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26 April 2006


Jeff Albert

I make a date for golf,
and you bet your life it rains,
I try to throw a party,
and the guy up stairs complains,
I guess I'll spend my life,
just catching colds and missing trains,
Everything Happens to Me.

Although I have to say that in the great American spirit that also produced Velvet Elvises (Elvi?), I like those bad lyrics.


See, that one I actually like -- I admit that it's a bit of a poor man's "I Can't Get Started," but it actually has personality and doesn't take itself too seriously. Also, it lends itself to being sung from a particular point of view, which is a refreshing change from most standards. Of course, the song is easily ruined if the singer doesn't get that...


Eh. The rock tradition or the GAS tends to be either over- or under-rated depending on who masters the rating.

Somebody started playing this game with Dylan in the comments on Maxspeak, I believe, a while back. I just shrugged and turned up the volume.

Do you actually dislike "I've got a crush on you?"


Isn't "Everything Happens To Me" a precursor to Alanis Morrissette's "Ironic"? Anyway, participants might find http://jazzstandards.com/ useful.



Since this is a jazz blog, consider this post a good-natured tweak to the jazz singers, instrumentalists, and fans who simply take it for granted that the Great American Songbook represents the pinnacle of songwriting artistry, and that pretty much everything that followed was dreck. That is, after all, the attitude reflected in the post over at Rifftides that spawned this little game, and that stance is not exactly an uncommon one.

We were talking about (non-GAS) pop covers before -- well, you know, one of the many reasons a jazz-trained singer might want to cover a song of more recent vintage is so that he or she can sing about something other than elevated, elegant, romantic love for a change.

I would obviously also take issue with an indie rock snob who refused to believe there was anything of value in the work of Cole Porter et al -- but, to be perfectly honest, I have yet to encounter such a creature.

And yes, I'm afraid I really do find the lyrics to "I've Got A Crush On You" incredibly cloying.


I'm gonna make the sweeping generalization that any lyric featuring the word "cottage" is pretty much assured of blowing. Cf. "A Cottage for Sale," which, while probably not an official GAS entry (I mean, Guy Lombardo?), is on one'a them Sinatra Capitols from his late fifties sweet spot, which is good enough for me.

Allow me, too, to compliment you on your rich and generous blog.


Hmm, you've got me singing those Gershwin lines, and I like 'em - taken primarily as an arrangement of vowels and consonants contrived to go with a particular melody (unless it happened the other way around, in which case I still think they're, you know, very musical words).

Anyways - I presume that song that rhymes "alabaster palace" with "aurora borealis" breaks one of the rules you stified? I've never heard an instrumental version. My girl Carmen McRae somehow managed to make it all work magnificently, though, somehow.

I don't have much contact with indie rock snobs, but do recall my Euro-trash bushiban teacher friends being bewildered by my Sarah Vaughan tape: "I've never met anybody who was into this kind of music."


BTW I've thunk quite a bit about what post GAS songwriters I'd like to hear done by a good jazz singer, and I keep coming back to Bowie. I'm not a huge fan, but a lot of his stuff could work.


...however, my interpretation of the empirical evidence is that jazz singers usually do their best work with pretty conservative repertoire.

I was a teenage punk rocker, BTW. Just felt liked mentioning it.


Being somewhat bewildered is one thing -- actively dismissing is another. Maybe Indie Rock Snob hasn't heard Billie Holiday before, but if you sit them down and say, "Dude, check this shit out," they'll at least give it a go.

my interpretation of the empirical evidence is that jazz singers usually do their best work with pretty conservative repertoire.

In general, I agree -- but that's no reason for people to stop trying.

The problem is, most jazzy covers of post-GAS songs tend to be unbearably limp. There's always a tasteful backbeat with brushes, unobtrusive triadic/sus chord comping -- it ends up veering perilously close to "adult contemporary" (and, alas, sometimes even falling straight into that abyss). It's very frustrating to hear a singer who can burn on an uptempo standard suddenly going to mush when they cover a pop tune.

Part of it is the choice of material. Bowie -- yes! Music and lyrics that force you to be extroverted and a little bit ironic. Anything to get us away from all those introspective, funereal Joni Mitchell covers. (Don't get me wrong, I love Joni -- it's just that I don't generally love what jazz singers do with her.)

I would also really like to see a forward-looking jazz singer with a hip band open a set with a balls-out, loosely adapted version of "Psycho Killer." It could work -- trust me. The world is ready for a jazz singer who can do vocally what the Bad Plus have done instrumentally. (N.B. This includes performing primarily original material.)


Speaking from the "abyss", I cringed when my current employer heard Elliott Smith and said that he actually like him and wanted to know which might make a good tune for him to record.

Just an observation.


by the way

"come to poppa do" and "you came, you saw, you conquered me" ruin two of my favorite standards. Sometimes it just takes one bad line to bring down a good song.


"Love is a Many Splendored Thing" always sends me into insulin shock:

Love is a many-splendored thing/
It's the April rose that only grows in the early spring/
Love is nature's way of giving a reason to be living/
The golden crown that makes a man a king.

Which is a shame, since it's such a fun tune to play...

And godoggo,

"jazz singers usually do their best work with pretty conservative repertoire.."

I agreed with you- until Cassandra Wilson's "Blue Light 'til Dawn" came out. Whether that album gave jazz singers who were hiding their Carol King records in the closet permission to broaden their range, or just gave people a more workable template for how to sing pop tunes in a "jazzier" context, I've heard a lot more, and better, pop covers- everything from Ben Harper to Bjork (of course) to indie rock- coming from well-chopped jazz singers under 30. I think more current pop tunes, or originals with a clear pop language, are going to become the norm and not the exception for up and coming jazz singers.


Could you give specific examples?

FWIW, I don't like Wilson's pop stuff much. I liked that album with Jackie Terrason, and I liked her on Blood on the Fields. There are way better jazz singers out there; the ones I like are pretty old, though. I think a jazz singer generally needs to live with a song for a very long time to get it right; this might be more important the quality of the song itself.


I guess I like vocalists like June Christy, Jeri Southern, Blossom Dearie & Chris Connor too much--there are versions by them of virtually all the songs quoted above & they're among my favourites of their performances (Christy's "Midnight Sun" and "Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most" are probably the best readings those songs will ever get. Sez me.) & not in the sense of "great singers can put over bad material" (like Holiday making light of crappy material): it's done straight, with a conviction not undermined by touches of wit (cf. Connor's version of "I've Got a Crush on You" for instance), & it works.

On the other hand, even Sarah Vaughan and Clifford Brown couldn't do a damn thing with "Jim", especially the ghastly lyrics on the bridge. -- And there's a good reason why "Body and Soul" is more usually an instrumental--the passage beginning "My life a wreck you're making".

Ruth Greenwood

hey, this is what started me, a sax/flute player, writing songs in earnest...wanting to marry great chord changes and melodies to powerful, piercing words. (I couldn't suck too badly...got a demo box on which John Hammond wrote "excellent writer". And my first demoed song got cut.)

A lot of the GAS songs work because of the least appreciated aspect of great songwriting...the interplay of vowels and consonants...the SOUND
of the lyric itself is musical.

"Spring" rocks because the lyric line is so long and it falls so right.

Ruth Greenwood

PS Love songs should only be judged by people IN LOVE...

The appreciation one has for a torch lyric the terrible morning after you've been dumped is an infinitely more profound experience.

No, the sky is NOT actually a blackboard...but yeah, it might well feel like an infinite void with a universe-shattering urgency to express how much you desire somebody. But my previous sentence might be a little too complicated to sing...that's why God made metaphors.

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