Singers In The Rain: Jazz Amid The Deluge
It's early November, and for many in America, that means that when we go outside, we're likely to get wet. Whether we're dodging sprinkles, showers or downpours, November is part of a rainy season.
So here's a list of five songs from vocalists inspired by rain. You'll find happy rain songs, sad rain songs and even a song that takes rain to biblical proportions. But however the rainfall affects your mood, you're likely to find at least one song on this list that suits it.
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Okay, Gene Kelly's "Singin' in the Rain" isn't exactly jazz. But this song — and Kelly's wonderful dance performance, which accompanies it in the movie of the same title — couldn't exist without jazz. Not only does jazz inform the rhythm of the song itself, but Kelly was also perhaps the first dancer to fuse the best elements of tap and jazz dancing. Before bebop, jazz and dancing were inseparable. After bebop... not so much. Kelly was in the vanguard of dancers who took the improvisational spirit of jazz and began to adapt it to movement and choreography. His singing and dancing performance of "Singin' in the Rain" remains one of the most glorious examples of the result.
Watch "Singin' in the Rain" on YouTube.
Rain apparently suits Gene Kelly just fine. It also suits Chicago-based singer, composer and pianist Patricia Barber, but for quite different reasons. She expresses her feelings about the rain in a much different manner than Kelly — or almost anyone else, for that matter. Barber is truly one of a kind, and she proves it in this postmodern blues about how great it can feel to revel in depression.
And now, jazz meets "high camp" — or at least 1940s vocal pop music, which is often the same thing. Here, we have Ella Fitzgerald, the First Lady of Jazz, mixing it up in 1944 with one of the greatest vocal groups of all time, The Ink Spots. And although this song is right next door to a novelty number, there are amazing musical confluences here. The Ink Spots' performance reaches back to vaudeville, and at the same time looks ahead to the doo-wop/R&B music they would help bring into being. When Fitzgerald comes in for her part of the song, she throws in a little jazz phrasing and takes a few liberties with the melody, giving the listener a taste of what would be just around the corner for her. The next year, her scat vocal recording of "Flyin' Home" would be described by The New York Times as "one of the most influential vocal jazz records of the decade." Here, though, she's having a different kind of fun, just swingin' in the rain.
Mel Torme & Buddy Rich
Vocalist Mel Torme and drummer Buddy Rich were lifelong friends, so it might seem odd that they only made one album together. Of course, both of these multi-talented men were tops in their individual fields, so on the other hand, maybe it's a wonder that they found the time to get together for even one project. However you look at it, Together Again for the First Time, recorded in the early '70s, shows both musicians in top form. Torme gets the spotlight in this beautiful medley of "Soon It's Gonna Rain" and "Here's That Rainy Day." And if the gorgeous alto saxophone that opens the song and accompanies Torme's vocal sounds familiar, it should. It's the one and only Phil Woods.
And now we reach those rains "of biblical proportions" mentioned in the introduction. "Didn't It Rain" is a gospel standard which has been recorded by a number of artists: The Oak Ridge Boys, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Louis Armstrong, Clara Ward, The Blind Boys of Alabama, The Band... the list goes on. Here, though, it's performed by one of the greatest voices of the 20th century and a woman who for many is the gospel singer: Mahalia Jackson. Let it rain.