Writings about Music
Beneath the Surface of Jazz
Oscar Hammerstein II
Dismissing jazz standards as "pop songs" is a common misunderstanding of the genesis of the history of jazz. And the lyricists were equal to the composers, such as Charlie Parker fondly referring to "All the Things You Are" as "Angel Glow" (or "yatag" shortening "you are the angel glow"), being as inspired by the poetry as the music, the two realms fused as one, connecting emotional, spiritual and intellectual resonances.
Remarkably, two of Charlie Parker's most sublime recordings, "All the Things You Are" and "The Song Is You," share the same lyricist with two of John Coltrane's immortal recordings, "Softly As In A Morning Sunrise" and "My Favorite Things," this being Oscar Hammerstein II each time in collaboration with composers Jerome Kern, Sigmund Romberg and Richard Rodgers. There is a tendency towards superficiality in terms of not recognizing layers beneath the surface, such as how the greatest Swing and Modern instrumental jazz artists knew the lyrics of songs used for improvisation intimately even though there was no singer present.
Among vocalists, Frank Sinatra was a revered interpreter of songs becoming jazz standards for myriad innovators including Miles Davis, Lee Konitz, John Coltrane, Lester Young, Count Basie and Duke Ellington - really just about everyone. Even so, Richard Rodgers once had Sinatra removed from a television program for singing his melodies not exactly as originally notated during rehearsals! Talk about missing the point...
- Michael Robinson, August 2020, Los Angeles
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Michael Robinson is a Los Angeles-based composer and writer (musicologist).