Writings about Music
Amazing how a song written in 1932 still sounds so hip, so today, so tomorrow. It's pretty evident that Alone Together inspired A Night In Tunisia by Dizzy Gillespie given the strong connection between the B sections and a subtle one for the A sections. The song has been on my radar for years, but it wasn't until I finally heard the rendering by Ray Charles and Betty Carter that I completely swooned for it. Soon after, I also found Peggy Lee's rhythmically charged interpretation, which sent me as well. Once again, it turns out that Artie Shaw found the song's jazz potential first, setting an example for others to follow. Alone Together has music by Arthur Schwartz and lyrics by Howard Dietz. They also collaborated on You and the Night and the Music, about as gloriously romantic as music gets (including anticipating Henry Mancini) among other songs that became jazz standards.
The aquifer of Charles' molten voice scorching harmonically rippleless sands, and the city gemstone stare of Carter's expression are equally unforgettable.
To paraphrase the lyrics of Alone Together:
Their soul is as deep as the sea
And here's Artie Shaw's elocution. Despite the extreme brevity of his playing, including remaining very close to the melody, it emerged as the finest instrumental soloing heard amongst myriad jazz recordings of the song; a response that's unlikely to change given his extraordinarily penetrating (yet soaring), elegant and visionary artistry. A bird just began singing outside, so I'll take that as confirmation.
Speaking of birds, Charlie Parker was centrally influenced by the improvisations of Shaw (Bird more famously memorized Lester Young’s solos, but he did the same for Shaw’s extemporizations) in terms of an impaling instrumental timbre, melodic shaping and construction, and a passion for new levels of breathtaking virtuosity in the pursuit of previously unvoiced musical meaning.
The great Hank Freeman appears in the Artie Shaw and his Orchestra video playing alto saxophone, seen mostly second from right. I had a few lessons with him at his home in Great Neck, but didn't have a clue who Artie Shaw was at the time, so hearing how he was in Shaw's original band didn't impress me!
In 2003, I was all set to drive Lee Konitz to visit Artie at his home in Newbury Park, but Lee cancelled our trip at the last minute because he said the legendary clarinetist had a tendency to dominate conversations to an extreme and he wasn't in the mood for that type of interaction. Shaw, who had invited Konitz to visit upon learning that he was performing at the Jazz Bakery in Culver City, passed away the following year at the age of 94. To this day, it still upsets me when I reflect upon that lost opportunity...
The crucial influence of Artie Shaw and Benny Goodman upon Lee's playing is often overlooked due to the later and even simultaneous influences of Lennie Tristano and Lester Young. (Young cited Goodman as a major influence second only to Frankie Trumbauer.)
There are some schmaltzy elements within the arrangements of Alone Together presented here. Enjoy those in historical context while focusing on the gold.
- Michael Robinson, April 2016, Los Angeles
© 2016 Michael Robinson All rights reserved
Michael Robinson is a Los Angeles-based composer and writer.