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Tag Archives: Autumn

A Return to Earth and Johnny Hartman

After having dropped off the face of the blogging earth, so to speak, I am feeling rather giddy to have returned. I’ve missed writing and reading about movies and books and hope everyone is doing well and having a lovely fall. It’s been a beautiful autumn where I live. How about your autumn?

I’ve actually stacked up a lot of different things I would like to write about: Japanese cinema, Jo Stafford, a new book about jazz and pop singers that is dangerously addictive to read, a few movie reviews of film noirs, some observations about American hard-boiled writing. But perhaps the best place to begin is with Johnny Hartman.

Johnny Hartman never achieved the success he deserved during his own lifetime and even now is not as well known as he should be. He has a meltingly lovely voice. When the word mellifluous was created, surely that person had Johnny Hartman in mind.

He was primarily a singer of ballads, which was part of his difficulty, because he was singing ballads at a time when rock and roll had stormed in. Perhaps if he had been singing a decade earlier, he would have been better known.

He inadvertently became known as a jazz singer when he collaborated with John Coltrane on their brilliant album John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman, though he was also a pop singer. Will Friedwald, in the dangerously addictive book I mentioned called A Biographical Guide to the Great Jazz and Pop Singers, wrote that “The basic sound of a Johnny Hartman performance touches on all three sources: jazz, adult pop, and cabaret.”

He was also, according to Friedwald (and it’s difficult to argue), “one of the greatest of all interpreters of love songs.”

It wasn’t just a question of a deep, sensual voice, which he surely had: it was his romantic attitude. ‘There was a sentimentality to him,’ his longtime accompanist Tony Monte put it. ‘He was in love with the idea of being in love, and he [continually] expressed that idea. He would sing about it, and he would speak about in his patter. He would look out wistfully in the audience and say he was going to dedicate the rest of the show to the beautiful women out there and to the men who brought them, and who were paying such great attention to them. And it wasn’t just a little piece of theater, he meant what he was saying.’

In honor of Autumn, which is coming to a close, here is Johnny Hartman and John Coltrane’s rendition of “Autumn Serenade.”

And “The Nearness of You,” written by Hoagy Carmichael and Ned Washington. This song can just about melt a person.

 
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Posted by on November 20, 2017 in Music

 

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“Autumn Leaves” (Les Feuilles Mortes)

I have a new song stuck in my head that at least has the virtue of being seasonally appropriate, “Autumn Leaves”  was originally titled “Les Fueilles Mortes,” which means “Dead Leaves”. The music was written by composer Joseph Kosma – a Hungarian-French composer – with the music set to a poem by poet and screenwriter Jacques Prevert. It was written in 1945 and officially introduced by Yves Montand in the 1946 French film Les Portes De La Nuit (released in America as Gates of the Night).

The song was not well known in America, however, until 1949, when Johnny Mercer rewrote the lyrics in English and Jo Stafford recorded the song. It received modest attention, but according to JazzStandards.com really became a popular standard in 1955, when pianist Roger Williams recorded an instrumental version that was a number 1 hit.

The song was then used in1956 for the movie Autumn Leaves – thus titled to capitalize on the popularity of the song – that starred Joan Crawford and Cliff Robertson. The song plays over the opening credits and is sung by Nat King Cole.

The song in the original French has someone reminiscing about how much they love someone, who has parted from them. The singer is comparing life and memories to fallen leaves, which can be blown away, but the singer has not forgotten yet. But there seems to be a shade of sadness, as though even those memories will be blown away inevitably, just as the two lovers were. The English version, written by Johnny Mercer, is a simplified version of the song, about how the singer misses someone most during the fall. There is less imagery of how the memories will blow away and a more general Autumnal sadness with all its inherent nostalgic imagery.

Here is Yves Montand’s version that was introduced in Les Portes De La Nuit. I don’t understand French, so I’m not sure what the man is talking about before the song begins. The song begins officially at 0:50 in the video.

Doris Day is without doubt one of my favorite singers. This version was recorded in 1956, a year after the song became popular because of the pianist Roger Williams.

And here is Roger Williams’ version. I’m not sure I’m a fan, though. It lacks that reflective, wistful quality I like in Day’s interpretation. Frankly, it sounds florid and melodramatic.

I have to include Nat King Cole, who had a hit version in 1956.

And just to mix it up a little, Eva Cassidy does a more quiet, soulful rendition in 1996 which I found very moving.

To end things, Andrea Lundgren reminded me that Victor Borge did an absolutely hysterical comedy routine involving this song. Not to be missed.

 
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Posted by on October 14, 2015 in Music

 

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