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.


April’s almost over …

April 28, 2016 at 10:30 am

… and spring is now in full season.

The saxophone is one of those instruments that people seem to either love or hate. It was invented to be the lovechild of the trumpet and clarinet – capable of the loud, bright tones of the brass as well as the soft, warm timbre of the clarinet. As it became more popular, it found its way into a number of orchestral compositions (most famously, Bolero & Pictures at an Exhibition), but its popularity exploded in the jazz idiom. Here was an instrument that could outplay the trumpet in speed and range, while being as expressive and sensual as a clarinet.

Here’s the king of big bands, Count Basie and his Orchestra, playing a number of usher out the month – April in Paris.

I just love the part at 0:21, when the sax chorus plays with that wobbly vibrato – no other instrument could get away with that!


Why have Pumpkin Pie when you can have Cheesecake?

November 24, 2015 at 9:50 am

T-minus two days to turkey.

The classic American dessert for Thanksgiving is, of course, pumpkin pie.

But let me suggest something different this year – something a little smoother, richer, spicier. So once you’ve downed your turkey, and your host asks if you’d like a slice of pumpkin pie, you should reply, “No thanks – Cheesecake for me.”



Pull up your favorite chair, pour yourself a cup of hot coffee, and grab a slice of New York Cheescake. Then listen to one of the best saxophonists of all time:

This track comes from Gordon’s 1962 album, Go. The rest of the album is great, too; if you want more, check it out here.