I grew up with jazz in my home. My dad was a jazz lover, I ended up seeing live performances by people like Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Keith Jarrett. I heard and met Gene Krupa when I was seven, in a jazz club in Toronto. Later, I sent myself to concerts by people like Weather Report, and Jaco Pastorius in solo…. I have NEVER tried to play or sing jazz, considering it impossible. Last night over dinner with the beautiful and talented Marianne Bp, I had an important lesson in what makes up a jazz standard, and it actually changed my idea of what jazz is.
Basically, the wide-ranging conversation – Marianne writes poetic texts, songs and she is just finishing a book – ended up leading into talking about her debut music video that she just released a week or two ago. I told her again how much I loved the video, and how cool it looked and sounded. But I also sort of spoke aloud a thought I had on my mind for a long time, even before she did the video.
She had told me a couple of months ago that one of her projects was to take the lyrics from jazz standards and to put them to music and just completely turn them on their head, modernizing them and doing them her own way. The first video, in fact, was one of those songs: “Gee, Baby, Ain’t I Good to You.”
She not only uses original lyrics in English, but she also throws in some French lyrics. The whole is very inventive, and I loved both the idea and the execution. So in dreaming aloud about it last night, and thinking about the potential of the song, I said, “One of the thoughts I had about this was that it seems too cool to have not been tried before, this idea of taking the lyrics of a jazz standard and doing it completely your own way, sort of improvising out something new.” And I was thinking that I was wondering just where that could fit in with the acceptance on behalf of jazz lovers and jazz musicians.
Before I said anything about that latter bit, she said: “Oh, but that is exactly what doing a jazz standard has always been about. Taking the old song and completely reinterpreting it and doing it your own way.”
“The history of jazz music is made up of that precise thing: Taking the original and changing stuff, adding stuff, dropping stuff, doing your own music, improvising.”
“Yeah,” she said, “check it out on Wikipedia, if you want.”
The English wikipedia item on Jazz Standards does not emphasize that aspect, but the French wikipedia item on Jazz Standards certainly does. And so does a site devoted to jazz standards. In fact, all I had to think about was also how John Coltrane completely transformed “My Favorite Things….” (Even though he did not use lyrics.)
So suddenly I realized that not only was Marianne right about that, but that her interpretation of Gee Baby was not only one that I loved and thought very cool and far out, but it was actually super acceptable as part of a tradition of making standards new and different and personal.
Thanks for the lesson Marianne, and for the music.
P.S. By the way, Marianne also told me some interesting things about the filming of the video. There are parts where she seems to be walking in an odd way. She is: She filmed herself and a chauffeur walking backwards, and then the reversed the film in the video so it actually appears as if they are walking forwards…but weirdly. You see the cars behind them all going backwards. Just as original as the sound of the music.