Friday, April 02, 2010

Song of the Day: "April in Paris" by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong

So, it's April. I'm not in Paris, I'm in New York. But, I can imagine what it would look like in Paris today. I've been in Paris during April, and believe you me, it's nothing to blow your nose at. Nosireebob. Dampened streets. Trees that are just about to bloom line the sidewalks. Plus, a culinary culture that loves butter (not necessarily just in April, but you know, a perk).

So, it being April and all, I figured now would be an okay time to celebrate the jazz standard that celebrates April in the City of Light.

The song was written in 1932 for the Broadway musical Walk a Little Faster (it is, as far as I can tell, the only thing that has survived from that particular musical) with music by Vernon Duke and lyrics by Yip Harburg (whose other lyrical contributions to first half of the 20th Century pop music include "Over the Rainbow" and "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?"). It's gorgeous melody, which can be played up-tempo (see the Count Basie version) or as a ballad (which is it's most common rendition) with really great lyrics, too. I mean, Harburg is no Johnny Mercer, but he's no slouch either.

So, there are no shortages of versions of this song. It's been performed by artists as diverse as Count Basie, Thelonious Monk, Doris Day, and Alex Chilton. The Basie version is the most famous and ended up in the Grammy Hall of Fame in Los Angeles (a kind of big deal, you know depending on how you feel about the Grammys). For my money, though, Basie's interpretation is a bit austentatious and isn't played as delicately as the best versions of the song do. I have to admit, I'm a huge fan of the Ella Fitzgerald/Louis Armstrong interpretation on their album of duets called, "Ella and Louis." It's a pretty good album of standards with an impressive backing band that features Oscar Peterson on piano, Herb Ellis on guitar, Ray Brown on bass, and Buddy Rich behind the kit. Ella is in fine form, Satch is's raspy warble fits the song surprisingly well, and his trumpet solo is tastefull restrained. A gorgeously charming recording. (The tune is after the jump)

I'd also recommend checking out the Basie version, as well as the versions by Bird and/or Monk, and definitely check out the Alex Chilton version. It may not be the best version, but he does offer a very unique spin on it. 


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