Tunes on Tuesday: Old Folks

Why this tune?

I played “Old Folks” in the set I performed with Mark Saltman and Ron Oshima in my last Mr. Henry’s digital concert. It’s a lovely song by Willard Robison from 1938, which you’re more likely to hear without the lyrics by Dedette Lee Hill. This may show the influence of Miles Davis, who recorded it as an instrumental on his classic 1961 album “Someday My Prince Will Come.”

It may also reflect the lyrics themselves, a sentimental story of a Civil War veteran that sounds dated in 2021. The singer describes an old man who “everyone just calls ‘Old Folks’, a gentle character with some mystery: “One thing we don’t know about old folks /
Did he fight for the blue or the gray?”

Today’s “old folks” (maybe without a corncob pipe) might be telling stories of World War II.

The song warns “Some day there will be no more old folks” – but I don’t expect that to happen. If we’re lucky, perhaps we can become the “old folks” to a future generation.

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Full trio recording from the Mr. Henry’s Digital Concert livestream on May 6, 2021. Ron Oshima, tenor sax, Mark Saltman, bass, and me on the piano.

Miles Davis

Nancy Wilson

Sarah Vaughan

Ruby Braff and Ellis Larkins (my late father grew up with Ruby in Boston)


Published by Oren Levine

Jazz pianist and composer in Washington, DC. Also a digital product and technology professional working at a small DC nonprofit

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