Memorial Day 2019
Living in a consumer society, I think, is such an immersive experience that it’s easy to forget holidays have meaning. I enjoy kicking off summer as much as anyone, but I try to remember Memorial Day is really about fallen soldiers, sailors and airmen.
So I will, on Monday morning, view the big parade here in town, and do so willingly and knowingly, and not just because I’m the only member of my household not marching.
I’ll kick off summer, too. The forecast calls for sun so let’s celebrate summer by listening to the season’s most famous song. I can’t think of a better reason to demonstrate just how indestructible a true standard is. Rumor has it there are more than 25,000 recorded versions of this great song by DuBose Heyward and George Gershwin.
Here’s a bakers half-dozen and an expanded playlist that includes some other great songs to celebrate the unofficial start of the season .
Ladies and gentlemen: Summertime.
Billie Holiday (1936)
It’s always best to begin at, or at least very near, the beginning. Here’s Lady Day with one of the earliest hit versions.
Charlie Parker (1949)
The song’s reputation as a jazz standard is almost as vast as it’s vocal reputation. I could have chosen any of dozens of versions I know. But Bird doesn’t get enough credit for playing lyrically. Maybe the strings keep him closer to the ground in this version from mid-century. He still manages some wild flights.
Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald (1959)
This incredibly theatrical arrangement never fails to awe me. From Pops‘ solo over the opening bars to the way the melody unfolds around Ella’s voice, Russell Garcia‘s arrangement is a masterpiece.
Billy Stewart (1966)
Before anyone ever heard of the (or should it be a?) Human Beat Box, there was a soul singer who turned clicks, rolls and trills into amazing music. The man who so sweetly sang ‘Sitting in the Park’ (another great song) here takes on the genius from the Lower East Side.
Janis Joplin (1969)
The version that appears on the second Big Brother & The Holding Company record (the only one anyone knows) was released late in the summer of 1968 on an album that is one of psychedlia’s greatest artifacts. Though the band was gone by December ’68, this early 1969 recording is essentially the same arrangement of a song some might think Janis wrote.
Doc Watson (1978)
Jazz. Soul. Psychedelia. How about….hillbilly? One of the most amazing musicians ever, here blind, finger-picking Doc Watson accompanied by son Merle and their regular picking partners, takes the very urban Gershwin down a back country lane. Try telling me it doesn’t work.
Norah Jones (2003)
I struggled with this last choice because part of me wanted to demonstrate that it’s possible to maim, if not destroy ,a standard. There’s a post-ska revival version by one of my favorite bands that charted in the UK but is close to dreck. In the end, quality won (you’ll find the FB3 recording on the playlist). Here Norah Jones, just after she exploded on the scene, treats the Tanglewood audience to the master.
Enjoy the holiday. Here’s the playlist: