Monday, March 04, 2013

Versatile Convertible Music evolving through encounters.

Sometimes a particular style of classic jacket (this probably applies more to female fashion) can have a variety of lives : for a working environment, out shopping, dressed up for a quiet date, with funky accessories for a party, with sober accessories it'd even take you to a funeral. This really works well when the original is a certain kind of jacket, beautifully tailored of the best quality material. As with a jacket, so with a melody.....but it has to be a certain kind of melody, beautifully constructed, wonderful chord structures, lyrical and memorable. This always strikes me when I hear jazz versions of standard songs and melodies. As long as the original is of superb quality it doesn't ever lose its charm, no matter into what genre it is bent and cajoled by talented musicians. This many-sided quality isn't apparent in just any old song or melody, the original has to have been constructed by composers who were masters of their craft.

Two examples, though there are dozens out there.

I've been thinking that the first example could quite easily be parodied and re-titled "The Sequestration Song". Such appropriate lines: "Don't you love farce?" (Usually I do but not when the players are supposed to be running a country!) ...."Quick, send in the clowns - Don't bother they're here"

Send in the Clowns, one of Stephen Sondheim's best known numbers. It comes from his show A Little Night Music. The story behind it tells of a middle-aged couple who split up because the female wishes to; the male finds another love, a much younger woman. The middle-aged female then finds she loved the guy all the time and tries to get back together with him, but go, he's in love with his "child" bride. Here's a version of the stage show original with Judi Dench in the middle-aged female role:

Here's what happens when Stan Kenton and his Orchestra get a hold on's bent and stretched, and even sounds a tad classical in places......but the same melody remains at its heart.

Second example:

My Funny Valentine a song written Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart in 1937 for a musical: Babes in Arms. The song has been recorded my numerous vocalists keeping the original flavour intact: Linda Ronstadt's with Nelson Riddle's orchestra is a classic version. Miles Davis did his "thang" with it (link), as did many other jazz musicians. The music's quality never deteriorates, because something about the original has elasticity, resilience, an innate magic. Husband says it's all in chord structure, but I believe it's a tad more esoteric than that.

Paul Desmond on alto-saxophone did it his way:

Musical tradition is important but not fixed.
It evolves through encounters.

A Tibetan Master quoted by D. Rothenberg


mike said...

There are many, many different ways to sing and orchestrate the same song. The lyrics of the US national anthem, "Star-Spangled Banner", are from "Defence of Fort McHenry" and set to the tune of a Brit's "The Anacreontic Song". This song has been played at just about every major sporting event and patriotic event in America.

I have heard the excellence, mediocrity, and extreme abuse of this music since I can remember!

Your "Send in the Clowns" reminds me of Tom Robbins' character, CIA agent Switters, in "Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates"...hilarious farce. Switters secretly adores show tunes, in particular, "Send in the Clowns".

Twilight said...

mike ~~ The US has borrowed several British tunes for use on formal occasions. I remember first time I attended a graduation ceremony for one of husband's grandsons, being amazed to hear "Land of Hope and Glory" played to different lyrics.
"That's a damned cheek!" said I. ;-)

Re music in general -I very much doubt than any of today's popular songs will be capable of being played in jazz or classical rendition, as are many of earlier decades. Most nowadays, as far as I can tell, have two lines of lyrics - repeated over and over and no discernible melody.
(grumble grumble....)

I'm not into Tom Robbins myself, but husband is a great fan of his books. I tried to read one but just couldn't get on the wavelength. I'm glad to know one of his characters liked SITC!

anyjazz said...

What you said about Kenton's version of "Send in the Clowns" is true. Thanks for the reminder.

Twilight said...

anyjazz ~ Thanks for reminding me of this post (from 2013) - I'd forgotten about it. The reminder has given me chance to replace a defunct video with a live one (the Paul Desmond piece). :-)