Wednesday, January 27, 2010

They Can't Take That Away From Me

8:45 a.m., and she's out the door like the cork from a champagne bottle, because she's running late, as usual...

It's a busy week. A quick rundown before I head to my lunchtime gig playing in the lobby of an office tower:

MON: She's Always a Woman. Deceptively simple. Like many men, ironically. I was having trouble memorizing it until I scribbled a chord chart and put the barlines of the A section in different places. My way made more sense to me harmonically, and just as much sense melodically.

Note: I'm sure someone out there is rolling his (or her) eyeballs that I had to change the way a song's notated in order to learn it. To him I say this: when you're trying to memorize a song every day, ya do what works.

TUE: What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life. I'm giving myself a break of sorts for the rest of the week by choosing jazz standards instead of 4-verse Billy Joel epics.

I'm a sucker for the minor 9 with the descending chromatic line, a common chord progression that never gets old for me and which, in fact, I often crave on rainy days. "What are You Doing..." starts with this, so it's pleasing to me for musical reasons. Just for that, I'll forgive the lyric "let the reasons and the rhymes of your days all begin with me". If someone looked deep in my eyes and told me that, I'd probably run screaming from the room.

For my personal taste, sentimental lyrics + ballad/rubato = overkill. I prefer to play it in a sort of a bastardized bossa/cha-cha kind of groove. As I was warbling along with myself yesterday, I realized the transition out of the bridge is really fast in even a slow groove - there's not enough time to breathe. Ha! I had never noticed that before! Oh, singers and their needs... Of course, this was written as a ballad. The singer takes all the time she wants, and the pianist texts while he (ahem, she) waits. But the sentimentality... I can't, I just can't. So I added a bar and kept the groove. Sound advice in arranging, and in life, come to think of it. I must be thirsty.

TODAY: No idea. I won't be home til after 9. Actually, I won't be able to post this til then, so scroll down to see my future, and mystery solved!

One gig and three rehearsals later, I have determined that the song of the day will be "They Can't Take That Away From Me". It doesn't get much more standard than that. I have 5 versions: Ella, Ella & Louis, Billie, Diana Krall, and Frank Sinatra. I looked on the Itunes store to see what else was available. Out of respect for Office Space, I refrained from making Michael Bolton's version the 6th in my collection.

My aim tonight is to memorize the verse (the slow, conversational intro part before the main part of the song that everyone knows), since I already know the rest pretty well. Most verses in old musical comedy songs like this are musically boring - they basically functioned as transitions from talking to singing, so who cares? That's why hardly anyone does them. But this particular verse is great. It is also self-referential in that way that only great musical theater can be, when Ira Gershwin steals from Irving Berlin in the lyric "the song is ended, but as the songwriter wrote, the melody lingers on". Well played, Ira, your song is more famous now!


  1. I have a very intimate version performed by Robbie Williams and Rupert Everett. It's part of Robbie's hobby of doing super-gay stuff because it entertains him.