When I first began to think about making a record of standards, it was clear that searching for the original vocal read would be an important aspect of my effort. As a songwriter and a singer I have found that many of the beloved old classics have been changed a great deal whether intentional or not. Verses, lyrics and arrangements have been deleted or changed and in some cases quite dramatically. Going back to the earliest vocal read to hear what might have been the author’s original intention was a real education. I encourage all musicians to do it.
I thought of these songs as “elders” instead of “standards” to remove the heroic connotation and to allow there to be space for the song to simply be.
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Follow along by listening on ITUNES
- For All We Know (1934) J. Fred Coots/Sam Lewis
The first vocal read was apparently performed by Morton Downey (known as the “Irish Thrush”) on his popular radio show in 1932. It was quite impossible to find. As is true with each song that has one, the verse is generally what attracts me to want to sing it. No matter how timeless or beautiful a lyric is as a whole, these short odd measured bits of music and words really pack a punch and set the tone for the song. I don’t know why so many musicians chose to remove them. Bill, Larry and I had done several takes before deciding on one as a final. After listening back, Bill asked to retake his opening solo.. The live room at the Clubhouse Recording Studio in Rhinebeck has a very comfortable couch, so I stayed behind in the room as he and Larry did a take. From the opening note, I knew it was going to be special and before I knew it, I was up on my feet singing. You can hear some hesitation with Larry and Bill, as they weren’t certain if I had planned to sing the entire tune. I did, and not only was it the take, it also became the first track on the record.
- But Not For Me (1930) G. Gershwin/I. Gershwin
Ginger Rogers introduced this tune during the first performance of Girl Crazy on Oct. 14th, 1930. But it was Doris Day whose version inspired me the most. I have found that her vocal reads are generally the clearest and perhaps the truest as far as verses and melodies are concerned. Peggy Lee and June Christie are similar in that way. Very few liberties are taken that stray from the melody. As a songwriter, I appreciate that the most.
- Lush Life (1938 ) Billy Strayhorn
Strayhorn began to write this tune in 1933 as a teenager and then went on to fine tune it for many years. It wasn’t until 1948 that he debuted the “Lush Life” lyrics with the singer Kay Davis as part of the difficult to find recording of a November 13th, 1948 Duke Ellington Concert Series at Carnegie Hall. In it, Strayhorn and Davis perform as a duo which is a fantastic bit of history to have on record. A later and stellar performance of “Lush Life” was done by Ella Fitzgerald with Oscar Peterson in 1957. It no doubt inspired me in bringing these lovely words into the forefront.
LISTEN: Billy Strayhorn and Kay Davis, 1948 Lush Life
- No Moon At All (1948) R. Evans/D.A. Mann
I fell in love with this tune when I heard a live recording that the drummer Jeff Ballard captured of his group The Brad Mehldau Trio back in 2004-05. It is a magical performance complimented by an absolute perfect tempo. As a gift, he made a copy of the numerous CD’s for Larry – and voila! The soundtrack of my life for many years. Searching for the original vocal read of this tune was a challenge. I found very little written about its origins. After a lot of listening, the version sung by Jeri Southern was my favorite. She did a great rendition, and again – the tempo was just killer. This song really lends itself to that, as to my ears, it’s an extremely sensual tune.
- Charlie Sings… (2010)
Larry and I have one beautiful son, Charlie James Grenadier. His timing was impeccable on the day that we were recording, as he arrived at the studio just as we were in the midst of tracking ‘Cheer Up Charlie’. Of course, he loved the song and wanted to sing along with us, but became shy and distracted by everything buzzing around him. We ended up getting very little on tape. Still, I love having it.
- Cheer Up Charlie (1971) A. Newley/L. Bricusse/W. Scharf
Diana Sowle, who plays Mrs. Bucket in the 1971 film “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” sings the original vocal read of this tune. The song is as touching as it is clever. I’m happy to have it in my repertoire.
- Low Key Lightly (Lucky In Love) (1959) D. Ellington/B. Strayhorn. Lyrics by Rebecca Martin (2010)
In 2009, the drummer Jeff Ballard wrote to me from Spain wondering if I knew of any lyrics written for the tune ‘Low Key Lightly’ by Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn. Looking about, I found several instrumental versions but nothing with lyrics. In “Anatomy of a Murder” the song runs throughout as its theme. I decided to take a stab at it, even though writing in this way is really a challenge for me. The result was a lyric that I felt was inspired and balanced enough to record and include on this album.
- Wrap Your Troubles In Dreams (1931) H. Barris/T. Koehler/B. Moll
Bing Crosby introduced this tune in 1931. The verse, which is little known today, was intact as was the delightful arrangement that includes a carefree whistling solo. Sarah Vaughn’s version from the Divine One was my introduction to the tune back in 1988 when I was given it as a gift. The verse was not included here. Though we tracked this tune with the trio initially, I decided to go about it as a duo. It was a real challenge to make this tune my own, but I am satisfied that we did.
LISTEN: Bing Crosby sings “Wrap Your Troubles In Dreams” WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS
- Someone To Watch Over Me (1926) G. Gershwin/I. Gershwin
This is yet another excellent example as to why it is essential to attempt to go back to hear the earliest vocal read of any old tune. Blossom Dearie did a version that is my personal favorite. I think that if you were to ask anyone the tempo of this tune, they’d call it a ballad. What a surprise to hear Gertrude Lawrence, who performed the first vocal read in 1926 (what lucky gal!). The quirky up-tempo swing version was refreshing for me to hear. Though subtle, I made a decision to do it as a walking ballad, giving the song a slight lift. I love a ballad, don’t get me wrong. People behave like them after all.
LISTEN: Gertrude Lawrence sings “Someone To Watch Over Me” (Coming Soon)
- I Didn’t Know What Time It Was (1939) R. Rodgers/L.Hart
This tune was written for the musical “Too Many Girls” and introduced by Richard Kollmar and Marcy Westcott. I wasn’t successful at finding it, though it’s quite easy to get your hands on the film version from 1940 with Lucille Ball (though overdubbed by Trudy Erwin). I came to it through Paul Motian back in 2006 when we were performing together at the Village Vanguard. He gave me a great list of tunes to learn for our live performances. I found a version that I loved by Peggy Lee off of her 1956 recording ‘Black Coffee’ and I was off and running.
- Willow Weep For Me (1932) A. Ronell
Long ago, my father-in-law Albert Grenadier (who was a trumpet player) gave me a list of songs he wished I would sing. One of them was “Willow Weep For Me”. For years I would sing it, and wondered often if it had a verse. Everyone I spoke to was certain it did not. I wasn’t ever able to find a version that had one. Muzzy Marcellino (vocalist and whistler) introduced the tune back in 1932, which I have not yet been successful at finding. So it was literally the eleventh hour that Larry discovered a lead sheet in the attic that low and behold, shared its verse. As I recall, it was about two days before our record session, it was a quick study for us both. I am pleased to include it here, as I don’t think there is one recording out there (that is accessible at least) that has it.