It’s New To Me, So…

I feel bad for Humphrey Bogart. And Clifton Webb. And Peter Lorre.

Guys who had to spend their entire existences wearing a tuxedo.

Can you picture H. Bogart in a polo shirt?

No, of course not. ( Immaterial that they didn’t exist yet. )

Can you picture those guys as little kids, doing little kid stuff?  Playing sandlot baseball?

No. They would have been standing along the third-base line, smoking cigarettes and gazing wistfully at the horizon; poignantly longing for the childhood that never was.  ( Immaterial that they are still children in this scenario. )

And of course, in their tuxedos. White for summer, black for winter. There may very well have been tuxedos of a wild array of colors available, but all rendered ineffective in the world of film noir.

And now I’ve found two more. Guys who were probably born in a tuxedo, which I’m sure their mothers could well have done without at the time. ” Yes, mother and baby are both fine, but there were some…well…complications…”

I speak of  Lionel Hampton and Johnny Mercer.

I’ ll not bother to trumpet their accomplishments. You have access to the same resources that I do. You would do well to make their acquaintance. Extremely old-school, and so impossibly good at what they did that they managed to define both themselves and their chosen art forms as they went along. And were perfectly comfortable in their own skins, which were, of course, tuxedos.

Lionel was a jazz musician. He played the vibraphone.

Johnny was a songwriter and lyricist.

In 1947, Lionel wrote an instrumental tune he titled ” Midnight Sun.”

In 1953, Johnny wrote lyrics for it.

It is , in a word, gorgeous. Over the years, everybody in jazz has done a cover of it. Dozens of renditions.

And here’s what is so good about it.

It’s sort of… backwards. Most songwriters will start with a bit of lyric, and structure a chord progression to support it; conventional wisdom, usually with conventional results.

Johnny took a very unconventional song, one that utilizes a unique song form, unique chordal movements, and chromatic scales as a base for the melody, and wrote a seamlessly sophisticated set of lyrics for it. This is an extremely difficult thing to accomplish, especially because it’s being done in reverse; music first, lyrics later.

You’d better have your tuxedo on if you’re going to try something like that.

I have the Diana Krall cover of this song. It’s on my” top-ten best of all time” list.

And because I’m such a devoted special fan, I’ve followed the subliminal instructions hidden in the second verse to the letter. ( Diana put them there, not Johnny Mercer. )

A) Kidnap your local mailman, and duct-tape him to the roof rack of your car

B) Then stop and do Diana’s grocery shopping ( she is obviously too busy to do it herself, and that pesky Elvis fellow seems to be awfully self-involved )

C) Hold up either a 7-11 or a gas station; your choice. The mailman will need money for his train fare home.

D) Finally, stop and get Diana a Cinnamon Grande Latte at Starbucks, and be at a certain Manhattan address by 4 pm.

I was 10 minutes early.

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Published in: on November 22, 2011 at 11:36 pm  Comments (1)  

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. Is it true he wrote the lyrics while driving his car? Know what that’s like when you get some words going (driving with no way to write them down!!). I give him credit for remembering.
    Speaking of – enjoy today and go easy on the stuffing!


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