Listening to this song could cause serious health problems.
Today’s song, ‘Gloomy Sunday’, (performed by Billie Holiday) is a song composed by Hungarian pianist and composer Rezső Seress (after his girlfriend left him) and published in 1933, as ‘Vége A Világnak’ (‘End Of The World’).
Delighted that he had finally written a hit, Seress contacted the ex-girlfriend who inspired the song and attempted to get back together with her. The next day, she killed herself by swallowing poison, leaving behind a note with just two words written on it: ‘Gloomy Sunday’.
As time went on, ‘Gloomy Sunday' was connected to a rash of suicides in Hungary. In all, seventeen people died. Two people shot themselves while listening to a band playing the tune. Several others drowned themselves in a river while clutching the sheet music of 'Gloomy Sunday’. People began to refer to it as ‘The Suicide Song' and there were rumors that it was cursed. The Hungarian authorities banned the song from being played in public. However, this did not stop the rash of suicides.
In Berlin, a young shopkeeper hung herself. Beneath her feet, they found a copy of ‘Gloomy Sunday’. In New York, a pretty secretary gassed herself, leaving behind her a request that ‘Gloomy Sunday' be played at her funeral. In Vienna, a teenage girl drowned herself while clutching the sheet music. In Budapest, a shopkeeper killed himself and left a note containing the lyrics of the song. In London, a woman took an overdose of pills while listening to the record over and over. The song's eerie reputation quickly spread around the world and music publishers from America decided to cash in on its notoriety. They released an English translation of the song and it soon caught on. More deaths followed.
'Sunday is gloomy, My hours are slumberless Dearest the shadows I live with are numberless Little white flowers Will never awaken you Not where the black coach of Sorrow has taken you Angels have no thought Of ever returning you Would they be angry If I thought of joining you? Gloomy Sunday…’
Even the song’s composer could not escape the curse. Seress was haunted by the all the death and destruction his music had caused, saying: “I stand in the midst of this deadly success as an accused man. This fatal fame hurts me. I cried all of the disappointments of my heart into this song, and it seems that others with feelings like mine have found their own hurt in it.” In 1968, he committed suicide by jumping out the window of his Budapest apartment building and falling to his death.
Sarah Lois Vaughan (1924-1990), also known as ‘The Divine One’, had one of the most wondrous voices of the 20th century.Vaughan won an amateur contest at Harlem’s Apollo Theatre in 1942 and soon joined Earl Hines’s big band as vocalist and second pianist. Joining Billy Eckstine’s band in 1944, she gained exposure to the new bebop style; she was especially influenced by Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker and recorded with them in 1945. For the next 45 years she was to record virtually every jazz and pop standard against backgrounds that varied from small and big jazz ensembles to large studio bands and symphonic orchestras. She had a comfortable three-octave range, a heavy vibrato, and an uncanny ear. Possessing ‘perfect' (not 'relative’) pitch, she executed with seeming effortlessness the most challenging and intricate harmonies.
The 1960’s weren’t very good years for Sarah (both personally and professionally) but she managed to stage a comeback in the early 1970’s. She had just recorded ‘Live In Tokyo' (September 24th, 1973), an album that would be honoured by the US Library of Congress, when she played the Newport Jazz Festival in Belgrade on November 5th, 1973. Curiously enough, today's track 'The Summer Knows' is recorded in Belgrade, but ended up on ‘Live In Tokyo' as a bonus track.
‘The Summer Knows' was written by Michel Legrand and was the theme/soundtrack of the 1971 motion picture 'The Summer Of ‘42’
Sarah Vaughan - Vocals Carl Schroeder - Piano John Gianelli - Bass Jimmy Cobb - Drums
'Taking A Chance On Love', by Rita Reys And The Jazz Messengers
The Dutch Rita Reys (1924), since 1960 officially ‘Europe’s First Lady Of Jazz’, has been a professional performer for more than six decades. Even today, this jazz diva still knows how to charm audiences with her famously unique timing, legendary swing and fabulous performance.
As Rita became a big success in the Netherlands in the 40’s and 50’s, America beckoned. Legendary record producer George Avakian (Columbia), who had heard her sing at the ‘Sheherazade Club' in Amsterdam, invited her to come to the States. She gladly accepted his invitation and went there in 1956. She had the opportunity to record an album in New York with one of the most famous jazz bands of all times: Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers, the only time the Jazz Messengers played behind a vocalist. 'The Cool Voice Of Rita Reys' features Horace Silver, Hank Mobley and Donald Byrd. Because they had such a ball working with Rita, these famous musicians did a number of shows with her at the renowned Village Vanguard in New York’s Greenwich Village.
Rita Reys - Vocals Hank Mobley - Tenor Saxophone Donald Byrd - Trumpet Horace Silver - Piano Doug Watkins - Bass Art Blakey - Drums
Billie Holiday’s (1915-1959) recording career is divided into 3 periods. The first is the period in the 1930’s, recorded with Columbia, marked by her time with Teddy Wilson (piano) and Lester Young (tenor saxophone). Her popularity never matched her artistic success, but she was widely played on jukeboxes and the Armed Forces Radio during World War II. The second period were her Decca years in the 1940’s, marked by recordings with string orchestra accompaniment. While the records from this period are impressive, they’re not as ‘jazzy’. By the 1950’s, the third period, her voice was going more croaky, and she sometimes missed notes, but her ability to interpret songs was enhanced. I consider this work, with Verve records, to be some of her finest. A fine example is today’s song, ‘April In Paris’, recorded on August 18th, 1956.
Billie Holiday fans will argue eternally over the relative merits of the different phases of her career. In these arguments Lady Day’s work for Verve often gets short shrift. While it cannot be denied that Holiday had lost much of the elasticity and spring in her voice (due in large part to a rough life filled with alcohol and drug abuse), it is impossible to overlook the exquisite phrasing and raw emotion underscoring many of these performances.
Billie Holiday - Vocals Harry ‘Sweets’ Edison - Trumpet Ben Webster - Tenor Saxophone Jimmy Rowles - Piano Barney Kessel - Guitar Red Mitchell - Bass Alvin Stoller - Drums
I’m going to Paris for a week coming Sunday, so I thought it would be nice to treat you all to a little ‘Paris Theme’. The first song is Cole Porter’s ‘I Love Paris’, sung by the lovely Etta Jones (1928-2001), whose critical success and commercial obscurity earned her a reputation in her lifetime as a ‘jazz musician’s jazz singer’. A highly underrated singer who rarely received the recognition she richly deserved, because she recorded more than two dozen albums and earned three Grammy Award nominations during her six-decade-long career.
’Don’t Go To Strangers' was Etta Jones' first album for the independent jazz label Prestige when it was released in 1960 (having been recorded in a single session on June 21st of that year), and although Jones had been releasing records since 1944, including a dozen sides for RCA in 1946 and an album for King Records in 1957, she was treated as an overnight sensation when the title tune from the album went gold. Apparently there were no additional tracks cut at the session, since bonus material has never surfaced on any of the album’s subsequent reissues, although that’s hardly a problem, because as is, this album is a perfect gem of a recording.
Etta Jones - Vocals Frank Wess - Flute Richard Wyands - Piano George Duvivier - Bass Roy Haynes - Drums
'Dark Shadows', by Earl Coleman and Charlie Parker
On the earlier mentioned Charlie Parker’s ‘Complete Dial Sessions’, we find 4 versions of the bluesy ‘Dark Shadows’, sung by Earl Coleman, a fine ballad singer with a deep baritone voice, influenced by and compared to Billy Eckstine and the likes. While Eckstine had enormous power and slick consistency in big bands, Coleman was most at home singing patient ballads with small groups. He was also less of a showman, less photogenic and less talented. He also wasn’t as lucky, which can be heard in his voice and today is the integrity of his charm.
Charlie Parker, who had been in California since the end of 1945, met with Coleman and promised the singer that they would record. But in July 1946, Parker set fire to his hotel room and was committed to Camarillo State Hospital for a six-month evaluation. When Parker was released in January 1947, he kept his word and recorded with Coleman in the MacGregor Studios, Hollywood, CA, February 19th, 1947. The two tracks for Dial Records were ‘This Is Always' and 'Dark Shadows’. But the re-take process was brutal for Coleman, and the four takes needed on each track shredded his voice. You can hear him growing increasingly strained as the session wears on, as you can hear here on take 3.
Despite the success of ‘This Is Always' (which was a minor hit), Coleman never really caught on and was fairly obscure throughout much of his career.
Charlie Parker - Alto Saxophone Earl Coleman - Vocals Errol Garner - Piano Red Callender - Bass Harold ‘Doc’ West - Drums
It’s Friday, so it’s ‘Chet Baker Sings' time! It's been a long tradition at work to end the extremely busy Fridays with this master takes compilation CD. It's always been one of my favorite albums and it's been with me ever since I go it in 1990. I think it was the first CD I ever bought (yes, well, I’m from the LP and cassette era), and it never fails to cheer me up, not in the least owing to the superb rhythm section.
As said, this 1989 release is a compilation of several dates Baker recorded with pianist and music director Russ Freeman in the early to mid 1950’s. This particular song is recorded on March 7th, 1955. Baker and Freeman were two of the pioneers of the post-war, West Coast ‘cool’ sound. However, Baker’s playing and singing style during these sessions is warm and intimate, as it has been all through his career.
Chet Baker - Trumpet/Vocals Russ Freeman - Piano Carson Smith - Bass Bob Neal - Drums
While autumn is here, I just wanted to give you the very last bit of summer. Accompanied by Bill Evans on piano, George Russel on guitar, Oscar Pettiford on bass, Jo Jones (not Philly Joe, but Papa Jo, from The Count Basie Orchestra) on drums and Bobby Jaspar on flute (phew, what a band!), Helen gives one of the most beautiful performances of this evergreen. The song was recorded February 21st, 1958. Again, listen to this on your headphones and let her whispery, dreamy voice put you under her spell.