Frankie & Johnny (and John)

September 22, 2016 at 10:30 am

Today’s post comes from composer Kile Smith – I had to share this. I heard it on the radio this week and was really caught off guard by his words. His analysis helps to capture the difference between what is Art Music and what is not (“rock rolled over sophistication”).

The original post comes from the WRTI blog, “Arts Desk“. Here it is:

Two Englishmen, Guy Wood and Robert Mellin, slipped it into the Great American Songbook just before it closed, just as rock rolled over sophistication. It begins from below, a slowly twisting Roman candle of a tune, and explodes in the top range of the singer, as the eyes of onlookers reflect the glory of what songs once were.

Sinatra recorded “My One and Only Love” right away, in 1953, but ten years later John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman made it a landmark of an age.

Johnny Hartman sounds like a man who breaks his heart open, and yours.

Coltrane’s tenor saxophone sounds as if it’s made of something not of this world, and yet it is uncannily apt. Every note is a discovery, every phrase an experiment that comes out exactly right.

Johnny Hartman sings the way every man wishes to sing—an everyman standing up in a room suddenly silent—sounding like a man, but a man who breaks his heart open, and yours. And just when he sounds like anybody, that voice turns into one in ten million.

John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman spread their mystic charms, especially in the high ranges of their low instruments. In “My One and Only Love” they made a song for the ages. Remember what songs once were.


Wednesday Hump Camel Caravan

August 3, 2016 at 11:51 am

It’s Wednesday. Hump day. Humps. Camels have humps. Camels. Camels make up a caravan.

Yup folks, that’s all I have for you today. But fear not, because even if the writing is poor, the music is good. Caravan is a 1936 jazz standard written by Puerto Rican composer Juan Tizol, who was a trombonist in Duke Ellington‘s orchestra. By the 1930’s, jazz had become a mainstream and permanent part of the American cultural landscape. Tizol’s influence sparked an interest in Latin-American musical styles and opened new doors for American jazz.


Great Googily Moogily, it’s HOT

July 25, 2016 at 2:12 pm

It’s hot … as in Sahara desert hot, except with humidity that makes it feel like Satan’s armpit. But if it’s going to be Sahara hot, we may as well spend A Night in Tunisia

This jazz standard was written by Dizzy Gillespie in 1941, and quickly became a well known standard. The exotic, sweltering sound is woven by a funky bassline and a repeating chord progression which uses a jazz “trick” of substituting an expected chord with the tonality a tritone away (in this case, we want to hear A, we get Eb instead – this interval A-Eb is known as a tritone, or the “devil’s interval”). Also, an Eb chord in a D minor piece implies a Phrygian mode, which is a scale we commonly associate with the “exotic” lands of the African Mediterranean or middle east. So, the Eb chord is doing double duty: exoticism AND devilish trick. And we like it.