Skipping along through 65 years of the history of a superior popular song gives us an idea of its evolution as a subject for jazz improvisation. Indeed, our examples provide an idea how jazz improvisation itself has evolved. The song is Johnny Burke’s (words) and Jimmy Van Heusen’s (music) “Aren’t You Glad You’re You?” As Father O’Malley, Bing Crosby introduced it in the 1945 film The Bells of St. Mary’s. He had a substantial hit record of it the same year. Among the singers who did covers (did they call them covers in those days?) were Frank Sinatra, Doris Day and Julius LaRosa. Later, Bob McGrath and Big Bird sang it…often… on Sesame Street. Their version is afield from our discussion, but if you’re interested, you can hear it by clicking here.
“Aren’t You Glad You’re You” is a perfect marriage of optimism and sunshine in the lyrics, melody and harmony. It has a couple of chord changes that are unexpected enough to spice it up for blowing, and it’s fun to sing or play. Crosby’s recording seems to be unavailable on the web. LaRosa’s record enjoyed a good deal of air play in the early 1950s and works nicely for our purpose. He takes mild liberties with the lyrics, employs interesting phrasing and radiates the song’s happy outlook.
There may have been jazz versions of “Aren’t You Glad You’re You” before 1952, but the first one I know of was on Gerry Mulligan’s initial quartet album for Pacific Jazz. Mulligan had gone from insider favorite to general popularity with his pianoless quartet co-starring Chet Baker. In the early 1950s it was not illegal for jazz to have general popularity. Mulligan, baritone saxophone; Baker, trumpet; Chico Hamilton, drums; Carson Smith, bass. YouTube, for reasons best known to its contributor, gives Chet the credit and the cover shot.
Cut in a sequence of pages flying off a calendar and, whaddaya know, it’s November, 2009, and the John McNeil-Bill McHenry Quartet is on the stand at the Cornelia Street CafÃ© in New York. Joe Martin is the bassist, Jochem Rueckert the drummer. It may seem that after the melody chorus, our intrepid modernists leave Mr. Burke’s chord scheme behind but, as I keep telling you, listen to the bass player. If McNeil seems amused by McHenry’s initial solo flurry, it’s for good reason.
McNeil and McHenry did not include “Aren’t You Glad You’re You?” in Rediscovery, their CD excursion into the bebop and west coast past. Perhaps it will show up on the sequel. Perhaps there will be a sequel.
Have a good weekend. Aren’t you glad you’re you?