Archive | September, 2013

Ain’t We Got Fun?

25 Sep

Tuesday was the 117th birthday of F. Scott Fitzgerald, and if the author wouldn’t recognize the sound track to the latest movie version of his The Great Gatsby, he would the link above. He wrote about it in the book of the same name.

Ain’t We Got Fun appears in the book, although that’s not its only literary reference. George Orwell and Dorothy Parker mentioned it as well, and the connection of Fitzgerald and music wasn’t unusual. It was no coincidence his collection of short stories was titled Tales of the Jazz Age.

“. . . more than virtually any other major novelist, Fitzgerald made a remarkably specific use of music,” wrote Will Friedwald at wsj.com in his in-depth look at the music and Fitzgerald: The F. Scott Fitzgerald Song Book. “Ruth Prigozy, in her pioneering 1977 essay, ‘Fitzgerald and Popular Music,’ began compiling a running list that today includes close to 100 different songs that Fitzgerald directly cited in his five novels and 170 or so short stories.”

Fitzgerald used Gus Kahn’s and Raymond Egan’s lyrics as the backdrop to Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan reconnecting early in The Great Gatsby. “Don’t talk so much, old sport. Play.”

In the morning
In the evening
Ain’t we got fun —

One thing’s sure and nothing’s surer
The rich get rich and the poor get — children
In the meantime
In between time —

The more things change, and all that. Fitzgerald died in 1940; Kahn died the next year (a decade later, Danny Thomas starred in a movie based on Kahn’s life called I’ll See You in My Dreams, which included Ain’t We Got Fun).

We don’t know how Fitzgerald would have liked the changes in music that came in the second half of the 20th century, or even the soundtrack that accompanied this year’s movie. We do know how he felt about the music of his time.

“Music,” wrote Friedwald, “meant a great deal to Fitzgerrald, as is shown by an endearing image of the author given to us by his friend and biographer Andrew Turnbull, who describes F. Scott Fitzgerald in 1932 waving ‘good-by from the lighted porch, singing Goodnight, Sweetheart in a weak, rather tuneless voice, and suddenly breaking into a little foxtrot shuffle.’ “

Advertisements

Woody Herman: Early Autumn

23 Sep
Only the leaves from early autumn. More to come.

Only the leaves from early autumn. More to come.

The best thing about the last week of September? It’s a good excuse to play Woody Herman’s Early Autumn, or any of the many covers that added Johnny Mercer’s lyrics.

That, and there’s still time to procrastinate on the leaves pictured above.

The song was composed by Ralph Burns and Herman and recorded by Herman and his second Herd in 1948, but it was much of the public’s first hearing of saxophonist Stan Getz. The song and the soloist, 21 when the former was recorded, were both hits.

(Herman’s first band, though successful, had disbanded shortly before. When Herman accompanied his wife to a substance-abuse recovery meeting, he said he saw most of his old band, according to Gene Lees’ 1997 book, Leader of the Band.

” ‘Early Autumn,’ … took on a life of its own,” wrote Don Rose at jazzinchigao.org. “It was as big a hit as a jazz instrumental could become back then in, at the end of the big-band era, and launched Getz to superstardom (though he had left the band by the time the record was issued).”

The irony is that years later, Getz said he didn’t remember the solo or the recording, according to jazz.com

” ‘I don’t remember what I played on it. . . . My music is something that’s done and forgotten about,’ ” Getz said, according to jazz.com’s entry on Early Autumn. “Yet this was the performance that created the first buzz of fame that would establish Getz as a name attraction in the jazz world. And if Getz didn’t recall what he played on the date, many musicians and fans committed his phrases to memory. Ralph Burns’s chart is a perfect vehicle for the tenorist, and the sax section is luminous even before Getz steps forward. But his solo is a perfectly poised statement, and an important milestone in the development of the cool jazz idiom.”

The lyrics came courtesy of Mercer, who also wrote the English words in 1947 to Joseph Kosma’s Autumn Leaves.

When an early autumn walks the land and chills the breeze
and touches with her hand the summer trees,
perhaps you’ll understand what memories I own.
There’s a dance pavilion in the rain all shuttered down,
a winding country lane all russet brown,
a frosty window pane shows me a town grown lonely.

The covers don’t have Getz’s solo, but Ella Fitzgerald’s voice, among others, is a worthy trade-off.

Herman’s second Herd didn’t last nearly as long as the song, and he moved on to a third Herd and so on. He was one of the early musical performers at the Super Bowl, No. VII in 1973, and died in 1987.

Below is the version of Herman’s 1948 recording of Early Autumn. The leaves can wait.

%d bloggers like this: