Writings about Music

This Is Wine

Eliane Elias

My mother has been touting the songs of Frank Loesser for some time, and now I'm only beginning to catch up.

After all, it was Loesser's "Say It (Over and over Again)" that set the pace and tone for the John Coltrane Quartet immortal Ballads album, John obviously inspired by the Frank Sinatra rendition of that mesmeric composition.

And now, finding myself hypnotized by the sheer melodic beauty and charmed lyrics of Frank Loesser's "I've Never Been In Love Before," preparing to record my own interpretation of both this and "Say It (Over and over Again)," I set about investigating what vocalists have offered by way of musical insights to both learn from and enjoy.

What happened surprised me because while admiring versions recorded by Frank Sinatra and Chet Baker, it was someone I really had never known about before who topped them, this being Eliane Elias.

It is difficult to imagine a richer cultural heritage than the one boasted by Elias, being Brazilian of Lebanese descent, currently living in New York. Looking more closely at her name, I also like how both her first and last names coincidently begin with my father's name, Eli, meaning "my God" in Hebrew.

To begin with, what marvelous diction Eliane possesses, truly hearing each word for the first time with her exquisite vision of "I've Never Been In Love Before." I love the way she doesn't force, allowing the music to flow naturally and organically, colored by her delightfully unique vocal accents, savoring perfection of tempo and rasa. In comparison with the Sinatra and Baker recordings, theirs sound more contrived, while Elias actually becomes the distilled essence of the song, giving full justice to Loesser's invention. It's also very cool how Eliane, accompanying herself at the piano here, shares the same March 19 birthday of Lennie Tristano!

No doubt, there are myriad love songs of equal beauty, but caught up right now in the wine of the song, it does seem unsurpassed.

I can't wait to record it.

I would even go so far to say that this...

But this is wine
It's all too strange and strong

...is the single most brilliant couplet from any among the jazz standards!

Who ever said it better about the essence of life?

Pure magic how the word "wine" comes so unexpectedly and unusually (in the context of the complete lyrics), listeners thinking singers are singing the word "why" instead most of the time, missing out until realizing the correct word.

Frank Loesser

On one occasion, I asked the most famous student of Lennie Tristano, Lee Konitz, if he had ever met any of the composers and lyricists of the standards that became jazz standards, and he unfortunately had not. What a wonderment that would be knowing any of the persons responsible for creating what are effectively the timeless ragas of swing and modern jazz, about as close as one might come to meeting God.

A friend of mine knew lyricist Sammy Cahn, whose work includes "I Fall In Love Too Easily" and "Time After Time," gifting me a handwritten letter he sent her. I'm planning to write about Cahn, and will include a photo of the letter.

For those who may be unfamiliar with the genesis differentiation, a standard may be a jazz standard, but generally not vice-versa. Standards were originally conceived for shows, film, or a specific vocalist, including both music and lyrics, while compositions that became jazz standards are generally instrumental only, conceived for purely musical performance and recording.

- Michael Robinson, December 2021, Los Angeles


© 2021 Michael Robinson All rights reserved


Michael Robinson is a Los Angeles-based composer and musicologist. His 162 albums include 149 albums for meruvina and 13 albums of piano improvisations. He has been a lecturer at UCLA, Bard College and California State University.