I have no idea how many recorded jazz versions there are of Cole Porter’s Songs. Hundreds, I imagine, possibly thousands. Think what handsome contributions “Love For Sale,” “I Love You,” Easy To Love” and “You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To” must have made to Porter’s royalties income. Of course, melodic evasions like “Hot House,” based on the harmonic structure of “What Is This Thing Called Love,” did not add to his riches; you can’t copyright a chord pattern.
Like most of the classic American song writers, Porter regarded jazz musicians warily when they adapted his creations, but I think he would have liked a forthcoming CD by the elegant Swedish pianist Jan Lundgren. It consists entirely of love songs by Porter. Before he and his trio go into improvisation, Lundgren honors Porter by playing his melodies as the composer wrote them. Preparing an essay for the album, I was reminded of an exchange Porter had with Andre Previn during Previn’s youthful career writing scores for Hollywood films. Previn recounted it in his book No Minor Chords, one of the funniest and most endearing of all motion picture memoirs.
Cole Porter was the most elegant of creatures, his manners as courtly as his dress. Only once did I hear him voice a vituperative opinion. I was working on the film version of Kiss Me Kate, and Cole had interpolated the song “From This Moment On” into the existing score, for use as an elaborate dance number. “I have to warn you about something before you start making this arrangement, he said to me, his voice quite angry. “This tune has been recorded by Woody Herman and his band. Have you ever heard of him?”
I nodded eagerly. “Well,” he went on,” what they did to my tune is absolutely disgusting. It was turned into a loud, strident jazz mess, and the melody is just about unrecognizable. It’s a good example of someone not having any idea what the tune is about!” He stopped, thought for a moment, and grew less choleric. Finally he smiled. “But what am I talking about. Your arrangements are always so theatrical and correct for the occasion, I’m sure I’ll love what you write.” And, indeed, when he came to the recording, he was fulsome in his praise. “That’s more like it,” he said, smiling. “I knew you would understand the song.”
I never told him that I had written the arrangement for Woody Herman as well.
No Minor Chords is out of print, but Amazon.com seems to have plenty of used copies. I wouldn’t dream of giving his tales away, but Previn’s story behind the book’s title and his Ava Gardner reminiscence alone are worth much more than the price of a recycled copy.
Mel Narunsky says
Re.: Jan Lundgren Plays Cole Porter Love Songs
I’m sorry but I don’t understand Japanese.
Even when it’s written in English.
Ted O'Reilly says
Hmmm…good story. But I can’t find any documentation of “From This Moment On” ever being recorded or airchecked by Woody; or ever recorded or arranged by Previn. Not using my Lord discography or my fairly good Herman library.
(Would Andre Previn fib? Does anyone out there have evidence of this arrangement? — DR )
Don Emanuel says
You’ve made me want to hear the Lungren album (one of my favourite pianists). I’ve also now just got to read the Previn book which I’ve just ordered from Amazon UK. I’d never heard of this book, so thanks for the info.
John Birchard says
Have purchased a used copy of Previn’s book, based solely on your say-so… and on a long appreciation of his talents and attitude. Both his verbal and musical expressions have always seemed genuine, faintly bemused at the human condition and very close to the ultimate in “hip”.
I look forward to reading his book.
I hope your family crisis is quickly and satisfactorily resolved. Good thoughts are directed your way.