That's My Jam: Sure Thing, Gordo

One of the most hauntingly somber songs I know is Thelonious Monk's 'Round Midnight. But the strange thing is, whenever you hear performances Monk himself did of the song you'll notice that he tends to approach it with a slight bounce. I wouldn't say he makes it a happy tune by any means, but there's something in the rhythm he puts into it that makes it more like a brisk memory-filled walk down a moonlit road rather than a heartsad lament of a lover far away and the quarrels that separate you.

So as much as it's recognized as Monk's signature song and perhaps masterpiece, it's been the renditions of this song by others that have touched me the most. Consider the flavors that Miles Davis, Joe Pass, and Wes Montgomery added to it as an instrumental, or the unique character and emotion that Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn, Dakota Staton, and a host of others brought to the lyrical version.
You know who really kills with this song? Mel Torme -- the Velvet Fog himself.
Perhaps it's because Monk was able in the original to make the melody so natural. To my way of thinking, 'Round Midnight isn't so much a musical line as it a conversation you have with yourself, or to a half interested bartender right before (or perhaps severely after) closing time -- something more naturally suited I think to singers than it is to many saxophone players.

And yet to sing or play it, you have to think so much outside of what you'd normally do, even in the open contexts of jazz. As such, it's become a study piece for students, a standard that groups and singers include to show their range. It happens to standards over the years -- they get so retreaded and played to death that players lose their love for them, or their connection with the emotions behind it.
Perhaps that's why even though it was written and originally envisioned as an
instrumental, I've always personally been more fond of the vocalized versions.
That's not to say that people don't mess it up left and right. That they try to make it more formal and organized than it was ever meant to be. It's a strange thing about Jazz songs where singers take melodies intended for other instruments and make them their own, they all too often try to sing them as if they were just a different kind of saxophone, guitar, or piano. They forget that they have the gift that all other players seek to find when they play, which is personality and emotion that's naturally built in to the tones they create.

Which is probably why, even with so many immortal names and admittedly greater versions associated with this song -- I still find myself drawn to this interpretation; recorded for an tribute album, yet rarely played anywhere as far as I can tell.

Sting himself can be a pain to deal with, and his late period albums have gotten increasingly lamer -- but the guy has a wonderful voice, and for my money seems to always get more mileage out of collaboration than he ever did coming up with new ways to stroke his own ego.
Which is a good thing -- because despite the grace he brings
to the melody, this one is (and should be) all about Andy.

[Listening to:  Wes Montgomery - "Four on Six" ]

Comments

Satorical said…
1) I love Bobby McFerrin's version on the Round Midnight soundtrack. It's one of the few of his songs that not either grating or screaming out "HEY LOOK WHAT I CAN DO!"

2) This one really is all about Andy. Maybe it's the years of singing loudly in a rock band, but I don't think much of Sting's voice on the quiet parts here.
Heff said…
One thing you can always say about Gordon Sumner - He ALWAYS sounds like himself, no matter what he's doing.
Werdna said…
By the way, 4 on 5 is lights out...

Sting has nothing on Mel Torme.

Andy Summers on the other hand is pretty damn good on this. Maybe no Wes Montgomery, but it is a legit interpretation. The solo is masterful. The arrangement, could be better, but pretty good for a rocker, and far better than I could do.

The real question is Mr Hex, is what does your version sound like? Do you sing it? Does someone else do the vocals? Is it instrumental? Is it hot? Cool? Fast? Slow?

Bouncy? Aching? Burning? Icy? Proud? Remorseful?
Werdna said…
4 on 6 even...
Wilfredo said…
As great as those vocalists are, my inclination (in this case) is toward the intrumental version. I do like to keep that tune mysterious; and I like Monk's version over all. You are absolutely right in your description.