Monday, December 21, 2009

Stuff I'd Like To Arrange For Chorus #1: One For My Baby

More and more it becomes my favorite Sinatra moment. There is something about the emotions of this song, somewhere between agonized mournfulness and stoic smiles that makes it far more moving and gorgeously complex than any song that deals exclusively in bold primary emotions. Just the very end, when Sinatra does not so much sing as exhale the final words 'The looong, it's soo looong, the loooong, very looong,' and all throughout you wait for him to say the word 'road' one last time. But that last repetition never comes. Instead, the sigh disappears into a silence of devastatingly quiet sorrow, as though he were silently crying along with Bunyan that his burden is greater than he can bare. For me, it is as moving a moment of music as anything in Bach or Brahms.

Without his example, Ray Charles could have never found the right sound for "Georgia On My Mind," nor Sam Cooke for "A Change Is Gonna Come." Neither could Tom Waits find the proper sound for the entirety of "Closing Time." It is, in all the above cases, made into great music the very simple and unaffected dignity that only graet communicators possess. These singers found the way to convey wholly new meanings with a slight bend of the pitch, a slight blip in the rhythm, and an ever-so-slight fluctuations of sound. With tools so simple (yet so very complex), they were able to cram a rainbow's worth of emotional shades into music too artless to stand up without real artists to put across their meanings.

There is no way to do this song without a piano that calls to mind the effortless slumping rag of an out of tune upright. The massed strings are easy enough to arrange for mass chorus. But the saxophone solos are inimitable, and would never hold up in a live setting. There has to be something to replace it - something sleek and perhaps even feminine - that can serve as the same counterweight to the craggy mournfulness of this melody that only a Don Draper baritone can communicate. When I find something that can put across that same feeling of elegy and compassion, this song is ready to be arranged.

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