When I was a kid, May 30 was called Decoration Day, and it was the day we decorated the graves of those we’d lost over the years, including family and close friends. Then things changed and it became Memorial Day but was still celebrated on May 30. The only travel involved was getting to the family cemetery from wherever we happened to live.
Now, it’s a 3-day weekend with big sales and events that have nothing to do with memorials. There’s the occasional parade with old veterans marching in memory of their lost buddies, and some cemeteries still arrange crosses or flags that look beautiful in the late May sunlight. And Memorial Day comes now on whatever date is the last Monday in May. This year, happily, it’s May 30 again.
I’m too far now to get to either of the two family cemeteries I might have visited, and most of the relatives are either in one of those cemeteries or another or have simply scattered to the four corners. Old traditions, like people, die.
Our job is to look to the joy of living and relish what we have while we have it. And one of the things I relish most is the joie de vivre I find in jazz. Joie de jazz? It may be an oxymoron, but even the blues can make me happy.
One of my favorite movies of the last couple of decades is Corrina, Corrina, because it’s a movie about life, loss, love and especially jazz. The cast is terrific and the story covers some important aspects of life in America when the stars, Ray Liotta and Whoopee Goldberg, fall for each other. For my money, these two are at their charming best in this flick. The soundtrack is a jazz lover’s ear candy and one I play often as it’s populated by some of the musicians I’d walk a mile to hear.
For starters, there’s Louis Armstrong with the Oscar Peterson Trio Plus One from this 1957 recording, “You Go to My Head.” The boys are backed by Herb Ellis on guitar, Ray Brown on bass and Louis Bellson on Drums. They definitely go to my head. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vsE5_fFGezw
Then, there’s Miss Sassy Vaughan on the tune that drove my jazz novel, Listen. Here she is with “They Can’t Take That Away from Me,” although, as I wrote in the book, they can and sometimes do. But not today, JazzBabies, not today. This one’s from 1954 – Sarah Vaughan with Clifford Brown, a terrific combination. I have to say of all the dozens of renditions of this Gershwin tune, this is by far my favorite. It’s the bounce. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UY_JSXtHUoY
If anybody ever knew from jazz, it was Duke Ellington. His string of tunes goes on and on, but this one, this particular one is the one every jazz aficionado and musician needs to know because the Duke was so right. It really don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing. Also from the Corrina, Corrina soundtrack, here he is with vocalist Ivie Anderson. Anderson hailed from L.A. back in the day and was a favorite among audiences and critics alike. Nat Hentoff wrote that Anderson was “the most sensitive and musical female vocalist Ellington ever had” and went on to claim that she had “one of the unforgettable voices in Jazz,” a voice that had been sadly neglected in writing about jazz. Another reviewer noted that, “Ivie can sing a song so that the audience gets every word, and at the same time make cracks at Sonny Greer, tease Duke and wink at the boys in the front row.” I’m sorry to have missed her. But thanks to the magic of technology we do have this great old recording. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rW6A6u0EgLc
Because it’s Memorial Day weekend, I thought to include a tune appropriate for the occasion. No, it’s not a patriotic tune or a hymn, JazzBabies, just a song about remembering. And it’s nicely done by Frank Sinatra with Axel Stordahl’s orchestra. “Memories of You,” was written by Eubie Blake in 1930 with lyrics by Andy Bazaf. You might think this is just a song about a guy with a broken heart, but losing a good friend or relative we care about makes our hearts break, too. This one’s for every person who brings memories back for you. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N3_sQXQjF8g
Okay, now, in the spirit of a holiday weekend and it is a holiday weekend after all, I leave you with a tune that always evokes for me that “joie de jazz” I mentioned earlier. This one is “St. Thomas” with Sonny Rollins from the Saxophone Colossus album. He’s backed by Tommy Flanagan on piano, Doug Watkins on bass and Max Roach on drums. Although the tune is closely associated with Rollins and he’s often credited as composer, the tune is actually based on an English traditional song, “The Lincolnshire Poacher.” The story goes that Rollins’ mother often sang the song to him when he was a child in the Virgin Islands. That scalawag Lincolnshire poacher morphed by way of Rollins into a cool Caribbean cat. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UA2XIWZxMKM
And in case you’d like to hear the roots of Rollins’ composition, here’s a simple piano version of “The Lincolnshire Poacher.” (This is not Tommy Flanagan at the keyboard, JazzBabies.) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=czkC3Ao_BN4
And that’s it for this post. Have a relaxing or busy or lively weekend, JazzBabies. Catch some music if you can. Be safe and if you’re away from home, travel well. Or as I tell my kids, “Drive like somebody loves you.”