Tunes on Tuesday – It Could Happen To You

Why this tune?

“It Could Happen To You” is an excellent example of what makes the Great American Songbook great – interesting lyrics and interesting harmonies that are fun to solo on. I’m clearly not the only one who thinks so – this song has about as many instrumental versions as vocal ones. It’s so popular among the jazz players that Sonny Rollins wrote his own melody over the changes called “Fried Bananas”

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When I’m writing songs, I’m always asking myself how many words I need before the song is “done”. Judging from the example of this tune, it doesn’t take much. The lyrics tell a complete story in only 13 lines. Clearly less is more.

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The great Karrin Allyson recorded both the original tune and Fried Bananas in one track on her 1996 album Collage

Of course there are also hundreds of excellent instrumental versions of this song. Here’s a fine version by Keith Jarrett from his Tokyo ’96 album: https://open.spotify.com/track/04RCovPxhKQGxLTc6Q4Bva?si=4vr5LuskSzqxJOizjhmtbA

And Bud Powell!

Tunes on Tuesday – Teach Me Tonight

Why this tune?

Teach Me Tonight was written in 1953 and became a hit several times in the 1950s, including Dinah Washington’s recording in 1954. It’s been recorded over 250 times and easy to see why – it’s clever, sexy (but not too much), and works for male and female singers. I’ve played it many times with Aaron Myers at shows at Mr. Henry’s on Capitol Hill.

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On the bridge, Sammy Cahn could have just written about “writing ‘I Love You’ across the blackboard of the sky” which is lovely, but he took it to the next level, extending that image to a beautiful eight-bar story:

The sky's a blackboard,
High above you.
If a shooting star goes by.
I'll use that star.
To write I love you
A thousand times across the sky.

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One more note

I wore my Washington Women In Jazz Festival T-shirt in the video to promote this year’s festival, which was scheduled for this week before the COVID-19 virus sent us all indoors. The festival has been postponed to later in the year. Please check out the website to learn more about this event and the people behind it: 

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Dinah Washington

Nat King Cole

Nancy Wilson

Holly Cole

Kevin Mahogany

Tunes on Tuesday – Alone Together

Why this tune?

You’re likely to hear Alone Together at almost any jazz jam session. Like many familiar standards, most of the people playing it probably don’t know the lyrics to the original song, or know that it was written for the musical Flying Colors in 1932. I didn’t know that until I prepared this story. 

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You’re more likely to hear instrumental versions of this tune than vocal ones, which is a shame, because the lyrics are lovely, and also sort of appropriate for our current Coronavirus condition. I took the liberty of updating them a bit for 2020:

Alone together, avoiding crowds
We'll stay at home, we’re not allowed
To cling together, It's fine
As long as we’re together

Alone together, six feet apart
Across the room, We're close at heart
We're near together and what is there 
To fear together

Our love you cannot quarantine
Our love for each other needs no vaccine
The clubs, the parties, we can postpone
While we're alone together

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Kendra Shank and Geoff Keezer

Catherine Russell

Lovely solo piano version from Hank Jones

Tunes on Tuesday – The Heart Says

Why this tune?

I got a brunch invitation from a friend, who asked whether I wanted bagels or donuts. I thought “my head wants bagels, but my heart really wants a donut.” I was trained as an engineer, so that struggle between thinking and feeling really resonated, and led to this very personal story about taking chances and finding love. Barbara Papendorp sings it beautifully on my album Making Up For Lost Time.

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Since this is a love song, and mentions dancing, I thought it worked best as a waltz. I also tried out another songwriting tool in this tune, writing the verses in a minor key and the choruses in major, so the chorus will sound more positive and hopeful. What do you think?

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Hear it on Spotify and iTunes

Tunes on Tuesday – Peel Me A Grape

Why this tune?

I picked “Peel Me A Grape” this week to have an opportunity to talk about the great pianist and songwriter Dave Frishberg. If you’re of a certain age, you may know him from Schoolhouse Rock – he wrote and sang “I’m Just a Bill.” If you’re a bit older, you might know his other classics from the 1960s, 70s and 80s like “I’m Hip,” “My Attorney Bernie.” When I started writing songs, I definitely had Frishberg in mind, him and Bob Dorough, who co-wrote I’m Hip and also wrote some Schoolhouse Rock tunes. If I can get even close to their level of verbal and musical craft and cleverness I’ll be happy.

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Peel Me A Grape works because it takes a simple idea, “Pamper me, honey” to an illogical extreme. The last line is wonderful: “I’m getting hungry / So Peel Me A Grape” 

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There are plenty of lovely versions of Peel Me A Grape to choose from. Here’s Shirley Horn

Another sultry version by René Marie 

Finally, here’s the man himself singing “You Would Rather Have The Blues”

Tunes on Tuesday – The Old Country

Why this tune?

Nancy Wilson’s birthday was on February 20, so I’m marking that date with this song from one of my very favorite albums, Nancy Wilson and Cannonball Adderley from 1962. I love how she brings out the story in the lyrics and adds a snarky edge that really stands out against the cool swing of Cannonball and the band. I have to admit that I don’t completely understand all of the words; noot sure what Nat Adderley and Curtis Lewis meant in that last bit “You won’t see your homeland / Except through me”. 

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The lyrics are very clever – enough detail to paint a clear picture but leaving space for different singers to tell different stories. To hear an example of that, check out another cool version of this song from Alison Crockett, who updates the song for the 21st century with a political twist.

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Nancy Wilson & Cannonball 

Alison Crockett, from her album “Mommy, What’s A Depression?” 

Tunes On Tuesday – Nine Miles Wide

Welcome to the first edition of Tunes on Tuesday! Every week, I’ll post a short note about an that I wrote or one that influenced or inspired me. I look forward to hearing your comments on the songs and what they might mean to you.

Why this tune?

It seems appropriate to start the series with the first tune I wrote, back in 2003. As I remember it, I was in a piano lesson with Frank Wilkins (a great Boston area pianist and bandleader), and mentioned in passing that I had never written any music. He responded by saying “So write something!” That challenge led to “Nine Miles Wide,” an instrumental theme with a bossa nova beat. 

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I decided at the last minute to record “Nine Miles Wide” for my album Making Up For Lost Time. We had time in the studio (waiting for another musician to arrive), and I took advantage of that to put the chart in front of the band: Herb Scott on alto, Percy White on bass, and Ele Reubenstein on drums. As you can hear, they sound like they had known the tune for years, and weren’t seeing it for the first time.

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Here’s the recording from Making Up For Lost Time

Tunes on Tuesday – My Funny Valentine

Why This Song?

Is there anyone who doesn’t know My Funny Valentine? It was written by Rodgers and Hart for a 1937 musical (Babes In Arms) and, according to the incredible resource Second Hand Songs, has been recorded over 900 (!) times since then. It’s clearly popular, but also attracts plenty of strong negative opinions. I met one guy recently who is used to hearing it only as a too-slow ballad, and indeed it seems to be a common choice of beginning singers, or non-jazz singers trying to sing a “jazz” song. Other people find the lyrics sexist or insulting. My frequent colleague Aaron Myers started out in that camp, when he sang it the first few times on my wife’s recommendation. Over time, though, he learned why it’s my wife’s favorite song. The key lyric is “but you’re my favorite work of art.” If you’re not a fan, think about that line as you hear the rest of the lyrics.

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The piano work by Kenny Peagler on Aaron’s recording is outstanding! Also love the bass vamp that Percy White came up with to start the tune.

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Aaron Myers from his album “Leo Rising”

Also worth checking out Rickie Lee Jones’ live version. She also sings it as a slow ballad, but pulls it off.