Listening to music has always been such an amazing, exciting, and rich experience for me that sometimes, rather than present another new releases program, I just want to share the music that I’ve loved over the years. I featured a selection of these evergreens on a show earlier this month, and we continue with that theme for this week’s show. Each of the twelve songs in today’s playlist has a back story and a place close to my heart. I love them dearly, and I hope you enjoy them, too.
We begin with music from 15th century Andalusian Spain, which before the Christian Reconquista of 1492, embraced European polyphony, Moorish modes, Jewish chant, and African rhythms. These ingredients combined to create a rich musical brew utterly different from the Gregorian chant in the rest of Europe. The Spanish soprano Montserrat Figueras is one of the greatest early music (i.e. pre-Renaissance) singers of all time.
The next track from contemporary Armenian pianist Tigran Hamasyan is based on a 10th century religious song from Armenia called “Havoun Havoun” (“The Bird was Awake”). It features one of the most beautiful female voices I have ever heard—the soprano Jenni Nazaryan.
We then hear a spiritual song by Norwegian pianist and composer Ola Gjeilo, who now lives in the U.S. The song “Ubi Caritas” is performed as part of the Christian tradition of the washing of feet on Holy Thursday.
Quincy Jones ran out of money on a European tour in the early 1960’s and decided (why not?) to spend some time in Paris. He met singer-songwriter-television host Henri Salvador, who had written a beautiful love song called “Soleil de Minuit” (“Midnight Sun”). Q took it home, orchestrated it, and picked Sarah Vaughan to sing it. I love this song as well as the original French version from Salvador’s 1962 album Jazze!
Another love song follows, one that has probably been played at thousands of weddings since it was first released in the 1950’s. The Flamingos‘ “I Only Have Eyes for You” is the ultimate romantic doo-wop song. Doo-wop pop vocal music is special to me for the way it brings musicians of all backgrounds together—Puerto Ricans, African-Americans, Italians, Jews. It was a joint musical exercise if there ever was one.
Next up we have the inimitable Slim Gaillard. I heard that Ronald and Nancy Reagan used to go see Slim at Hollywood night clubs all the time, and had memorized all the lyrics (o-vouty, ooo-roonie, McVouty, etc). This particular CD includes quite a few of the great Gaillard songs, every one a gem. This Verve reissue is a must-have. Another funny song called “No Shoes” comes next courtesy of the vocal group The Roches. It spins a tale about people’s woes that devolve from the merely unfortunate to the tragically unfortunate.
Freddy Martin assumed the alias of Félix Figueroa to record his 1947 song, “Pico and Sepulveda.” The song is named after two main L.A. thoroughfares, which were in turn named in honor of Pio Pico, the last Mexican governor of California, and the prominent Sepúlveda family from the early days of California. The version I feature was taken from a Dr. Demento Novelty Song box set, but otherwise is very hard to find. Oingo Boingo covered it later, but this is the rare original version.
Next we hear one of my favorite blues crooners, Bobby “Blue” Bland. He has been called the master of the revenge song, and I suppose this tune fits the bill even though it’s “revenge-lite.” The song “Farther Up The Road” is mostly about justice and karma in romance.
We wrap up this dozen-song playlist with three heavyweights: John Coltrane, Joe Zawinul, and Tito Puente. Each artist is a genius—Coltrane with his incredible improvisations, Zawinul with his sublime piano and keyboard virtuosity and modernism, and Tito “El Rey” Puente with his arrangements and timbales mastery. Joe Zawinul grew up outside of Vienna, Austria. He watched the film Stormy Weather a dozen times and decided he had to come to New York. Three weeks after his ship arrived, he abandoned his Berklee College of Music scholarship for a gig with Dinah Washington. Tito Puente grew up in Spanish Harlem and was a musical prodigy. He left New York City to serve in World War II as the bandleader on the Navy ship U.S.S. Santee, and was so beloved by the captain and crew that they wouldn’t let him off the ship after his tour of duty. He stayed on throughout the war, and sailed on the Navy ship into Tokyo Bay for the official surrender ceremony in September 1945.
Rhythm Planet Playlist for 9/22/17
- Montserrat Figueras, La Capella Reial de Catalunya, Jordi Savall / “E Quando S’iguaren” /El Canto De La Sibilla II: Galicia Castilla/ Astree/Fontalis
- Tigran Hamasyan / “Havoun Havoun” / Luys I Luso / ECM
- Ola Gjeilo & Voces8 / “Ubi Caritas” / Ola Gjeilo / Decca
- Quincy Jones & Sarah Vaughan / “The Midnight Sun Will Never Set” / Quincy Jones’s Finest Hour / Verve
- The Flamingos / “I Only Have Eyes For You” / The Doo Wop Box Vol. 3 / Rhino Records
- Slim Gaillard / “Serenade To A Poodle” / Laughing In Rhythm: The Best of the Verve Years / Verve
- The Roches / “No Shoes” / Moonswept / 429 Records
- Félix Figueroa / “Pico & Sepulveda” / Dr. Demento’s Novelty Box / Rhino Records
- Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland / “Farther Up the Road” / The Anthology / MCA
- John Coltrane / “Impressions” / The Impulse Story / Impulse
- Joe Zawinul / “Tower of Silence” / Faces & Places / Esc Records
- Tito Puente / “Babarabatiri” / Tito Puente In Puerto Rico / Tico Records