July 27, 2011

Jazz Love: Jerome Kern

I don't know why, but I always forget about Jerome Kern.  I suspect it might have something to do with the god-awful bio-pic/musical revue Till the Clouds Roll By, which Hepburn and I used to watch to torture ourselves. I mean: the last scene is Frank Sinatra surrounded by 50,000 showgirls with carnation garlands singing... "Old Man River"--honestly, I could not make this up!  We'd fast forward through the non-singing-life bits because they were incredibly boring.  Then we'd fast forward through the song bits because they were so badly done.  Also, I think Max Factor must have created a special color of red lipstick for this technicolor film, because every honey on screen has the same color lips.  If you'd like to see for real, Till the Clouds Roll By is on Hulu.

Erasing all of Jerome Kern's work from my memory on account of this one dreadful, overwrought, childish, big-Hollywood film is silly, though, since Jerome Kern wrote some marvelous songs.  "Isn't it Romantic," "The Way You Look Tonight," "I'll Be Hard to Handle," and, I just discovered, "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes."  Here are my favorites of his fine fine collection of songs:

I am resisting the urge to put up Ella's version of "All The Things You Are" --though I do love love love the lyrics (by Hammerstein).  Here's a great live recording of Serge Gainsbourg with his trio:





There's a great album with Charlie Watts (Rolling Stones) and his jazz quartet, named for the Kern/Gershwin ballad, Long Ago and Far Away.  Basically no one knows about this album, fine as it is (the vocalist is a reggae/r&b artist, Bernard Fowler, but he's a soulful jazz singer as well). Here's my second favorite recording of this song, by Chet Baker's quartet:






Perhaps my favorite Jerome Kern song is a new discovery: "I Told Every Little Start" was recorded and made popular by Linda Scott, in 1961.  It's a supper charming girl-group arrangement. I was astounded to discover it was a Kern and Hammerstein standard.  And someone (Jane Monheit, I am looking at you!) should record it!  But the Linda Scott version is super cute too:




Frank did Jerome Kern justice most of the time.  His versions of Kerns songs like "The Way You Look Tonight" and "I Won't Dance," are deservedly the versions everyone knows.  But here's my very favorite Sinatra take on a Kern song: 


And it's not a Jazz roundup without a live Mel Torme tune?  From Swingtime, my favorite Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movie: "Pick Yourself Up."  (Nat King Cole and Diana Krall do this wonderfully too.)  Oh, and J.S.Bach makes a little appearance in this performance.  So so so great.

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