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Spotlight: Passion Flower

Spotlight: Passion Flower

Another spotlight, this time on the match-up of Billy Strayhorn’s songwriting and Johnny Hodges’ sax playing. I commented on this pairing A Flower is a Lovesome Thing in the post A Flower is a Lovesome Thing. Video, then my post excerpt.

Strayhorn’s greatest achievements, in my opinion, were “Passion Flower” (1941) and “A Flower is a Lovesome Thing” (1949). There was no better pairing of instrumentalist and songwriter in all of popular music, I think, than Johnny Hodges and Billy Strayhorn. Hodges, an Ellington stalwart on sax, introduced both of these songs on side projects, and his alto careens and wails so plaintively that the immense emotional depth of Strayhorn via Hodges is overwhelming.

Many others have recorded these songs, often beautifully. Strayhorn himself recorded them in Paris in 1961, on The Peaceful Side. They’re wonderful, with assists from the vocal group The Paris Blue Notes and a string quartet. But we miss Johnny Hodges. Incredibly, on this, his only album as leader, Strayhorn is not given writing credits for these songs! “Passion Flower” is shown as being by E. Coates and G. Wiskin, and “A Flower is a Lovesome Thing” is credited to Duke Ellington. A shame. According to David Hajdu, in his Billy bio Lush Life, Strayhorn wrote his name in on copies he gave to friends.

Come Rain or Come Shine

Come Rain or Come Shine

Texas has been the setting for quite a few unusual weather events this year, currently the never-ending rains that have caused flooding. The Trinity River, which we in Dallas jokingly call “The Mighty Trinity,” has lived up to that nickname, overflowing its banks and submerging the running paths I usually use several times a week. It’s supposed to be hot and sunny ‘long about now, but there doesn’t seem to be any end to the storms. So, some rain songs and, optimistically, some shine songs.

st louis

“Come Rain or Come Shine” Johnny Mercer and Harold Arlen wrote this song for the 1946 musical St. Louis Woman, and it is the perfect Dallas love song. One could sing it most any spring, autumn, or winter morning to impressive effect: “I’m gonna love you like nobody’s loved you, come rain or come shine.”

It’s among the many songs Ray Charles has magically made all his own—the best version, rain or shine.

lennon

“Rain” and “Good Day Sunshine” Two of the best Beatles songs, both recorded in 1966, fit the category. Lennon’s “Rain” is trippy, and at the same time pounding. Paul’s bass is right up front, and Ringo’s drums are inventive. He’s quoted in Tim Riley’s Tell Me Why: “My favorite piece of me is what I did on ‘Rain.’” Paul’s “Good Day Sunshine” is musical sunshine. Ian MacDonald, in Revolution in the Head, notes that it was recorded the week our next selection, “Sunny Afternoon,” hit the charts.

“Sunny Afternoon” The Kinks were a “Beatles’ coattails group” because they made their splash in the wake of The Beatles, not because they sounded like the Fab Four. Ray Davies’ fab four had a hybrid rock/folk/dance hall style of their own, due to the songwriting flair of their leader. “Sunny Afternoon” is a great example: it has a strong, rhythmic descending bass/guitar line, over which Ray sings as a character, a decadent one-percenter who thinks he’s been soaked by the government (and a “big fat mama”). He’s lost his yacht and his girlfriend, who ran off to relate “tales of drunkenness and cruelty.” And now he’s left “lazing on a sunny afternoon.” Poor sot.

kink k

Another nice Kinks song is “Love Me Till the Sun Shines,” from Something Else.

“Singin’ in the Rain” Four generations of my family have been fans of the 1952 movie Singin’ in the Rain. Gene Kelly’s exuberant, splashy song-and-dance in the street is a treat for very young and very old, and for the most jaded in-betweens. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard Kelly’s performance of the song without seeing it, but there’s an older version I’m also awfully fond of. The song was actually written, by Arthur Freed and Nacio Herb Brown, back in 1929, and it was a top hit that year for Cliff Edwards. (You know him as the voice of Jiminy Cricket.)

uke ike

Edwards, who on ballads like “When You Wish Upon a Star” sounds sweet and vulnerable, gives it his all on an up-tempo number like this one. He even throws in one of his famous wild, stratospheric vocalized horn solos, which is very entertaining but doesn’t sound much like a horn. (Unlike the impersonations of the Mills Brothers. According to Bobby Scott, as quoted in the book Reading Jazz, Lester Young once commented that the best saxophone section he ever heard was The Mills Brothers.)

“On the Sunny Side of the Street” This 1930 song of positivity was written by Dorothy Fields and Jimmy McHugh. This one has long been in my repertoire, and I’d always figured it was a Depression-era song meant to lift folks’ spirits. But after I had performed it at an assisted living center, a resident approached me. She said, “You know what that song’s about, don’t you?” I waited. “It’s about black people who pass for white.” What a provocative idea! It’s a subject I’ve read a lot about, and since the woman told me that I have seen the theory in print. It does fit the lyrics about a rover who “stepped over” to the “sunny side.”

“Let the Sun Shine” This Hair song made ubiquitous by The Fifth Dimension was a quota song for me for decades, and then I got to perform it in a show, in groovy hippie get-up with choreography and a good band, and I loved it all over again. You haven’t lived until you’ve sung “When the moon is in the seventh house and Jupiter aligns with Mars” wearing a green dashiki, purple fringed vest, and headband, and doing hippie love-fest gyrations.

“Rainy Night in Georgia” Brook Benton’s sonorous baritone cast a spell on me back in 1970 when it was on the radio. I hadn’t thought much about it since, until I heard Boz Scaggs’ version of it on his 2013 album Memphis. It was only recently that I found a place for Boz in my musical world, when I heard his 2008 album of “American Songbook” standards, Speak Low. His voice suited those standards surprisingly well, and is my favorite of the many standards tributes done by fellow rock-era pop stars like Rod, Linda, and Willie. I’d never cottoned much to Scaggs back in his hit-making days, but he’s doing some interesting things now. Memphis and his latest, A Fool to Care, feature R&B and soul numbers, and not in a glossy way—more rootsy and rough.

“You Are My Sunshine” This standard, written by Louisiana Governor Jimmy Davis, is the most popular song at every gathering of seniors I play for. It is the oddest of songs, with verses whose sentiments clash with the mood set by the music and the song’s chorus. But I always do the verses, too, because residents know them and expect them, and the joyous expressions on their faces as they sing the chorus don’t change for the incongruous lyrics of the verses, about lost love and threats of revenge: “If you leave me for another, you will always regret that day / Oh, you are my sunshine, my only sunshine!”

akiyoshi

“Rain Check”: Billy Strayhorn’s “Rain Check” proves, along with “Take the ‘A’ Train,” that he could write up-tempo almost as well as he could ballads. I just ran across a Strayhorn tribute album by a trio led by Toshiko Akiyoshi, whom I’d only heard before with her big band (with husband Lew Tabackin). She does a nice workout on “Rain Check” and several other Strayhorn tunes, familiar and obscure.

Amazing Jimmy (“No such thing as a bad song”) Candidate: The opposite of “Crying in the Rain,” in every way, is “Laughter in the Rain.” The former is a work of pop art; the latter is a work of pop schlock. Neil Sedaka’s hit sounds like a rain shower’s aftermath: soggy, moldy, and dank. Alas, it went to #1, while the Everlys’ hit only made it to #6.

Honorable Mentions: The great Ann Peebles’ “I Can’t Stand the Rain,” produced by the great Willie Mitchell; Jesse Colin Young’s glowing “Sunlight”; Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s rousing “Didn’t It Rain”; and, to end on a sunshiny note: The Carter Family’s “Keep on the Sunny Side”

Fixin’ To Die

Fixin’ To Die

One of the more uncomfortable moments I’ve viewed on network television occurred on The Today Show recently. I almost never watch these morning shows; morning’s my time to read and write—TV’s for evenings. But I was on the road, in my hotel room preparing to leave and do a seminar, when I flipped to The Today Show. Host Matt Lauer was noting that it was National Honesty Day and mentioned that, just like his Honesty-Day share of last year, he really hates the orange couch in the studio’s lounge. His co-hosts shared their equally trivial moments of honesty.

Then it got to happy-go-lucky weathercaster Al Roker, who said, “Y’know, I just turned sixty and I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about the end of life.” Matt and the others were so taken aback that they spluttered and stuttered to the commercial break. Al’s candid little Honesty-Day moment was a downer, and not the kind of fluff that fits the cheery morning-show atmosphere.

And, to be honest (though Honesty Day has passed back into the usual not-totally-dishonest days), since I turned sixty, I, like Al, have spent more time thinking about death. It’s unavoidable, really: My parents have both died, and many aunts and uncles and parents of friends are gone. And an alarming number of friends, people my age, have died. I don’t get morbid about it or dwell on it, but it’s always there, lurking.

Warren Zevon

Warren Zevon

“Keep Me in Your Heart” Warren Zevon recorded his concept album about death, Life’ll Kill Ya, two years before he was diagnosed with late-stage mesothelioma. He must’ve seen something coming.

His final album, The Wind, was recorded post-diagnosis, when Zevon knew his remaining time was short. It’s not a gloomy or angry album. In fact, it’s less dyspeptic than most of his other stuff. He covers “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,” invites several guest stars to help out on songs, and closes with the ballad “Keep Me in Your Heart,” a nice, thoughtful way to go out. “Shadows are fallin’ and I’m runnin’ out of breath / Keep me in your heart for a while / If I leave you it doesn’t mean I love you any less / Keep me in your heart for a while.” Zevon was only 56 when he died.

Warren Zevon’s known for some advice he offered on pal and supporter David Letterman’s show toward the end: “Enjoy every sandwich.” Words to live by.

bill

“Blood Count” The last song Billy Strayhorn wrote, two months before he died at the age of 51 of lung cancer, was “Blood Count.” David’ Hajdu, in his Strayhorn biography Lush Life, comments on the song’s bass line “evoking the rhythmic drip of intravenous fluid.” The song became part of his mentor Duke Ellington’s tribute album, …And His Mother Called Him Bill, recorded shortly after Strayhorn’s death, when Duke was still grieving.

The album closes with Duke at the piano alone, playing his favorite Strayhorn number, “Lotus Blossom,” while the other musicians can be heard in the background packing up their instruments.

lhasa

“Rising” A few years ago, I came across a mysterious, dark song, sung in Spanish, called “De Cara a la Pared.” The singer was Lhasa de Sela. I was wondering how I’d never heard this singer, this song, before, but it turns out that I had. Must have, anyway, because the song was used in the John Sayles movie Casa de los Babys, which I’d seen on video years before. It didn’t register then, but it did when I heard it again. The voice is smooth, bright and, at the same time, dark. The music is hypnotic and repetitive. Dreamlike.

I immediately searched for more of her music and found her wonderful second and third albums. In the process of the search, before I heard any songs other than “De Cara a la Pared,” I learned some things about Lhasa. Her father was Mexican, her mother Jewish-Lebanese. They lived in Mexico and Canada. Lhasa toured Europe in a circus with her sisters after recording one of her albums. She made only three albums in twelve years, the first in Spanish, the second in multiple languages, and the third, recorded in 2009, in English. She died at 37 on New Year’s Day 2010, of breast cancer.

When I listened to Lhasa’s third album, I was overwhelmed by its beauty and sadness–even though I was listening while driving through rush hour traffic. It stayed with me throughout the day, and after I listened to it again driving home from work, it stayed with me through the night. I was drawn in to the music and engulfed by its desperation and longing.  This effect was certainly heightened by my understanding that Lhasa recorded the album knowing she had breast cancer and was dying from it.

And then I found out that the cancer was diagnosed after the album was complete. I was reading themes of death into it. Still, the song “Rising” from that album is almost unbearably sad, even though I now know its lyrics about being “caught in a storm” and “breaking, breaking” were not about her apprehension over death.

Bukka White

Bukka White

“Fixin’ to Die” There are many notable songs of death written and sung by artists who lived long after the song was created. Bukka White’s 1940 song “Fixin’ to Die,” in fact, helped give new life to White, at least as a recording and performing artist, when Dylan covered the song on his debut album in ‘61. The song was written shortly after White’s release from Parchman Farm, the Mississippi state pen. White died in 1977 at the age of 67.

Honorable Mentions: Son House is another bluesman (and another Parchman Farm inmate and sixties rediscovery) with a classic song of death, “Death Letter.” The song recounts the story of the singer learning of and lamenting his lover’s death. House lived to the age of 86.

Ralph Stanley is still kickin’, nearing ninety. In his seventies, he sang the folk song “O Death” a cappella for the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou? And won a Grammy for it.

In his biggest pop hit, “The Thrill is Gone,” B.B. King sang, “Although I still live on, but so lonely I’ll be.” I don’t think King was a lonely fellow, but he did live on to 89, and we were blessed to have him so long.

A Flower is a Lovesome Thing

A Flower is a Lovesome Thing

A song I knew as “Lotus Blossom” actually started out as “Marijuana.” It was written in 1934 by Arthur Johnston and Sam Coslow for the movie Murder at the Vanities, a pre-code film with not only a song about marijuana’s soothing properties but with naked nymphs covering their breasts with their hands. I had heard “Marijuana” done by Bette Midler on her album Songs for the New Depression years ago, but at first didn’t place it as the same song when I heard “Lotus Blossom” sung by Dave Frishberg on his 1977 album Getting Some Fun out of Life. Frishberg, a fine jazz pianist, has written some wonderful songs, including novelties like “Van Lingle Mungo,” whose lyrics consist only of baseball players’ names.

Frishberg & friend

Frishberg & friend

I loved “Lotus Blossom” and quickly worked up a three-part harmony arrangement my trio still performs. In his Biographical Guide to the Great Jazz and Pop Singers, Will Friedwald wrote about the song’s transformation in his section on Kansas City singer Julia Lee, who did a fine lowdown recording of “Lotus Blossom” in the mid-forties. Friedwald notes that when the song was in the movie, pot was still legal but “a taboo and risqué subject for a mainstream pop song.” He says that Sam Coslow changed the title, but Coslow, in his autobiography Cocktails for Two, barely mentions “Marijuana” and mentions “Lotus Blossom” not at all.

Sam Coslow seems to have been quite a piece of work. It’s clear from his memoir that he did not find Spike Jones’ crazy, irreverent hit cover of Coslow’s most famous song, “Cocktails for Two,” funny and was not happy about it—except for the big royalty checks. (The subtitle of the memoir is The Many Lives of Giant Songwriter Sam Coslow. “Giant songwriter.” He wrote that about himself–sheesh!)

"Giant Songwriter"

“Giant Songwriter”

Another “Lotus Blossom”—one that was never explicitly about a mind-altering substance—was written by one of my favorite composers, Billy Strayhorn. A solo Duke Ellington at the piano was captured impromptu during the recording of …And His Mother Called Him “Bill,” the band’s tribute to Strayhorn, made while he was dying in a hospital bed across town. You can hear Duke’s anguish in the exquisite performance.

Strayhorn is most famous for the bouncy, up-tempo Ellington hit “Take the ‘A’ Train.” But he excelled at moody, impressionistic songs like “Lush Life” that have a deep, dark beauty. Several Strayhorn compositions were, like the gorgeous “Lotus Blossom,” named after flowers: “Lament for an Orchid,” “Blossom,” “Ballad for Very Tired and Very Sad Lotus Eaters,” “Violet Blue,” and “In a Blue Summer Garden.” Best of all, though, were “Passion Flower” (1941) and “A Flower is a Lovesome Thing” (1949).

There was no better pairing of instrumentalist and songwriter in all of popular music, I think, than Johnny Hodges and Billy Strayhorn. Hodges, an Ellington stalwart on sax, introduced both of these songs on side projects, and his alto careens and wails so plaintively that the immense emotional depth of Strayhorn via Hodges is overwhelming.

Strayhorn's The Peaceful Side, with erroneous credits

Strayhorn’s The Peaceful Side, with erroneous credits

Many others have covered these songs, often beautifully. Strayhorn himself recorded them in Paris in 1961, on The Peaceful Side. They’re beautiful, with assists from the vocal group The Paris Blue Notes and a string quartet. But we miss Johnny Hodges. Incredibly, on this, his only album as leader, Strayhorn is not given writing credits for these songs! “Passion Flower” is shown as being by E. Coates and G. Wiskin, and “A Flower is a Lovesome Thing” is credited to Duke Ellington. A shame. According to David Hajdu, in his Billy bio Lush Life, Strayhorn wrote in his name on copies he gave to friends.

I think the John Phillips Summer of Love song “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)” is a bit drippy and bland. If Phillips’ aim was to promote flower power in California, it wouldn’t have enticed me to go, even if I’d been old enough to drive or bold enough to hitch. Maybe it’s singer Scott McKenzie’s voice, but the song just doesn’t represent coolness, enlightenment, or reckless abandon. It’s right up there with Rod McKuen Takes a San Francisco Hippie Trip. Not groovy. Not groovy at all!

Rod McKuen Takes a San Francisco Hippie Trip

Rod McKuen Takes a San Francisco Hippie Trip

A song that’s much more fun, from ’68, is Frank Zappa’s “Flower Punk.” The tune is a take-off of “Hey Joe,” revved up, in complicated alternating time signatures, with playful wah-wah guitars answering each line. “Hey punk, where you goin’ with that flower in your hand? / I’m goin’ up to Frisco to join a psychedelic band.” Flower Punk also says that he plans to hit “the love-in to sit and play my bongos in the dirt.” That’s a scene I’d’ve wanted to be a part of! The song is part of the Mothers’ classic album We’re Only in It for the Money,whose cover parodies The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper album. But note in the photo that where The Beatles’ name was spelled out in flowers, The Mothers’ is in hacked-up watermelon and other fruits and veggies.

We're Only in It for the Money

We’re Only in It for the Money

Occasional Zappa compatriot Captain Beefheart came up with one of the countless “rose” songs out there in the pop world. “Ice Rose” is a jagged, up-tempo instrumental, so we don’t know whether the song refers to a frozen sculpture or a frigid female. Or maybe it’s a declarative subject-verb combination, an observation. Or maybe it’s a sinister imperative?

My other arbitrary “rose” selection is Fats Waller’s “Honeysuckle Rose,” since it has two flowers in its name, and since I really like Fats Waller. Its tune was among the many Fats came up with on short order, on a whim or a last-minute demand. (Who knows how many floated off without being corralled and turned into a hit? Fats just never seemed too concerned about that.) It was created with his often-frustrated, relatively fastidious lyricist Andy Razaf for the show Load of Coal, the last of three songs needed, all completed in one afternoon. As often is the case with show tunes, the song was not intended for greatness. Fats’ manager Ed Kirkeby, in his 1966 bio of Fats Waller, Ain’t Misbehavin’, writes that “Honeysuckle Rose” was at the time “looked upon merely as an unimportant soft-shoe number backing for the chorus.”

Honorable Mentions: The Rolling Stones came up with a couple of good flower songs, “Dead Flowers” and “Dandelion,” but neither is on the American compilation album Flowers, on the cover of which each Stone is a flower.

Great Song Titles: “Tulip or Turnip?” On the recording I have of this Duke Ellington song, trumpeter/violinist Ray Nance gets vocal duties and camps it up. “Tulip or turnip—tell me, tell me, Dream Face, what am I to you?” (That would be another great song title: “Dream Face.”) Duke also gave us “Blossom” and “Azalea.”

Song Sung Blue

Song Sung Blue

Did Duke Ellington write “Blue Rose” or did he not? Rosemary Clooney, in her memoir Girl Singer, writes that the song was a “new number that Billy wrote especially for me.” Billy is Strayhorn, Duke’s other half, composer of “Take the ‘A’ Train,” the Ellington Orchestra’s biggest hit, plus several of the most beautiful jazz songs ever written. Strayhorn had come to Beverly Hills to meet with Ms. Clooney to pick out songs and set arrangements for an album of Ellington songs. Duke and the band were stuck gigging in New York. The 1956 album that resulted, Blue Rose, gives Strayhorn writing credit for three songs. But “Blue Rose” is credited to Duke alone. David Hajdu, in Lush Life, his exhaustive bio of Billy Strayhorn, does not include “Blue Rose” among Strayhorn’s compositions. “Blue Rose,” though, does sound like a Billy Strayhorn tune. Another item the LP’s liner notes don’t reveal: Duke and Rosemary didn’t record the album together. Because Ms. Clooney was very pregnant and couldn’t travel, Strayhorn took the arrangements he’d worked out with her back to the band in New York, where they recorded their part. Rosemary’s vocals were added on back in California, as she listened to the instruments on headphones. Done all the time now, but at the time a major artist had not done it.

blue rose

Duke did write some songs of blue, including “Diminuendo in Blue,” “Azure,” “Blue Serge,” and one of his standards, “Mood Indigo.” That song is a Grammy Hall of Fame jewel, recorded by hundreds of artists. Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Doris Day, and, yes, Rosemary Clooney on Blue Rose, all made memorably moving versions. Nina Simone took up the tempo and added different chord changes at the intro and end.

I am a harmony nut, and the verse of “Mood Indigo” was harmonized for instruments by Ellington, so it’s the Boswell Sisters’ 1933 three-part version with the Dorsey Brothers Orchestra that tops my list. (OK, the Boswells version of any song they did will always be at the top of my list.) For some reason, though, instead of the bridge everyone else does (“Always get that mood indigo…”), the Bozzies’ bridge is a bluesy Connee Boswell solo: “Blues on my mind / Blues all around my head…” I’m not sure where this came from. Curious.

On the theme of Duke song credits, Barney Bigard, an Ellington clarinetist, was finally given proper co-writing credit for the music to “Mood Indigo,” which Duke lifted from him and transformed without acknowledging Bigard’s role. (And Barney may have actually originally picked up the melody from Lorenzo Tio.)

Ella & Duke

Ella & Duke

“Blue Skies” is not about being blue; it’s an optimistic song, full of blue skies and birds. It has been a favorite since the ‘20s. It was written by Irving Berlin to save a slipping Rodgers & Hart show called Betsy. It didn’t save Betsy, but it was an instant hit and has far outlasted the show’s Rodgers & Hart songs. It’s been a movie favorite, from The Jazz Singer, in which Al Jolson sang it, to Blue Skies and White Christmas, in which Der Bingle sang it. Willie’s done it. Ella, Frank, Rod—they’ve done it. Everybody’s done it.

Thelonious Monk’s done it, too, in a way. His 1947 composition “In Walked Bud” is based on the chord progression of “Blue Skies.” It’s a tribute to pianist Bud Powell, recorded several times by its composer as an instrumental. Lyrics were later added by vocalese whiz Jon Hendricks, of Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross. Hendricks sang it on Monk’s 1968 album Underground. Carmen McRae sings those lyrics, under the title “Suddenly,” on her 1988 Monk tribute Carmen Sings Monk. If you poke around a bit online, you can find several people who’ve run “Blue Skies” and “In Walked Bud” together, with varying degrees of success.

monk blu

In the blue Monk category, there’s also, yes, “Blue Monk,” one of Monk’s most accessible and popular songs.

“My Blue Heaven” is a song of marital bliss written in 1924 by Walter Donaldson, a 33-year-old bachelor, and George Whiting. “Just Molly and me, and baby makes three.” Donaldson finally did become a husband and father a decade later. He’d said he was too busy writing hit songs to get married. He indeed wrote many hits, including “Makin’ Whoopee” (a not-so-blissful song of married life), “Carolina in the Morning,” “My Buddy,” and “Yes Sir, That’s My Baby.” So many big hits, and yet he’s not remembered like his songwriting contemporaries Irving Berlin and the Gershwin brothers. “My Blue Heaven” was not only featured in the movie of the same name in 1950 but in a movie of a different name, Love Me or Leave Me, in 1955.

“Azzurro” was written by Paolo Conte in 1968, before his own career took off, for singer Adriano Celentano. Both Celentano and Conte are very well-known in Italy. One of them should be well-known here.

Celentano picture sleeve

Celentano picture sleeve

Paolo Conte, a former lawyer, has been recording and touring since the sixties.  He is best known in the U.S. for the Nonesuch “best of” album that was released in 1998.  That’s how I first heard of him, and it’s a great place to start.  I’ve been a fan ever since.  It may be the difficulty in pinning him down that makes his music so appealing to me.  It’s a mixture of jazz, sleazy bar, cocktail lounge, and Italian pop.  It’s usually sung in Italian (sometimes in French, very occasionally in stilted English) by the gravelly-voiced Conte, with no harmonies and only occasional female backup singing.  But his albums, in my opinion, are more consistently good than any other artist. That’s why I have them all. (And, nearing 80, he’s still recording.) Paolo has another blue song, too, “Blue Tango.”

Paolo Conte

Paolo Conte

Honorable Mentions: Percussionist Mongo Santamaria gave us “Afro Blue” in 1959, with lyrics added by Oscar Brown, Jr. It was first sung by Abbey Lincoln that year on her album Abbey is Blue.

And, of course, I must mention the top jazz album of all time, Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue. I love it, just like everyone else does.

Favorite blue songs from the pop/rock/soul/R&B world include “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Blue Bayou,” and Chris Isaacs’ “Blue Hotel.” And then there’s Joni Mitchell’s wonderful, sad title song from the Blue album. Another category (“Bottomless Depression”).

Amazing Jimmy (“No such thing as a bad song”) Nominee: “Song Sung Blue.” “Every garden grows one”? Hmmm. Anyway, a “song sung blue” should either be blue as in blues or blue as in risque, and Neil Diamond’s doesn’t get close to either of those.

Senior Center Hits: “Blue Skies” and “My Blue Heaven” always get the residents singing along.

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