Jazz is apparently in trouble (again). Between musicians slinging offensive language (surely a product of modern times) to the possibility that the music has exhausted its material (another recent development), something (once again) has to be done to keep jazz alive. My suggestion? A song written eighty-five years ago by Guy Lombardo’s little brother.
With lyrics by Gus Kahn, here’s the simple, simply beautiful “Last Night I Dreamed You Kissed Me” played by Charlie Straight’s band, for jazz’s consideration (hopefully before its too late!):
Straight led one of the most popular dance bands in Chicago during the twenties. Not a jazz band per se, he knew how to turn up the heat with improvised solos and stomping charts as needed. Yet here he wisely sticks to repeating Carmen Lombardo’s melody, which has a rounded charm to it, like an aria or a Neapolitan ballad. The chord changes are nothing sophisticated by today’s standards, but they’re sturdy enough to leave room for a performer’s imagination.
Straight uses different instrumental textures before and after Frank Sylvano’s dated but clear vocal. It’s interesting to imagine Ella Fitzgerald adding a reflective, even ironic tone, maybe with Axel Stordahl’s strings behind her. Yet people still do sing jazz, so maybe some other vocalist will appreciate the song’s “new to you” value. Or perhaps an instrumental soloist could add their own timbral or harmonic colors. After all, it is just a song. It’s a beautiful song but a song nonetheless, so the possibilities are endless. That’s what jazz musicians, and musicians in general, do and have always done: they play (and say) what they want and explore possibilities. So don’t panic and throw out all those Real Books just yet.
Thanks to Vince Giordano for verifying the composer, lyricist and publication date of this tune. By the way, Louis Armstrong, Jimmie Noone, Earl Hines and Mancy Carr practically detonate this tune Lillie Christian’s dainty interpretation. It’s not on YouTube but you can listen to an excerpt courtesy of Amoeba Records’ incredible new download service.