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February 22, 2010

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Improviz

An interesting story. What you say about that generation of jazz musicians not being able to use the Bachrach-David material--You imply that the music was somehow more sophisticated than previous standards and I disagree. c.f. Kern, Arlen, Berlin... There were many reasons that young people started turning away from jazz, one of which is that jazz musicians themselves turned toward Trane, Ornette, Shepp, et al, for inspiration. Most attempts to merge jazz with rock were lame, singer/songwriters dominated and were associated closely with their own material...

Larry Kart

"...singer/songwriters dominated and were associated closely with their own material..." is an important point.

A related aspect of such material: Once (in the late '70s or early '80s) I suggested to Tony Bennett that Boz Scaggs' plaintive "We're All Alone" might be a good piece for him. Bennett later said that he had taken a look and felt that the song didn't really go anywhere -- that its shape was AB (with B only a slight extension of/variation on A, rather than the ABA shape of most "standards") -- and thus would leave an interpreter such as Bennett little room to maneuver, musically or dramatically. Likewise I would guess (but from the other direction) with the often fairly complex formal structures, rhythms, and harmonies of many Bacharach songs, which call for the singer to sound out each particular move in the song just so, or the song is not the song. The story belongs to the song itself and its composer-shaped realization in the studio; the detailed surfaces of the song are so to speak "it." Not to disparage the admirable, agile Dionne Warwick, but she is in effect a function of Bacharach's vision, even if he did not in fact wholly envision what she could bring to his material until he encountered her skills.

Finally, a later (1975?) and especially grim step on this path IMO was Marvin Hamlisch's score for "A Chorus Line," with its "melodies" being the offshoot of pounding/grinding vamps. Can't say for sure how many theater songs of the previous decade became or deserved to become standards in the old sense or senses of the term, but I can't think of any from the post-"Chorus Line" era. Of course, many (most?) standards were originally show tunes.

Ligia

Mr. Kart reads Bacharach and his songs exactly as I do. Helps validate some of what's in the excellent aticle.

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  • Marc Myers writes frequently on music and the arts for the Wall Street Journal. He is author of "Why Jazz Happened" (University of California Press). In 2012, JazzWax was named the Jazz Journalists Association's "Blog of the Year."
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