Obscure but Worthy: Looking at Revivable Songs, “Moon and Sand”

Roger Crane, the Song Scout

Some songs, of course, are obscure because they should be but, for each of those there are many others that are worthy of more attention. For the fourth entry in this occasional series I will address Alec Wilder’s 1941 “Moon and Sand.” By most accounts the multi-faceted Wilder was an eccentric and interesting man. He has his critics. He has his defenders. Depending on who you talk to, he was gruff, loud, boorish, rude, loyal, courtly, generous, talented, over-rated. But, he certainly wrote some unique, totally original songs full of unexpected turns and surprises. During a career of close to fifty years, he produced a body of work that is very impressive in its diversity. In addition to popular songs, he wrote cantatas, concertos, sonatas, ballets, quintets for brass, operas (five of them), film soundtracks and suites for all instruments in the orchestra. In fact the ravishing theme of Alec’s Serenade (from the Jazz Suite for Four Horns) is a superior representative of one of his suites.
Folks who embrace the Great American Songbook know, at a minimum, three of his songs. By any standard the 1943 waltz-time “While We’re Young” is a gem. But the earlier “I’ll Be Around” is likely his best known most durable composition.. The first of Wilder’s songs to attract significant attention was “It’s So Peaceful in the Country,” one of very few pop tunes that is not about romantic love. But Wilder’s 1941 “Moon and Sand” is a song worthy of much more attention and belongs in that exalted company. The romantic lyrics are by William Engvick, a most underrated wordsmith.

“Deep is the midnight sea,
Warm is the fragrant land,
Sweet are your lips to me,
Soft as the moon and sand.

Oh when shall we meet again,
When the night has left us
Will the spell remain?
The waves invade the shore
Though we may kiss no more,
Night is at our command,
Moon and sand and the magic of love.
A Few Sample Recordings

1) Kenny Burrell, guitar. arrangement by Gil Evans,
Guitar Forms (Verve), 1964

2) Chet Baker, trumpet and vocal. Frank Strazerri at the piano.
Let’s Get Lost (BMG),1989

3) Keith Jarrett, piano. Standards Volume,

4) Nancy Marano, vocal, Your’re Nearer

Thankfully “Moon and Sand,” which seemed to be unjustly ignored for decades is now occasionally recorded. In addition to the above there is a 1990 Audiophile version by the marvelous duo Jackie and Roy (who favored Wilder’s songs). A sadly neglected jazz singer, Mike Campbell also recorded the song as did vocalists Wesla Whitfield, Kate McGarry and Roseanna Vitro. Jazz pianists, including Roland Hanna, Marian McPartland and John Hicks seem to favor the melody.


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