Aasof on The Great American Songbook
This week on Facebook: Sometimes a word or a particular set of words keep buzzing around in my brain and simply will not stop their buzz, buzz, buzz, until I resolve where it, or they, came from. So it was with ‘old aunt Harriet’, I knew that I had heard it used in a song but couldn’t remember the piece.
An internet search for ‘old aunt Harriet’ was interesting, leading to many references that could make ‘aunt Harriet’ the subject of her own blog. The ‘aunt Harriet’ I was looking for in this case was Louis Armstrong’s and Jack Teagarden’s rendition of ‘Old Rockin’ Chair’. I also discovered that the song was written in 1932 by Hoagy Carmichael for singer Mildred Bailey. Now perhaps, Mildred Bailey has become a little remembered jazz singer from the 1930s, but was often known as The Rockin‘ Chair Lady and I have included her recording of it.
These are not my favourite tunes from the The Great American Songbook, simple a selection of tunes that I like to listen to. Below are five chosen by me from The Great American Song Book, the links on the name of the artist are to the lyrics (lyrics have been written for Melancholy Serenade but they are rarely to be heard). In compiling this list of five, I wondered what was the most important part of the composition! I certainly I think that the Louis Armstrong and Jack Teagarden rendition of Old Rockin’ Chair ‘grows on you’, but remembering ‘old aunt Harriet’ was the only part that made it memorable to me.
Unlike the instrumental piece composed by Lionel Hampton and Sonny Burke in 1947 with lyrics added in 1954 by Johnny Mercer. Midnight Sun became famous as a jazz standard and is certainly (currently) one of my favourites. The version I have chosen to include is that by Diana Krall — a great jazz singer who brings clarity to the lyrics of the songs she sings.
Begin The Beguine was written by Cole Porter for the Broadway show Jubilee in 1935. Begin The Beguine has a set of lyrics that are hard to remember and a melody that is difficult to forget (at least the opening bars). It’s interesting that it was Artie Shaw’s instrumental version that was a big hit in 1938. Here I have included here the vocal version by Ella Fitzgerald (Verve records 1956) having been a fan of hers since the late 50s. As an example of pieces from The Great American Songbook sung by a classical voice¹ this composition is included twice².
I have also been a fan of Frank Sinatra since the late 50s and especially enjoy anything from his Capitol years. Come Fly With Me is such a good composition, an evergreen, that has a quality of lyrics and melody in equal measure. It was composed by Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen for the Sinatra Billy May arrangements on the album “Come Fly With Me” in 1958.
Now here’s a piece of music that I constantly forget the name of and that of the composer. It wasn’t until I remembered that the composer played ‘Minnesota Fats’ in the 1961 Academy Award-winning drama The Hustler that I was able to find Jackie Gleason and Melancholy Serenade. It was this search that led me to the lyrics.
I don’t why Melancholy Serenade keeps being forgotten, perhaps it’s because Piper Laurie never had the same impact on me as Kim Novak in the film Moonglow (the connection to my 2012 link being an excuse to introduce more of my favourite recordings from The Great American Songbook). Most likely it’s because (apart from The Hustler) I forget the multi-talented Jackie Gleason, once I am reminded of the melody to Melancholy Serenade it certainly isn’t (the opening bars buzz, buzz, buzz, around in my head).
Old rockin’ chair’s got me
(Old rocking chair got you, father)
Cane by my side
(Your cane by your side)
Your lips were like a red and ruby chalice,
Warmer than the Summer night.
The clouds were like an alabaster palace,
Rising to a snowy height.
When they begin the beguine
It brings back the sound of music so tender
It brings back a night of tropical splendor
It brings back a memory ever green
Come fly with me, let’s fly, let’s fly away
If you can use some exotic booze, there’s a bar in far Bombay
Come fly with me, let’s fly, let’s fly away
Melancholy serenade every time I hear it played, Right out of space your haunting face appears. There were other serenades, broken promises we made, Why must I pay day after day with tears.
Referenced Articles & Books: A book or pdf (usually free), or simply a url that may sometimes link to a download that is also usually free. Sometimes a link to JSTOR is used, this lets you set up a free account allowing you to have 6 (interchangeable) books stored that you can read online.
¹The Great American Songbook In The Classical Voice Studio (pdf): It won’t take much effort to convince the readers of this paper that the Great American Songbook repertory is full of lyrical gems. In fact, with little effort you might be able to quickly name ten or so songs that have made their auditory footprint on American society.
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