JazzBabies, it’s a Sunday in the summer as I write. Not quite a Sunday in the park with George, but a beautiful day in its own right. Still, the world seems to be falling apart what with a fair amount of bad news this past week, and a different person might ask, “How can you think about music at a time like this?”
My answer would be, “How could we not?”
From marches to hymns, from symphonies to sambas, music reminds us of our better nature and, let’s face it, a lot of fine music has come out of the worst of times and the toughest situations. “The Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B” and “I’ll Be Seeing You” meant something to a lot of GIs about to hit the beaches. And the movie Good Morning, Vietnam, based on the life of a battlefield DJ, gave us a soundtrack for Vietnam.
So, in the face of much anger, sorrow, chaos and confusion, we’re here to keep the music going today. Not to ignore what’s happening elsewhere, but to remind ourselves that anger, sorrow, chaos and confusion are only one part of the picture. Let’s not get lost in it.
Not every jazz musician gets the kind of start John Pizzarelli had with his dad, the legendary Bucky Pizzarelli. But John was not one to rest on the family laurels. He’s made his way with his own talent and recordings and live performances over his 50-plus years. His album Dear Mr. Cole, released in 1994, is considered perhaps his best and here’s a bouncy tune from that album to kick things off, “What Can I Say Dear,” with John on guitar and vocals, Benny Green on piano and Christian McBride on bass. This tribute to Mr. Nat “King” Cole swings! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fws2AexxNQo
Charlie Parker wrote it, Dexter Gordon plays it. And plays it about as up tempo as a musician can get. The tune is “Confirmation,” and Gordon included it on his 1955 album, Daddy Plays the Horn. This is the kind of tune that requires a musician – or a vocalist – to stop thinking and just let it carry him or her away. Few vocalists have recorded it – Sheila Jordan and Jay Clayton come to mind – but it’s sometimes used as training for wannabe jazz vocalists. Kind of like starting with a marathon run. I know. I was one of Jay Clayton’s students. “Sailing away with you when the moon was shining bright, that night, that night, the night I first saw you…” Let’s just leave it to Dexter Gordon this time with Kenny Drew on piano, Leroy Vinnegar on bass and Lawrence Marable on drums. Daddy does play that horn…https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nCjibEEpQuI
Seattle’s Garfield High School has produced so many jazz greats, it’s as if the Jazz gods and goddesses have personally blessed that school. Perhaps none is better known than Quincy Delightt (great name) Jones, also known simply as “Q.” Jones had an extra boost early on from the legendary Ray Charles, who inspired Jones after Jones heard him and introduced himself when he was still in high school. Jones went from Garfield to Seattle U and then to Berklee to study music. A bit of trivia: While at Seattle U one of his classmates was another music major, Clint Eastwood, who has such a reputation for his love of jazz. Small world. Jones spent a lot of time in Europe in the 1950s and in 1957, recorded his first album, This Is How I Feel About Jazz. The album included his composition, “Stockholm Sweetnin.” There’s so much more to say about Quincy Jones – his life, his work, his contributions, his music – but for now, let’s just listen to this fine tune in a recording that features, Quincy Jones, Art Farmer, Phil Woods, Hank Jones, Paul Chambers and Charlie Persip, among others. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EUQHW61PgE4
Raise your hand if you’ve ever fallen in love. Okay, JazzBabies, let’s not always see the same hands…Falling in love is a wonderful experience whether you’ve fallen for a person, a song, a place, a Ben & Jerry’s ice cream flavor, or any of the countless things the universe offers. But few have the blinding and mind-rattling effect of falling in love with somebody. If you’ve done it, and I see that many of you have, you’ll recognize the lyrics of this 1934 Ray Noble tune recorded in 1963 by Nancy Wilson on her Capitol album, Yesterday’s Love Songs/Today’s Blues. The album might also have been titled Yesterday’s Pop Tunes/Today’s Jazz Classics. Life’s funny that way. I always like a singer who includes the verse. I like Nancy. Listen for Joe Pass on the guitar here. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rqdIfdM5_fM
Now for a little fun before we head back into the fray, JazzBabies. Jimmy Van Heusen and Johnny Burke were responsible over the years for some of our favorite songs. Van Heusen composed with a number of lyricists but the Van Heusen/Burke duo produced hits like “Here’s That Rainy Day,” “Like Someone in Love,” “Moonlight Becomes You,” and “But Beautiful,” to name a few. This next tune was written for the 1945 Bing Crosby movie, The Bells of St. Mary’s. In the movie, Bing sings it to a group of kids. And when Sesame Street came along, the song was perfect for a different bunch of kids. Bob McGrath, a regular on Sesame Street, recorded it and now you, too, can sing along with Big Bird! McGrath also recorded Songs of Pogo based on the Walt Kelly character. Ain’t life grand? And fun, when it’s not falling apart? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RLYDOzJ6FIc
On that happy note, I’m going to bounce out of here, JazzBabies. I leave you with a thought from Finian of Finian’s Rainbow who once noted: “Things are hopeless, hopeless, but they’re not serious.”
Okay, maybe a little bit serious.