Tunes on Tuesday – If I Were A Bell

Why this tune?

If you’re a jazz fan, you may know If I Were A Bell as that Miles Davis tune from one of his great 1956 sessions for Prestige Records. Like so many jazz standards, though, it’s a song from a musical, in this case Guys and Dolls, written by the great Frank Loesser. Even if you’re playing show tunes like these as instrumentals, it’s still a good idea to learn the lyrics to really understand the rhythm and feel of the song.

It’s also always interesting to compare the Broadway versions of these American standards with the jazz versions. See below for two versions of this tune, a classic jazz reading by Blossom Dearie and the musical version from the 1992 revival of the musical, sung by Josie de Guzman. As a jazz player, I’m so used to the jazz phrasing, tempo, and interpretation that the “original” musical versions can sound a bit strange.

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For this tune, it’s worth learning the lyrics because they’re another example of Frank Loesser’s creativity and cleverness. They’re also so much fun!

Yes, I knew my morale would crack
From the wonderful way that you looked
Boy, if I were a duck I’d quack
Or if I were a goose I’d be cooked

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Miles Davis Quintet

Video summary of this week’s tune

Blossom Dearie: the song sounds like it was written for her!

From the Guys and Dolls soundtrack: 1992 revival by Josie de Guzman

Tunes on Tuesday – St. Thomas

Why this tune?

I’m writing this from St. Croix in the US Virgin Islands. We heard a jazz concert here on one of our first visits, and weren’t surprised when the band closed the set with “St. Thomas,” named for another island in the VI. We associate the tune with Sonny Rollins, who recorded it first in 1957. I learned from KUVO Jazz that this was not the first recording of the tune by a jazz musician. Randy Weston recorded his version of this tune a year earlier with the title “Fire Down There”.

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Back in DC and other places in the US, it’s more common for jazz bands to close the set with Kenny Dorham’s New York Theme or some other melody on “rhythm changes,” the chords of Gershwin’s I Got Rhythm.

I’d love to hear what jazz bands in other parts of the world play at the end of their sets. I wrote a closing theme for the DC Jazz Jam in Washington, DC, which I look forward to playing when we get back to live jam sessions.

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Sonny Rollins: St. Thomas

Video summary of this week’s tune

Randy Weston: Fire Down There

Kenny Dorham: NY Theme

Oren Levine: 18th Street Theme

Tunes on Tuesday – Alternative Facts

Why this tune?

I have been working with the International Center for Journalists for several years on projects supporting independent journalism and countering disinformation. When I heard a government official talk about “Alternative Facts” on the news, that moved me off the couch and to the piano to start writing a response. I call this process “turning indignation into inspiration.” I had Charles Mingus’ “Fables of Faubus” in my head, and hope the tune managed to capture some of his spirit and energy.

I chose to not write any lyrics for this tune, to keep the focus on the overall mood instead of specific subject matter. I thought “Faubus” was also an instrumental, but learned only recently that Mingus did write lyrics for his tune, which Columbia refused to include on the original recording.

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Lionel Lyles contributed a spectacular solo in the recording of this tune on my album Making Up For Lost Time. He then paid me the compliment of recording his own arrangement of the tune on his album Simplistically Complex in 2019. I encourage you to check out his version (below) and the whole album. I’m always thrilled to hear other musicians interpret my tunes.

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Video summary of this week’s tune

from Making Up For Lost Time: Lionel Lyles, tenor sax, Mark Saltman, bass, Paul Jung, drums

from Simplistically Complex, by the Lionel Lyles Quintet

Charles Mingus, “Fables of Faubus”

“Faubus” with the lyrics

Tunes on Tuesday – Route 66

Why this tune?

You must have heard “Route 66” – that iconic song about driving that highway “from Chicago to LA.” Perhaps it was during that little movie about cars in 2006, which included two versions of the song on the soundtrack, by Chuck Berry and John Mayer.

The first version I remember hearing was from the guitarist and singer John Pizzarelli, channeling the original recording by Nat King Cole. It’s been recorded almost 300 times since Bobby Troup wrote it in 1946, by artists from all sorts of genres and styles.

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When you take the song apart, it’s hard to see what makes it so great – it’s a simple blues with a simple melody, and the lyrics are basically a list of city names. Somehow, though, it is great. Maybe it’s the stop time bridge, or maybe iconic lyrics like “Don’t forget Winona.” It’s a great example of how a simple tune can have a huge impact.

This story of an iconic song is a good opportunity to revisit the history of the iconic highway it celebrates. This video, published by the National Park Service, explores the African-American experience along Route 66, and the guidebook that helped Black travelers find food and shelter in an often hostile and dangerous environment.

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Nat King Cole

John Pizzarelli

Tunes on Tuesday – Here, There and Everywhere

Why this tune?

My late father Mel grew up in Boston with the jazz cornetist Ruby Braff, a great player in the Dixieland and swing tradition who passed in 2003. I remember my father playing his version of Here, There, and Everywhere when I was growing up in the mid-1970s. It’s from a 1973 album from his quartet with the guitarist George Barnes. Pa was not up on pop music, which I was just discovering as a teenager. I remember having to convince Pa that this was really a Beatles tune, and not some obscure jazz standard.

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I love Ruby’s sound here. Part of that comes from the sound of the cornet, which is generally warmer than the trumpet. It’s also his style, influenced by an older, more vocal approach to jazz trumpet going back to Louis Armstrong.

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Ruby and George

Here’s George Barnes with Bucky Pizzarelli on another version from 1971

Tunes on Tuesday – I Believe In Rhubarb

Why this tune?

Spring means gardening, which in my case was the inspiration for my first song with lyrics, “I Believe In Rhubarb.” If you’ve heard me perform this with Barbara Papendorp and others, you’re heard the story – I mentioned to a friend that my wife doesn’t like rhubarb, and in fact doesn’t believe in it, at least not as anything anyone is supposed to eat. My friend replied “I believe in rhubarb,” which struck me as such an excellent song title that it deserved a song to match.

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When I started writing songs back in 2008, I was determined not to write anything too serious, sticking to fun topics like vegetables and public transportation. Since then I’ve expanded my range and explored more personal topics like love and loss. If you’re a songwriter, I’d like to hear about your journey, and how you came to write about different topics. 

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Beth Logan Raffeld sings Rhubarb in 2009

Barbara Papendorp and Russwin Francisco sing Rhubarb in 2013

Tunes on Tuesday – They Say It’s Spring

Why this tune?

“They Say It’s Spring” could apply to the weather here in the Washington DC area this year, where the warmth of spring has been late to arrive. It’s really about much more than that, a spring song that’s not about spring at all. The tune was written for Blossom Dearie, who recorded it first in 1958. I’ve been performing it regularly around the area with Barbara Papendorp (and hope to get back to live performances soon). Even though I’ve heard it many times, I had to read the lyrics carefully to appreciate how clever and intricate they are.

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Because the song is so carefully put together, I think it makes sense to play it pretty close to the original melody and phrasing, like Blossom Dearie did. Other jazz songs benefit much more from creative interpretation. I’d love to hear from other musicians with their thoughts.

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Blossom Dearie’s first recording

…and a more recent version by Nicki Parrott

Tunes on Tuesday – All The Things You Are

Why this tune?

Today’s tune was inspired by the new album from Aimee Nolte, a pianist, singer and songwriter from California. She sings a lovely version of All The Things You Are, which as a jazz player I’m most familiar with from jam sessions, where it’s a very popular choice. It’s a pleasure to hear her creative take on a familiar tune.

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Of course, there’s a huge range of interpretations of this tune, in the over 770 recordings since it was written in 1939. At sessions, though, you’re most likely to hear some variation on Dizzy Gillespie’s arrangement, starting with his intro. You’re also less likely to hear vocal versions, which is a shame as Oscar Hammerstein’s lyrics are superb, Here’s how the song starts:

You are the promised kiss of springtime

That makes the lonely winter seem long

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Aimee Nolte’s recording on Spotify

Dizzy Gillespie’s version

…and Michael Jackson!

Tunes on Tuesday – All You Need To Say (Never Say Yes)

Why this tune?

“Never Say Yes” is one of my favorite instrumental tracks from one of my favorite albums, the classic “Nancy Wilson/Cannonball Adderley” session I mentioned in an earlier Tunes On Tuesday. This vocal version, “All You Need To Say”, comes from Karrin Allyson’s 2006 album Footprints, featuring classic bop tunes with superb lyrics by Chris Caswell.  The lyrics, performed by Karrin with Nancy King, add more layers of emotional power to the song.

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There’s super songwriting craft here, like in this line: ” And there’s no way of telling / Just how high a dream will take you” with that word “high” on the high note. That’s attention to detail!

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Here’s the instrumental version from the Cannonball / Nancy Wilson recording.

Tunes on Tuesday – For A Tree

Why this tune?

This year’s national Arbor Day is on April 24, and I’m celebrating the day original song dedicated to the trees, called For A Tree. This is part of an ongoing project to write songs for holidays that don’t, in my opinion, have enough good ones. I recorded For A Tree at home with vocalist Barbara Papendorp.  

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The Arbor Day Foundation has come up with creative ways to celebrate the trees even when we can’t get out to see and plant them in person. For example, if you post a picture of your favorite tree on social media with the hashtag #arbordayathome and tag them, they’ll plant a tree for you. I of course posted the video of my song.

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