Jazz Cookie’s Beach, San Diego
Hello JazzBabies, wherever you are…
When last we met it was August and summer, but now we’ve crossed over into September with autumn but a week away. Think of all those musical possibilities: “summer,” “September,” “autumn.” No wonder composers so often latch onto the calendar for inspiration. We live our lives in minutes that become days that become weeks and months and years, measured by the “tick tick tock of the stately clock.”
I did some reading while I relaxed on my mini vacation, and one of the books I picked up was Ted Gioia’s The Jazz Standards: A Guide to the Repertoire. It’s a nice companion to my jazz fake book that has complementary information about dozens of tunes. Gioia has written several good books about jazz and is considered a leading expert on American music.
Jazz Standards includes a lot of the kinds of trivia I enjoy, history as it were of jazz – the music, the musicians and the performances. I’ll continue to pass along bits and pieces of that history on this site from my personal experience and library of jazz. In the meantime, I recommend any of Gioia’s books for your library.
And I always love hearing from you, JazzBabies, with additions from your own jazz-lovin’ lives.
To start us off this time, here’s a tune that didn’t show up in Gioia’s book, because it wasn’t written as a jazz tune or even a pop tune back in 1942 or when it was recorded by Frank Sinatra in 1945. The song, “The House I Live In,” was written for the musical Let Freedom Ring and the lyrics are emotional and patriotic, not surprising when the country was at war. Frank Sinatra was featured in a film short made around the song, a short that won an Honorary Academy Award and a Golden Globe in 1946. Sinatra’s recording became a national hit, but the song and its composers were controversial during the blacklisting era in America. In the intervening years, however, many others have recorded or performed the song. Irony even in the jazz world.
I hadn’t heard this song for perhaps decades but was driving the other day, listening to our local jazz station when the unmistakable melody caught me. And with 9/11 on the calendar, it seemed an appropriate tune to get us back on the jazz track. Sonny Rollins does the honor here – who better?…No lyrics on this cut, but if you’re interested they’re on the web as is the film with a young Blue Eyes. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=buZrdJ5cNpo
Up in Oregon, my old home territory, there’s a trial going on about land and drugstore cowboys and a certain amount of illegal activity that has darned little to do with jazz. But I was thinking about “Don’t Fence Me In” which is what I imagine some of those drugstore cowboys, now residing in jail, might sing if they could sing, and the whole thing got me going on the jazz road. This song is always attributed to Cole Porter and he did write the music, but the original text came from a cowboy poet by the name of Robert Fletcher from Helena Montana. When Porter was commissioned to write a cowboy song for the musical film Adios, Argentina, the sophisticated Mr. Porter must have felt out of his element and bought Fletcher’s poem for $250. He reworked it a bit and wanted to give Fletcher credit but this was nixed by the publishers. Porter himself didn’t like the song much. Still, many from Roy Rogers to Ella Fitzgerald and Bing Crosby did so did Mildred Bailey a new voice to me, who has a story of her own. Bailey hailed from Tekoa, Washington, a little town outside Spokane and went from there to becoming Paul Whiteman’s vocalist for several years. She eventually married jazz dude Red Norvo and the two became known as “Mr. and Mrs. Swing.” There’s so much more to the story but I’ll just say I’m happy to make her acquaintance and I hope you are, too. Here she is with Paul Whiteman from a 1952 recording of the jazziest cowboy tune ever. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=buZrdJ5cNpo
Bill Evans, Scott LaFaro on bass and Paul Motian on drums. I can’t think of a more amazing sound. Well, sure, I suppose we could come up with some, but this happens to be a disc I keep right beside me all the time just for a quick shot at any hour of the passing day or evening of Evans, LaFaro and Motian Evans’ take on what’s so often a drowsy ballad knocks me out. From the trio’s album, Portrait in Jazz, produced by Orrin Keepnews (where would the recorded world of jazz be without Keepnews?) and recorded in New York in December 1959, please welcome the coming season, JazzBabies, with “Autumn Leaves.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=buZrdJ5cNpo
Nancy Curtin is a songbird from Portland, Oregon, with deep roots in tradition Irish music. Then one day the wind changed, she caught the scent of Brazil and the rest is musical history. Nancy learned Portuguese so she could sing the songs as Tom Jobim and his compatriots wrote them, teamed up with like-minded musicians and became one of Oregon’s favorite jazz vocalists. I’ve been after her for a couple of years to get something on Youtube, so I could send it to the JazzBabies, and this summer, she did. She’s here with other Portland favorites, pianist Tom Grant and bass player, Dave Captein from their album Soul Brasileiro, on Jorge Ben Jor’s “Mas, Que Nada.” Give it up, JazzBabies. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=buZrdJ5cNpo
I’ll wrap up with this smooth and mellow trumpet tune by the master, Miles Davis, appropriate for the last days of summer. It’s definitely a beach day in my neighborhood, so I invite you to put on the sandals and join me as I head there. Let’s make the most of it. Even in sunny southern California, summer doesn’t last forever. I like Miles best when he’s a little on the sweet side as he is on this one. As one of my favorite deejays, Jay Ward, from a long time ago back in Bellevue, Washington, once said, “I’m not crazy about the music when they blow their brains out.” Well, I guess I’m of the same school, Jay…So here’s Miles, sweet and lovely on the equally lovely Irving Berlin tune, “How Deep Is the Ocean.” Greetings from San Diego! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MjCMcdhUWn8
Enjoy your days, wherever you are, JazzBabies. Every one of the minutes on “that stately clock” count.
Will be looking for you next time,