When asked why his writing was so melancholy, Philip Larkin quoted the French dramatist Montherlant — “Happiness writes white” — which I take to mean that bliss is not an enthralling subject for fiction or drama.
Montherlant’s aphorism has been embodied in what we call the Great American Songbook, where (on a rough guess) songs of desolation outnumber those of elation by 2 or 3 to 1. But from the early Thirties onwards, jazz improvisers — vocal and instrumental — figured out that what a musician friend calls “draggy ballads” were not always restorative . . . so they kept the sad words and lifted the tempo.
Here are three examples of this wonderful melding — as enacted on the spot in this century by the brave explorer Tamar Korn, with the assistance of the multi-talented reedman Mark Lopeman (one of the secret heroes of the New York jazz scene) and the adventurous pianist Jon Weber. All of this happened last Sunday, January 25, 2015, at my Sunday oasis on 86 Orchard Street, Casa Mezcal.
If you studied the words deeply for themselves, could you keep from weeping? But these musical dramas blend sorrow and swing.
A homage to Bing, the lovely JUST ONE MORE CHANCE:
Desolation indeed, in WHEN YOUR LOVER HAS GONE:
That yearning, returning, in WHEN DAY IS DONE:
I especially admire Tamar’s elasticity of phrasing — how she stretches the lyric and melodic line into new shapes without ever obliterating their sense or emotional impact.
I hope you have only short bursts of sadness, if at all, and that they can be made to swing. And if you haven’t seen it, here is the sweetly brave Korn-Lopeman improvisation on MOOD INDIGO that concluded this January 25 session.
May your happiness increase!