Someone once said about jazz that “the music never lets you down.” I thought about that during this harder-than-usual week in the aftermath of Orlando that left most of us shattered in one way or another.
I found myself in the car tuning into the jazz station non-stop instead of bouncing between KSDS and NPR as I often do while driving. I didn’t want to hear more details of Orlando or politics or guns or civic problems. I didn’t want to hear talking heads.
I care about all those things, but I wanted the music. And, as the long-ago speaker promised, it didn’t let me down.
As I write this in the early Friday evening, summer is ready to pounce on much of the country including San Diego. High temperatures are predicted almost everywhere, and we’re due for a heat wave over the next several days, too. So I’ve gathered some cool tunes to see us through. Cool tunes, something tall and icy to sip, and the lazy sense of just doing a lot of nothing but listening works for me. I hope it works for you as well.
Here’s Joe Pass to get us started with a live performance from the Montreux Jazz Festival, 1975, with his “L’il Darlin’.” Composer/trumpeter Neal Hefti wrote this tune in 1957 and arranged it for the Count Basie Orchestra who introduced it the same year. Jazz writer and editor, Sandra Burlingame, wrote that the tune “…is another of those songs that, without ever charting, moved right into the jazz lexicon and became a favorite of instrumentalists.” Listening to Joe Pass, I’m sure we can safely say it’s a favorite of his. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l6iMXwEt3Bg
I guess by now you JazzBabies know how much I like jazz guitar. I even tried to learn to play it a long time ago when I lived in a little burg in Washington state that had few things to recommend it, but it did have a hellaciously great jazz guitar player/teacher by the name of John LaChappelle. Other favorites of mine – John Stowell and Larry Coryell, for example – know that name well and agree about John LaChappelle’s talents. Unfortunately, my lessons were Saturday mornings at 10:00 a.m. and John had been playing non-jazz banjo at a local pizza joint until the wee hours, so we mostly talked instead of playing music. I didn’t learn to play, but I did learn to listen and I learned a lot about jazz, too. On hot summer Sunday afternoons, he played a couple of sets at one of the local watering holes and there was just no better way to spend Sunday afternoon than sitting in the dark cool, sipping icy somethings, and listening to John LaChappelle. You go to your church; I’ll go to mine.
Cy Coleman has long been a favorite of mine for his musical genius as composer and often also lyricist. Many of his tunes have become standards over the years, and he won a boatload of awards in his day, including Tonys, for his inventive work. Tunes like “Witchcraft,” “The Best Is Yet to Come,” and musicals like Sweet Charity lead the list. But he did many others, too, and one of his musicals was a show titled City of Angels, with a score that included this torchy song done here by songbird Cleo Laine from the 1991 BMG album, Jazz. She’s backed by Mike Renzi on piano, Rich Girard on bass, Jim Zimmerman on drums, Larry Koonse on guitar, John Dankworth and Ray Loeckle on woodwinds. Great bad-girl lyrics by Cy Coleman as well – “You Can Always Count on Me.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VY810vUGqf8
Who’s cooler than Chet Baker? I’m particularly drawn to this cool guy on his albums recorded in Europe. I’m not sure why, but perhaps it’s that Continental je ne sais quoi that loosens everything up. At any rate, this one does it for me. The album, Chet Baker the Incredible Plays and Sings was recorded in 1977 in Spain and included this tune by Dizzy Gillespie and Gil Fuller, “I Waited for You.” Chet doesn’t sing on this one, but he’s still incredible. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iPuYehvkncM
And now we come to Miss Ella Fitzgerald with a tune that was written for her but not sung by her for the movie, Pete Kelly’s Blues. Things change, and in Hollywood they change faster than cars switching lanes on an L.A. freeway. But although the song was dropped from the movie, Ella released a recording of “Cry Me a River” on her 1961 album, Clap Hands, Here Comes Charlie! A bit of trivia: The song was first released on Liberty Records in 1955 by Julie London backed by Barney Kessel and Ray Leatherwood. But we’re her for Ella tonight. Settle back and listen. Some of the sweetest vocalizing ever. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Gn9A-kdsRo
Lest you think I’m ignoring what happened Sunday in Orlando, I assure you, I’m not. I have a lot of gay friends and one gay child, so I took it pretty hard. All week I tried to come up with a tune to express the feelings of it all. Finally, I settled on this one both because it’s respectful of the difficult times and because it’s brassy and upbeat in the right places. Also because it’s a great mix of jazz and rock and Billie Holiday. So I give you now, Blood Sweat & Tears with their excellent take on Holiday’s “God Bless the Child.” Seems like exactly the right hymn for the occasion. God bless them every one. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=04rClGsbWp4
And that’s it for this time, JazzBabies. As that wonderful non-jazzy guy, James Taylor, advised years ago, “Shower the people you love with love. Show them the way that you care…” Life can change in an instant.