Keeping the GAS (Great American Songbook) Flame Burning: “Over the Rainbow”

September 26, 2015
Rpger Crane Song Scout

Rpger Crane Song Scout

By Roger Crane

What is left to say about the lovely and iconic “Over the Rainbow?” Well, some basics. The music is by Harold Arlen and the lyric by E. Y. “Yip” Harburg. As many of you know, it was written for and featured in the 1939 Judy Garland movie The Wizard of Oz. The song became Garland’s piece de resistance and has, since its introduction, been recorded by just about everybody (a few examples below).

By the way, 1939 was a spectacular year for well-written songs. Just to cite a small handful, in addition to “Over the Rainbow,” “All the Things You Are,” “Darn That Dream,” “Don’t Worry ‘Bout Me,” “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was,” “I Thought About You,” “Day In-Day Out,” and so many more were published in that year. None of these songs has in them a clichéd note.

Here is something maybe you did not know. The original composer assigned to write the songs for The Wizard of Oz was Jerome Kern. But he suffered a mild stroke and was unable to accept the assignment, So, Harold Arlen accepted the task. Then, the deal to have Shirley Temple play the leading role of Dorothy Gale fell through. Instead the part went to an unknown actress named Judy Garland who, at age 16, was asked to play a 12-year old. Interestingly, Frank Baum’s Oz books never mention a rainbow but the lyricist Harburg thought that a little girl in barren monotone Kansas would find color in her life only by looking at a rainbow.

Surprisingly, initially few liked the centerpiece big ballad “Over the Rainbow.” ”In fact, the producers hated the song so much that they cut it out of the movie not once, but three times. Studio head Louis B. Mayer griped that it slowed down the film. They especially didn’t like that delightful opening octave leap “Some-WHERE.” Only Arthur Freed, the associate producer (and himself a songwriter), persuaded the powers-that-be to leave the song in the final cut.

Of course, all else is history. The young Judy and the public loved “Over the Rainbow” and it won the Academy Award for Best Song of 1939 and has since attained the rare status of a beloved American classic. It was ranked number one on the “Songs of the Century” list compiled by the Recording Industry Association of America. The American Film Institute named it the greatest movie song of all time.

Although featured in a young person’s movie, the song easily made the transition to the dance halls and the swing bands of the era. In fact, before the end of 1939, the song had entered the repertoires of Artie Shaw, Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller. Miller’s version, which was recorded before the film was released, was a number one hit for his band. “Over the Rainbow” spent six weeks as the number one hit on the radio show Your Hit Parade. “Over the Rainbow” has been featured in several films besides The Wizard of Oz. James Stewart (yes, THAT James Stewart) sang it in the 1940 The Philadelphia Story. Eileen Farrell dubbed it for Eleanor Parker in the 1955 film Interrupted Melody and Elizabeth Hartman hummed it in the 1965 A Patch of Blue.

Some Recordings

Since its initial appearance,”Over the Rainbow” has never totally fallen out of favor among jazz players nor among vocalists who focus on the GAS repertoire.
1) Judy has to be included, of course. Here she is in 1939 with Victor Young and his orchestra. In 1981 this record was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.

2) The under-valued altoist Art Pepper recorded it many times. This version is from a 1978 Galaxy session. That is Stanley Cowell, piano, Roy Haynes, drums and Cecil McBee, bass.

3) Even the great Ray Charles can find something new to add to the maleable melody. Here is ”the genius” in 1963 with an arrangement by Marty Paich.

4) Unfortunately, Eva Cassidy died at only 33 (of cancer) before she became a star She was the rarest of the rare – a truly genre-free vocalist – rock, pop, gospel, jazz, folk. Eva just sang and to heck with labels. Her impassioned 5-minute version became a posthumous hit (especially in England) in 1992.

5)Dave Brubeck has noted that his 1952 Storyville performance of “Over the Rainbow” is one of his favorites among his own recordings. Those final mournful but lovely notes of course are by Brubeck’s right-hand man, saxophonist Paul Desmond.

Many of the best GAS singers past and present have recorded “Over the Rainbow,” including Joe Williams (with Sweets Edison) from their live 1961 recording. Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan as well as Frank Sinatra, Jo Stafford, Rosemary Clooney, Doris Day and even Willie Nelson have recorded this evergreen.

You jazz fans might wish to also take a listen to Sonny Rollins recordings of “Valse Hot” which is a piece that he wrote based on Arlen’s “Over the Rainbows” chord changes (but with a changed meter) This song was also a 1953 virtuoso keyboard show piece for the magnificent Art Tatum. Another pianist, Keith Jarrett recorded an achingly beautiful version for his 1964 Live in Tokyo album

Enjoy. As always, comments welcomed.
Roger, the Intrepid Song Scout

A ROGER SONG SCOUT AURAL BACK RUB: “It All Depends on You” by the flawless Doris Day

September 8, 2015
Roger Crane, the Song Scout

Roger Crane, the Song Scout

By Roger Crane


Dear Fellow Fans of the Good Stuff

The 1954 Love Me or Leave Me was a superb movie and soundtrack. It is certainly Doris Day’s greatest musical performance as an actress. In fact, for decades, many film critics, fans, writers would view the Academy’s failure to nominate Day for her portrayal of singer Ruth Etting as one its biggest oversights.

The film’s soundtrack shows her versatility from the 1920s flapper-song “Everybody Loves My Baby” to Berlin’s “Shakin’ the Blues Away” to the tough-dame Rodgers and Hart “Ten Cents a Dance.” Day is flawless on each of the songs.

One of my favorites from that soundtrack is her sublime vocal on “It All Depends on You,” accompanied by the piano of Milton Raskin. By the way composer David Raksin often found his name misspelled Raskin and, surprisingly, Raksin and Raskin did write a song together.

But, I digress and here is Miss Bottled Sunshine (thank you Mr. Friedwald) and “It All Depends on You” (a 2-minute aural back rub).


Enjoy. Comments welcomed.
Roger, the Intrepid Song Scout

CD Review: Eric Van Aro’s “Endless Roads”

September 1, 2015
Brian Arsenalt

Brian Arsenalt

By Brian Arsenault

The last time I reviewed an album by this guy in early 2014, I complimented his reclaiming stellar jazz singing for the guys in the face of so many fine current female jazz singers.

This time, with Endless Roads, Eric Van Aro has reestablished the stripped down rock/pop sound amidst an avalanche of overdubbed, over-produced, echo chambered, synthetic slop so dominant today. (We won’t name the purveyors as they know who they are; unshaken TV commercials abound for their concert tours; Good Morning America appearances before overexcited pre-teens. You know the drill.)

Eric Van Aro

Eric Van Aro

Eric himself writes that he has “been taught that the musical roads one can and should take are endless . . .” He may need to be careful, though, as the musical world has long since shown an obnoxious need to characterize artists and their art forms, neat little boxes to keep our tastes in without a lot of thought.

Eric, though, can find room for works by Pat Metheny, Laura Nyro, Randy Newman, Jimmy Page/Robert Plant, Bruno Mars and himself in the same album. Really.

Maybe the bravest piece is Mars’ “Just the Way You Are.” Reworking a big hit by a pop giant is to walk on the edge of unacceptable, as the original version is tucked so deeply into our musical consciousness. Singing along with the car radio and such. Eric pulls it off anyway by tipping his hat to the hit while singing it in his raspier, deeper way.

Eric Van Aro

Eric Van Aro

The lesser known Zep piece “Friends” moves effortlessly from bluesy at the start to jazzy at the end.

“This Is Not America” opens the album and sets the rocking tone with Max Elli’s slick rock guitar opening. Elli is a strength throughout the album, weaving in, under and around Van Aro’s vocals as if they had played together for years. In actuality, they seem to have met musically on Endless Roads.

Eric’s artistic generosity means this could almost have been billed as Elli’s album with Eric providing vocals, rather like the long ago days of Jeff Beck with Rod Stewart.

He notes that on this album he “really tried to let the producer in me stay at home and let myself by guided by my producer and my musicians.”

Kudos to Giordano Colombo for his production. As noted, a clean, crisp, basic sound is quite rare in these days of dubbing to the max.

Drummer Giordano Colombo is solid throughout and really breaks out on “Stratus.” If there’s such a thing as rock scat singing, Eric shows it off here.

Nyro’s “And When I Die”, recorded memorably by Blood Sweat & Tears, adds a little country flavor and Randy Newman’s “I Think It’s Going to Rain Today” has just a dash of Van Morrison flavor in Eric’s vocal.

The album closes with Van Aro’s co-written “One Life One Song” and as an earlier song notes: “. . . that’s the way to treat a friend.”

The friend in this case being any listener.

Endless Roads will be released on September 17.

* * * * * * *

To read more reviews, essays and columns by Brian Arsenault click HERE.


Roger Crane the Song Scout: Great Ballads

July 2, 2015

Roger Crane the Song Scout

By Roger Crane


Fellow Music Fans….

I’m an adagio-kind of guy. I love ballads – jazz ballads, country ballads, Latin ballads, any ballads. In particular I seek the great recordings, meaning the 3-way combination of…

1 – Fine Song 2 – Fine Singer 3 – Fine Arrangement/Accompaniment

For example, you can find many such “triple threats” on the various Sinatra recordings from his Capitol years. Here is a beautiful song from those recordings which I often return to.

THE SONG – “Lonely Town”- By Leonard Bernstein, Betty Comden and Adolph Green, from the 1944 Broadway show, On the Town

THE SINGER – Frank Sinatra



I am not alone in my affection for this recording. Sinatra, in a 1984 interview chose it as “the best record I ever made.” One of the key components of Jenkins’ chart is his use of a haunting French horn introduction by Vince DeRosa (link below). I enjoy much of Bernstein’s music but not a particular fan of some songs (e.g., finding “Somewhere” boring with its pretentious Puccini high notes).

But “Lonely Town” (along with “Lucky to Be Me” and “Some Other Time” from the same show) is a superior song. It is a favorite of jazz groups, probably due to its subtle, constant modulation from minor to major and its unusual chords. Vocally, it is demanding, requiring a lot of voice and exact intonation. Maybe that is why the mediocre singers leave it alone. Sinatra is up to it and sings with vulnerability and is at ease with the slow tempo.

“Lonely Town” is on Sinatra’s 1957 Capitol recording titled Where Are You, which was his first recording in stereo. It is perfection or, if that is too reverent, let’s say “perfectly wonderful.”

And here’s another version of the song in a lovely piano rendition by Bill Charlap and his trio
(bassist, Peter Washington, drummer Kenny Washington).

Best to you all.  Comments welcomed.

Roger, the Benevolent Guardian of Song  (and an eager vendor of opinions)

Record Rack: Halie Loren and The Monks of Norcia

June 30, 2015

Brian Arsenault

by Brian Arsenault

Soul Music
Secular and Sacred or
Sacred and Sublime

Halie Loren: Butterfly Blue (Justin Time Records)

Halie Loren glides in flight on her new album Butterfly Blue from newly composed musical poetry to the songbook of American music on the wings of a deepening and darkening musical sense, an extraordinary accompanying group of musicians and a voice to wring out all the passion, pain and promise of living. We are captives of the cages of our lives but the spirit still soars.

The new:

“Blue” by sterling guitarist Daniel Gallo, “blue like the deep sea . . . blue like a moonbeam.”     Delicate without sentimentality, painful but not maudlin. Gallo’s guitar masterfully weaves under Loren’s voice.

“Butterfly” by Loren herself, wherein I think Otis Redding held her hand. I thought he might harmonize on the chorus and perhaps he does somewhere else.

“After the Fall” again by Gallo. Paper Moons hang, funny Valentines bring a tear. Songs of life remembered, a soundtrack of a life.

The classic:
Charles Trenet’s “I Wish You Love”, sung mostly in French and the more romantic for that. Loren’s voice haunts, evokes all the lyrical romance of the tune. Matt Treder’s piano and David Larsen’s clarinet so perfect in creating the cafe sensibility in play. Mark Schneider’s bass simply perfect.
“Stormy Weather” touches the very center of that blues piece, slowed down achingly beyond any version you’ve heard before.

Billie Holiday would approve. Ellington could have arranged.
And a bit later, back to back to back, my favorite moments on the album.
A playful yet deeply felt “Our Love Is Here to Stay” with Irving Berlin’s wonderful, hopeful lyrics. Again Larsen, this time on baritone sax, would be worth the trip just on his own. And Halie’s phrasing, I think she knew Berlin in an earlier life.

She has also somehow magically visited Cole Porter. “Under My Skin” is launched by a fine instrumental intro with Treder and Schneider leading the way before Loren’s breathy vocal comes in with just a touch of Peggy Lee. All that Porter longing, the pain/pleasure of being caught with no release and maybe none wanted.

On the Loren penned “Danger in Loving You,” heard in a performance version on an earlier recording, she writes to the level of Gershwin and Porter. There’s no release here either. There is of course danger to the heart.

Halie Loren is generally termed a jazz singer and that’s true if you acknowledge that blues underlies jazz, which of course it does. Then there is soul, she has that too. Ask me to walk into a club and conjure up my singer of choice and it would be Halie Loren.

To bend a lyric in “Blue” just a bit, I love her like Sunday.

* * * * * * * *

The Monks of Norcia Benedicta: Marian chant from Norcia (De Montfort Music)

I’ve never been interested in meditation. That’s why I didn’t care that much for “Peace,” the last cut on Halie’s album. I’m generally annoyed with all that find your center, peace out stuff. I’m entitled to my tension and my anger. Wars aren’t won and great art isn’t created by navel gazing.

Monks of Norcea Benedictus CDYet if I was going to meditate it would be to the immortal Gregorian chants of these monks in Umbria (Italy). In fact, while I had it on I began to feel more peaceful, more in tune, as they say. That annoyed me so much that I almost turned it off, but the beauty of the prayerfulness held me. Many I know who still attend Mass say that changing from Latin to English diminished its spiritual power. I can now say I think they are right.

I’m made to understand that the monks are killing (forgive the word) on the classical charts, even outselling some pop stars, and I can see why. Benedicta, largely in tribute to Mary (I don’t need to say which Mary do I), seems to echo down the ages from a time of believing, we’re talking 10th century here. Perhaps that is part of the attraction in this age of unbelieving, at least in the modern West.

Wherever you fall on or off the spiritual scale, beauty so rich and full is not to be discounted. Ever. The Monks of Norcia are also renowned for their craft brews, a spirit also not to be discounted.

CD Review: Van Morrison’s “Duets: Re-Working the Catalogue”

March 28, 2015

By Brian Arsenault

I started getting happy listening to Van Morrison’s Duets:Re-Working the Catalog” (RCA) about the time George Benson was singing as smooth as he always is on “Higher Than The World” and I was downright grinning through Van and Georgie Fame’s “Get On With The Show.” Pure 50s jukebox. Drifters, Coasters, gratuitous but funny “cha cha cha” at the end. Just shoulda kept it to two minute twenty second hit single radio time of the era.

You can while away a weekend morning with the album and feel better about things. Be advised, though, you will take a chunk out of that morning. There are 16 tracks. None are bad but some work better than others.

On “Streets of Arklow,” Mick Hucknall (Simply Red anyone) and Van are a perfect matched set of singers on one of the album’s moodiest songs. “Souls are clear. . .”   Mark Knopfler’s voice was made for “Irish Heartbeat” nearly as much as Van’s own. As with Hucknall, their voices flow over each other seamlessly.  Perhaps a bit more Knopfler guitar.

And Van’s good not just with the boys but with the girls too.

Raspy Mavis Staples is the perfect offset to Morrison’s own sharp edges on “If I Ever Needed Someone.”

Daughter Shana Morrison achieves with Dad a hymn of the Church of Music, the only church left to so many, on “Rough God Goes Riding.”

The musicianship throughout is never just background. Of special note are the Whites, Chris on tenor sax and Alistair on trombone. As far as I know, they are not related except by excellence. One example, on “The Eternal Kansas City,” the Whites are at the center of a neat little Kansas City bebop instrumental break.

You can almost hear Neal Cassady yelling, “that’s it, that’s it” on a stop On The Road.

Van Morrison

Van Morrison

When I was disappointed it was only a matter of personal taste, not artistry by Morrison and the incredible talent he assembled.

On “Carrying A Torch”, Clare Teal’s voice is literally like the tealing of the purest bell ever cast. I don’t want Van joining in because I don’t want anything to dilute Clare’s singing. But, hey, it’s his album.

More often, though, you may be struck by the fact that you like the original version of songs better. As Kath said, she likes Van so much she wasn’t sure she always likes him sharing favorite songs. But, hey, it’s his album.

I also found that the album slogged along a bit with ballad after ballad before “Get On With The Show” and the late injection of faster pace with Van and Michael Buble on “Real Real Gone.” I may not quite get Buble but the man can sing and who doesn’t love a song with references to Sam Cooke, Wicked Wilson Pickett and James Brown.

Which brings me to Taj, closing the album with Van on “How Can A Poor Boy?” Taj Mahal is so true to the purity of the blues that he seems to step out from an earlier time. I wondered if Van in closing the album with such a blues rendition of one of his signature songs was telling us that under it all, there is always the blues.

Rings true.

* * * * * * * *

To read more posts, reviews and columns by Brian Arsenault click HERE.


Brian Arsenault Takes On GLADSHOT’s CD, “Maxwell’s Cool Demon”

March 7, 2015

By Brian Arsenault

So Kath and I had to go all the way to St. Martin and back in time to find a New York band of distinction, GLADSHOT. We were walking into the hotel and Debbie Andrews and Mike Blaxill, the band’s two principals, were walking out of their room. In that friendlier way people are on vacation, we all said hello. That eventually led to us becoming vacation pals and their mailing us Maxwell’s Cool Demon, released least summer.

I missed the album then. I miss a lot early on because there’s so much new stuff and I’m too lazy to listen to it all but that’s no reason for you to go on missing this magically melodic album if you have so far.

There are terrific harmonies, hints of the Beatles, and rhythms, a bit of Stones, throughout. Yet it’s the melodic patterns, sometimes CSN and sometimes early Zombies but always their own, that take you deep into the album. That is never more apparent than on my favorite “Dog On A Skylight.”

Debbie leads off vocally and Mike harmonizes and then leads and more harmony and the warm melody swirls around you like the Caribbean Sea even as the lyrics bite on the nature of perception and despair mingled with hope.

Debbie Andrews and Mike Blaxill

Despair mingles with hope more directly and sardonically on “We Live in America.” “Build me a dream with no trace of fear” sings Mike. How appropriate to our times when I’m not sure what to be afraid of: North Korean missiles, Russian aggression in the Ukraine, ISIS insanity spreading everywhere, or pop charts topped by Beyonce and boy bands.

Pop music phobia gets treatment in “Corp Safe” where the music industry “manage(s) the filter.” In fact the corporate pop world as a whole provides a “delicate balance of distraction and fear.” Watched any “Housewives” of anywhere lately? Be afraid, be very afraid.

It’s hard to believe that there was a time when it seemed the artists had managed to grab control of music and records and we wouldn’t have to suffer through industry created Bobby Vee “Rubber Ball” pop anymore. That was another ’60s-’70s dream of course. The empire struck back early and often to have us “Call Me Maybe.”

Still the rise of digital decried by many, including myself, created a world in which recordings can be made without the big labels. And sometimes still we get a GLADSHOT; although great bands can toil in relative obscurity without the “Good Morning America/People Magazine” hype machine where today we revel in Kim K becoming a blond.

Maxwell isn’t all anger, though, as the album is too poetic to lock into a single emotion. I like so much Mike and Debbie singing together on “Steady Light” as they each “wait for your steady light . . . (that) doesn’t ever fade away.”

And the blue and yellow “Star Tatoo” has a kind of “Strawberry Fields” imagery and Lennonesque irony. I am pretty sure this would have been Lennon’s favorite song on the album.

By the way, I notice they’ve been kicking The Walrus pretty hard lately. Can Lennon really have been great if he had human flaws, some of them pretty damn big, can he? Guess there have never been great artists who were something less than perfect people. Damn.

Anyway, GLADSHOT is a fine band and Maxwell’s Cool Demon will bring you in, sit you down, separate hot from cold and weave its spell. Who hasn’t wanted to have “Fun With Hydrangeas.”

* * * * * * * *

To read more posts, reviews and columns by Brian Arsenault click HERE.



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 255 other followers