Tag Archives: standards

MTH-V: “Stars Fell On Alabama”

Somewhat piggybacking on my last post, sometimes you just can’t predict how you’ll get from point A to point B, or what styles and/or artists will leave a mark. An example of this is 1934’s “Stars Fell On Alabama,” one of my favorite standards.

Aside from it being a preferred tune to play at jazz gigs (including one just this past weekend), I enjoy renditions by Cannonball Adderley, Stan Getz, Keith Jarrett, oldies by Louis Armstrong, and more. But, to be honest, the first time I remember hearing and committing the song to memory was as a little boy listening to my mom’s Jimmy Buffett CDs. Yes, Mr. Parrothead himself recorded a semi-popular version of the iconic standard with Toots Thielemans. Imagine my surprise when, years later, I heard a version by Louis Armstrong performed decades earlier. I immediately thought of Buffett’s version that I carried from childhood and my mind was mildly blown. The Great American Songbook had burrowed deep into my brain as a child and I didn’t even know it. Buffett’s version is no longer my preferred interpretation, but I must say that I still have a soft spot for it.

So I thought it’d be both interesting and entertaining to post two starkly different versions of the tune. Nothing like a learning experience for both jazzers and parrotheads alike…

This first version is by Louis Armstrong & His All Stars featuring Jack Teagarden on trombone and vocals. It’s a live performance from Boston in 1947:

And now Jimmy Buffett & The Coral Reefer Band live on the short-lived Fridays (note Mark Hamill on the dance floor…). The song definitely suffers without studio magic and overdubbing, but here it is nevertheless. Kudos to Jimmy for including the verse:

New Listen: Stan Getz’s ‘Serenity’

Artist: Stan Getz
Album: Serenity (1991)

This album is the lesser-known counterpart to Getz’s Anniversary, an album I purchased about a year ago and have been unable to put down since.  They are both a product of the same live date: July 6, 1987 at the Club Montmartre in Copenhagen, Denmark. That night, Getz celebrated his 60th birthday in style, accompanied by a powerhouse rhythm section and a warm audience. Anniversary quickly became (and remains) one of my favorite straight-ahead jazz albums, and Serenity is now following suit.

Originally intended to be released together, production issues caused a delay of this “second half,” making it the lesser-known “B-side” of sorts. Like its counterpart, Serenity is a straight-ahead romp for the ages. (Those looking to get their Bossa Nova fix should look elsewhere.) Also, like Anniversary, it features mostly standards – “On Green Dolphin Street,” “I Remember You,” and “I Love You” – as well as Kenny Barron’s “Voyage” and Victor Feldman’s “Falling In Love.” The lineup is:
Stan Getz – Saxophone
Kenny Barron – Piano
Victor Lewis – Drums
Rufus Reid – Bass

I can’t say enough good about this album. Overall, it’s filled with medium- and uptempo tunes, with each one being a bit quicker than the previous, culminating with a swiftly floating “I Love You.” The standards are especially given “straight-ahead” treatment with everything falling pretty much “inside.” That’s not to say it’s at all boring, however – quite the opposite, actually, as the group has much fun with the standards. The band displays its “edgiest” playing on Barron’s “Voyage,” with Getz’s tone at times becoming brassy. (Perhaps because it’s an original?) And, conversely, the band’s gentlest playing is on the other non-standard: “Falling In Love,” the album’s only ballad. Throughout, all four musicians receive ample solo space. “I Remember You” and “Voyage” are the standout tracks here, with the band burning individually and collectively on each. The latter’s unison melody between saxophone and piano is a nice contrast to the rest of the album’s sax-centric melodies.

As some of you may know, it can often be difficult to find good (relatively) contemporary recordings of standards that aren’t too overly-manipulated or arranged. There’s such pressure for everyone to make everything his/her own these days that often there’s a paucity of players just blowing changes (on record, at least). Not that I want that all the time, but every now and again is nice. And when it’s done well, as is the case with Serenity, it is so good. No frills here, just four seasoned veterans improvising and feeding off of one another  and the audience. A must have for any serious jazz fan, in my opinion.

Album links: