Standards to Love: And The Living Is Easy
If you’ve watched any of the Tennessee Williams films I recommended in my last post- Films to Love: Sultry Summer Cinema- you will have noticed that bluesy jazz that lilted lazily in the background. Jazz goes beautifully with the summer months. For example, when Cole Porter penned the lyrics to the Kiss Me Kate classic, It’s Too Darn Hot, I think he must have been channeling the weather that we’ve currently been enduring in the South. And, apparently, it’s not exclusively here. The weather outside is frightful, and not because it’s snowing. Quite the opposite. It’s sultry. It’s humid. It’s flat out hot. And, since every summer needs a soundtrack, today I’m sharing several American Popular Standards with you that perfectly conjure summer.
When it comes to American Popular Standards, it is appropriate to begin with the Gershwin Brothers. George and Ira were an incomparable team the likes of which we have never seen again. When they wrote this aria for their 1935 opera Porgy and Bess, they captured the mood and atmosphere of summer here in the South. It’s hard to pick my favorite version, though. It has been recorded by all the greats. There’s Frank Sinatra’s rendition; superb. Then there’s Billie Holiday; stellar. And Mile Davis; sultry. Even the actress Scarlett Johansson has a wonderful cut. Not to mention Janis Joplin’s contribution which is more bluesy. But, I think my favorite has to be when Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong sang together. I hope you enjoy it, too.
Night and Day
Now, this standard by Cole Porter is not explicitly summer. However, from the intro, the words always paint pictures of jewel tone jungle scapes, tribal rhythms, and sensual, steamy summer showers with raindrops plinking and plunking on oversized fronds. And those sorts of images whisper summer to me. Now, I know of two renditions that get quite a lot of play in my house. They are very different, but that’s what I appreciate so much about the genius of Cole Porter. He transitions between classic jazz to bossa nova without a single hiccup. I’m including both here because I think you’ll enjoy seeing this example of how universal the American Popular Standard can be. The first is a more classic approach to Night and Day by Tony Bennett. Why I love this one is because Tony- who I had the pleasure of seeing when he came to Nashville two years ago with his daughter, and who is a prime example of how age is all about attitude- anyway, Tony sings the intro here.
The second version of this song is by Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66 from their album, Equinox (which might be my favorite by them). Native Brazilian, Sergio Mendes came to the States on the wave of Bossa Nova that took America by storm in the late 1960s. Working with Herb Alpert- of Tijuana Brass fame and co-founder of A&M Records- Mendes carved out a niche in the music community that still bubbles and pops like the finest champagne. He is a staple on my summer playlist and this song, in particular, gets heavy rotation.
The Summer Knows
Since I mentioned Sergio Mendes, I should tell you that I fell in love with the writing of Marilyn and Alan Bergman when Brasil ’66 recorded their song Like a Lover on their album The Look Of Love. While that’s a fantastic song that you should definitely look up and listen to (thank God for youtube, right?), the Bergman song I’m talking about now is the one they wrote with Michel Legrand from the film Summer of ’42. And, just to stay in the vein, Tony Bennett was the one to record it for the film. I love the tempo and rhythm. To say nothing of the lyrics; they’re metaphorical, and you know how much I love a well executed metaphor. Like Night and Day, I have two cuts I like the most. The first is by Nancy Lamott, who we lost way too soon. It’s a melding of The Summer Knows and Summer Me Winter Me also by Legrand and the Bergmans.
The other version I really enjoy listening to is by Sarah Vaughan with her trio. Bonus, I found a video where Vaughan is in concert with Michel playing the piano for her. It’s a fabulous concert, but I’m only including The Summer Knows here.
And, since the inimitable Cole Porter tipped his top hat to the greatness of this songwriter, it is appropriate to include a song by Irving Berlin. Summer is not mentioned outright, but whenever I hear Blue Skies, I always think of that blanket of cloudless blue that is so often around during the summer months. Plus, as bluebirds are singing in this song, I associate it with the summer, too. We have particularly chatty bluebirds on our property. If you’re familiar with the Irving Berlin Christmas classic, White Christmas, you’ve probably heard an uptempo version of this one with Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye. I first heard it from the Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire film Blue Skies. Bing Crosby sings it, and let’s just be frank, he’s perfect. I really can’t think of a time when he didn’t sing anything- and I do mean ANYTHING- perfectly. The man’s voice is rapturous. And while the movie might not be the best- even with that rather iconic Puttin’ on the Ritz dance number with Fred- this song is on point. I’ve selected Diana Krall’s recording because I happen to love the arrangement. I hope you do, too.
New Sun in the Sky
This Schwartz and Dietz number always makes me smile. I first heard it when I was a tiny tot watching The Band Wagon, with Cyd Charisse and Fred Astaire. The film boasts one of the most beautiful dance numbers of all time. Set to Schwartz and Dietz’s Dancing in the Dark, Fred Astaire dances with Cyd Charisse in Central Park. She is one of my all time favorite dancers; I wanted to grow up and be her at one point in my life. Sometimes I still want to, especially if I get to be her from this movie. New Sun in the Sky is danced by Cyd but dubbed by India Adams. Vicente Minnelli directed the movie and he expertly captures the bright and cheery quality of this song with the backdrop and Cyd’s costume (which I would love to wear).
The Summer Wind
Originally a German tune composed by Heinz Meier and Hans Bradtke, Johnny Mercer re-wrote the song in English in 1965. It’s a rather sad song, but when Nelson Riddle arranged it for Frank Sinatra on his 1966 hit album Strangers in the Night, we were gifted with such a stellar performance that it wouldn’t feel right to compile a list of American Popular Standards about summer without including it.
And because one should always end on a happy note- especially if that note is hung on a staff line of gratitude:
I Got the Sun in the Morning
From Annie Get Your Gun, this Irving Berlin song is one with which we all should be familiar. From its intro, it’s about taking stock of all the thing which we have or haven’t got. And, while we might not possess piles of cash or enormous bank accounts or yachts or mansions or all those other trappings that serve to steal our joy, we all of us have the same essentials. The sun in the morning and the moon at night. Everyday we have the sun, we know we’re alive. And, if you have nothing else, that’s something to be mighty thankful for today. The recording I like the best by Nancy Lamott. It makes me smile broadly. I hope it does the same for you, too.
Are there any songs that scream summer to you? They don’t need to be from the Great American Songbook. In fact, I’d appreciate if you’d help to broaden my horizons. Any pop culture songs about summer that you have playing over your speakers?