RSS

Tag Archives: Sarah Vaughan

Video

Six Versions of “My Man” – From Fanny Brice to Glee, Ballad to Broadway

I am fascinated by the different ways people can interpret the same song. Last week, I wrote a post about Billie Holiday and how I came to appreciate her and how the song that helped me to appreciate her was”My Man.” While I was looking up Billie Holiday’s many versions of the song on youtube, I came across several other versions and it was interesting to trace the evolution of the song: ballad, jazz, Broadway; from storytelling to an emotional display. So just for fun, here are six different versions of the song “My Man.”

Fanny Brice recorded this in 1921. She performed the song in the 1921 Follies for Florenz Ziegfeld and also had a hit record. The way she sings, it sounds like a torch song, though it is often described as a ballad. She sings it at the pace of a ballad. She was especially identified with this song. Primarily a comedian, she was also known to be able to break the hearts of her audience. I can understand why. Possibly sung as an interlude and not part of an overall plot, it has a self-contained storytelling quality to it and she even talks some of it.

In 1937, Billie Holiday recorded a jazzy version with Teddy Wilson and His Orchestra. I don’t think it has the depth of her later versions, though, though her work with Teddy Wilson is considered some of the greatest jazz ever recorded.

The words that come to mind are emotional pyrotechnics. In 1964, Barbra Streisand starred in the musical “Funny Girl,” with music by Jule Styne and lyrics by Bob Merrill. The story is inspired by the life of Fanny Brice and the musical was later made into a movie in 1968 and included the song “My Man”. An entirely different singer from Fanny Brice, here Barbra Streisand lets ‘er rip, with a touch of defiance for good measure. I’ve always liked Barbra Streisand, partially because she was one of my mother’s favorite singers.There’s something electrifying about her performances and I can’t help getting swept up in it, even if it’s not always subtle.

I am not familiar with Glee, apart from hearsay, but I thought this clip was interesting since it is a direct homage to Barbra Streisand’s version. We’ve come a long way from 1920s ballads/torch songs and 1930s jazz. It’s funny, but although Barbra Streisand sang in Broadway musicals, I never thought of her as a Broadway singer. I think of her as a superior pop singer (that may not be an entirely fair assessment – she is versatile and could sing jazz, pop and Broadway). But this is pure 21st Century Broadway belting. The word for this song is waterworks (cousin to Anne Hathaway’s tearful, choked-up version of “I Dreamed a Dream” in Les Miserables). It is a style of singing that places more emphasis on the emotion the singer is personally feeling than on the words being communicated by the singer. But she seems too young to be singing this song.

Here is a unique example I came across from the soundtrack for Boardwalk Empire (another show I am only familiar with by hearsay). Regina Spekter is the singer and the best word I can think of to describe this song is ironic. She drips irony. She seems to be mocking the genre, the torch song, the eternally suffering woman. Or is she mocking something else? I would be curious to know the context in which this song features in the show. It made me think of a drinking song.

I can’t help including my favorite version of the song again, even though I featured it on my previous post. I mentioned that the girl from Glee was too young; here is Billie Holiday’s most mature and moving version and makes the last several versions seem shallow in comparison. This is the only version I have found where the performer displays heartache and yet dignity at the same time. Most versions I’ve heard are meant to be a raw display of emotion, but so much emotional honesty can also turn you into an object of pity. To have a breakdown in front of someone is to give a little piece of yourself away (Frank Sinatra once said of Judy Garland that “every time she sings, she dies a little”). There is no self-pity with Billie Holiday. She is telling us about her love; it is her decision and she has accepted it. She is not asking for pity. In that way, she retains her autonomy from the audience. She has reserved a part of herself for herself and apart from others and while the song is tragic, you respect her, too. And like Fanny Brice, she has slowed the song way down and is engaging in a sophisticated form of storytelling.

 
5 Comments

Posted by on May 22, 2015 in Great American Songbook

 

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

“April in Paris” – by Vernon Duke and E.Y. “Yip” Harburg

744px-Camille_Pissarro_031

“Place du Theatre-Francais, Spring” by Camille Pissarro: wikimedia commons

Vernon Duke is not as familiar a name as his friend and mentor’s, George Gershwin. Vernon Duke was born Vladimir Dukelsky and studied to be a classical composer before he and his family fled during the Russian Revolution. In America he met George Gershwin and when he began to write popular songs, at Gershwin’s suggestion, he changed his name to Vernon Duke, though he still had an extremely prolific career as a classical composer under the name Vladimir Dukelsky.

Vernon Duke is probably best known for writing the songs for  the musical “Cabin in the Sky,” which was later made into a movie in 1943 with Ethel Waters, Lena Horne and Eddie Anderson (“Taking a Chance on Love”). His other most famous song  is “April in Paris,” written for a revue in 1932 called “Walk a Little Faster” with lyricist E.Y. “Yip” Harburg, who is familiar to most people, without being commonly known, for his lyrics to Harold Arlen’s songs in The Wizard of Oz.

Oddly enough, “April in Paris” was not considered a success after the revue closed, but seems to have gradually gained momentum through the years until now it is considered a standard of American popular songs.

This is my favorite version of “April in Paris,” sung by Sarah Vaughan with trumpeter Clifford Brown, from their album together.  This seems to personify “melodramatic lyrics and urbane music,” quoted on the invaluable site Jazz Standards from Philip Furia’s book on Tin Pan Alley.

in 1952, Doris Day and Ray Bolger starred in the film April in Paris, which was not a success, but featured the song and when Doris Day also recorded it, it was a hit for her.

According to Jazz Standards, it was this 1956 recording by Count Basie and his Count Basie Orchestra that made this song a jazz standard and not just a popular song.

 
2 Comments

Posted by on April 15, 2015 in Great American Songbook

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Why Are Songs About Spring So Sad?

Today is the first day of spring, a wonderful day of new life and new growth. So, I thought what could be better than to celebrate this day of new life and new growth than to find some songs about spring. I thought there would be some joyous songs, expressing new love or how lovely nature is or something similarly upbeat. What I found instead was an impressive barrage of downbeat songs about loneliness and heartbreak. Who knew that spring could bring out more misanthropes than Christmas?

Here is a song by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, called “Spring is Here,” which sounds like a nice sentiment, until you realize that they are writing about how spring may be here, but they don’t notice because they are all alone. I really like this version, sung by Frank Sinatra. I generally prefer his earlier stuff to his later work; he seems to get too slick in his performance later, but has a touching pathos early on.

And here is another lovely, lonely, heartbreaking song called “Spring Will Be A Little Late This Year,” by Frank Loesser (“Guys and Dolls,” “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying”). It is sung by the great Sarah Vaughan. This song details how the singer has been left by their love, so now spring isn’t coming, or is coming more slowly.

Now this song is trying to have it both ways, though on the whole it is a more positive song. “April Showers,” made famous by Al Jolson, though sung here by Sinatra. Apparently, April sucks, but at least the second half of spring gets better. The rain and troubles bring flowers in May. I think it is significant that this song was written in 1921. There was a depression going during 1920-1921, to be followed by a relatively quick bounce back and the roaring twenties.

If you go to youtube and type in Ella Fitzgerald and spring, about a half dozen songs come up: “Spring Is Here,” “Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most,” “I’ve Got the Spring Fever Blues.” I was wondering if “It Might as Well be Spring,” from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s State Fair should count as a spring song. It’s not technically about spring. The singer is in love and all in a flutter and restless and that “it might as well be spring,” but it’s not actually spring, though at least the singer is in a relatively happy state and new love is being born, which is a sentiment consonant with new birth in spring.

Finally, I did manage to locate one genuine happy springtime song, meant to be sung specifically during spring (though it is not a Jazz standard or standard of The Great American Songbook). It is from Seven Brides for Seven Brothers: “Spring, Spring, Spring.” Six brothers and their girlfriends welcome the coming of spring after a very, very long winter in the mountains.

 
4 Comments

Posted by on March 20, 2015 in Great American Songbook

 

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

 
%d bloggers like this: