RSS

Tag Archives: John Coltrane

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.

 
10 Comments

Posted by on November 20, 2017 in Music

 

Tags: , , , , ,

“I’m Old Fashioned” – Jerome Kern and Johnny Mercery

Fred Astaire and Rita Hayworth

Fred Astaire and Rita Hayworth

“I’m Old Fashioned” was introduced by Rita Hayworth in You Were Never Lovelier (1942). In a manner of speaking.  It was really introduced by Nan Wynn, who dubbed for Rita Hayworth’s singing voice (she dubbed Hayworth’s voice in several films). I’ve always wondered what Rita Hayworth and Cyd Charisse really sounded like when they sang, since they were invariably dubbed. Vera-Ellen was always dubbed, but I heard her sing on the 1944 Broadway Cast Recording of Connecticut Yankee and I can see why they never let her do her own singing (listen for her, here). Her voice could possibly pass as an Ado Annie, but does not match the image created by her dancing.

Jerome Kern has always seemed to me to be one of the most hummable, lyrical and deceptively simple composers of his era. He’s rarely flashy and “I’m Old Fashioned” seems like a quintessential song from him. Gorgeous, gorgeous melody. Fred Astaire did complain during the making of Swing Time that Kern’s music rarely swung (as Duke Ellington put it, “It don’t mean a thing, if it ain’t got that swing”), but for me the beauty of his melodies is high compensation.

As JazzStandards notes, many songwriters loved Fred Astaire as a singer. He introduced more hits than nearly anyone else, by Cole Porter, Jerome Kern, Irving Berlin, George Gershwin. He didn’t have a voice like Bing Crosby, but, and I wish I could remember in which book I read this (it might have been Puttin’ On the Ritz: Fred Astaire and the Fine Art of Panache, A Biography), he sang a song exactly as the song was written and when one wishes to study the songs of these composers, there’s no better singer to turn to than Fred Astaire. An intelligent interpreter of song.

I used to be rather lukewarm about Rita Hayworth’s dancing. It’s hard to put my finger on why. I don’t feel the same feeling of flow; every move feels a bit like a discrete move rather than one continuous whole. Like it’s not coming easy and she’s very conscious of her dancing. But maybe it’s just me. And I’ve been warming to her dancing. But in any case, it is still a gorgeous, extraordinarily romantic dance. One of Fred Astaire’s most romantic.

The music in the background is provided by Xavier Cugat’s Orchestra.

And now for the lady who has introduced me to nearly all the great songs by the great composers. It would feel incomplete without her.

I’ve not traditionally been as big a fan of the saxophone as an instrument and I’ve been a bit intimidated by John Coltrane. However, I’ve been listening to his ballads recently and have become enchanted. His version of “I’m Old Fashioned” is my favorite so far.

I think what’s been challenging for me is that John Coltrane is not someone I just put on in the background. I have to really listen and hear and when I listen and hear, there is so much depth and richness in his ballads.

Cassandra Wilson is a jazz singer I have only recently become aware of, because she’s a contemporary singer and my knowledge of contemporary performers is lacking. However, I’ve been reading about jazz and trying to become acquainted with the jazz of the present era. Her version of “I’m Old Fashioned” is quite a bit more up-tempo. JazzStandards writes that “Wilson reinvents the song, taking it from melancholy ballad to frenetic love letter.” She shows that even Jerome Kern can be exhilarating.

 
6 Comments

Posted by on August 2, 2016 in Music

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

 
%d bloggers like this: