RAMH@8: To One Thing Constant Never… and a Playlist

Drawing by V. Spahn

[Image: cartoon by French cartoonist/illustrator/humorist V. Spahn. Roughly translated, I believe the caption says something on the order of, “Oh, shoot — I meant to get to the office early this morning!”]

Like many people who fired up blogs in the Great Flowering Era — i.e., pre-2009, say (the year when Facebook first turned a profit, or at least become “cash-flow positive“) — I imagined Running After My Hat would become a journal.

A journal, of course, is different from a diary. A diary celebrates or simply notes the everyday, with lesser or greater force depending on its import to the author; a journal discusses, considers, weighs, argues, and/or blathers on about topics which may or may not be based upon something mundane, but which may also spring, unbidden, from the author’s mind and soul. The latter more closely resembles my RAMH ideal at the outset.

I suppose the place has attained that ideal, over time, although the topics have come to differ from those I’d first imagined. I apparently have much less to say about writing, for example, than I once thought I would. (On the other hand, some of this is reticence by design.)

It’s also become, well, stranger than I’d planned — stranger in ways that I could not have anticipated. I didn’t know, in 2008, that the blogging wave was already cresting. For a while, I actually tried to post something new every single day; by the time RAMH attained what I think of as its own peak, though — 2011-13, maybe — the posting rate had already declined, roughly in proportion to the dwindling audience.

To be fair, the decline in my output was mirrored by the decline in my input — my reading of and participation in other blogs. It’s not as if RAMH were the only blog withering at the time. When Google dropped its “Google Reader” blog-aggregation product, in 2013, I believe the transformation of the Web from a writers-and-readers model to a social-chatter model was complete.

What’s left, then, has become more like a real journal: a place for talking to myself, as time and circumstance allow, about topics and in ways I don’t mind making public, but also about topics and in ways I can’t imagine sharing in Facebook’s short-attention-span theater. (RAMH posts do automatically trigger brief summary posts on Facebook, for anyone who might be interested, with links to the full RAMH entries.)

Although I haven’t done a statistical analysis, I bet ninety percent of the content here has come down to two things: posts in the “Ruminations” category — all of them whiskey river Fridays posts, I think — and posts related somehow to music. Translated, this means that my output here seldom exceeds two posts weekly: not a good mechanism for attracting and retaining loyal readers, but at the same time a good tool for “keeping my hand in.” I like ruminating, and I like learning (and talking at length) about some aspects of music, too: both pursuits which ultimately depend not on facts, but on the processing of facts. And I don’t mind processing them openly, for my own sake, even if for no one else’s.

All the other stuff I used to post about here has transitioned to That Other Place. That place has its uses, as I’ve learned. But there’s not much room there for running after one’s hat, any more than I’d find in a shopping mall at the holidays, or a crowded amphitheater.

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Midweek Music Break: Melodía Pegadiza, Part 3 (“Mas Que Nada,” and the Bossa Nova in General)

[Video: “Bim-Bom,” by João Gilberto: generally understood to be the first bossa nova song written (although not the first recorded). The lyrics repeat those two syllables in various combinations, along with phrases whose English translation (per Wikipedia) simply say, “This is all of my song / And there’s nothing more / My heart has asked that it be this way.” If you’d prefer to listen to all nine of the songs featured in this post at one go, you can jump over all the background, right to the full playlist at the bottom.]

New York City has its “Swing Street,” a block of W. 52nd so named because of the profusion of jazz clubs which once lined the sidewalks there. Even if you’ve never been to Manhattan, you might have heard the name.

Lesser known is Rio de Janeiro’s counterpart: Beco das Garrafas (“Bottles Alley”). Like Swing Street, it’s “grown up” now, apparently with a Mercedes-Benz dealership on the corner and other upscale shops on either side. But in the late 1950s and early ’60s, Beco das Garrafas hosted the birth of the bossa nova.

While researching this post, I found one source which said the term “Bottles Alley” referred to the habit of residents, of hurling beer bottles into the street to silence the noise of the “Bohemians” who frequented the nightclubs there.

The Portuguese phrase doesn’t quite lack meaning, but the straight-up English translation — “new trend” or “new wave” — doesn’t exactly speak volumes, either. A better way to regard the term: recognizing that Brazilian Portuguese has its own slangy usages, and that as far back as the 1930s, as Wikipedia notes, bossa represented “old-fashioned slang for something that is done with particular charm, natural flair or innate ability.”

Ruy Castro’s book Bossa Nova: The Story of the Brazilian Music that Seduced the World (first published in 1990) traces its origin as a term for this particular musical genre to an entertainment journalist named Moysés Fuks. Fuks was also “artistic director” for a musical group called Grupo Universitario Hebraico do Brasil, or GUHB: the (yes) University Hebrew Group of Brazil. Fuks had a colleague, one Ronaldo Bôscoli, to whom he offered GUHB’s auditorium for use in promoting some kind of concert. Apparently Fuks didn’t care exactly who was on the bill, other than GUHB; “He merely suggested they include someone ‘who had made a name of sorts.'”

Bôscoli’s first choice was a local street-and-club performer (one source describes him as “one of the biggest slackers in the business”) named João Gilberto. Gilberto himself wasn’t available on the chosen night, so they chose a solid alternative vocalist: Sylvinha Telles, who was familiar with GUHB’s music.

Fuks’s role in this? He printed up a program with the set list, and copied it for the band members. In it, “he promised a bossa nova evening.” He later insisted he had no idea why he’d used the term; whatever its significance to Moysés Fuks, it stuck to the music.

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Weekend Music Break/What’s in a Song: Various Artists, “The Skye Boat Song”

[Video: opening title sequence from the Outlander television series]

The Missus and I have been watching, with pleasure, the Starz TV adaptation of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander novels. The pleasure is personal, since we both know Ms. Gabaldon. (As we have since her first drafts of individual paragraphs in what would become the first of the book series, twenty-five years ago.)

And the pleasure is also aesthetic, I guess you could say — of particular interest, today, the music.

When I first heard the Outlander theme song, I was dazzled — the lyrics, melody, arrangement, and accompanying visuals during the open credits: all seemed of a piece. Mysterious, mystical, wistful… all those adjectives that I thought to apply as well to (say) the closing title theme in The Return of the King.

Here are the lyrics:

Sing me a song of a lass that is gone,
Say, could that lass be I?
Merry of soul she sailed on a day
Over the sea to Skye.

Billow and breeze, islands and seas,
Mountains of rain and sun,
All that was good, all that was fair,
All that was me is gone.

Sing me a song of a lass that is gone,
Say, could that lass be I?
Merry of soul she sailed on a day
Over the sea to Skye…

It fits the story, sorta-kinda, and features a disappearing lass, and lots of rich imagery. (Outlander‘s protagonist is a 1940s-era British nurse who falls through a sort of temporal discontinuity into the Scotland of the 1740s.) From the start, I — grammar nerd alert! — liked about the theme that the lyricist used the first-person singular pronoun for those end-rhymes… exactly as s/he should have.

But then during the season finale episode, one thing suddenly grated on me. They hadn’t used “I” consistently perfectly. Last line of the middle stanza: see it? a subjective me. ARGH. You lazy bastards, I thought. And you were doing so well

As one does, over the next day or two I looked to the Internets for support from others outraged by such minutiae.

…and, um, well… I was wrong. (Sorta-kinda.)

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What’s in a Song: “Goodnight, Irene” (3)

Snippet from 'Goodnight, Irene' sheet music

[Image: snippet of “Goodnight, Irene” sheet music as commonly appearing around the Web. Yeah, John E. Lomax, co-author: Sorry about that, Huddie — you were a great chauffeur!]

My two earlier posts on this song (parts 1 and 2) packaged up, in short form, what I could learn of its early history. In this final installment, I thought I’d dwell on a few of the many versions of “Goodnight, Irene” recorded since Lead Belly first delivered it to John A. and Alan Lomax in the 1930s.

First up: let’s hear from Lead Belly himself.

As much as any song did, “Goodnight, Irene” (or as he first referred to it, simply “Irene”) became Lead Belly’s signature song. He never made much money from it — in fact, the Lomaxes were named as “co-authors” of the song at first, and as a result probably made more from it than Lead Belly himself. (He died in 1949 of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, more or less flat broke.) Nor did it become much of a “hit” in any version he recorded; I have no way of knowing for sure, but at a guess I’d say that the rawness of his performance style never had a chance of joining the Hit Parade.

After his final release from prison — the Lomax legend says it was thanks to their intervention with the authorities, almost certainly overstating their influence — Lead Belly went to work as a chauffeur for them. This gave him a chance to see much more of the wider world than he probably could have found on his own. Poet E.M. Schorb paints a good quick picture of this phase of Lead Belly’s life, in this excerpt from his poem titled “Leadbelly”:

Even the Lomax bros, even them white boys,
they know Irene—you driving them through
New York traffic, them folkloring in back and you
being their folkloring black chauffeur.
You drink sharp liquor in Harlem, play
with Woody Guthrie, Sonny Terry, Brownie
McGhee, the Headline Singers—radio too,
Hollywood and Three Songs by Leadbelly,
a French tour…

(Note: Schorb’s reference to the Lomax brothers isn’t 100% correct, since John A. Lomax was Alan’s father; to my knowledge, Leadbelly never chauffeured for John Jr. and Alan.)

As the poem indicates, among the performers he got to meet, befriend, and record with was the great blind blues harmonicist Sonny Terry. However, the 1943 version of “Irene” credited to the two of them together doesn’t — to my ear — feature Terry at all. (The album on which the song appeared did include Terry’s obvious contributions, and mentioned his name in the title; I’m guessing that’s the only reason his name is on this specific recording.)

Goodnight Irene (1943)

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What’s in a Song: “Goodnight, Irene” (2)

[Part 1 of this series is here.]

Lead Belly, Life Magazine (April 19, 1937)I’d heard The Weavers’ “sad, wistful” closing notes of “Goodnight, Irene.” I’d forgotten about the song for thirty-some years, but then decided (I did know of the song, after all) to make it the subject of a post here. A simple Midweek Music Break post, at that — not a full-blown What’s in a Song monster…

And finally, after researching it some, and researching it some more, I’d actually found and listened to a recording — the first — of Lead Belly singing it for John A. Lomax in 1933.

Here it is again, so you don’t have to go back to the earlier post just for it:

Irene (1933)

As I said at the end of Part 1, this confused the heck out of me. Far from the poignant I’ll see you in my dreams of The Weavers’ version, the narrator sounds as though he’s threatening to get her in his dreams. So much for the implied sigh, hmm?

Luckily for me, Lomax — who called the song simply “Irene” at the time, probably because Lead Belly did — transcribed the lyrics then. The complete song which Lead Belly eventually recorded went like this, per Lomax’s 1936 book, Negro Folk Songs as Sung by Lead Belly:

Irene

[chorus]
Irene, goodnight, Irene, goodnight
Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene,
I’ll kiss you in my dreams

Sometimes I live in the country,
sometimes I live in town
Sometimes I haves a great notion,
To jump in the river and drown.

Last Saturday night, I got married,
Me and my wife settled down
Now me and my wife have parted,
Gonna take me a stroll uptown

I loves Irene, God knows I do,
I loves her till the sea runs dry
And if Irene turns her back on me,
I’ll take morphine and die.

Quit your rambling, quit your gambling
Quit your staying out late at night,
Go home to your wife and your family
Sit down by the fireside bright.

I was wrong about that get, then: kiss, like The Weavers’ see, is all nice and sentimental. [But see the note, below.] So it was sad and dreamy after all—

But sheesh: chorus aside, the actual verses… We’ve got a guy who seems to have casually left his wife of less than a week, for what? for the life of a rambling man, maybe sometimes living with her and sometimes alone? But he still and presumably forever will carry a torch for her — to the extent of threatening suicide (by drowning, by morphine overdose) if he ever thinks she’s given up on him…

What the heck kind of song was this, anyway?

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What’s in a Song: “Goodnight, Irene” (1)

I haven’t done a post in this series for a long, long time. This one, in fact, began life as a Midweek Music Break — or so I thought — a year ago. But then things happened…

excerpt, 1910 US Census for Harrison County, TX

[Image: an interesting excerpt from the 1910 census records for Harrison County, Texas. Click the image to view the whole width of the census page, squeezed into your browser window; click here to see it really enlarged.]

When I heard “Goodnight, Irene” for the first time, I had no idea what I was hearing. It was one of those random drive-by TV moments, back in the early 1980s — the dark middle period of purposeful TV viewing: that period during which you might catch a scrap of something wonderful as you monkeyed with the (circular) channel selector, but if you hadn’t known about the show in advance, well, sorry pal — it was already gone.

The Weavers, in the 1980sThe show in question was a PBS documentary about a folk-singing troupe, The Weavers. I didn’t know much about them; they’d peaked in the public eye years before I started paying anything like real attention to music. (Among their founding members, in 1940: Pete Seeger — bottom left in the photo over there, with the banjo. Him, I certainly recognized, but only as a solo performer.) By the time the documentary was made, the surviving members were elderly, and the Carnegie Hall concert it featured would be their last performance together.

So anyhow, the show is playing on the TV. Because I’ve tuned to this channel late in the program, almost the very end, their last song — the bittersweet finale — is almost done. In fact, I catch only the very last chorus:

Good night, Irene
Good night, Irene
I’ll see you in my dreams…

Huge applause from the Carnegie audience; a jumble of emotions fluttering over the faces of the performers.

What a sweet and wistful song, I think to myself. And then for thirty years I forgot all about “Goodnight, Irene.”

In all that time, I knew the song was out there somewhere; those closing lines had stuck in my head, see? But it was gone, until I decided to make it the subject of (so I thought) a Midweek Music Break here…

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Midweek Music Break: Melodía Pegadiza, Part 2 (Pérez Prado’s “Patricia,” and the Mambo in General)

Perez Prado, per Mexican cartoonist Saul Herrera, a/k/a 'Qucho'

[Image: Pérez Prado, in the imaginative eyes of the Mexican cartoonist (Saul Herrera) calling himself “Qucho.” I found the image on the Web right away; Qucho, only with some hunting. And I’m not sure this image appears even there, on his blog.]

It’s been a few months now since I posted the first of these Midweek Music Breaks on Latin-music earwigs from the 1950s. That post dealt with “Blue Tango,” by decidedly non-Hispanic classical composer Leroy Anderson. This week, we take a look at one of this genre’s hits penned by the self-styled “Mambo King,” bandleader Dámaso Pérez Prado.

First, an (apologetically pedantic) aside about that name: Dámaso was his given name; Pérez, his paternal surname; Prado, his maternal surname. Thus you’ll find many references to him as simply “Pérez Prado” — which “feels,” at least to a native English speaker, like a first/last name combination. For all I know, this was common during his lifetime. Maybe he even got used to it: when someone shouted out “Pérez!” on a street corner, maybe he turned his head more readily than when they called for Dámaso. But really, it’s never quite correct to refer to him as plain-old Prado — like the Spanish national art museum. Speaking from experience, this is harder than it sounds. Nevertheless “Pérez Prado” is right — just like the dark-and-stormy-night author is never called simply Lytton but always Bulwer-Lytton.

Pérez Prado cut something of an exotic figure on the mid-20th century American musical landscape. Born in Matanzas, Cuba, in 1916, he started out studying classical piano. By the 1940s, he had moved entirely into popular Cuban genres, specializing in the rhythm called the mambo.

What exactly is mambo, anyhow? Unfortunately, most of the descriptions of it are cast in terms of other styles which — presumably — you already do know enough about to discuss intelligently. One Joseph Levy, about whom I can report pretty much nothing at all, seems to have taken a special interest in Pérez Prado. At his site, he says of the mambo:

Prado’s conception of the mambo began to develop in 1943. He later said that four, five, and sometimes six musicians would often play after hours jam sessions on the tres (a small Cuban guitar) and the resultant cross rhythms and syncopation give him the idea. Jazz writer and critic Ralph J. Gleason reported that “Prez” talked to him about the mambo as being an Afro-Cuban rhythm with a dash of American swing. According to Prado, the mambo is “more musical and swingier than the rhumba. It has more beat.” He also explained, “I am a collector of cries and noises, elemental ones like seagulls on the shore, winds through the trees, men at work in a foundry. Mambo is a movement back to nature, by means of rhythms based on such cries and noises, and on simple joys.”

…The mambo as we know it today is actually a rhythm whose tempo may be slow or fast, and almost any standard tune can be set to its tempo. The saxophone usually sets the rhythm pattern and the brass carries the melody.

That reference to “cries and noises” and the squawks of seagulls may allude to Pérez Prado’s own style of band leadership. Often, you can hear him grunting aloud as though to punctuate the rhythm; sometimes these grunts are actually exultant variations of the imperative “Dilo!” (“Say it!”) and sometimes they seem — at least to me — just, well, grunts.*

Pérez Prado’s departure from Cuba is sometimes described as though he’d been ridden out of town on a rail, for tainting the purer strains of local music with foreign jazz elements. Well, maybe. Maybe the musical establishment of mid-twentieth-century Cuba was fiery, conservative, nativist; maybe people really did (still do) work themselves up into a frenzy of distaste over such matters, and not just in Cuba. What seems more likely, given what we could later tell of Pérez Prado’s ambitions: he just felt too constrained by a narrow — oh, say, island-sized — popularity, and left on his own. Whatever the case may be, when he left, he left for Mexico. And except for his big but fairly brief success in the US, from then on he seemed to present himself as a citizen of Mexico rather than Cuba.

His first introduction to US audiences came via across-the-border radio broadcasts from Mexico. He had a big hit there with a number called “Que Rico del Mambo,” which was repackaged and -recorded by American bandleader Sonny Burke as “Mambo Jambo.” That song’s success first brought Pérez Prado to the US.

“Patricia,” in 1958, was the last of Pérez Prado’s releases to reach #1 on US charts. To characterize it as infectious (as I, at least, am tempted to do) is to gloss over the recording’s supreme oddness. The orchestra’s swing is punctuated not so much by its leader’s vocal cries — it doesn’t seem to feature any of them — as by weird little bursts of horns and percussion which almost suggest to me a burp, or the compressed-lips Pppppbbbfffflllt! of a raspberry/”Bronx cheer.” But the tune itself seems to pinpoint a moment in time, in pop culture, captured by Federico Fellini in La Dolce Vita:

In [1960], even the composer Nino Rota would turn to mambo, reworking “Patricia” (Perez Prado) for the La Dolce Vita soundtrack. The song is used on several occasions, including in the “orgy” scene… As [the character of Nadia] prepares to take it all off, an inebriated guest calls for some “Middle Eastern music.” But in a truly exotica moment, the hi-fi needle falls into the groove of “Patricia.”

[source]

If you’re not familiar with that scene in the film, here’s how Wikipedia describes it:

To celebrate her recent divorce from Riccardo, Nadia performs a striptease to Pérez Prado’s cha-cha [JES: ???] “Patricia.” The drunken Marcello attempts to provoke the other partygoers into an orgy. Due to their inebriated states, however, the party descends into mayhem with Marcello throwing pillow feathers around the room as he rides a young woman crawling on her hands and knees.

(Ah, the early Sixties…) Of course, you can see this scene on YouTube, starting at around 3:55 into that seven-plus-minute clip.

Anyhow, here’s “Patricia,” as recorded by Pérez Prado’s own orchestra in 1958:

[Below, click Play button to begin Patricia. While audio is playing, volume control appears at left — a row of little vertical bars. This clip is 2:05 long.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

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Midweek Music Break: Melodía Pegadiza, Part 1 (1951-52)

For weeks recently, intermittently, I had been musically fixated on a song which I’d known for, well, decades. And I probably hadn’t heard it in decades, either. Even worse: my normal solution to the problem of an earworm is to simply listen to the song several times. Couldn’t do that in this case because… well, I didn’t know the name of the song, or on what album (if any) I might have heard it. I didn’t know who performed it. It was an instrumental, so I couldn’t seize on the lyrics to simply do a search. All I knew, apparently intimately, was the sound.

Which really made me crazy. The melody and rhythm and performance were not unpleasant, by any means; in fact, they swung smoothly, sweet-dreamily, with heavy doses of strings and woodwinds accented here and there by percussion and horn. They felt… Latin.

Yes, I know: whole Web sites and smartphone apps exist to help in cases like this. You hold an iPod or MP3 player up to a microphone, say, and the software analyzes the tune to guess at the song (and sometimes the artist). Or you can play a piano, guitar, or harmonica (or — I guess — a trumpet! even a Mellotron, or a Novachord!) into the mike. In some cases, you can simply sing into the mike, or hum, or even just plain whistle; this would require one of those rare solutions (since I didn’t actually have a copy of the song to play). But I’ve gone the perform-it-yourself route before. Maybe your singing, humming, whistling is up to snuff. Mine? Put it this way: Can you imagine the humiliation of running software which all but stares at you, gimlet-eyed, in disbelief and frank confusion?

So then one Monday night a few weeks ago The Missus and I succumbed to the allure of a PBS pledge drive. We’ve donated before, separately and together, but never at the level required to get one of their premium “gifts”: a DVD, say, or a large-format coffee-table book, or a collection of CDs. On this occasion, what pushed us over the edge was a sort of vicarious nostalgia for music of some other generation: we sprang for a six-CD collection of pop and “easy listening” music of the 1950s. Back then, we were both too young really to know this music. But the gods knew we’d heard plenty of it, coming from the speakers of record player, transistor radio, and hi-fi system…

Think Patti Page and Perry Como, Mantovani and the McGuire Sisters, all the guy-group vocalists (many of them named to identify their number, usually four: the Four Lads, the Four Aces, the Four Coins).

Think, oh, say, Leroy Anderson, and “Blue Tango.”

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Midweek Music Break/What’s in a Song: “Makin’ Whoopee”

'Whoopee' just meant a cowgirl's yell: yeah, right

[Sheet music from the original Broadway show. Note implication that
“whoopee” just refers to a cowgirl’s yell: yeah,
right.]

Over the weekend, a couple of TV experiences converged to drive this song into my head:

On Sunday, we watched the great Otto Preminger-directed film of 1959, Anatomy of a Murder. Jimmy Stewart plays a defense attorney for a confessed killer, an Army lieutenant played by Ben Gazzara. The killer was driven to it impulsively — so goes his defense — when he learned that his wife had been beaten and raped by the murder victim.

At one point, the lieutenant’s wife (Lee Remick) takes the stand in his defense. Although the prosecution has argued strenuously (albeit ineffectively) to keep the rape out of the testimony, they can’t help trying to turn it to their advantage. Lead prosecutor George C. Scott, practically leering, compliments the wife on her cute little dog (who’s just made a courtroom appearance), and then attempts to paint her as a tart who dresses and acts in a way almost guaranteed to lure men from the straight-and-narrow path of chivalry and honor. He calls attention to her beautiful hair, her tight clothes, her drinking, her playing pinball, her occasional disregard for even common everyday decencies like wearing underwear—

Jimmy Stewart leaps to his feet to object. Your Honor, he demands rhetorically, is the assistant Attorney General from Lansing pitching woo, or is he going to cross-examine?

The Missus and I snickered: pitching woo. Like, huh? woo???

But in fact the synaptic groundwork had already been laid in my head. Earlier, I’d watched an episode of the late SyFy show, Eureka. In this episode, the beautiful-but-tough-as-nails deputy sheriff, named Jo Lupo, suddenly starts behaving out of character. In particular, she reveals a sudden (and heretofore unrevealed) interest in the nerdy assistant-to-geniuses named Fargo. During a karaoke session in the local cafe, as Fargo plays the piano, Jo — in a slinky gown — goes into a rendition of “Makin’ Whoopee”… crawling around on the piano, and concluding with a kiss.

That scene in Eureka, red dress and all, was so close to another — Michelle Pfeiffer on the piano, Jeff Bridges at the keyboard, in The Fabulous Baker Boys — that it had to be intentional.

So I already had the song in my head. And then (as one does) I started to poke around on the Internets…

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What’s in a Song: Body and Soul (2)

[Image: “Body and Soul’s” opening measures, highlighting the dotted eighth rest]

From the wonderful Jazz Standards site’s musicological writeup:

Because of its complex chord progressions, “Body and Soul” remains a favorite of jazz musicians. The unusual changes in key and tempo are also highly attractive and provide a large degree of improvisational freedom.

“Unusual changes in key and tempo” might be what I think of (in my musical ignorance) as a weird near-tunelessness. At practically every turn, the song slides around what I’d expect to hear. I can’t imagine anyone whistling it while they walk along, y’know? And the weirdness all starts with that first note.

Well, technically it’s not a note at all. You can see it circled in red at the top of the post: it’s a rest.

Even more technically, it’s a “dotted eighth rest,” i.e., it’s supposed to be held for a duration of one-and-a-half “eighth notes,” or five-sixteenths of a whole one. That musicians can make anything at all from arithmetic like this is why they’re musicians and I’m not.

Which itself is weird, if you think about it. I mean, that’s the actual melody there — what a singer is expected to sing, and how. But that opening rest says to the singer: Wait! Don’t start singing right off the bat. Pause for a split-second. Then start.

And then there’s the so-called bridge…

As I mentioned in Part 1, the lyrics are hard to pin down because they’ve been so elaborated upon by so many performers. In its most common form, singers do two verses in the same “melody,” followed by a verse in a second melody, and wrap it all up with a repeat of the first one. This song structure is often depicted like this: AABA. The second melody — the B — makes up the bridge: a bit of music to carry a listener from the opening of a song through to the end.

“Body and Soul’s” bridge (“I can’t believe it/It’s hard to conceive it…”), unlike those A sections, does seem to have a real melody. And it, well, lilts.* Lyrically, the singer seems to be having second thoughts, trying to convince him- or herself that the sense of abandonment can’t be real. There must be some other explanation — “Are you pretending?” — only to conclude, with a desperate, almost audible thud in the final A verse, You do know I’m still yours, right? Please please please…?

Whatever the musical technicalities, for whatever reason, history makes one clear point: “Body and Soul” is much-loved not only by vocalists (who can appreciate not just the musical nuances, but the emotional ones in the lyrics), but by instrumentalists.

—-

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