Thursday, January 8, 2015

“Stardust” – Jazz on Nylon #8

Some music for your Thursday—& more Hoagy Carmichael at that.

When it comes to the Carmichael canon of songs, so many of which have become standards at a deep level, almost like folk songs (approached in our time probably only by the Beatles), we must admit it’s hard to pinpoint one as a high water mark. But if one had to make such a selection, “Stardust” would almost have to be the choice. There have been over 1,500 recordings of the song since it was first composed as an instrumental in 1927; the Library of Congress added it to the definitive recording archive, the National Recording Register, in 2004.

The song has a complex evolution. Carmichael claimed it came to him first as a melody he whistled. He first recorded it—actually as an upbeat instrumental—in 1927, but the song didn’t attract much public interest. Carmichael composed a lyric for it, but his publisher rejected it, & the lyric we know today was written by Mitchell Parrish, with some input from Carmichael. The song with Parrish’s lyric & a slightly modified melody was published in 1929. It wasn’t until the following year that Isham Jones recorded it as a slow ballad that it reached the form we know today.

“Stardust” was composed in the key of C, & that’s the key it’s typically played in. The song’s structure is idiosyncratic, & the melody wanders widely, spanning the range of a 10th. It's been noted that there are distinct similarities between the melodic structure of the song & the pattern of some Bix Beiderbecke improvisations.  There is a contrast between the arpeggiated movement in the A section & the straightforward quarter note melody found especially in the C section. As Oscar Hammerstein II wrote:

“Star Dust” “rambles and roams like a truant schoolboy in a meadow. Its structure is loose, its pattern complex. Yet it has attained the kind of long-lived popularity that few songs can claim. What has it got? I’m not certain. I know only that it is beautiful and I like to hear it.”

Today’s guitar version is based on an arrangement by the great Brazilian master Laurindo Almeida, & played with great skill & feeling by Tony R Clef. Clef is, like Naudo Rodrigues who has also been featured in this series, a guitarist whose work appears on YouTube, & I'd encourage you to check out his channel there; however, he has recorded an album, Tuesday Afternoon on Big Round Records, & this has received really positive reviews. I admire both his playing overall & his handling of the Almeida arrangement, which moves from a fairly straightforward reading of the song into a full on Bossa Nova treatment.


Image links to its source on YouTube

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