Watch out! This post is going to be strange! It’s completely off-the-cuff, and I’m exploring my thoughts as I go.
I recently made a playlist for July and as I reflected on the pieces I chose and particularly the performers for each piece, I noticed I am strongly attracted to black American jazz/ blues singers. When I was immersed in playing liturgical music, it was often choral numbers based on American Spirituals that excited me most. I know I learned many of these spirituals as a child, but I don’t think I was introduced to much jazz music until I found it for myself in grad school. Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong were two of my favorites then.
I also saw a movie recently that featured Cuban music (from the ’50s?) and it reminded me of the music I heard in Puerto Rico in 1970. I LOVE that music! I like most music that’s native to Puerto Rico or Cuba, from any era, but especially what was being created in the early 20th century.
And then today I “discovered” Carmen McRae. She’s an important jazz singer, but somehow I hadn’t heard her before today. I heard her sing “Fly Me To The Moon” in a way that is mesmerizing, familiar yet singularly unique, absolutely captivating, and here’s the strange part: I found myself seeing in my memory my mother reading bedtime stories to me. I think there is a reflective quality in McRae’s rendition of “Fly Me To The Moon” that evokes something within me that my mother nurtured through bedtime reading.
At the moment I’m listening to Petula Clark. I love her “Downtown” and “Don’t Sleep In The Subway”. Some of my favorite pop music is by the Beatles. And then there’s Jethro Tull, Joan Baez, James Taylor, Carole King, Brubeck, Evans, Edith Piaf, Ella Fitzgerald, Mancini, Mahalia Jackson, Miles Davis, Nina Simone, Ray Charles, Simon & Garfunkel, Stan Getz, Guaraldi… In other words, even though I am a classical musician and that’s the world where I feel most at home, there’s quite a bit of popular music I greatly enjoy.
I’m trying to figure out if there is a common denominator in all of these various genres, styles, performances… I don’t have that figured out yet, but I think it has to do with a sense of intimacy. Intimacy, not as in romantic connection, but as in an authentic personal voice sharing something real. And that “something real” connects with something authentic in me.
Wow, wow, wowsy wow-wow: I found more McRae. “Sometimes I’m Happy”. Her voice timbre in this performance reminds me a bit of Ella Fitzgerald and Nina Simone. I really love these jazz ladies! But I think I’m also resonating with the angsty bravery of the ’60s. Again, I don’t have this figured out. Trying to look into my own psyche is probably like “missing the forest for the trees.”
Gosh this music is great. When I listen to McRae, I can hardly see or think; she holds my entire attention! I think it’s time to make more playlists. I’ve been looking for something that excites me. Maybe this is it. This music feeds a part of me that is so starved, I feel like a baby at her mother’s breast and I’m suckling with every fiber of my being.