Week #16: I Get Along Without You Very Well (Except Sometimes) was written by Hoagy Carmichael in 1938. The lyrics were based on a poem by Jane Brown Thompson entitled Except Sometimes (reprinted below). The poem was published in 1924 in Life magazine. A friend of Carmichael’s saw the poem and gave it to Carmichael, who apparently put it in a drawer and forgot about it for a decade before re-discovering it and falling in love with its sentiment. Carmichael then painstakingly rewrote and added to the poem and crafted it into this song. The publishing of this song is actually a very interesting story in itself, which you can read here. Personally, I think these are some of the best crafted lyrics among the standards.
The first recording of this song that I recall hearing is Chet Baker’s, whose voice seems designed for songs like this (listen here). Then, of course, there is Billie Holiday’s version, recorded in 1958, a year prior to her death (listen here). Holiday’s voice deteriorated in many ways in her later years, yet her ability to sing and interpret remained incredibly powerful, and I think that her later life recordings constitute some of her greatest work. Along all recordings of this song after 1940 treat it as a ballad, due to the ironic longing of the lyrics. However, when I listened to the earliest recordings of the song (like this one from Red Norvo), it was more of a dance tune. I certainly wouldn’t say the song works better this way, but I decided to try something a little more upbeat in my recording as well. I hope you enjoy it. Thanks for listening!
Except Sometimes – Jane Brown Thompson
I get along without you very well,
Of course I do.
Except the times a soft rain falls,
And dripping off the trees recalls
How you and I stood deep in mist
One day far in the woods, and kissed.
But now I get along without you — well,
Of course I do.
I really have forgotten you, I boast,
Of course I have.
Except when somone sings a strain
Of song, then you are here again;
Or laughs a way which is the same
As yours; or when I hear your name.
I really have forgotten you — almost.
Of course I have.
Week #15: The Nearness of You was written by Hoagy Carmichael (music) with Ned Washington (lyric). Hoagy Carmichael was a multi-talented jazz pianist, singer, actor (quite successful in his time), and, of course, composer. He is among the few jazz musicians who were able to write many timeless standards (most of the standard writers were not from the world of jazz, per se, even though their songs found the most success when interpreted by jazz musicians). Among Carmichael’s most loved works are Heart and Soul, Stardust, I Get Along Without You Very Well, and Georgia On My Mind. Ned Washington’s best known works include When You Wish Upon A Star, Rawhide (yes, the Rawhide theme song!), and Stella By Starlight.
The Nearness of You has been recorded by an amazing number of performers. It first became a hit with Glenn Miller’s 1940 recording, featuring a vocal by Ray Eberle (listen here). From what I can tell, there has been a fairly consistent stream of recordings since then. One of my personal favorites comes from the Brad Mehldau Trio album Anything Goes (listen here). In addition, a diverse group of more contemporary vocalists and groups have also recorded it with varying degrees of success – James Taylor, Norah Jones, The Rolling Stones, Rod Steward, and James Brown. My version is probably closest to Glenn Miller’s. I thought the melody worked well with Miller’s sort of tight harmonization.
Week #14: All Of Me was written in 1931 by Gerald Marks (lyric) and Seymour Simons (music). The song was almost immediately a hit and topped the pop charts twice in 1932. First with Paul Whiteman’s lovely recording, featuring Mildred Bailey (listen here) and then with Louis Armstrong’s more flashy, swinging version (listen here). After these hits, the song was largely forgotten until Frank Sinatra’s 1948 recording revived it (listen here). Frank Sinatra made four recordings of it, and it was a standard in his live repertoire. One of the stranger – more interesting? – versions of the song comes from the punk group NOFX (listen here).
My version has a very different feel from any I have ever heard. After the free verse, the arrangement kicks into a driving double time. It is something like how I imagined that Django Reinhardt might interpret it. Of course, Django Reinhardt did interpret it and played it much slower and nearer the original – I think Django’s solo is fantastic (listen to Django’s version here). Anyway, I had a lot of fun recording this classic. I hope you enjoy my version of it. Thanks for listening.
Week #13: Spreadin’ Rhythm Around is not technically a standard, since it is not widely known, performed, or recorded by contemporary jazz musicians. However, I really like the song… so rules be damned. The song was written by Ted Koehler (lyrics) and Jimmy McHugh (music). Ted Koehler is best known for his collaborations with Harold Arlen on such classics as As Long As I Live, Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, I Gotta Right To Sing the Blues, Let’s Fall In Love, and Stormy Weather. Jimmy McHugh was incredibly prolific and penned such classics as I Can’t Give You Anything But Love, On the Sunny Side of the Street, and I Can’t Believe That You’re in Love With Me – which I recorded a few weeks ago (listen here).
Billie Holiday and Teddy Wilson
Though the song may not be considered a standard, it was recorded by a few very important and influential performers. My favorite – as usual – is Billie Holiday’s soulful – even funky – version (listen here).* This is actually one of my all-time favorite Billie Holiday recordings, recorded with the Teddy Wilson Orchestra. Indeed, I liked Holiday’s version so much that I even learned the solos as featured on that recording and tried my best to quote them – of special note is Johnny Hodges’ fantastic alto saxophone solo. The stride master Fats Waller also recorded a light, fun version in 1935 (listen here). There is a dispute as to whether Waller may have been actually been the author of the song as well, since instrumental parts of the original score are apparently in Waller’s hand writing (read more about this here).
Since 1978, the song has experienced a small revival each time the Broadway revue Ain’t Misbehavin’ is revived, as it is the opening song of the second act. The show recently toured with a conglomerate of past American Idol contestants and winners. I must admit, I find this musical’s arrangement severely lacking in any of the charm or energy of the earlier recordings; instead, I find it annoying. All this having been said, I hope you enjoy my version of this great song!
*More recently, Billie Holiday’s version has been remixed with an unquestionably funky beat on the album Billie Holiday: Remixed & Reimagined (listen here). This version is actually pretty awesome, in my opinion. The funky guitar works with this beat and Holiday’s voice is just golden.
Week #12: The Ballad of Mack the Knife – originally called Die Moritat von Mackie Messer – was written by Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht* as the prelude to the musical The Threepenny Opera (Die Dreigroschenoper). The play was a Marxist critique of capitalism. It was incredibly successful and showed over 1,000 times in Germany and other parts of Europe. An English translation premiered on Broadway in 1933 (after Weill and Brecht were forced to flee Germany), but it was unsuccessful. The show was revived in 1952, with an English translation by Marc Blitzstein. Leonard Bernstein conducted this revival and this time, it was more successful.
Still, it wasn’t until 1955, nearly 30 years after Mack the Knife was written, that Louis Armstrong recorded a hugely popular version of the song (listen here). Shortly after, a number of artists recorded it, and many of the versions were hits. Bobby Darin and Ella Fitzgerald each won a Grammy for their renditions. More recently, strange and creepy versions – which perhaps try to reconcile the disturbing lyrics with the absurdly upbeat music – have been recorded by Nick Cave, Marianne Faithfull, and Michael Buble (Buble’s is no so much strange as it is just bad).
In addition to these more serious versions, there is a funny version from The Muppets in which Dr. Teeth attempts to explain the song to Sam the Eagle. Watch it here. I enjoyed it.
*You can listen to Brecht singing the original Die Moritat von Mackie Messer here (recorded in 1928).
Week #11: Moonlight Serenade was written by Glenn Miller as an instrumental for his orchestra in 1939. The beautiful recording was an immediate success and was one of the top-selling records of ’39 (listen to the original here). It became the signature tune for the Glenn Miller orchestra, one of the best known big bands of the era. Michael Parish added lyrics to the song and the vocal version became a hit for Frank Sinatra (listen here).
The original recording, however, is the one that persists. It can be heard in a great number of movies and television shows. I love the romanticism of the original arrangement as well as Miller’s traditional statement of the melody – in the clarinet and tenor saxophone – with tight saxophone harmonies. I tried to stay true to the original feel in my version, and harmonized similarly using the accordion. The arrangement is minimal and the one solo – like the original – is really only a slight embellishment of the melody. It is a beautiful tune, and I hope you enjoy my rendition.
The original cast of Porgy and Bess
Week #10: Summertime has the distinction of being one of the most recorded songs in the history of recorded music. According to The Summertime Connection, there are currently more than 33,345 recorded versions* (my addition takes that number of to an even 33,346!). Summertime was written by George Gershwin (music) and DuBose Heyward (lyrics) for the opera Porgy and Bess. Gershwin is said to have exclaimed of Summertime, “I think the music is so marvelous I don’t believe I wrote it.” And, though I do believe that Gershwin wrote it, I must agree that it is marvelous. This is one of only a few songs that I can’t remember not knowing.
Sydney Bechet in 1922
Of the vast treasury of recorded versions, my personal favorite is Sydney Bechet’s lyrical and aggressive version, recorded in 1939 (listen here). I tried to capture Bechet’s pulse and drive in my version, and even lifted a guitar riff or two from the recording. Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong’s 1957 recording is one of the best known versions (listen here); Armstrong’s powerful trumpet solo that opens this version is breathtaking.
*I was not able (nor willing to take the time) to verify this number. But it is certainly one of the most recorded songs in the history of recorded music. And it has been attempted in a huge variety of styles, many of them quite strange (listen here).