This is easy; “this” being writing about “Stardust” (initially titled “Star Dust” but generally now contracted into one word). The song is one of the most popular and often recorded American pop songs of the 20th century. The general history is that the music was written by Hoagy Carmichael in Bloomington, Indiana and first recorded October 31, 1927 as an instrumental. Lyrics were added by Mitchell Parish and published in 1929. The song was allegedly, initially inspired partly by the improvisations of Bix Beiderbecke and it was Bing Crosby’s 1931 recording which popularized the song and then Pops (i.e. Louis Armstrong) snatched it and transformed the song into something singers love to sing with a November 1931 version. So while it makes sense to start the Mixtape with Hoagy doing an instrumental version on the piano, letting you hear it sounding like the author wanted to play it, I decided to skip the Armstrong version. I also skipped the Artie Shaw version that pop critics often point to as their favorite of the Swing Era. Which all is to say, it’s not that I overlooked some things. I didn’t. I just flat out thought it unnecessary to treat this as a history lesson, which is also why Willie Nelson's version is not included. Yeah, I know—that one was used to wake up the crew on the Space Shuttle. Instead of focusing on the song as pop, I’m determined to bring you some serious jazz investigations. stardust 01.jpg 01 Hoagy Carmichael – Piano Jazz Shindig Vol. 2 Can you see this cat in some joint in the middle of the day doing some finger exercises when something that he saw (or was it something that he heard) the previous night guides his fingertips and before he knows it, the melody lingers and then there is the song. This is a V-disc recording made to support the troops overseas. stardust 02.jpg 02 Sarah Vaughn – Sarah Vaughan’s Finest Hour Sassy, goddamn! If the Metropolitan Opera was a jazz organization this is what they would have sounded like. She starts off wordlessly, stair-stepping through the changes with a voice so rich, it’s almost like each syllable she sings is a pearl on a peerless necklace. I especially like the way she sings the opening phrases. One can only marvel at what beauty can pour forth from the human throat. stardust 03.jpg 03 Lester Young – 1951-1952 Classics Prez is the all-time champion of saxophone sensitivity. Listen to all those low notes lovingly played with the ease of what it feels like to lay back in a warm bubble-bath, a libation on the floor next to the tub, and the welcomed caress of your beloved consort delightfully soft-hand-washing your receptive flesh. The way that sudsy sponge feels, that’s the way Prez plays. And make no mistake, those are original melodic variations he is intoning, sort of like that sweet, baby-gibberish being whispered into your ear as your chest is soaped for the third time. stardust 04.jpg 04 Carmen McRae – Live at The Flamingo This is a young Carmen, so you will be forgiven if you don’t initially recognize her voice. But don’t miss this: check the way she hits all those high notes. If Prez were exploring your bottom, Carmen is reigning down kisses on the crown of your head and the back of your neck and all around and in your ears. She sounds like one them high note specialist during the bebop days, maybe even Fats Navarro who used to challenge trumpeters, telling them to end on their highest note and that’s where he was going to start from and go beyond that. This was recorded in England. I was sure it was my favorite but, wait, there is more. stardust 05.jpg 05 John Coltrane - Stardust Recorded at the legendary studio of Rudy Van Gelder on July 11, 1958 under Coltrane’s leadership, this is essentially the Miles Davis band (Wilbur Harden – trumpet and fluglelhorn, John Coltrane – tenor, Red Garland – piano, Paul Chambers – bass, and Jimmy Cobb –drums) with Harden replacing Miles. Everybody knows Miles can play the shit out of a ballad, boil it down to nothing but butter but what most folks don’t know is that Coltrane had a tender streak a mile wide and twice as deep. If he had wanted it, Coltrane could have been the successor to Prez. Just listen at the grace, the soft, the care, the sincerity… I’m going to stop trying to describe what is best understood by listening. Just listen to Trane map the heavens as his saxophone sprinkles star dust in our ears! stardust 06.jpg 06 Billy Eckstine – Jazz ‘Round Midnight This is a sip of stringent wine to clean the palette in preparation for the next course of our meal. Mr. B is such a contrast with his bravado, high notes and full-throated baritone approach. Thankfully, he is content to pour a sip and resists the temptation to showboat. stardust 07.jpg 07 Mauricio Einhorn – Conversa de Amigos Now, here’s a real curve ball for you: Mauricio Einhorn is a Brazilian musician who is a master of the harmonica informed by a love of improvisation. It may be hard to believe but this is from a live concert, strings and all. At first listen, one could easily believe it’s an accordion but no way, this is some of the hippest harmonica work this side of Toots Thielman (and if you don’t know who the Belgian Toots is, don’t worry about it). stardust 08.jpg 08 Aaron Neville - Gold Ok, it’s New Orleans time. Here is the master of falsetto singing, Aaron Neville bringing back doo-wop harmonies. Aaron is abetted by Rob Wasserman. Talk about variety—this is the kind of stuff folk do down in New Orleans. Take it and twerk it any kind of way you want to—by th way did you know that as a young lad Pops used to sing on street corners? Aaron is just carrying on a tradition that started a long, long time ago. stardust 09.jpg 09 Kermit Ruffins – Big Easy We’re still in New Orleans. My man, trumpeter and vocalist (and barbeque specialist) Kermit Ruffins, who used to be the lead trumpeter with the Rebirth Brass Band is presented here doing his thing, which is to take what Pops started and keep it going. All those grace notes and ringing high notes, and squeezed half valves, well, all that is traditional New Orleans trumpet playing (not to mention the rhythmic talk-singing). Kermit is one of the absolute best at doing this kind of do. stardust 10.jpg 10 Esquizito – Something I Dreamed Last Night Eric Paul Perez—we’re still in New Orleans—aka Esqizito is sort of a retro avant gardist. You can easily hear that he smoking some other kind of stuff, especially with a front line of pedal steel guitar and alto saxophone. From the opening notes, you don’t immediately hear the song but then he eases in with the vocals and everything is in order. You can count on the best New Orleans musicians to be idiosyncratic, if not downright beautifully weird. Anybody can do normal; we in New Orleans (i.e. the creators of jazz, gumbo, second-lines, hand-suckers candy and a whole bunch of other unique and beautiful creations) have never been satisfied with normal. stardust 11.jpg 11 Dizzy Gillespie All-Star Big Band – Dizzy’s Business The featured vocalist is Roberta Gambarini, who is good but the real reason I chose this version is because of trombonist/arranger Slide Hampton who has crafted a chart for this rendition of “Stardust” that draws on the full colors of the big band. This has all the hallmarks of Dizzy Gillespie’s pioneering big band bebop updated. Many people don’t know there was Duke and Count, but when it came to big bands of the forties and fifties there was also Dizzy and this is a great reminder. stardust 12.jpg 12. Wynton Marsalis – Standards & Ballads One more dip into New Orleans. It is so easy to either admire or be turned off by Wynton’s technical prowess but I often have to remind myself, don’t listen to the reputation, listen to what he is actually playing. Right here, right now, the reference is Clifford Brown and Wynton is absolutely on point in updating that sound with some elements of Rex Stewart via Lee Morgan thrown in for good measure—and, again, don’t worry if you’re not familiar with either Rex or Lee, I’m just saying there is a trumpet legacy that is far deeper than Pops, Dizzy and Miles. Wynton know this, I mean really, really knows this. Beautiful. stardust 13.jpg 13 Nat King Cole – Love Is The Thing After all is said and done, this is “the” version. Nat King Cole. No more need be said. It’s the voice. The phrasing. The emotional sincerity he effortlessly emotes. He could have easily succumbed to the sappy strings and just offered a routine reading but, no, a true king always does his thing. Do it, Nat, do it! No one has ever done it better. —Kalamu ya Salaam  

This entry was posted on Monday, January 4th, 2010 at 7:55 am and is filed under Cover. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

One Response to “VARIOUS ARTISTS / “Stardust””

Sue Ross Says:
January 6th, 2010 at 10:05 pm

Thank you for all of this week’s selections, but especially this one. Love ya!

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