If you thought that arias were sung only in opera houses and on PBS; if you thought that Puccini and Mozart had cornered the market on passionate vocal expression . . . then I would ask you to consider the three performances below.
Recorded at my favorite Sunday-night hangout of all time, The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City), these three vocal – dramatic expressions are emotionally powerful. They capture two singers: Tamar Korn and Jerron Paxton, alongside Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Neal Miner, bass; Mark Lopeman, tenor sax and clarinet, and Pete Martinez, clarinet (far left) — on the final number, clarinetist Bob Curtis can be seen and heard even more to the left.
The three songs couldn’t be more familiar landmarks of twentieth-century American popular song, but listen to what these singers and players make of them!
I had heard Tamar perform BODY AND SOUL once before (with the Cangelosi Cards at the Shambhala Meditation Center, on Feb. 27, 2010 — you can see that performance on this blog) but I do not think I have ever heard her or anyone else sing this song with such despairing power and intensity. And, yes, I know it has been sung beautifully and strongly by Louis, Billie, Frank, and many others. But listen — listen! — to Tamar and the band here, the musicians giving her their full love and support, as she stretches notes in some phrases, stating some plainly. And her second chorus, where she suggests by her singing that some things are too deep for mere words:
I am not alone in having some awkward feelings about this song: its somewhat syntactically-tortured lyrics; its inescapably masochistic air (much more self-immolating than UNTIL THE REAL THING COMES ALONG); it is more a song of voluntary indeiture than of simple fidelity. And Tamar enters so wholly into the spirit of it that I hear her moving closer and closer to the flame, to the brink, in the manner of Piaf. But a strange thing happens here. You realize that as much as Tamar is apparently performing open-heart surgery in front of the crowd, saying, sobbing, “You want my heart? Here! Here it is! Take it!” she is simultaneously the artist in full control, creating a dramatic (but not melodramatic) statement about love and art and passion. In appearing to throw herself into the song, she is also the artist knowing how to create that spectacle which is so unsettling, so seismic. And the gentlemen of the ensemble evoke Roy Eldridge, Lester Young, Ed Hall, Charlie Christian, and Oscar Pettiford in the most singular ways! Perhaps they’ve all been prisoners of love, too?
After that performance, I felt utterly satisfied and drained: in some way, I thought, “That’s it for me! I don’t have to hear anything else tonight, tomorrow, next week . . . ” But it was early — perhaps twenty minutes before the EarRegulars would call it a night — and they conferred on another song that Tamar might sing with them. It took some time — choices were suggested and rejected — and since I am a born meddler and enjoy the friendly tolerance of everyone in that band, I leaned forward and said, “Sorry to intrude! But what about WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS”? And — my goodness! — Tamar and the Regulars thought it a good idea, and they took it up at a brisk tempo, everyone playing around with the written harmony to spark it up a bit (what I’ve heard called “the Crosby changes”) which you’ll notice. Here, the mood was properly restorative, hopeful. Yes, you sold my heart to the junkman, but I can always barter something and get it back in decent shape. The clouds will soon roll by. Your troubles can, in fact, be wrapped up in dreams and made to disappear. Hokey Depression-era thoughts, not supported by evidence? Perhaps. But if I woke up in a gloomy mood every morning, which I fortunately do not, I would want to play this video — more than once — until I felt better. See if it works for you, too:
The heroic Jerron Paxton had come in to The Ear Inn between the first and second sets, and I had hopes that he would sing. When he shows up at a club, music happens! And for the final performance of the night, he and the EarRegulars settled on a rocking SOME OF THESE DAYS, that anthem of “You left me and won’t you be sorry!” but sung with a grin rather than finger-waggling or real rancor. Jerron is a sly poet, singing some phrases, elongating others, speaking some . . . and he gets his message across when he seems to be most casually leaning against the wall, just floating along: a true improvising dramatist:
Thank you, gentlemen and lady, for your passionate candor, your eloquence.