Tag Archives: Classics

RESTORING THE REPERTOIRE

In the old days — define them as you will — it seemed as if everyone knew, and played, a thousand songs.  Some of that knowlesge had to do with the demands of the marketplace: members of Goodman’s or Ellington’s or Basie’s bands had to learn and play new pop hits (CALL OF THE CANYON, I KEEP REMEMBERING, POP-CORN MAN) — some ephemeral, some of them lasting.

Today it seems as if jazz musicians and singers still have a common language, but their shared vocabulary continues to shrink.  Often I hear a musician suggest a song that would have been well-known a few decades back — STAIRWAY TO THE STARS — and what would have been a delicious performance never happens because the other members of the group, ad-hoc or otherwise, don’t know the song.

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Enough already with SOME OF THESE DAYS and ST. LOUIS BLUES; give SATIN DOLL and EVERYDAY I HAVE THE BLUES a rest; could we move beyond EXACTLY LIKE YOU and WHAT A LITTLE MOONLIGHT CAN DO? WHEN YOU’RE SMILING and PENNIES FROM HEAVEN are wonderful, memorable pieces of music . . . but they aren’t the only ones.

I am very fond of songs — all kinds of them, but particularly the pop songs of the period between the two World Wars — and their passing into obscurity makes me glum.

I am not proposing that we celebrate every pop hit or every forgettable song made memorable by a brilliant performance: my list below lacks I MISS MY SWISS and TAKE ME BACK TO MY BOOTS AND SADDLE.

But there are many many songs that never get performed — and they have lovely melodies and fitting, often deep lyrics — and are in danger of being entirely forgotten.

So what follows is purely an exercise in hopeful self-indulgence: a list of songs I think might make both listeners and musicians happy if they were to be learned and performed.  JAZZ LIVES readers are free to suggest additions to this list, and encouraged to do so.  I have put these song titles in alphabetical order to avoid any suggestion of ranking by merit.

And I mean no offense to some of my friends who perform a few of the songs on this list — I am not suggesting that their performances are obscure or forgettable.  Quite the reverse: I dream of a world where everyone knows the lyrics and melody and chord changes to these beautiful songs.  If my list seems heavily based in 1929-35 romanticism, it doesn’t bother me.

ABOUT A QUARTER TO NINE

ACCENT ON YOUTH

AFTER AWHILE

A HANDFUL OF STARS

ALL MY LIFE

APRIL IN MY HEART

BE CAREFUL, IT’S MY HEART

BEAUTIFUL LOVE

BLACK BUTTERFLY

BLAME IT ON MY YOUTH

BOULEVARD OF BROKEN DREAMS

BYE BYE BABY

BY THE FIRESIDE

CHARMAINE

CHASING SHADOWS

CHLOE

CONCENTRATIN’ (On You)

A COTTAGE FOR SALE

DEEP NIGHT

DEEP PURPLE

DIANE

DID YOU MEAN IT?

DON’T BE THAT WAY

DROP ME OFF IN HARLEM

EVENIN’

EV’RY NOW AND THEN

EV’RY TIME WE SAY GOODBYE

FIT AS A FIDDLE

FORTY-SECOND STREET

FOR ALL WE KNOW

GIVE MY REGARDS TO BROADWAY

GOT A DATE WITH AN ANGEL

GUILTY

HAVE YOU FORGOTTEN SO SOON?

HE’S THE LAST WORD

HERE IN MY ARMS

HOME

HOT TIME IN THE OLD TOWN TONIGHT

HOW ABOUT ME?

HOW ABOUT YOU

HUSTLIN’ AND BUSTLIN’ FOR BABY

I APOLOGIZE

I CAN DREAM, CAN’T I?

I CAN’T GET STARTED

I’D CLIMB THE HIGHEST MOUNTAIN

I DIDN’T KNOW WHAT TIME IT WAS

IF I HAD A MILLION DOLLARS

IF I HAD MY WAY

IF IT AIN’T LOVE

I GUESS I’LL HAVE TO CHANGE MY PLAN

I JUST COULDN’T TAKE IT, BABY

I’LL CLOSE MY EYES

I’LL FOLLOW YOU

I’LL NEVER SMILE AGAIN

I’LL STRING ALONG WITH YOU

I’M A DREAMER (Aren’t We All?)

I MARRIED AN ANGEL

I’M FALLING IN LOVE WITH SOMEONE

IMAGINATION

I’M IN THE MARKET FOR YOU

I’M LIVIN’ IN A GREAT BIG WAY

I’M NOBODY’S BABY

I’M OLD-FASHIONED

I’M THROUGH WITH LOVE

INDIAN LOVE CALL

I ONLY HAVE EYES FOR YOU

I SEE YOUR FACE BEFORE ME

IT MUST BE TRUE

IT NEVER ENTERED MY MIND

JEANNINE (I Dream of Lilac Time)

JUST FRIENDS

JUST ONE MORE CHANCE

LET’S PUT OUT THE LIGHTS (And Go To Sleep)

LITTLE MAN, YOU’VE HAD A BUSY DAY

LOUISE

LOVE DROPPED IN FOR TEA

LOVE IN BLOOM

LOVE LETTERS

LOVE LETTERS IN THE SAND

LOVE LOCKED OUT

LOVE ME TONIGHT

LOVE NEST

LULLABY OF BROADWAY

LULLABY OF THE LEAVES

MAKE BELIEVE

MAYBE YOU’LL BE THERE

ME AND THE MOON

MISS ANNABELLE LEE

MOMENTS LIKE THIS

MOONBURN

MOON SONG

MY BUDDY

MY OLD FLAME

NEVERTHELESS

NIGHT OWL

ONCE IN A WHILE (the ballad)

PARDON ME, PRETTY BABY

PENTHOUSE SERENADE

PEOPLE WILL SAY WE’RE IN LOVE

PLEASE

PLEASE BE KIND

POLKA DOTS AND MOONBEAMS

PRINCE OF WAILS

PRISONER OF LOVE

P.S., I LOVE YOU

RAMONA

READY FOR THE RIVER

REMEMBER

REMEMBER ME?

RESTLESS

‘ROUND MY OLD DESERTED FARM

ROSALIE

SAY IT ISN’T SO

SAY IT WITH A KISS

SERENADE IN BLUE

SHOE SHINE BOY

SLEEPY HEAD

SLEEPY TIME GAL

SMILES

SOFT LIGHTS AND SWEET MUSIC

SOLITUDE

SWEET AS A SONG

SWEETHEARTS ON PARADE

THANKS FOR THE MEMORY

THAT OLD FEELING

THE BATHTUB RAN OVER AGAIN

THE DAY YOU CAME ALONG

THE OBJECT OF MY AFFECTION

THE YOU AND ME THAT USED TO BE

THEN I’LL BE TIRED OF YOU

THERE’S A CABIN IN THE PINES

THIS HEART OF MINE

TIME ON MY HANDS (with verse)

TRUE CONFESSION

UNDER A BLANKET OF BLUE

WAIT TILL YOU SEE HER

WALKIN’ MY BABY BACK HOME

WAS I TO BLAME (For Falling in Love With You)?

WAS THAT THE HUMAN THING TO DO?

WE JUST COULDN’T SAY GOODBYE

WHEN DAY IS DONE

WHEN DID YOU LEAVE HEAVEN?

WHEN YOU AND I WERE YOUNG, MAGGIE

WHEN YOU WISH UPON A STAR

WHERE ARE YOU?

WHERE OR WHEN

WHERE THE BLUE OF THE NIGHT MEETS THE GOLD OF THE DAY

WILLOW TREE

WISHING WILL MAKE IT SO

WITH A SMILE AND A SONG

WITH EVERY BREATH I TAKE

WOULD YOU LIKE TO TAKE A WALK?

YOU OUGHTA BE IN PICTURES

YOUNG AND HEALTHY

YOU’RE BLASE

YOU’RE GETTING TO BE A HABIT WITH ME

YOU’RE LAUGHING AT ME

YOU’RE THE CREAM IN MY COFFEE

YOU ARE MY LUCKY STAR

YOU WERE MEANT FOR ME

YOU STARTED SOMETHING

YOU WENT TO MY HEAD

ZING! WENT THE STRINGS OF MY HEART

Consider and remember the riches that are just waiting to be sung, played, hummed . . . .  And I know as soon as I press “Publish,” I will think of twenty more songs that I should have included . . . in fact, I COULD WRITE A BOOK.

May your happiness increase!

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THE ASTONISHING WORLDS OF TEDDY WILSON

For some, my title may sound hyperbolic — a sideways glance at a Fifties science-fiction anthology.  But it represents accurately the way I feel about Wilson’s best playing.

In a jazz landscape that occasionally seems dominated by the Coarse (showy playing and singing for effect), Wilson’s solo recordings seem the lyrical embodiment of delicacy.  By that I don’t mean effete playing, a series of tiny gestures, the aural equivalent of someone hunched over the harpsichord keyboard, making almost no sound.

Wilson was clearly a definite player: his rhythms move; his single-note lines gleam; he swings from start to finish at any tempo.  But he doesn’t come out in clown costume and wave his arms wildly for our attention.  His lovely multi-layered playing is there for us, should we choose to give it our ears and hearts and minds.

Teddy Wilson was a man of astonishing gifts, although he offered them in the middle register; he was soft-spoken in person and in his playing.  A YouTube benefactor named sepiapanorama has quietly been very generous — creating two videos that offer eighteen pearly Wilson solos from his great period.  Here are the first ten “issued” performances:

and eight alternate takes:

For those readers who think, “Where did this music come from?” here is an answer.

In the Twenties and beyond, music publishers saw that there was a market for music books that would help you play more like Red Nichols, Jimmy Dorsey, Eddie Miller, Art Tatum, Louis, and so on.  You can find them on eBay.  (I wish you good luck — both in the quest to find these books and then to absorb their knowledge.)  Wilson had published one such collection in 1937 — a series of transcribed solos — but he then had the bright entrepreneurial idea of creating the “Teddy Wilson School for Pianists”: a business located in midtown Manhattan — probably simply an office where someone received checks and sent out packages.

What seems to have happened was that Wilson went into the Brunswick studios — the company for whom he was already recording — or stayed there after a Billie Holiday date was over — and recorded several solo improvisation on classic pop songs.  They were not issued by the company for general purchase, but given a special yellow label.  These 78s are now exceedingly rare.

One could become a student at the School (details unknown) and receive a record of, say MY BLUE HEAVEN and one other song — along with printed commentary on what to listen for in the performance.  I once thought that complete transcriptions of the solos were offered, but have been told that I was misinformed.  The School didn’t last long, but those chroniclers who champion the efforts of musicians, twenty years later, to form their own record labels and publishing companies, to take charge of their own economic destinies, should look to Teddy Wilson as an early prescient pioneer in this.

In the Seventies, I found a copy of a bootleg 10″ lp on the Jolly Roger label which contained Teddy Wilson performances I had never heard of before — WHEN YOU AND I WERE YOUNG, MAGGIE stands out in my memory — and I bought it.  I then learned that the eight sides were from the School.  Later, Jerry Valburn issued a Merrit Record Society of all eighteen sides, and even later they came out on three European CDs (Classics and Neatwork).

Some friends have suggested that Wilson “simplified” his style for the prospective students.  I don’t know — these seem like incredibly complex recordings, and I think they would be difficult to imitate.  For myself (a very amateurish pianist) I listen to and marvel at the apparent simplicities of Wilson’s melody statements — say, the first eight bars of I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS — and think that these performances are marvels: intricate, delicate, beautifully crafted.

These sides make me very happy and I hope they do the same for you.  And each one is the result of a long period of study, so try to listen to them one at a a time — otherwise they might become glittering Swing background music.

May your happiness increase.