43 Happy Birthday, Cole Porter

Brad Mehldau

Born June 9, 1891, we are celebrating Cole Porter’s 130th birthday. This means that Porter was 27 years old, having already had shows produced on Broadway, when the first jazz recording was made in 1917. Early recordings by James P. Johnson, Jimmie Lunceford, Teddy Wilson and Django Reinhardt showed the adaptability of his compositions to the jazz world before Artie Shaw’s landmark recording of Begin the Beguine in 1938. Today his beautiful melodies, compelling harmonies and clever lyrics begin to explain his enduring appeal. This hour of Jazz at 100 Today! will present recent recordings from Porter’s songbook by today’s jazz stars.

Let’s start with a generational review of a trio of the leading pianists and masters of the piano trio format.

Thirty-something pianist Emmet Cohen has embarked on an interesting series of discs to celebrate some of his jazz heroes. Under the title Masters Legacy Series, he has collaborated with drummers Jimmy Cobb and “Tootie” Heath, tenormen Benny Golson and George Coleman, and bassist Ron Carter. This latter legend with drummer Evan Sherman make up the trio for 2017’s Volume 2, reviewed by Mike Jurkovic who wrote, “Let’s not mince words. Everything you want from a great jazz trio recording – electricity, pacing, innovation, dynamic virtuosity and interplay, flights of fancy and passion – are found in great abundance.” We’ll hear All of You, composed by Cole Porter in 1955.

1939’s melodically brilliant I Concentrate on You is featured on Brad Mehldau’s 2016 release Blues and Ballads featuring long-time collaborators bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Jeff Ballard.

And we’ll hear from one of the most celebrated pianists on the scene, Fred Hersch, and his trio with John Hebert on bass and Eric McPherson on drums, performing Porter’s classic of 1950 From This Moment On from their 2012 disc Alive at the Village Vanguard.

All Of You. Emmet Cohen Trio
(Emmet Cohen-p, Ron Carter-b, Evan Sherman-d). From Masters Legacy Series, Vol. 2: Ron Carter. Cellar Live. 2017
I Concentrate On You. Brad Mehldau Trio
(Brad Mehldau-p, Larry Genadier-b, Jeff Ballard-d). From Blues and Ballads. Nonesuch. 2016
From This Moment On. Fred Hersch Trio
(Fred Hersch-p, Hohn Hebert.b, Eric McPherson-d). From Alive at the Village Vanguard. Palmetto. 2012

Continuing with a generational look at Cole Porter interpretations, this time with women vocalists, we’ll start with veteran Stephanie Nakasian with the Harris Simon Trio from 2012’s Show Me The Way, performing So in Love from Porter’s come back Broadway hit Kiss Me Kate.

Nakasian’s daughter with long-time husband, the late bebop pianist Hod O’Brien, is the great young singer twenty-something Veronica Swift. From her 2016 disc Lonely Woman, predating her breakout disc Confessions but already featuring her major scat-singing chops, we’ll hear Just One of Those Things from 1935.

Generationally between Nakasian and Swift, Danish singer Sinne Eeg has released seven discs in Europe, but her terrific 2018 disc Dreams is only her second US release. With Larry Koonse on guitar, Scott Colley on bass and Joey Baron on drums plus her fellow Dane Jacob Christoffersen on piano she recorded Porter’s durable 1929 hit What is This Thing Called Love, which Christopher Loudon described in JazzTimes as, “…gently inquisitive.”.

So In Love. Stephanie Nakasian with the Harris Simon Trio
(Harris Simon-p, Chris Brydge-b, Billy Williams-d, Stephanie Nakasian-voc). From Show Me The Way. Capri. 2012.
Just One of Those Things. Veronica Swift Trio
(Daryl Johns-b, Scott Lowrie-d, Veronica Swift-voc). From Lonely Woman. Hod/Stef. 2016
What is This Thing Called Love. Sinne Eeg Quintet
(Jacob Christoffersen-p, Larry Koonse-g, Scott Colley-b, Joey Baron-d, Sinne Eeg-voc). From Dreams. Stunt Records. 2018

Cole Porter’s compositions have sufficient harmonic heft to regularly attract interpretation from large ensembles. A veteran of Maria Schnieder’s Big Band, trombonist/composer Marshall Gilkes illustrates his significant arranging chops on Porter’s Easy to Love from his 2018 disc Always Forward and dating from the 1936 Jimmy Stewart vehicle Born to Dance.

Following in the footsteps of Ella Fitzgerald and Anita O’Day, Harry Connick recorded his vocal and big band tribute to Cole Porter, True Love: A Celebration of Cole Porter, only in his case he wrote the arrangements and conducted the orchestra, as well. With his characteristically Sinatra-esque phrasing and its swaggering arrangement, this really doesn’t sound like a 2019 release, but his version of 1942’s You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To stands with the best.

Easy To Love. Marshall Gilkes and WDR Big Band
(Andy Haderer, Rob Bruynen, Lorenzo Ludemann, Ruud Breuls, John Marshall, Ludwig Nuss, Shannon Barnett, Andy Hunter, Mattis Cederberg, Johan Hörlén, Strassmayer, Peters, Heller, Neufang, Seidl, Shigihara, Goldsby, Dekker). From Always Forward. Alternate Side. 2018.
You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To. Harry Connick, Jr. Orchestra
From True Love: A Celebration of Cole Porter. Verve. 2019.

The Cole Porter Songbook has been a source of great material for the whole of jazz history and as it passes 100 years, Porter is as relevant as ever.

Jurkovic, Mike. (2018, February 8). AllAboutJazz. Emmet Cohen: Master Legacy Series, Volume 2. https://www.allaboutjazz.com/master-legacy-series-volume-2-emmet-cohen-cellar-live-review-by-mike-jurkovic.php

McClenaghan, Dan. (2019, June 19). AllAboutJazz. Brad Mehldau Trio: Blues And Ballads. https://www.allaboutjazz.com/blues-and-ballads-brad-mehldau-nonesuch-records-review-by-dan-mcclenaghan.php

Cotton, Mark. (2012, September 20). AllAboutJazz. Fred Hersch Trio: Alive At The Vanguard. https://www.allaboutjazz.com/alive-at-the-vanguard-fred-hersch-palmetto-records-review-by-mark-corroto.php

Loudon, Christopher. (2018, June 7). JazzTimes. Sinne Eeg: Dreams (ArtistShare). https://jazztimes.com/reviews/albums/sinne-eeg-dreams/

Bilawsky, Dan. (2018, November 2010). AllAboutJazz. Marshall Gilkes & The WDR Big Band: Always Forward. https://www.allaboutjazz.com/always-forward-marshall-gilkes-alternate-side-records-review-by-dan-bilawsky.php

Gilbert, Andrew. (2019, November 17). JazzTimes. Harry Connick, Jr.: True Love: A Celebration of Cole Porter (Verve). https://jazztimes.com/reviews/albums/harry-connick-jr-true-love-a-celebration-of-cole-porter-verve/

Bowers, Jack. (2019, June 8). AllAbout Jazz. Marcus Shelby Orchestra: Transitions. https://www.allaboutjazz.com/transitions-marcus-shelby-self-produced-review-by-jack-bowers.php

For other programs in Jazz at 100 Today! visit: Jazz at 100 Today!

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