Thursday, July 27, 2017

The Holiday version

I’m still making my alphabetical way through my dad’s CDs: Julian “Cannonball” Adderley, Ivie Anderson, Louis Armstrong, Fred Astaire, Mildred Bailey, Count Basie, Tony Bennett, Art Blakey, Ruby Braff and Ellis Larkins, Clifford Brown, Dave Brubeck, Joe Bushkin, Hoagy Carmichael, Betty Carter, Ray Charles, Charlie Christian, Rosemary Clooney, Nat “King” Cole, John Coltrane, Bing Crosby, Miles Davis, Matt Dennis, Doris Day, Blossom Dearie, Paul Desmond, Tommy Dorsey, Billy Eckstine, Duke Ellington, Bill Evans, Gil Evans, Ella Fitzgerald, Judy Garland, Erroll Garner, Stan Getz, Dizzy Gillespie, Benny Goodman, Stéphane Grappelli, Bobby Hackett, Coleman Hawkins, Woody Herman, Earl Hines, and now, Billie Holiday.

Here’s “A Sailboat in the Moonlight” (Carmen Lombardo–John Jacob Loeb), in two recordings. I first heard the Guy Lombardo recording in Woody Allen’s Zelig. I’ve had the Holiday on LP for ages.

[Guy Lombardo and Royal Canadians, with vocal by Carmen Lombardo. Recorded in New York, May 28, 1937. Billie Holiday and Her Orchestra: Buck Clayton, trumpet; Edmond Hall, clarinet; Lester Young, tenor sax; James Sherman, piano; Freddie Green, guitar; Walter Page, bass; Jo Jones, drums. Recorded in New York, June 15, 1937.]

The liner notes that accompany the Holiday recording suggest — with no evidence — that the faintly audible conversation during the first chorus may be “the first rumblings of a mutiny against the material.” I think it far more likely that someone was checking the sequence of solos, or asking whether the out-chorus was a full or partial one. Because “A Sailboat in the Moonlight” is to my ears a beautiful song, especially in the chord changes of the first three bars. But I think it takes Holiday and company to make the song’s beauty felt. Playing these two recordings back to back would be a good way to introduce a new listener to the pleasures of jazz and to the ability of gifted musicians to breathe unexpected life into a tune.

So many highlights: Clayton’s brief fanfare, Sherman’s Teddy Wilsonisms, Clayton’s and Young’s solos, Jones’s varied percussion, the way the tune lifts in the partial out-chorus, and above all, in the first chorus and out-chorus, the interplay of Holiday and Young. They make me think of dancers whose partnership feels effortless in its intimacy and tact.

One more detail: a 1937 recording of the song by Johnny Hodges and His Orchestra borrows the descending background figure from the second chorus of the Lombardo recording and runs it through every chorus. In other words, there’s good to be found everywhere, even in a Guy Lombardo arrangement. But lest there be any question: there’s no Guy Lombardo in my dad’s CD collection.

Today would have been my dad’s eighty-ninth birthday.

Also from my dad’s CDs
Mildred Bailey : Tony Bennett : Charlie Christian : Blossom Dearie : Duke Ellington : Coleman Hawkins

[One more thought: The plaintive statement of the melody in the Lombardo recording makes me think of the Bix Beiderbecke—Frankie Trumbauer recording of “I’m Coming Virginia.” Coincidence?]

comments: 2

Chris said...

Boy, it's tough going to the Lombardo version (which I've not heard before) after knowing and loving Billie's. It's like dancing with lead shoes.

Michael Leddy said...

Yep. As many people have observed, old popular songs have survived because of what jazz musicians made of them.