Wednesday, June 20, 2007

What a Little Moonlight Can Do, Billie Holiday

What a Little Moonlight Can Do, Teddy Wilson and his Orchestra, July 2, 1935

Song by Harry Woods

Roy Eldridge, trumpet

Benny Goodman, clarinet

Ben Webster, tenor sax

Teddy Wilson, piano

John Truehart, guitar

John Kirby, bass

Cozy Cole, drums

Billie Holiday, vocal

"This one was taken at a cracking pace, as quick a beat as Billie ever sang over, but of course Goodman and Billie made it sound easy, while the rhythm section did the work." (Billie Holiday: Wishing on the Moon, Donald Clarke)

The form here is somewhat unusual. Instead of the standard AABA form each 32 bar chorus consists of 4 sections in the ABAB sequence, meaning the first four bars (A) are repeated as the third four bars and the second four bars (B) repeat as the final four.

Piano introduction 0 – 2

First ABAB chorus 3 – 57

Benny Goodman opens accompanied by the rhythm section of Cozy Cole on drums, Teddy Wilson on piano, and John Kirby’s bass. Listen to all of them, and also feel the uptempo beat—fast, fun.

The second A (at 32) begins with a little clarinet wail and picks up the tempo a bit - typical in jazz recordings. You can listen to this accomplished chorus as if you were watching a good dancer, proud of his work, and happy to show it off. The feeling is one of exuberance and skill, and also of belonging and contributing to a group effort.

Interval 58 - 59

They take a few bars to set up the girl singer...

Second ABAB chorus 1:00 – 1:58

Here is Billie Holiday's vocal. Listen to the quality of the voice. It is slightly slurred, relaxed, purring. She really makes a lot of the rhymes in the language, but makes more of the sounds themselves by expressively taking those ooo sounds in her own direction. Listen also for Teddy Wilson’s excellent comping in the background, filling in between the lines, as it were, with some pretty fancy fingering. If Goodman sounded exuberant in his second chorus, Billie sounds genuinely thrilled pleased as punch to be right here doing this right now.


Ooh, ooh, ooh! What a little moonlight can do ooh ooh
Ooh, ooh, ooh! What a little moonlight can do to you!


You’re in love. Your heart's a-fluttering all day long
You only stutter cause your poor tongue
Just will not utter the words, "I love you."


Ooh, ooh, ooh! What a little moonlight can do ooh ooh
Wait a while till a little moonbeam comes peepin' through


You’ll get bold, you can't resist him
And all you'll say when you have kissed him is
"Ooh, ooh, ooh! What a little moonlight can do!"

Singers often exploit the purely physical dimension of language, where semantics gets left in the dust, as Billie Holiday does here with her ooh, ooh, oohs. (These come, of course, from the composer, who also composed the hit, "When the Red, Red Robin Comes Bop Bop Boppin' Along.") It is a truism to note that a singer’s instrument is her voice; here the singer shows how true that truism is.

Notice how close she stays to the same note - the music is conjunct rather than disjunct - making the song expressive in her own way, taking advantage of what for other singers might be a disadvantage, that narrow range she had to work with.

Third ABAB chorus 1:59 -

Ben Webster, one of the most accomplished and inventive practitioners of the tenor sax. takes the first AB. His solo is from 1:59 - 2: 29. Let's here what Gunther Schuller says about him:

He was “one of the greatest and most consistent, invincible artists of jazz. …Webster was a storyteller who spoke through his horn. The inner poetry of his playing, swelling with imagery and meaning, was enriched by a constantly growing vocabulary of impressions and expressions. (Schuller, 578, 586)

Teddy Wilson takes the final AB section of that chorus, starting around 2:30, with the ensemble coming in at the last 8, starting around 2:43.

Now you can look back, or, listen back, to the solos of Goodman, Wilson, Holiday and Webster. Each stands out in its own way. Each also gets configured by its relation to the other, so that the performers are responding to the song - interpreting it as they play it - and to each other. The sense of communication is vividly felt in a light, joyous sort of way here.