Happy Birthday, Jay Livingston (1915 - 2001)

March 28, 2018
Posted by Jay Livingston

It’s strange to go ego-surfing and the only person who turns up is some other guy. It’s only fair. He’s the one who wrote all those songs that were hits a half-century ago – “Mona Lisa,” “Tammy,” “The Mr. Ed” theme song, and of course of course, “Silver Bells.” Simple songs with simple chords.

That’s what he became known for. That’s what Hitchcock was looking for when he hired him to write a song for “The Man Who Knew Too Much.” What Livingston (and his songwriting partner Ray Evans) came up with was “Que Sera Sera.” Said Hitchcock when he heard it, “Gentlemen, I told you I didn't know what kind of song I wanted, but that's the kind of song I want.”

His only tune in the jazz standards repertoire is “Never Let Me Go,” so different from those other songs – darker, in a minor key, and with complex and unexpected chord changes. It was also his own favorite. He tells the story that after he finished it, he took it to another song writer (I can’t remember who) to ask his opinion. The other composer sat down at the piano, played through it, and said, “You didn’t write this.”

He did write one other song that a few jazzers and singers do. “Maybe September.” Here is the version from the second Bill Evans - Tony Bennett album, 1977. There may be other recordings with a better vocal, but this one has Bill Evans.


Unknown said...

For folks who haven't seen this, it's seriously lovely.


(The relevant part starts at 42:07 or so.)

(I've been playing guitar in a band for a once-a-month private party for amateur jazz singers here in Tokyo for several years now: each singer brings two songs and we race through 40 or so songs. Mona Lisa is on the playlist for next week.)

Jay Livingston said...

Great stuff. Thanks. (I notice that as Livingston is leaving the stage, the host refers to him as "Ray" Livingston. So not that famous.)

I'm old enough to remember Gilersleeve though I never listened to it. I'm also old enough to have spent time hanging around jazz kissaten in Shinjuku, mostly Dig, still only a few years old then. IIRC, it was a narrow third-floor walk-up down some back alley. You could never find it yourself; you had to know someone who knew where it was.