Monday, February 09, 2009

Alone Together, Dancing In the Dark

Arthur Schwartz, self taught on piano, was encouraged by Larry Hart and George Gershwin, to ease out of a career in law, follow his passion, and become one of the greatest "Broadway" composers - these days lesser known than Porter, Kern, Rodgers and Gershwin etal; well loved, nevertheless, by singers and jazz instrumentalist artists alike.
Schwartz created elegant song melodies in minor keys that also intimated sunlight and exuberance, and melodies in major keys that allowed more than a few rainclouds over head and reveries of loss.

William Zinsser (who wrote On Writing Well, a wonderful book extolling direct, uncluttered writing that I obviously had more fun reading than ingesting!) gets almost rhapsodic on Schwartz in his book Easy To Remember The Great American Songwriters and Their Songs:
"Nobody wrote melodies as sensuous as 'Alone Together' and 'You and the Night and the Music', with their rich minor-key coloring, or 'Dancing in the Dark' and 'I See Your Face Before Me'. They are grandly constructed songs, soaring at exactly the moment when they need to take flight and then returning to earth, all musical issues resolved."

Appropos of flight-taking, soaring, and returning (serenely) to earth - in this case to a horse drawn cab of Central Park - is this famous scene from The Bandwagon where Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse provide lyric flight to the orchestrated Dancing in the Dark"
Again, seductive shifts of major and minor move under the basic motif.

Schwartz' perfectly matched lyricist partner, Howard Dietz, sets the layered emotions of the song in the first lines:

Dancing in the dark Till the tune ends,
We're dancing in the dark and it soon ends,
We're waltzing in the wonder of why we're here,
Time hurries by, we're here and gone;

"Haunted Heart" is another gem from Schwartz. Closing my eyes to listen I climb up through mountain paths, through trees covered in mists that open out finally into a clearing looking west over the ocean where a woman gazes out, singing as the sun begins to set (whaddya mean, I'm living in a musical?); once again subtle shifts laid out by the chord changes. Here sung by the immaculate, subtle and warm Jo Stafford (that must be her singing to the setting sun) - someone said she was Lester Young's favorite singer and that says much considering how he felt about Billie Holiday. Many thanks to Elizabeth of
Relative Esoterica for introducing Jo to me via her informed and passionate litanies!

"You and the Night and the Music" has been a longtime favorite of jazz musicians. Here is a great hard-swinging jazz version of the song by Anita O'Day. I completely flip hearing Anita, in the song's final go-round, taking a complete downward dive off the melody path and climbing back up singing a walking bassline in the final verses. Utterly Anita-esque devil-may-care drop-dead swinging.

Bill Evans does another great version of this tune on "Interplay" with Freddie Hubbard, Jim Hall, and Percy Heath, capped off with the wonderful drive of Philly Joe Jones on drums.

There is one "kick" Philly Joe delivers on the head statement that I always anticipate with delight. One of those definitive moments in jazz history!

Last but not least I offer you guitarist Pat Martino's take on "Alone Together" from The Visit, re-issued as Footprints.

Martino gives a hint here of the formative influences of Johnny Smith, Wes Montgomery, but soon enough, hold on to your hats and hear a true original. He starts off the melody statement with a loping swing enhanced by Billy Higgins and Richard Davis and then the tsoulful, tentative descending line
in the pick-up break and he's off and running. With Martino, no matter what the speed here, every line is a pearl.

In his book Singers and the Song Gene Lees offers this reminiscence;

"One day I was descending from the ASCAP New York office in an elevator. A tall, dark-haired, and strikingly handsome man in - I later realized - his seventies struck up a conversation with me. We got on to the subject of songs, and as we left the building found we were both walking north. The conversation continued. The man was elegant, poised, vigorous, articulate, and spoke with a voice of such gorgeous baritone resonance that I can still hear it in my head.
Finally, as we waited for a stoplight to change, he asked my name and i told him. He put out his hand and said, "I'm Arthur Schwartz."


Matthew H Camp said...

we are conducting a sonic experiment in which martino plays the tune from one speaker and evans from another. we believe this will usher in a new era of light.

Tom the Piper's Son said...

hope to be there when you've got it down. i'm overdue for a sonic tendril bath.

M.A. Dering said...

Hi, Tom. Thanks for your comment today on my ghost story. I'm so glad that you enjoyed it -- and really happy, too, to hear that you are a Jo Stafford fan. What a voice!

More ghost stories to follow soon.

M.A. Dering

Trombonology said...

Tom – beautiful tribute to one of my favorite composers. I got quite an education from this post, despite having long been a Schwartz admirer. Both Evans' "Night" and Martino's "Alone" were new to me; deeply dug both, especially the latter. (I must admit that I can't hear "You and the Night ... " without thinking of the celebrated "Big Edie" Beale singing it in Grey Gardens.) ... Couple other Schwartz and Dietz (what a team!) numbers that I love are "I Guess I'll Have to Change My Plan" (think Prez's "Jazz Giants" album) and "Then I'll Be Tired of You." ... Lastly, thanks for the plug – and I'm so glad that I was able to turn you on to Jo.

Tom the Piper's Son said...

Thanks Elizabeth -
I tried to find Prez' "I Guess I'll Have To Change My Plan" on a clip somewhere - not savvy enough to get it from my old lp.

Others I would have liked to include, Bill Evans doing "Haunted Heart", Bud Freeman doing "Something to Remember You By" with Dave Frishberg on piano (what a gorgeous tune - and gorgeous tone from Bud) and of course Jo on "Alone Together". Paul Desmond does a great "Alone Together" with Jim Hall. Coltrane does "If There is Someone Lovelier Than You".

Bill Stankus said...

One of my favorite versions of Dancing In the Dark is sung by Jane Monheit - on her album, Taking A Chance On Love.

Tom the Piper's Son said...

I haven;t heard this version bill, but most of what I've heard from Jane is first rate, One could easily dismisss her for her movie star looks - a kind of reverse prejudice - but she is up among the top of the newer
jazz singers. Stacey Kent is my favorite though amongst that, very broad, category.

pharmacy said...

Personally he was a great actor and dancer otherwise it wasn't possible for him to make a lot of movies.