Thursday, April 27, 2006

Where or when...









This is an old blogging game... but after the post re different versions of 'Stardust' – I was fiddling around last night, feeling mellow(...), and should have been doing other things... but feeling a trifle mentally overloaded... so in the cause of relaxation... thought about the various different versions of one of my favourite standards... 'Where or when.' A piece I used to play as a vehicle for improvisation... written by Rodgers and Hart for the musical 'Babes in Arms' in 1936/7, it's a strange dream-like lyric... two people who have had some kind of affair meet but the protagonist (he or she depending on who is singing) can't remember – 'where or when.' Very much an American song, then, in a society with such mobility – especially during the Depression years. The Peggy Lee hit version came out around Christmas 1941 when vast numbers of people were on the move again as America had entered the war after Pearl Harbou – the song hits home at this time as a resonance of chance wartime meetings. A strange biographical note – Lorenz Hart was a descendant of the German poet Heinrich Heine.

Here's the opener of this particular eisteddford...

The Benny Goodman version featuring Peggy Lee is a rare find... she captures just that perfect sad note of some brief lost love in wartime. Delivered with a fragile grace. It wasn't a hit at the time – the Guy Lombardo version apparently sold the copies.

Then there are obvious interpreters – Sinatra of course, who recorded it several times. This selection is taken from a gig at the Sands casino, recorded live with Count Basie. If you like Francis Albert, this is a relatively obscure but great live album – wisecracks with the audience and the band, Sinatra hip and running, with the great Basie orchestra behind him. Listen to the crisp phrasing. The piano isn't Basie on this track, by the way. Ring a ding ding, mes braves...

Some slightly less obvious versions... One of my favourite records as a kid was 'I wonder why' by Dion and the Belmonts, a New York doo-wop group who hit the big time in the rock and roll years. Dion di Mucci went solo in the sixties and has had various comebacks and setbacks since....

Judy Collins is one of those folk singers with a range that extends beyond the narrow purities of the Anglo-American sixties revival taht she sprang from. Her version contrasts in phrasing to Peggie Lee say – coming from a different musical environment – Lee and Sinatra made their bones with the big swing bands pre-and post world war two. She brings out the plaintiveness of the song in a different way.

Two instrumental versions. The first is the rather wonderful Art Tatum, jazz pianist extraordinaire... with Ben Webster, breathy whooshing ballad tenor player supreme. Contrasts in approach -Tatum all over the keyboard, the Cecil Taylor of yesteryear, Webster all about timbre and note placement. A great combo.

Errol Garner – I saw a couple of times in the sixties when I first started going to jazz concerts at the De Montfort Hall in Leicester. A little guy who used to sit on a telephone directory to reach the keyboard, always smiling. And what a fantastic, two-fisted maverick pianist, self-taught and unable to read music but capable of playing the most florid improvisations. And also very popular. This track is taken from his hit album 'Concert by the Sea' – a record that sold a lot of copies. Garner reached a wide audience in his day – by playing swinging, unpredictable but entertaining jazz, seemingly crossing the boundaries of style at will. This is the fastest version you'll hear – it rocks... joyous music, taking the tune and pretty much destroying it! Cecil Taylor again, in some weird way, reminds me of Garner crossed with Tatum and I think there was some influence – Cecil is just as much of a showman as both of them. Wonder what he'd make of 'Where or when.'

And for the last... Sinatra in the winter of his years. From his 80th birthday concert. One of those late great meditations. This seems as if he is groping for memories through fragments of images of some long gone affair, an old man remembering better days, the voice worn now - but still magical - and defiant against the crashing waves of the band... and he still manages that last high note...

It is interesting to see the different nuances that can be brought out of a set of lyrics. And the context – the wartime recordings for example would have a different resonance. 'Where or when' works in a jaunty mode – Sinatra with Basie – devil may care, yes we know each other, but – where or when and – whatever. Garner's use of it as a vehicle to stomp out some fine playing. The more poignant versions of the two female singers, and the close harmony of doowoppers, young men's voices - a rather sweet, sentimental readings really, which I threw in out of perversity and for the sake of contrast. To the bilateral approach of Webster and Tatum – speed and nuance. To finally – Sinatra again, whose stature and presence in the world as a celebrity cannot ward off the coming darkness in his eightieth year. Almost a Beckettian performance?

I can't get off... I must get off... So... adieu

Bennie Goodman and Peggie Lee

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Dion and the Belmonts

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Frank Sinatra and Count Basie

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Judy Collins

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Art Tatum and Ben Webster

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Errol Garner

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Frank Sinatra

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18 comments:

Molly Bloom said...

Oooh, this is absolutely fantastic. I couldn't download the Lee version - it says it is a text version? But I would love to hear it.

I am now listening to the Dion version - it is absolutely smashing - a classic doowop track and very poignant. I love a bit of doowop. In fact, I'm going to listen to it again. I've not heard this before. Just the right length for a smasher of a pop ditty. Wonderful.

I love the way you've applied the song to different eras. Fantastic. I'm going to try and download the others now!!

I'm not sure if I should listen to this version again, because it's a real tearjerker. Lovely...

Molly Bloom said...

I'm having trouble with the Art Tatum, so I'm now on the Errol Garner, which is so totally different to the Dion one. It is really fast and fun. It makes you want to get up and dance. It's interesting how music can take you from one emotion to another in a few seconds. It makes me imagine lots of women in marvellous full style dresses being twisted and turned around on a dancefloor and having a fantastic time. Very joyful.

Rod... said...

damn -just checked the benny goodman link and you are right! WIll sort it out... back soon...

Molly Bloom said...

I'm on the Judy Collins piece now after being unable to download the Tatum. Doing the text thing again.

This is another slow, poignant piece. Oh dear, I think I'm going to have to go and get a tissue. This has a faintly Garland feel to it, the sadness, the tragedy, but always the joy.

The lyrics are very lovely. I might have to track down the CDs. My favourite was definitely the Dion track. Really great.

I'm going to play the Collins track again, because I like it. I like the piano and it makes me miss my piano. :)

I suppose we can sometimes have a memory triggered that can apply to lots of different people that we meet. Some feelings can be applied to so many situations and faces....

Oh dear, am I taking over the comment space...again?!

Rod... said...

The Tatum is uploading now - should be there in about ten minutes as very slow! I've noticed this problem occasionally when it spits out the wrong file address - never mind... I usually try to cross check but caught up by sporadic phone calls today at strategic moments...
and I'm very flattered that anyone would want to post comments!

Molly Bloom said...

I think my computer is playing up because I couldn't play the Sinatra track either. I downloaded but wouldn't play, but I'm sure I've probably got that Sinatra track on a CD somewhere. I'll go and have a hunt later.

So, I listened to the Dion version - again!

Molly Bloom said...

Thankyou for giving us this wonderful post. Thankyou.

Molly Bloom said...

Go and see Anthony's film stills if you get a moment, they are marvellous.

Rod... said...

stone me - I've checked the sinatra and it's ok - just uploaded the Tatum and it's done the same thing again - converted it to a text file? Will try again...

Rod... said...

I think I've figured out the problem with the uploads - thye will be fixed asap... just had a quick look at Anthony's images over on http://www.malignfiesta.blogspot.com/

stunning and beautiful - will be back to leave comments when I've got these damn uploads sorted out...

Molly Bloom said...

I've really enjoyed what you've put up here today. Even with the songs I've heard. So, thankyou so much.

I'll have another go with the Sinatra....

Molly Bloom said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Molly Bloom said...

Sorry that was me posting twice by mistake...

Rod... said...

All the links should now work properly (famous last words...)... a frenetic afternoon! I also downloaded the last sinatra to check it again and it seems ok

Molly Bloom said...

I am just listening to the Dion track again. Tee hee.

I really like the way his voice changes on 'Some things that happen...' on the 'happen' part.
How did he do that?

Molly Bloom said...

Right, I shall try the Lee one again now.

Molly Bloom said...

Right, I've got the Peggie Lee and Goodman one now. Peggie Lee is fantastic. This is so very lovely too. Just up my street. She is very passionate isn't she? With a tinge of sadness again. But that tinkling sound in the background - what is that? Is it a xylophone or a vibraphone or something.

This is more of a slow dance for me. Great...

Molly Bloom said...

Still having probs with the Tatum and Sinatra, but I think it's me not you. V. slow system....

Thankyou again for a great afternoon of music...I really should be doing some work!!!!