Playlist: Comes Love

Next up in the playlist is our first song from Robin McKelle. Born Robin McElhatten, she shortened her name for showbiz, but I have two tracks on the playlist from before she did that. I know that she changed her name for showbiz because one of my loyal followers here on the blog and over on Twitter actually knows Robin! I guess they grew up together.

This song is from her album Modern Antique, which is exactly what most of the playlist is: modern versions of antique songs. Here’s a very clever YouTube video someone made to go with the silly lyrics:

I can’t find anything about the origins of this song, other than it was penned in 1939 by some guy I’ve never heard of. This arrangement is heavy on big band horns, which is common in the playlist. The overall feel is Afro-Cuban, which makes it quite danceable. I found a version by Billie Holiday that is a bluesy swing, a version by Diana Krall that’s a funky shuffle, and a version by Norah Jones that’s a really slow, dirty groove. Clearly, this song works any way you want to do it.

And you can’t argue with the thesis of the piece: pretty much any problem you run into can be solved, except for love. Ain’t nothing you can do about love.

Playlist: I Love Being Here With You

Continuing on with our exploration of the best playlist ever, let’s have a listen to a song called I Love Being Here With You, recorded by Queen Latifah:

You may recall that the overarching theme of the playlist is anachronism. And this song has that in spades. Here we have a song written by Peggy Lee (and some dude you’ve never heard of) way back in 1960, being sung by a modern diva. She has a big band accompaniment, straight out of the swing era.

When I think of Queen Latifah, I always think of her as a rapper. But of course she it multi-talented and does actual singing and acting and TV hosting and all sorts of stuff. But she was a rapper first, so I think it’s pretty fun to hear her singing this kind of music. And she does a bang-up job. The album this song is on was nominated for a Grammy and spent some time at the top of the Billboard Jazz charts.

Her voice reminds me a lot of Diana Krall. Similar range and inflections. Similar choices of songs (Diana has a recording of this song as well, although she takes it in a completely different direction; turning it into a much faster straight ahead jazz piece showing off her phenomenal piano skills).

Back when I wrote about Mambo Italiano, I cautioned that you shouldn’t prejudge a song by the versions you have heard before. This song proves a similar point: you shouldn’t prejudge a singer by the rapping she has done before. People can surprise you.

Playlist: The Naughty Bits

Over the past month I’ve been exploring a playlist that I put together for a charity gig a couple years ago. These are the songs that played during dinner, and when the band took a break between sets. The audience is exactly what you would expect at a library fundraiser—mostly old people. So when I was choosing the songs, I had a penchant for picking ones that, if they could actually hear them, the audience would be scandalized by. We jazz musicians like to play little jokes like that.

We already covered one of these songs, in which a Canadian teenager sang about her vagina. That one was kind of subtle, I’ll admit. The next two songs we will explore are far less so. They come from Annie Sellick, who we already met singing the bejeezus out of an old mafia novelty song. The first naughty song is about wanting a man who can cum more than once, apparently:

2. Do It Again (4:33)

This is the first time I haven’t been able to find a youtube link to a playlist song. So I hope that link works for you. There is also a sample on the Street of Dreams page at iTunes.

I particularly like the part of the song where she and the bass are singing exactly the same notes. It reminds me a little of what George Benson used to do with his guitar. Or maybe one of those Lambert, Hendricks & Ross songs where they sing words to a bebop solo.

The other song is exploring the difference between men who know how to make a woman cum, and those who do not:

6. Some Cats Know (4:26)

Same deal with this link. Same album and everything.

Again, there is a lot of singing with just the bass, which is something you may notice I’m partial to as you go through the playlist.

Here is a short sample of the lyrics:

some cats know
how to stir up feeling
they keep foolin’ around
till they’re half way through the ceiling
some cats know
how to keep your honey flowin’
but if a cat don’t know
a cat don’t know

Unlike the Canadian teenager song, this one really doesn’t need any explanation.

This particular song inspired a tweet, and I’ll end with that:

Playlist: Bienvenue Dans Ma Vie

The next song on the playlist that we will be exploring is Bienvenue Dans Ma Vie, sung by Nikki Yanofsky. I tweeted that little joke about this song late last year. Nikki was 15 when she recorded this back in 2010. The same year she sang the Canadian national anthem at the Winter Olympics:

Not bad for a little kid. It gave me chills and I’m not even from Canadia. [Note to my editor: that’s not a typo, it’s a joke. Leave it the hell alone, dammit.]

But let’s look at the lyrics of the song we are supposed to be talking about:

Bienvenue dans ma vie
Tout est brillant ici
It’s warm inside
My door’s open wide
Don’t stand outside

Talk about double-entendre. First some French gobbledegook I don’t understand. Then warm inside. Yup, always is, in my experience. My door is open wide. Not something you usually brag about, but okay. It goes on:

You can see from far away
It’s a kind of place you’d like to stay,
Kick off your shoes,
Forget your strife

See from far away? Maybe a camel-toe reference. I dunno.

There’s a light on in the hall

Okay, well-lit is not a typical description. I’ll give you that. But hall? Yeah, hall is definitely carrying forth our metaphor.

Leading to a place
Where you can fall and rest your head

Rest your head. Right? Your head?

Close your eyes,
Welcome to my life.

I’m more of an eyes-open kind of guy. My life. Obvious metaphor for a vagina.

So this is clearly what we’re talking about, which is fine, except the girl is only 15! That’s just not right. I’m actually kind of surprised this isn’t labeled [explicit] in iTunes, and banned in Britain, and the national anthem of Japan.

Now that I’ve completely tainted the lyrics for you, here’s the song:

Nikki’s voice is still immature, so it is better suited to this song than it is to her Ella Fitzgerald covers, which have great technical accuracy, but lack any depth or soul whatsoever. She just hasn’t had enough heartache and pain in her short life to do justice to Ella’s songbook.

I like the French 1920’s jazz instrumentation of this song, but I’m a sucker for a good jazz accordion. That’s just a cross I must bear. Don’t worry, there aren’t any more accordion songs in the list. And there aren’t any more 15-year-olds singing about their naughty bits either.

Playlist: Mambo-Italiano

Admit it: when you saw this song on the list, you rolled your eyes. You’ve heard the Rosemary Clooney version of this song, and you know it’s a ridiculous novelty song featuring the same harpsichord as the Addams Family TV show theme song. Right?

Well, yeah. That song is pretty awful. And this is kind of the same song. But man oh man, is this ever not the same song. Here is Annie Sellick’s version:

First, replace the ridiculous instrumentation of Rosemary’s version with a really tight rhythm section. Bass, drums, and piano simply nailing it. The piano solo in the middle of this tune is just awesome.

But keep the lyrics, which when you look at them, are actually brilliant. For example,

Hey Cumbah (?), I love-a how you dance the rumba
But take-a my advice pisano, learn how to mambo
‘Cause if you’re gonna be a square, you ain’t-a gonna go nowhere

This joke is just for the people who know how to dance a Rumba. If you ever took a ballroom dancing class and learned the “box step,” that’s a Rumba. So you are dancing in a little square, and you are therefore not going anywhere. Get it? Not bad for a song allegedly scribbled on a napkin just before a deadline. (It was written by the “How Much is that Doggy in the Window” guy.)

The singer, Annie Sellick, is a new favorite of mine. She made the best playlist three times. Her voice is just wonderful—rich, playful, strong. All the qualities you want in a jazz diva. Her other two songs on the playlist will get their own post later, when I explore the naughty bits of the list.

The lesson here, I think, is that you can’t judge a song by the version you know.

Playlist: Waters of March

Next up in my exploration of the Best Playlist Ever is Waters of March from Nicole Henry:

The rhythm you hear is called Bossa Nova (literally, “New Trend,” which is kind of funny since the last time it was a new trend was around 1950). As a rule, if you hear a Bossa Nova song, it was written by Antônio Carlos Jobim. Seriously. Every Bossa Nova you’ve ever heard was written by him: Desifinado, Wave, Dindi, The Girl from Ipanema (you would recognize all those songs, even if you don’t know them by their titles). And even though this song doesn’t sound old, it too was written by Jobim way back in 1972.

Part of the reason it doesn’t sound old is because it is being sung by a hot young jazz diva. That’s an example of the anachronism of the playlist: old songs performed in new ways by young artists. (Jamie Cullum being another example, who I looked at already.) The other reason it doesn’t sound old is harder to put my finger on. I guess it’s more over-produced than your typical Bossa Nova from 1972. Or something. Anyway, it sounds fresh, and if I hadn’t told you that it was an old song, I’m quite certain you wouldn’t have guessed that.

I was talking with a friend on twitter and she mentioned ASMR (autonomous sensory meridian response), which is the fancy name for chills you get when you hear certain music. And the next day as I was listening to this song—loud—I had those ASMR chills. It happens right when the bass comes in at the end of the first stanza. I recommend getting this song onto a device where you can hear it with some really cranking bass.

The lyrics are fascinating. I’ve heard them described as a “collage” which is about right. Or maybe a mosaic. Close your eyes as you listen. Picture each thing Jobim names. It’s crazy. Sometimes they are connected—”the foot, the ground, the flesh, the bone”—and sometime they are just… weird: “a truckload of bricks in the soft morning light, the shot of a gun in the dead of the night.” Huh?

The song is transcendent. Beautiful. Interesting. And, being a Bossa Nova, it inspires dancing. Of course, if you don’t have a dance partner at the moment, that can be a little sad…

Playlist: Too Close for Comfort

This is the first in a series of posts about songs in The Best Playlist Ever. The overarching theme of the playlist, other than love, is anachronism. I’ve written about anachronism before, because I have an affinity for things that are out of place, out of time. I also like the irony of anachronism in a music playlist since, you know: chronos, time, music, rhythm. There’s an irony there.

I’ll start by looking at the only song that makes an appearance twice in the playlist: Too Close for Comfort. One is an old version from Mel Tormé, and the other is a new version from Jamie Cullum. We will start with Mel’s:

You have certainly heard of Mel Tormé. He got onto my radar in the 1980s because Harry on Night Court was a huge fan. Mel’s voice earned him the nickname “The Velvet Fog,” which, frankly, I never really bought in to. I love his voice, but it’s not foggy. It’s crystal clear. It is velvet, though, on account of him straddling that tenor/baritone range, and having the best tremolo you’ll ever hear. One really interesting thing about this version of the song is that the bass line is being carried by… listen for it… yes: that’s a tuba. What the fuck is a tuba doing in a jazz band? Weird.

Now let’s contrast that with the version from Jamie:

The tempo is a bit faster, giving the song a brighter feel. And the tuba is gone, replaced with an upright bass. Although perhaps as an homage to Mel’s classic, there is a very prominent trombone in the horn section giving it that tuba-ish character. If you go back and forth between these, you will realize that the arrangements are almost identical (slightly different key, to accommodate Jamie’s slightly lower voice). The sax player in Jamie’s band clearly listened to the sax solo from Mel’s version. The notes are different, but the feel is exactly these same. Fast bop licks, but with a lyric quality, like Charlie Parker might have done.

Jamie Cullum is a fascinating character. I heard him interviewed once, and he has this thick English accent; yet his singing mostly reminds me of Harry Connick Jr., who is from New Orleans. He has played around in a bunch of different genres including hiphop and rock, but has had most of his success breathing new life into jazz standards. We will be hearing a few more songs from Jamie as we explore the playlist.

The song itself deserves a little mention, of course. It starts and ends with the same refrain: “Be wise. Be fair. Be sure. Be there. Behave. Beware.” (I like how those last two sound like be-have, be-ware.) I’ve never seen the musical this song comes from, so I’m not really sure of the context. The lyrics are extremely ambiguous. They are an admonition, but against what? Against falling for a woman who will just use you up and leave? Against falling for a woman when you are already spoken for? Against being too eager, and risking having the woman not want you because of that? It really is not at all clear, which makes it versatile, I suppose.

I tried to find out the context of the lyrics, and I learned that the song comes from a musical called “Mr. Wonderful,” which basically had no plot, and was just a pretense to bring Sammy Davis Jr’s Las Vegas act to New York. “Listen here, man, I’ve got this idea. We’ll do a musical. A big production number. Lots of dames. And you, Sammy, you’ll be at the center of it. Your Vegas act. But in a musical. Dig it? It’s gonna be huge!” That’s how I imagine the idea was pitched. And then Sammy says, “Yeah, man. I dig it. That’d be cool. Lots of dames. Yeah.”

A revival of Mr. Wonderful doesn’t seem too likely, so we may never know what exactly the lyrics intended. Perhaps it was just an admonition not to sit too close to the tuba player.

The Best Playlist Ever

A couple of years ago, I found myself in charge of organizing the music for a library fundraiser. I played at this same event a few years later, and have some tracks from it in this post. Since I was in charge, I needed to put some music together to play on a shuffle during setup and breaks. The event was Valentine’s-themed, and I figured love songs would be the way to go. It’s an older crowd, so jazz vocal standards won the day.

As I assembled this playlist, I tried to hit a wide variety of artists, and to take just a couple of my favorites from each. Since then, I’ve found that this may be the best playlist I’ve ever created. In fact, it may be the best playlist ever.

Of course, I’m in love. So of course I’m going to be partial to lists of love songs. But there is something special about each one of these songs. And I’m going to tell you what that something special is. There are 37 songs on the list, so it’s going to take a while. The songs are meant to be shuffled. Order doesn’t matter, so here they are alphabetically. Each of the album names links to a place you should be able to find that track on iTunes, although sometimes I couldn’t find exactly that album. If there is no link, that means you can’t get that on iTunes at all (sorry), so google as needed.

Song Artist Album
Almost Like Being In Love Nicole Henry The Very Thought of You
Bei Mir Bist Du Schon Robin McKelle Introducing Robin McKelle
Beyond the Sea Bobby Darin Aces Back to Back
Bienvenue Dans Ma Vie Nikki Yanofsky Nikki
Bye Bye Blackbird Etta Jones Don’t Go To Strangers
Comes Love Robin McKelle Modern Antique
Dance Me To The End Of Love Madeleine Peyroux Careless Love
Devil May Care Jamie Cullum Pointless Nostalgic
Do It Again Annie Sellick Street of Dreams
Don’t Wait Too Long Madeleine Peyroux Careless Love
Embraceable You Nat King Cole Stepping Out of a Dream
(I Love You) For Sentimental Reasons Nat King Cole Stepping Out of a Dream
I Didn’t Know What Time It Was Robin McElhatten Never Let Me Go
I Love Being Here With You Queen Latifah Trav’lin’ Light
I’m Gonna Lock My Heart Nicole Henry The Very Thought of You
I’ve Got the World On a String Robin McKelle Introducing Robin McKelle
In The Wee Small Hours of the Morning Jamie Cullum Pointless Nostalgic
L-O-V-E Nat King Cole Stepping Out of a Dream
Let’s Fall In Love Diana Krall When I Look In Your Eyes
Lullaby of Birdland Robin McKelle Modern Antique
Mambo-Italiano Annie Sellick Street of Dreams
Monk’s Dream Sachal Vasandani We Move
No Mood At All Robin McElhatten Never Let Me Go
On the Sunny Side of the Street Robin McKelle Introducing Robin McKelle
Señor Blues Anita O’Day All The Sad Young Men
Snap Your Fingers Perry Danos Snap Your Fingers – Single
Some Cats Know Annie Sellick Street of Dreams
Sweet Lorraine Nat King Cole Stepping Out of a Dream
The Nearness Of You Norah Jones Come Away With Me
They Can’t Take That Away from Me Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong The Verve Story: 1944-1994
They Say It’s Wonderful Eliane Elias Everything I Love
Too Close For Comfort Mel Torme The Verve Story 1944-1994 (Disc 3)
Too Close For Comfort Jamie Cullum Pointless Nostalgic
Waters of March Nicole Henry The Very Thought of You
Yes Sir, That’s My Baby Etta Jones Don’t Go To Strangers
Yes, My Darling Daughter Robin McKelle Introducing Robin McKelle
You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go Madeleine Peyroux Careless Love