Showing posts with label Music. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Music. Show all posts

Ahmad and Miles

July 7, 2020
Posted by Jay Livingston

(I’m a few days late with this one. Ahmad turned 90 on July 2.)

“When people say Jamal influenced me a lot, they're right.” Miles Davis, Miles, the Biography

But mostly, people don’t say that, and they don’t realize how great the influence was. There’s the musical style of course. In the 1950s, when beboppers were playing as many notes as possible in a measure, Ahmad was allowing for much more space, an approach that also suited Miles.

There was also the choice of tunes. When I was in junior high school, I got a copy of the Miles’s album “Milestones.” One of the tracks is “Billy Boy” — no horns, just Red Garland, Paul Chambers, and Philly Joe. The liner notes said, ‘Miles has an ear for a pop tune ("Billy Boy").’ I agreed. What a neat idea to import this folk tune (not a “pop tune”) into jazz.

I was an ignorant kid. I didn’t know then (and most people still don’t) that the musician who brought it into the jazz world was not Miles. It was Ahmad Jamal. The 1958 Red Garland arrangement on “Milestones” is nearly identical to Ahmad’s 1952 recording — the intro and outro, the added bridge, the block chords with octaves in the right hand.


For the Red Garland version, listen here.

Miles also often gets credit for making “On Green Dolphin Street” part of the standard jazz repertoire thanks to his 1958 sextet recording. It’s a great recording, but Ahmad was the one who clued the jazz world in to the potential of this movie-soundtrack tune. The same sequence is true of “Surrey With the Fringe On Top”: first Ahmad, then Miles, then everyone.

Ahmad did have one huge hit, an album that became a best seller even outside of the jazz world: “Live at the Pershing” (1958). The track that got played over and over again on the radio back then (and often now) is  “Poinciana,”  another tune that Ahmad hauled out of the “unlikely for jazz” bin. 

Here he is at age eleven – Fritz Jones in Pittsburgh’s Hill District.




Johnny Mandel, 1938-2020

July 1, 2020
Posted by Jay Livingston

Johnny Mandel died on Monday.

His best-known song, the one heard most often by the most people, is “Suicide Is Painless” though most of those people will not know the title let alone the composer. It’s the theme song for M*A*S*H. The obits will list Mandel's other hits like “Emily” and “The Shadow of Your Smile.”

When I was a freshman, someone in my dorm had a record of the soundtrack from the 1958 film “I Want to Live.” I thought: Wow, can you really do this — have real jazz played by real jazz guys (Gerry Mulligan, Art Farmer, Shelly Manne) in a Hollywood movie. It didn’t occur to me then to think about the composer/arranger. It was Johnny Mandel. Sixty-two years later, it still holds up. You can hear it here.

It’s hard to choose one recording. Shirley Horn has wonderful performances of several of his songs, and so does Bill Evans. There’s a Stan Getz recording of “Close Enough For Love” that I like because the piano player on it is Lou Levy, and once when I went to see him at a bar in New York, he let me copy the changes for that tune from his lead sheet. This was long before the Internet made that sort of thing so easy.

The beautiful “Moon Song” is not well-known, and when it’s performed, it’s usually done as a very slow ballad. But Fred Hersch, on his all-Mandel solo album “I Never Told You,” takes it at a livelier tempo, which makes easier to hear the melody and harmony.








Chick Corea, b. June 12, 1941

June 12, 2020
Posted by Jay Livingston


I started taking piano lessons last winter. Before the pandemic shut that down, I managed to meet with my teacher a half-dozen times. I told I was stuck in bebop cliches and wanted to move beyond that. At our last meeting — we didn’t know then it would be the last — he suggested that I listen to Chick Corea’s “Matrix.” It’s a 12-bar blues, but Toto, we’re not in “Now’s the Time” territory anymore.


I saw Chick live only once. I had gone to see Bill Evans at the Village Gate. Not long into the second set, Evans noted that Chick was in the house and asked him to sit in. Evans then left the stand and didn’t return. Chick played out the rest of the night.

Patriotism à la Sondheim

April 29, 2020
Posted by Jay Livingston

As many people have noted (including me here), one of the things that Stephen Sondheim brought to Broadways was ambivalence. It pervaded several of the songs in Sondheim 90th birthday tribute Monday night.  Some songs declare their ambivalence right off the bat (“I’ve got those God-why-don't-you-love-me-oh-you-do-I'll-see-you-later Blues.”) or in their titles (“Marry Me a Little”).  But ambivalence is a subtext in “Send in the Clowns” and “Anyone Can Whistle.” 
   
Baritone Brian Stokes Mitchell*, for his part in the tribute, chose “Flag Song.”  It's a patriotic song, written for a parade. It was going to be the opening for “Assassins” (“An imaginary parade with a crowd of bystanders watching, some of whom turn out to be assassins we get to know later,” says Sondheim)  but it was cut from the show.

Even in a song of patriotism, Sondheim gives us ambivalence.


You can gripe
All you like,
You can sneer,
“Where are the heroes?”
You can shout about
How everything’s a lie.
Then that flag goes by…

You can snipe
At the greed
At the need
To be a winner
At the hype
You keep hearing
From on high.

For a minute you’re aware
Of being proud.
And then suddenly you’re staring
At the crowd
And you’re thinking.
“They’re as different from me
As they possibly could be— “

Then that flag goes by,
And no matter how you sigh,
“It’s the bright blue sky.
It’s just Mom and apple pie.”
There’s this thing you can’t deny.
This idea.
















George M. Cohan it ain’t.

To hear it, go here**  and push the slider to about 1:20. Mitchell introduces the song this way.

If somebody asked Steve Sondheim to write a patriotic song for our country right now with everything that is going on, I think this is the song that he would write. It’s pretty amazing that he already wrote it. Thirty years ago.


Here he his performing it at the Kennedy Center a year pre-Covid-19.



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* Mitchell fell ill with Covid-19, recovered, and now regularly leans out his fifith-floor window — still on Broadway, but two miles north of the theater district — and, as people on the sidewalk below listen, booms out “The Impossible Dream.” (A video is here.)

**  After you hear “Flag Song,” push the slider to 1:58 to see “Ladies Who Lunch.” You’ve probably heard about this performance already if you’re at all interested in musical theater, but if not, don’t miss it.

Ellis Marsalis, 1934 - 2020

April 3, 2020
Posted by Jay Livingston

His sons Wynton and Branford became far better known, even outside the jazz world, especially when Branford was leading the Tonight Show band back in the Jay Leno days. But Ellis Marsalis was a fine pianist. This is his recording of “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square” from the album Heart of Gold, recorded in 1991. The other 14 tracks on the album are with bass and drums. But this one is solo piano., the melody once through. It shows his great sense of harmony.



I had known of this song, but the recordings I’d heard were treacly romantic versions from the 1940s. I never really heard it till I listened to Marsalis’s treatment (which I have tried to more or less copy when I play it). It’s as though he were singing it, and I’m sure that as he played he was thinking the lyrics to himself.

The Times obit says that he died of complications from COVID 19. He was 85.

Gary Burton, b. Jan 23, 1943

January 23, 2020
Posted by Jay Livingston

Sometime in the early 1970s, I was listening to the radio and heard Gary Burton’s recording of the great Jobim tune “Chega de Saudade” (inEnglish, “No More Blues.”)  It sounded like this. Go ahead, click and listen to at least the first 16 bars (15 seconds).


If you’ve never heard this recording before, you probably are thinking what I thought: That can’t be one person playing vibes. He’s overdubbing, accompanying himself, like Bill Evans on the “Conversations With Myself” album released ten years earlier.

But no, it’s just Burton by himself. “Alone At Last” as the title says. No overdubs, no tricks. Here’s a live version. You can see him holding the four mallets, sometimes playing chords, sometimes rapid single-note lines.


Burton revolutionized jazz vibraphone. Before Burton, jazz vibists had used only two mallets. Even if they used four to play chords when comping behind a soloist, when it came time for their own solo, they would lay two mallets aside. Burton even invented a different way of holding two mallets in each hand, now called the “Burton grip,” that allowed for an easier adjustment of the interval between the mallets in each hand. 

What had seemed an incredible feat nearly 50 years ago has now become a standard part of the vibes repertoire. On YouTube you can find a 22-year old Austrian kid playing Burton’s “Alone At Last” version note for note (here), and an 18-year old American girl playing her own Burton-inspired arrangement of the same tune (here),  the familiar part starts at about 0:55).

Burton is also one of the few gay jazz musicians. He came out during a Fresh Air interview in 1994.

Remembering Clifford

October 30, 2019
Posted by Jay Livingston

Clifford Brown, the brilliant jazz trumpet player, would have been 89 today. He died at the age of 25 in an automobile accident on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. It’s a poignant irony that one of his earliest jazz recording dates was with J.J. Johnson and included J.J.’s tune “Turnpike.”

Here is his best-known tune and recording — “Joy Spring.” Learning to play Brownie’s solo  (you can follow along with the transcription below) is part of the education of any serious jazz trumpet player. Ask Fabio.



After Brownie’s death, Benny Golson wrote a tune in tribute, “I Remember Clifford.” It is part of the repertoire of every trumpeter. Every trumpeter. There’s an old jazz joke:

A small combo — rhythm section and trumpet — has a gig, and at the last minute the trumpet player has to bow out. So they quickly get the first trumpeter they can find. The guy shows up with his horn, and as they’re talking about what they might play, he says that he only knows three tunes.
   
That’s OK, they say (they’re desperate). We can play them in different keys and different tempos, and somehow we’ll get through the night. What are the tunes?

“The Star Spangled Banner,” “My Country ’Tis of Thee,” and “I Remember Clifford.”

Art Blakey Centennial

October 11, 2019
Posted by Jay Livingston

Art Blakey, the great jazz drummer, was born one hundred years ago today in Pittsburgh.

There are only two drummers who I could identify in a blindfold test. Art Blakey is one of them. The other is Max Roach, who said of Blakey:

Art was an original. He’s the only drummer whose time I recognize immediately. And his signature style was amazing; we used to call him ‘Thunder.’ When I first met him on 52d Street in 1944, he already had the polyrhythmic thing down. Art was the perhaps the best at maintaining independence with all four limbs. He was doing it before anybody was. And he was a great man, which influenced everybody around him. [quoted in the Times obituary, October 1990]

He kept the Jazz Messengers going for thirty-five years. He would find talented young players who would, in a couple of years, become famous (well, jazz-famous) and go off on their own (Wynton Marsalis joined the group when he was seventeen). Blakey would then replace them with new talent, and the cycle would repeat.

His best-known album is probably “Moanin’”, released in 1959, an incredibly rich year for jazz. (See the daily entries at The 1959 Project . The video below begins with one of the tunes from that album, not the best-known — that distinction goes to the title tune by pianist Bobby Timmons — but “Along Came Betty” by the sax player Benny Golson, who wrote many other tunes for the Messengers and basically functioned as the group’s musical director. The video is from 1988 with a completely different cast, except for Blakey.

As the tune ends (at about 7:00), Blakey takes a one-minute drum solo followed by “I Get a Kick Out of You” in the rhythmically complicated Clifford Brown - Max Roach arrangement from 1954 with a minute and a half of pure Blakey at the end.

Good-Bye Mr. Evans

August 16, 2019
Posted by Jay Livingston

I posted a Bill Evans video a year ago on this same date. I know. Repetitious and not at all sociological. It’s what Chris Uggen, back when he blogged, would have filed under “self-indulgery.”

Bill Evans would have been ninety today had he lived, though there was never much hope for that. He shot a lot of heroin. He was only 40 when he died.

“Two Lonely People” is probably his greatest composition. The lyric added later by Carol Hall is much better than most of the lyrics people have tried to tack on to Evans’s compositions. You can hear it on the album Evans recorded with Tony Bennett (here). I prefer the trio version.




I went to the memorial service for Evans in St. Peter’s church a few days after his death in 1980 even though, as I wrote in my journal at the time, “I didn’t like going to people’s grief as entertainment.” Several musicians played. Many others there did not, Marian McPartland being the best known. Had they not asked her? Or had she been asked but declined?

Barry Harris played a beautiful composition. I asked him later what it was called, and he said he still didn’t have a title for it. I still haven’t tracked it down, though surely he must have named and recorded it.

Phil Woods, who did play at the memorial, soon after wrote “Good-bye Mr. Evans,” which has become a jazz standard. But when the song was new and largely unrecorded, I heard Lou Levy play it one night at Bradley’s. (Lou had also been at the memorial service, though he did not play.) He let me borrow his lead sheet to copy down the changes. I still have that scrap of paper in my folder.

High Hopes

August 15, 2019
Posted by Jay Livingston

History repeats itself, first as Sinatra, then as Panic! at the Disco.






Surely others must have noted the identical titles. But read the lyrics. The idea too is the same, based on the good old American values of ambition, hard work, and success. It’s the belief that single-minded striving (the 10,000 hours) will lead to success, wealth, and fame.

UPDATE, August 16: A bit of Googling (“Sinatra Panic”) has revealed to me my own ignorance. Turns out Brendon Urie is a Sinatra fan. The Panic! “High Hopes” is not so much a cover as an homage. A cover of the original Cahn-VanHeusen “High Hopes” would have seemed like Urie was making fun of the original. But Urie writes Sinatras, not parodies.

João Gilberto, 1931-2019

July 7, 2019
Posted by Jay Livingston

In the summer of 1964, you couldn’t turn on the radio without hearing “The Girl From Ipanema.” It was the hit single from the album Getz / Gilberto.


The Gilberto named on the album cover is João Gilberto, whose death was announced this week. He was one of the central figures in the creation of bossa nova, along with Antonio Carlos Jobim, Vinicius de Moraes (music and lyrics, respectively, for “The Girl From Ipanema”), and a few others.
But the Gilberto who this chart-topper made famous was his wife Astrid. DJ s would even refer to her as “The Girl From Ipanema.” João was left in the editing room. On the album, the song runs 5½ minutes. First João sings the original Portuguese lyric, then Astrud the English lyric, followed by Getz for a full chorus, Jobim on piano for half a chorus, with Astrud again singing the final 16 bars.

Radio stations wouldn’t play songs longer than three minutes, so the radio version cut João completely and all but eight bars of Getz’s solo.


Gilberto’s 1958 recording of “Chega de Saudade,” another Jobim-Vinicius composition, is one of the defining moments in bossa nova. It’s a wonderful song, or two songs really — a 32-bar section in C minor, followed by a complementary 36-bar section in C major.* (The minor-major change reflects the change in the lyrics from sad to hopeful.) The recording is just Gilberto accompanying himself on guitar. There’s only a bit of what he would do more of later in his career — singing slightly away from the beat, sometimes ahead, sometimes behind, so that you’re not sure if he’s ever going to get back in sync with the song.



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* Most sheet music versions, including lead sheets and guitar tabs, are in D.


*

Tom Waits

December 7, 2018
Posted by Jay Livingston

Tom Waits is 69 years old today.

I don’t remember how I found my way to Tom Waits, though it happened fairly late in my listening life,  or who showed me the way? Was it the jazz station DJ who played “Emotional Weather Report” early one morning as I was driving to New Jersey? Or my step-brother the huge Dylan fan? Or was it the friend who sent me a mix tape with the Tori Amos cover of “Time.”? (Waits’s songs do not lend themselves to covers. But Amos’s “Time” is an exception. And of course there’s Springsteen’s “Jersey Girl.”).

Waits’s lyrics, like Dylan’s, shine with novel imagery of the familiar world.

You’re east of East St. Louis
And the wind is making speeches
And the rain sounds
Like a round of applause.


But Waits, also like Dylan, often stays in his own room, inviting us in to look at the striking but puzzling pictures on the wall.



Oh and things are pretty lousy
For a calendar girl.
The boys just dive right off the cars
And splash into the street
And when they’re on a roll
She pulls a razor from her boot
And a thousand pigeons
Fall around her feet

Anyway, here’s the original, just Waits (voice and guitar) and an accordion sounding more like a concertina.



Randy Newman

November 28, 2018
Posted by Jay Livingston

Randy Newman is 75 today.

Nearly 20 years ago, I was in a movie theater watching Toy Story 2. It may have been someone’s birthday party. I don’t remember. What I do remember is the song “When She Loved Me.”



As the song ended, I thought: here I am, a grown man  surrounded by a bunch of eight-year olds, and I’m practically in tears because of a song that a cartoon toy doll just sang about a cartoon girl.

If this song does not win an Academy Award, I thought, there is no justice. It didn’t and there wasn’t. The Oscar went to Phil Collins.

The song has none of the irony that pervades Newman’s non-Pixar songs. In those songs, the voice we hear is a flawed characters an unreliable narrator, like the voice in his biggest hit “Short People.” (Some unimaginative listeners, unable to see the satire and irony, took Newman literally and condemned the song.)

The ambivalence haunts even Newman’s love songs, like “Marie,” which seems merely beautiful until you listen to the lyrics and realize that this guy is an abusive drunk, someone Marie would be better off without..

    And I'm weak and I'm lazy
    And I've hurt you so
    And I don't listen to a word you say
    When you're in trouble I just turn away

And yet, his feeling is real.


(I made similar observations in this 2008 blog post after seeing Newman in concert at Carnegie Hall.)

About Joni Mitchell

November 7, 2018
Posted by Jay Livingston

Joni Mitchell is 75 today.

Fifty years ago, liking her music was so cool. But by the end of the century, that had changed, as I painfully realized when I saw “About a Boy.” She had become the punch line to a joke.

It’s not that Joni herself changed, though she did, nor that her music changed, though it did. But what had changed was the liking of her music. It has followed a cycle roughly similar to what Jenn Lena in Banding Together calls “genres,” from “avant garde” to “tradionalist.”

The boy in “About a Boy” is about is Marcus, a twelve-year old who lives with his mother Fiona.

Marcus knew he was weird, and he knew that part of the reason he was weird was because his mum was weird.. . she didn't want him to watch rubbish television, or listen to rubbish music, or play rubbish computer games (she thought they were all rubbish), which meant that if he wanted to do any of the things that any of the other kids spent their time doing, he had to argue with her for hours.

She likes Joni Mitchell, and so does he. The two of them sing Joni Mitchell songs together. The scene in the movie — mother and son in the kitchen, singing not especially well — is painful to watch.

The political and cultural preferences Marcus has adopted from his mother do not do him much good outside the home, especially at his new school.

If he tried to tell Lee Hartley — the biggest and loudest and nastiest of the kids he'd met yesterday — that he didn't approve of Snoop Doggy Dogg because Snoop Doggy Dogg had a bad attitude to women, Lee Hartley would thump him, or call him something that he didn't want to be called.

Into their life comes Will (Hugh Grant in the movie), who makes it his mission to separate Marcus culturally from his mother, to transform Marcus into someone the other kids will not bully. He introduces Marcus to music that is more generationally appropriate, as in this clip.  (I’d embed it here, but the clip is Mystikal, and this post is supposed to be about Joni Mitchell.)

In the end Will is successful. The final lines of the book are reminiscent of the “K-Mart sucks” ending of “Rain Man.”

Will decided to give Marcus a little test. “Hey Fiona. Why don’t you get your music and we can all sing a Joni Mitchell song?”...

But Will was watching Marcus’s face carefully. Marcus was looking really embarrassed. “Please, Mum. Don’t.”

“But Marcus, you love singing. You love Joni Mitchell.”

“I don’t. Not now. I hate Joni Mitchell.”

Will knew then, without any doubt, that Marcus would be OK.

Bill Evans, b. August 16, 1929

August 16, 2018
Posted by Jay Livingston

I wore out my LP of “Explorations” mostly listening to this track and “Nardis.”


I have this picture propped up on my piano. Someone told me they saw Evans at the Vanguard. At one point they looked around the room, and half the people were sitting like this — head bent low, hands extended on their cocktail tables. Maybe the story was true. I saw him there once with Eddie Gomez  on bass (I don’t remember the drummer), but I didn’t see anything like this. But it’s a good story.

Frank Loesser — “My Time of Day”

June 29, 2018
Posted by Jay Livingston

Today is the birthday of Frank Loesser, composer of one of the greatest Broadway musicals, “Guys and Dolls.”  The most frequently played song from that show, at least by jazz musicians, is “If I Were a Bell.” Miles, with his 1956 quintet recording, made it a standard part of the jazz repertoire, and that’s the version I was going to use here.

Instead, I’m going with “My Time of Day” – not so well known and rarely sung outside the context of the show. Here is Peter Gallagher in the studio for the cast recording of the 1992 revival. The saxophone player doing the intro so beautifully is Red Press.


The song is very different from standard Broadway fare. It begins in the key of F. The lyric for the first two bars is, “My time of day is the dark time.” The first emphasized note, “day,” is on the flatted fifth of a chord(G7) – very unusual for Broadway songs then in 1950 or now. Then comes “dark time,” a descending interval of a tritone, also uncommon.
                   
A few bars later, “When the street belongs to the cop, and the janitor with the mop” is sung over four descending major chords – G, F, E, D – so unusual that I cannot think of another song with this sequence. A few bars later, the song shifts key to G major, which is where it ends. Except it doesn’t really end. There’s a tense chord that leads to the next song,  “I’ve Never Been In Love Before,” a duet sung with the female lead.

Loesser wrote other musicals (“Most Happy Fella,” “How to Succeed”) but “Guys and Dolls” is by far the best.

Bob Dorough (1923 - 2018)

April 25, 2018
Posted by Jay Livingston

Phil Woods was a top jazz man, but his best known solo was as the unnamed sax player on Billy Joel’s “Just the Way You Are.” Bud Shank, another jazz reed man, did the anonymous flute solo on The Mamas and the Papas’s huge hit “California Dreamin.’” But the winner in the “widely heard but uncredited performances by jazz musicians” competition goes to Bob Dorough, who died Monday at age 94. He wrote and sang many of the numbers on Schoolhouse Rock – numbers like 8.



This performance is by jazz singer and pianist Blossom Dearie, but Dorough can be heard on other numbers like 3 and the bluesy 9 as well as “Conjunction Junction,” a title I couldn’t help borrowing for my skeptical post on Twersky and Kahneman’s “conjunction fallacy” (here).

His best-known song in the jazz world is “I’m Hip,” probably because of Dave Frishberg’s lyric, which includes the line, “When it was hip to hep I was hep.” Frishberg himself noted how hip the song was – nearly all the main notes in the melody are not in the underlying chord. (You can hear the songwriters performing it here.)

Another unusual but fine Dorough tune is “Nothing Like You,” with lyrics by Fran Landesman. Bassist Esperanza Spalding sings it here, and prefaces it by saying it’s “really fun and really hard.”

Vulture, as a sort of eulogy, has posted this list  of his best  “Schoolhouse Rock” songs, all more melodically conventional than his jazz tunes.

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.



Sondheim – “The Glamorous Life”

March 22, 2018
Posted by Jay Livingston

It’s Stephen Sondheim’s birthday – he’s a pianistic 88.

It’s hard to write about Sondheim without repeating what are by now cliches. But cliches (which Sondheim scrupulously avoids) usually contain some truth, and the one that sticks in my mind is this: Sondheim brings ambivalence to center stage. Sometimes it’s right there in the title of a song. In “Company,” in answer to the question, “Are you ever sorry you got married?” a character sings “Sorry Grateful” (“You’re always sorry, you’re always grateful, you’re always wondering what might have been.”)

In other songs, the ambivalence is subtext, as in “The Glamorous Life” from “A Little Night Music.” Frederika, young teenage girl, is singing about the glamorous life of her actress mother compared with the lives of “ordinary mothers.” It’s no contest, and yet, under the protestations of how wonderful it is to have a glamorous mother, Frederika senses that she’s missing something.
Ordinary daughters may think life is better
With ordinary mothers near them when they choose. . .

No, ordinary mothers merely see their children all year,
Which is nothing, I hear…
But it does interfere
With the glamorous—
Here is the great Audra McDonald performing the song at a celebration for Sondheim’s 80th birthday. Yes, there’s her powerful voice, but she also perfectly reveals the ambivalence. (I don’t see how an actual teenage girl could sing this song – the version in the movie of “Night Music” is not good – especially if she has ever heard this performance by McDonald.)


Jon Hedricks 1921-2017

November 23, 2017
Posted by Jay Livingston

Others before him had done “vocalese” – instrumental jazz solos transcribed, set with lyrics, and sung. The best known was Eddie Jefferson’s “Moody’s Mood for Love” – James Moody’s solo on the Dorothy Fields - Jimmy McHugh song. But these were rare, almost novelty items. Hendricks took it to a new level.  His vocal trio – Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross – recreated entire arrangements with lyrics to the entire recording

Here is Hendricks’s adaptation of Duke Ellington’s  “Cottontail,” the 1940 recording featuring Ben Webster on tenor. The title – I have no idea why Ellington chose it – pretty much forced Hendricks into Beatrix Potter territory. But Hendricks put a hip musician frame to the tale, transforming Peter Rabbit into sort of a druggie.
Way back in my childhood
I heard a story so true
’bout a funny bunny
Stealing some boo from a garden he knew.
“Boo” is 1940s slang for marijuana.
Out in the garden where carrots are dense
I found a hole in the fence.
Every mornin
when things are still,
I crawl through the hole and eat my fill.
The other rabbits say I
m taking dares,
and maybe I
m wrong but who cares?
I
m a hooked rabbit! Yeah I got a carrot habit.


My favorite part in the Ellington recording is the chorus by the sax section (at 2:04 in the original recording). In the LHR version above, it starts at 1:54, and the voices are in unison rather than the close harmony of the Ellington’s sax section. 

Thirty years later, Hendricks was still on his game, putting lyrics to one of the most famous jazz recordings, “Freddie Freeloader” from Miles Davis’s “Kind of Blue.” Writing lyrics to a John Coltrane “sheets of sound” solo is no easy task. Neither is singing it. But Hendricks does it, leaving the easier solos to singers who are technically better – Bobby McFerrin, Al Jarreau, and George Benson. It runs to nine minutes but it’s well worth listening to (here), especially if you’ve heard the original so many times over the years that you know every note