I’M CONFESSIN’ (a song with an unusual history — written in 1929 and published with another title and lyrics, then recreated a year later with the same melody, new lyrics, and an entirely different set of composers credited) is a lovely durable melody . . . of course, first made immortal by Louis Armstrong, who sang and played it for the next forty years. I couldn’t find a copy of the first sheet music, but here is a later version:
Many bands pick this as a reliable rhythm ballad — and some race through it as if on jazz cruise control, taking it as an interlude between one punishingly fast / loud number and the next.
Happily, this was not the case with Duke Heitger, Ben Polcer, trumpet; Russ Phillips, trombone; Tom Fischer, clarinet; John Cocuzzi, piano; Paul Keller, strig bass; Danny Coots, drums, at this year’s Atlanta Jazz Party (this performance was only the second song of the three-day marathon). These master musicians created something frankly alchemical, transforming sadness into joy:
Everything about this performance entrances me: the sweet steady tread of the rhythm section (a wonderful team saying with every beat to the horn players, “Create whatever is in your heart and we will be there to support you, to make you feel safe”) to the compact singing utterances of the horns — how to make those instruments speak in such heartfelt ways in sixteen bars! (Sixteen bars go by so quickly.) The variety of sounds!
And just as a self-referential digression: inspired by the song, I stopped writing and went twenty feet to the other end of this long room, where a cherished cornet rests on blue velour in its ancient case. I picked it up and “played” the first sixteen bars of I’M CONFESSIN’ and reminded myself only how incredibly difficult making an instrument sing is. Mine sang, but I won’t describe how or what it was singing.
From the title alone, one would think that I’M CONFESSIN’ would be an exultant outpouring of love, with the Lover offering feelings openly. And that is indeed the case. But the Lover here is both frightened and self-aware, wondering if those feelings will be reciprocated or discarded. And the Love Object — the source of power in this interlude — is both inscrutable and ambiguous: the eyes embody one “strange” message; the lips offer another.
I think that JAZZ LIVES readers might need to hear the lyrics as well as the melody. And thanks to my dear friend Austin Casey, here is THE version of the century: Louis on the Frank Sinatra Show.
Gorgeous, light-hearted, and heartfelt. I offer this as evidence to those who think Louis didn’t care about the lyrics: here he offers each word as if it had been written by Keats. Tonation and phrasing for the ages. I also offer this performance not as a diminution of the one created on April 17, 2015, but to show that the two stand side-by-side, our heroes in this century so completely lit from within by Louis’ blessed spirit.
A last word about the alchemy of music, of candor. The musicians in Atlanta did the impossible by transforming unease and anxiety into something beautiful, in the spirit of Louis. This transformation is not always possible in what passes for real life, but it is worth attempting. Keeping one’s terrors to oneself is what we have been trained to do. Adults don’t talk about what scares them: they might terrify the children. But I wonder if we said out loud to ourselves, “I am deeply afraid that ___________ might happen,” that the fear, put into syllables we can hear ourselves saying, might be more manageable. Saying to the Love Object, “I’m afraid some day you’ll leave me / Saying ‘Can’t we still be friends?'” is a true act of courage, because the Love Object can always say back, “Indeed, that was just what I was thinking this very moment,” but [hence the MAY in my title] it could provoke reassurance.
JAZZ LIVES offers no advice in relationships, and hence is held harmless from any liability. But speaking what you feel, embodying what you feel is always courageous, no matter what the result.
Keep CONFESSIN’, I say.
May your happiness increase!