that I particularly like. I hope you might, too.
The obvious place to start is with Glenn Miller and “Chattanooga Choo Choo,” perhaps the most memorable jazz/swing tune on the subject. This one has Glenn with Tex Beneke and the Modernaires. (I know a bad shaggy dog joke about “The Cat That Chewed the New Shoes” but I won’t bother you with it right now.)
Moving over to a folksy kind of tribute to the rails is the song that astronauts once woke up to and why not: “Good morning, America, how are you?” The song has been covered by all kinds of talented artists but here’s “The City of New Orleans” by the songwriter himself, Steve Goodman, a man who left the planet much too young.
My favorite “train” song is one I first heard played by Cy Coleman on his “Witchcraft” album back in the 1960s…oh so long ago. I later learned “I Thought About You” as part of my jazz vocal repertoire (I use that word loosely) and even later, I heard it by a vocalist I feel a personal attachment to – Susannah McCorkle. Susannah does a good thing here – she includes the verse. Singers would do well to include the verses more often. Song writers put them there for a reason. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RZeV4acvr2E
And because I love the song so much, I’m including a terrific instrumental version by the Keith Jarrett Trio. I still can’t watch Keith play but he does a lovely job on this one.
Swinging back to a pop/bluesy sound, here’s Gladys Knight & the Pips with “Midnight Train to Georgia.” “I’d rather live in his world than live without him in mine.” Girl, I know just what you’re talkin’ about…stay tuned. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IdfZnWsps34
And finally, back to the jazz world with the one train jazz cats love best, that fine and funky “A” train which runs right up to Harlem. I know we usually think of Duke Ellington or maybe the songwriter Billie Strayhorn when we think of the A train, but here’s a great version by Sarah Vaughan. Listen to the way Sassy’s voice moves up and down those notes pulling you right along with her.
If you have other favorite train tunes – jazz or otherwise – send them along. We can never have too many ways to have a good time on the rails.