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Tag Archives: Johnny Mercer

“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.

 
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Posted by on August 2, 2016 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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