Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Jazzing It: ‘The Way You Look Tonight’

Sometimes we forget that "jazz" was originally more frequently used as a verb than as a noun. I was looking for moderately comprehensive details of the song "The Way You Look Tonight" (music by Jerome Kern, lyrics by Dorothy Fields). Sources seem to agree that the song was first performed on screen by Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, in the film Swing Time (1936). From that point forward, just about every crooner has performed it, and a lot of them have recorded it or worked it into a film (it even appears in the final episode of Star Trek Deep Space 9).

Searching YouTube yields dozens of versions. Two of them in particular caught my attention as an example of a song played straight vs. the same song "jazzed." In this case the straight version is by Fred and Ginger; the jazzed version is by Billie Holiday, accompanied (says one reader) by a band including Benny Goodman and Lester Young (I own that recording, but it's part of a gigantic set of Holiday's work, and I have not confirmed the accompanists). Please listen to them in that order, and notice the effect of jazzing on one of the most popular songs of the 1930s.

First, Fred and Ginger:

Then Billie Holiday:

Got the idea?

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