Happy President’s Weekend, JazzBabies…
We got through a major storm in San Diego and are ready for music. But first a few words because I just have to get this off my chest and it’s not political. Here goes.
When it comes to jazz vocals, I’ll quote the signature words of Jimmy Durante: “Ev’rybody wants ta get inna da act!”
I sometimes wonder if jazz singers say to themselves in quiet, private moments: “I really want to sing opera.” Or folk. Or country western. Or rock and roll. My take is that the answer is most likely “No.” Not that jazz singers might not dip into another genre for the fun of it once in a while, but recording albums of the same – not so much. Singers from a lot of other genres are rushing these days to sing jazz. And it’s not turning out so great.
I’m not saying one of those singers might not do a good turn or two with jazz (Merle Haggard comes to mind), but to think of themselves as jazz singers would be a mistake. And for me to think of them as jazz singers is beyond impossible. Just singing the words of a jazzy song doesn’t make anyone a jazz singer.
I write this because Willie Nelson just won another Grammy, this time for his new Gershwin album. Gershwin? King of country western singing Gershwin? I’m sorry if this offends anyone, but I’ve watched some of the recording videos and looked at old Willie holding the sheet music so he can remember the words, and in my book, JazzBabies, it’s a sad picture. This is not the posture of a jazz singer.
As my own vocal coach, jazz bird Jay Clayton, told me you don’t just sing the words, you have to feel them. Billie Holiday’s performance of “Love for Sale” didn’t start fights because she knew the words.
I’ll grant that Willie’s album was not billed as a jazz album, but anybody who thinks Gershwin is anything but jazz can quietly leave the room now. No harm, no foul, no questions asked. Your money will be refunded at the door.
Willie is a damned good musician and I’ve always liked listening to him when I’m in a country western state of mind. Nobody sings “Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be cowboys,” like Willie and he’s done good work with the fundraising concerts.
But Willie and jazz. Not on my watch.
I’m kicking things off this week with a song I never expected to hear on a jazz station, but then I thought about all the great tunes Harold Arlen wrote that are now standards and I asked myself, “Why not this one?” For anyone who is a Wizard of Oz purist, take a break and grab another glass of something good while we listen to this jazzy take with Rosemary Clooney on Arlen’s “Ding, Dong! The Witch Is Dead.” I caught it on the San Diego KSDS jazz station and thought “Yes!” This is from Clooney’s 1983 Concord album Rosemary Clooney Sings the Music of Harold Arlen. Personnel here are Scott Hamilton on tenor sax, Warren Vache on cornet, Dave McKenna on piano, Ed Bickert on guitar, Steve Wallace on bass and Jake Hanna on drums. Happy little bluebirds are flyin’ all over the place. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zGPvyYPyI_g
While we’re in a Harold Arlen mood, here’s another tribute to this prolific composer who wrote over five hundred songs. He teamed most often with Johnny Mercer, E.Y. “Yip” Harburg or, as on this one, with lyricist Ted Koehler. This is a fine and mellow take by Oscar Peterson from his composite album The Complete Songbooks, 1951-1955 with “I’ve Got the World on a String.” Peterson recorded it in 1954 with Herb Ellis and Ray Brown. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S6csbKucOJ8
This next tune comes under JazzCookie’s headings of “For Old Time’s Sake” and “Lest We Forget.” In 1959, four guys in New York made an album of new jazz tunes that featured some playful takes on time. The album did okay but it was a re-release two years later that caught the musical public’s ear, and one of those tunes became one of the biggest-selling jazz singles ever. The quintuple 5/4 time said it all. Here’s the original video of the Dave Brubeck Quartet with Dave, Paul Desmond on alto saxophone, Eugene Wright on bass and Joe Morello on drums having fun with – yeah, you already know, the now legendary “Take Five.” For old time’s sake. Lest we forget. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PHdU5sHigYQ
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the 1950s were a hot time in the old Jazz Town. So many good musicians and tunes came out of that decade, which is not to throw shade on any other decade when it comes to jazz. But coming of age with musicians like Dizzy Gillespie, Stan Getz, Hank Mobley, Oscar Peterson, Herb Ellis and Ray Brown, Max Roach and Charlie Persip just makes an impression on a young jazz aficionado. Here the fellows are joined by Wade Legge on piano and Lou Hackney on bass from the 1954 Diz and Getz album with Jimmy McHugh’s sweet and swingy, “Exactly Like You.” Damn, they’re good. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vNKlcsZ5lhE
JazzBabies, I cherish my CDs and tapes and old vinyl, but to me there’s nothing better than a live performance of just about any jazz musician. Even better than a live performance in my book is being present at a rehearsal when the real work happens and so often the real fun, too. E. B. White wrote an essay about a circus and noted that the real excitement happened not under the bright lights of the big top, but in the dusty and dirty old training rings. Same thing with the music. I struck gold when I ran across this terrific outtake of one of the Judy Garland television shows from the early 1960s. A young Mel Torme is rehearsing a performance of Ellington’s, “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore,” but the rehearsal includes an impish Judy and her pal, June Allyson and…well, you just have to see and hear for yourself. If Willie Nelson wants to sing jazz, he needs to watch and listen to more of Mel Torme. Enjoy! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zPou_i2plhQ
So that’s it for this time, JazzBabies. No matter what happens this week, or what fake news you hear, fly your jazz flag high and proud! I’ll be watching for it…