While working on an upcoming piece on the subject of Jo Stafford's singing, I noticed that she recorded a number of songs more than once, with some years in between. I was struck by how different the aural experience of the given song when treated with a new arrangement. To wit:
I will be arguing (brilliantly, I'm sure) that while the aural experience of the two versions is quite different, the technical singing is substantively the same. But off that topic, while listening I began to consider my upcoming set. Doing It For Defense will consist of about half standards, which present a particular challenge -- one has to ask, when singing tunes as oft-recorded as That Old Black Magic, The Nearness of You and You Go To My Head, what can I bring? Why should people come to hear my versions, when Frank, Ella, Peggy, Dinah and Jo, and so many others, have done the artistic heavy lifting, and brought the songs to such heights?
For the first set Frank Ponzio and I did together -- Playing Hard to Get, we faced this precise problem with a pair of Billie Holiday songs. The songs I came to love because of Billie's performances were
also recorded by other truly great artists (including
Carmen McRae and Anita O’Day). The Moon Looks Down and Laughs is a gorgeous Bert Kalmar song, and If the Moon Turns Green a lovely example of the great bandleader and composer Paul Whiteman’s style. Emotional, evocative and graceful, the versions offered by Billie, Carmen and Anita tower over me.
In the shadow of the greats, I
required an expert, and left it to Frank to take on the arranging job
for the two songs. Listening to his work, I'm very pleased. He found something that is our own, and suitable for a
As I work on the (in some cases, ruthlessly) standard selections I will sing in July, I'm finding that I can begin to contribute to the arrangement conversation, and that I'm increasingly interested in doing to. Who knows if I can add anything to the songs, but I do think I've found a way in.