Friday, October 09, 2009

Great Songs (Now With Lyrics!)

I am certain there are a million and one other examples of this phenomenon (classic instrumental songs getting new lyrics), but this post stems from my relatively recent fascination with jazz vocalist Mark Murphy. I never in my boringest dreams thought that I would have anything resembling a fascination with a "jazz vocalist." Sure, I showed my sensitive side in college with my "best of" Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday CDs and how can you not like a little Frank Sinatra now and then, but somehow these icons escape the labeling of "jazz vocalist". Partly, I think it's the fault of all those too-smooth (Al Jarreau), silly (Bobby McFerrin) crappy-ass jazz vocalists that are ruining it for the truly artistic and inspired examples out there still doing their thing (check out Jose James).

I first heard Mark Murphy on a mix made by my man Greg Caz. The song was "Sunday in New York" and no doubt the slightly funky rhythm section, hot horns and because I lived in NYC at the time allowed me to listen deeper. After a few listens it was all about Mark's vocal style and delivery. I've been tracking down his catalog ever since. Something I noticed on a few of his albums was how he would take a classic jazz track and write lyrics for it so that the listener could immediately relate to the tune, but now there was a new element, a new soloist doing their thing in an unfamiliar way over a familiar song. Sure, there's "Watermelon Man" with its latin/vocal version by Mongo Santamaria (though there aren't many words to this lyric, "Hey, Watermelon Man!") or Carmen McCrae's vocal take on "Take Five", but Mark picks some tracks that clairvoyantly speak to the hip-hop generation as they are classic sample cuts. But before we get into some "serious" jazz music, I asked my co-worker, Eric, for any ideas on this theme and he suggested this classic lyrical interpretation of a familiar instrumental tune:

Mark Murphy - On the Red Clay
This is a killer album, possibly my favorite of Mark's so far and it took me getting out-bid a couple times before I secured my own copy. While the Freddie Hubbard version (below) is not the one that Tribe sampled (that was Jack Wilkins), it's a great tune and I feel Mark really captures the energy of the song taking only the title and extrapolating from there.

Mark Murphy - Canteloupe Island
A more obvious choice, but a great song nonetheless and Mark's lyrics seem to fit the tropical mood painted by Herbie's original version.

Mark Murphy - Sly
This was a strange choice I thought as "Sly" was not an obvious pick from Herbie's classic "Headhunters" album, but Mark really finds a bouncing vocal style to play around with Herbie's musical structure. This is from another great album my Mark Murphy that features one of the best versions of Tom Jobim's "Waters of March". Please chime in on the comments if you have any favorite instrumentals-turned-vocal tunes.


Josh Nice said...

holy crap that red clay vocal version is wicked.

Simon666 said...

Nice post :)
Thought you might enjoy Mark II at my blog, got something of a blog discography there as well ...