Sometimes I’m happy, but not when malicious adware captures the computer’s operating system and paralyzes it. As ArtsJournal commander in chief Doug McLennan informed you, the attack came a couple of days ago and we were unable to post. The computer is back from digital intensive care, and Rifftides is back in business. Let’s celebrate with one of Lester Young’s finest achievements, his Keynote recording of “Sometimes I’m Happy.” It ends with an eight-bar phrase that stands, after 71 years, as a perfect piece of melodic improvisation.
Lester Young, tenor saxophone; Johnny Guarnieri, piano; Slam Stewart, bass; Sid Catlett, drums. December 28, 1943.
That eight bars of music is one of the most memorized, and imitated in jazz. It has been repeated thousands of times not only by the army of tenor saxophonists who create themselves in the image of Lester Young, but also by players of every instrument and by dozens of arrangers and composers. That day in 1943, Prez didn’t know he was erecting a momument.
Suggestion: memorize Young’s final eight bars. Whistle that phrase when you awaken. Sing it in the shower. You’ll be on your way to a wonderful day. To make it easier, use Jack Brownlow’s lyric. The late pianist played with Young in Los Angeles in the mid-1940s. With permission of the Brownlow estate, here are the words. Play the track again and sing along beginning at 2:48.
In an invaluable 11-CD box, Fresh Sound has reissued the jazz recordings Keynote made during the label’s short, amazingly productive life (1943-1947), which extended into the bebop era. Young’s quartet made the first Keynote sides, among them “Sometimes I’m Happy.”
In 1986, the Japanese producer and scholar Kiyoshi Koyama researched the archives and discovered alternate takes and other previously unreleased material from Keystone sessions, including an alternate take of “Sometimes I’m Happy.” Dan Morgenstern describes it in his book Living With Jazz.
It is a lovely performance, even more relaxed than the famous original version. At 3:41, it runs too long for a 10-inch 78thirty-six seconds longer than the issued take. The tempo is a mite slower, creating a dreamy mood, and Guarnieri takes a full chorus. To Lester students, the most interesting discovery will be that the famous tag by Pres, based on a quote from “My Sweetie Went Away,” was a spontaneous invention. It is absent from the “new” take.
The alternate take is included in this CD.
Ave, Lester Young.