The dark gray clouds hung low over this corner of the country with its usually sunny skies today, the kind of weather that I find just right for listening to the mellow side of jazz, especially on a Sunday.
I’m just beginning to get things sorted out for my move to southern California come spring and have been busy with early decisions about what to take and what to sell – the usual kinds of decisions that are both fraught and freeing. I finally decided to shed almost everything and make a fresh start. This does not include, however, my jazz collection – neither the books nor the CDs.
But for today, I wanted a break from all the decision-making. I wanted some relaxing tunes that would carry me to a different place and remind me that sooner than I think, I’ll be in a new home – a nearly empty home for a while – and that I can do this at my own pace. In a world that so often seems too busy to stop for even a moment, doing anything at all at your own pace is a gift.
So I’ll share the gift with you, JazzBabies…get ready to relax, take time, and let the music do its thing.
While I was sorting books to give away or sell, I came across the hardbound script for a play by George Kaufman and Moss Hart. an old book I picked up in one used bookstore or another. And yes, this does have something to do with jazz. The play is “I’d Rather Be Right,” a 1937 musical with a score by Rodgers and Hart. As I flipped through the pages, trying to remember why I’d bought it in the first place, my eyes landed on one of the songs. The play is about politics and romance and the song is “Have You Met Miss Jones.” You never know where the clues will turn up or what they’ll lead to. I have “…Miss Jones” here by British vocalist Robbie Williams who was influenced by Frank Sinatra and whose resume includes jazz, rock, pop and assorted other things. The song has become a jazz standard and I like Williams’ swingy take on it. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HMsNqxIJ2x0
From Rodgers and Hart to Kurt Weill and Ogden Nash, a song introduced in 1944 in the Broadway musical, “One Touch of Venus.” The opening line, “Speak low when you speak love,” is a misquotation of a line from Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing,” in which Don Pedro says instead, “Speak low if you speak love.” You didn’t know there’d be a lesson from Shakespeare when discussing jazz, now did you? Anyway, here’s Diane Schuur with her incredibly clear voice to sing it for us. Schuur’s voice just knocks me out. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a6DwEGPuyBs
There’s so much to say about Gerry Mulligan that we’d be up all night talking about it, so I’ll just say this: Gerry Mulligan was there at the beginning and was one of the leading musicians of Cool. Mulligan did it all and he did it with just about everybody who was anybody in the jazz world. This is one of Mulligan’s compositions, “Night Lights,” from the 1963 album of the same name. The personnel include Mulligan – piano, baritone sax; Art Farmer – trumpet and fluegelhorn; Bob Brookmeyer – trombone; Jim Hall – guitar; Bill Crow – bass; Dave Bailey – drums. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0cK_AIpmejs
Hoagy Carmichael, like so many giants of jazz, was another multi-talented musician who not only composed, played and sang, but became a lawyer for a few years until the music pulled him back and we’re grateful it did. Another composer and author, Alec Wilder, wrote of Carmichael that he was “the most talented, inventive, sophisticated and jazz-oriented” of the hundreds of writers composing pop songs in the first half of the 20th century. That’s a huge compliment when you consider who was composing those popular songs – notables like Cole Porter, George Gershwin and Irving Berlin, among so many others. It was Hoagy Carmichael, who was a friend of the great Bix Biederbecke, who teamed up with Johnny Mercer to bring forth some great tunes, but my favorite always and forever is “Skylark,” published in 1941 and included on the 1957 album, “Hoagy Sings Carmichael.” Carmichael’s mellow voice gives it a softer sound than usual and I hope you like it. He’s accompanied by Jimmy Rowles on piano, Art Pepper on saxophone along with Harry Klee and Jimmy Zito. Johnny Mandel did the arrangements and conducting. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j7HsGBJjilQ
I discovered Teddy Wilson long ago when I picked up a 45 rpm record from a sale bin in a record store in Walla Walla, Washington, and I’ve been a Wilson fan ever since. Wilson is one of those jazz pianists who sounds good with everybody, but has an identifiable sound of his own. He backed Billie on many of her big hits and played with greats like Lester Young, Roy Eldridge, Charlie Shavers, Red Norvo, Buck Clayton and Ben Webster. Here’s Teddy Wilson with his quintet on “Memories of You,” a 1930s tune written by Eubie Blake. Other members of the group are Charlie Shavers on trumpet, Al Hall on bass, Specs Powell on drums and Red Norvo on vibes. Recorded seventy years ago almost to the day on January 15, 1945. Calendar time means nothing in the jazz world. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0IHesVEpM-o
Susannah McCorkle will always have a special place in my jazz-loving heart. I was in the middle of my novel Listen about the life and hard times of a girl singer in New York when Susannah McCorkle chose to end her own hard time life by jumping out a window in Manhattan. This tragic event made her music all the more poignant for me and it resonated as I continued to work on my own fictional story. She sang for several years at the Algonquin Hotel in New York and recorded on the Concord jazz label. One of my favorites, of many, is her cover of the Rupert Holmes song, “The People that You Never Get to Love.” This is from a 1993 recording. All those lost opportunities, but Susannah, I’m glad we got to love you for a while. And we still do. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MWTjbEnv4sM
That’s it for tonight, JazzBabies…I hope you enjoyed the mellow side of the music and will remember now and then to take time…take time…