Tuesday, June 26, 2007

When You're Smiling, Billie Holiday and Lester Young

When You're Smiling, Teddy Wilson and His Orchestra, January 6, 1938

Song by Fisher/Goodwin/Shay

Buck Clayton, trumpet
Benny Morton, trombone
Lester Young, tenor sax
Teddy Wilson, piano
Freddy Green, guitar
Walter Page, bass
Jo Jones, drums
Billie Holiday, vocal

Billie Holiday was a singer for the Basie Orchestra, but as luck would have it, they made no recordings. This is a sad poverty, because in spite of the many great recordings they each cut separately, there would have been some gems there, had a recording contract for the singer and the band together been possible. Given the choice, though, of the potential songs with the full band and those recordings with the small groups that were made, I think the small group recordings are undoubtedly better. Of course, they exist, which is by definition better. But I prefer, generally, small band jazz in the swing idiom to large band jazz, even when the large band is led by a Basie or an Ellington. I am certain that if we had Billie recording with the full group, as great as many of them would be, they would not match the small group recordings. We are blessed to have them.

And, in particular, blessed we are to have this one. This is one of those records people like Charlie Parker and countless others would have worn out by getting the needle on the record player to just over the right spot on the record, just about 2 minutes and five second into the song, to find the very end of Teddy Wilson's elegant and (for him) deeply felt chorus to the beginning of Lester Young's incomparable solo.

Everyone plays like a genius on this one, with Benny Morton's gutsy solo chorus to kick it off, and Buck Clayton's impeccable obbligato behind the singer, and maybe its their influence that sends Lester Young into the stratosphere to round out the number.

The song's form is AA'BC, meaning that the first two phrases repeat, but the second is with varation (A'), and after the contrasting bridge (B) instead of returning to the original material the chorus ends with yet another phrase (C).

Listen to the chord progression for the song here.

Introduction 0-4
Teddy Wilson

First Chorus 5 - 44

Benny Morton's trombone solo is incredibly smooth, holding out the notes, barely pausing for breath, as if to make of the whole chorus a single phrase.

Second Chorus 45 - 1:25

Billie Holiday keeps with Morton's breathless approach, but what surprises most here is the obbligato accompaniment by Buck Clayton. He does his own little dance out there behind her, with her, almost through her.
When you're smiling
When you're smiling
The whole world smiles with you

When you're laughing
When you're laughing
The sun comes shining through

But when you're crying
You bring on the rain
So stop your sighing
Be happy again

Keep on smiling
Cause when you're smiling
The whole world smiles with you

Third Chorus 1:26 - 2:04

Teddy Wilson's piano is a familiar accompaniment to Billie, swing feeling in gear, jaunty, clever, clear-headed.

Fourth Chorus 2:05 - 2:37

This is what it is all about. A kind of amused intelligence surfaces in the playing. As with most great solos, we hear the song and we don't, quite, because we are hearing another version, even another song, or as if we were hearing it again, after the song has been away and grown up, or something. In some cases, it sounds like the song we've been wanting to hear all along, though we are probably kidding ourselves in that case.

Coda 2:37 - 2:52

Buck Clayton plays the C section to bring the song to a close.