01 February 2008

2. Billy Strayhorn: Lush Life (played by Phineas Newborn, Jr.)

This is booze writ large. The great american existential drunk. Job wanders into a tavern. Leviathan.

Strayhorn's lyrics (go look 'em up -- this is obviously an instrumental version) are the greatest poetry ever comitted to paper regarding drink. The reason I picked this version is two-fold...

First: the melody stands on its own like no other melodyin any song ever written about booze. The melody is your bartender. For my money, Johnny Hartman's reading of the melody is the best vocal delivery (better than Ella's and I think precisely because it is delivered in such a detatched way it is better than Vaughn's although her version is scary in its beauty). But I wanted to do this version for another reason...

Newborn himself. At the time, he was already suffering mental problems exacerbated by the critical blowhards who dogged his style. He might have been one of the greats, but instead the early '60's saw Phineas fall precipitously into near obscurity. Evans and Tyner and later on Hancock would come along and redefine the sound of jazz piano and Newborn's sound -- rooted between Bud Powell and Oscar Peterson -- would fade into a gauche memory hole. But on this tune and at this time, he does it, man. You can hear it in those blue notes. He's putting it on the line.

And you could want nothing more from the interpretation of such an existential song.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

nice post. I didn't know anything about this artist(Newborn). But one day, maybe in my next life, i would like to play like him.