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Rebecca Martin: Paradox Of Continuity

By Published: December 25, 2006

AAJ: So, you had chosen the tunes ahead of time and told him what they were and then you just got together and he asked you how you wanted to arrange them?

RM: Yeah. Well, he threw out some ideas, which we did. He chose "You're Getting To Be A Habit With Me. He chose a couple others; I forget which. But he let me bring stuff in like "Brother Can You Spare A Dime?

AAJ: That's my favorite.

RM: I love that one too. And I brought "In A Shanty In Old Shanty Town and "How Long Has This Been Going On I think, and "Tea For Two as a ballad, which I discovered through Blossom Dearie. She does an unbelievable version of that song as a ballad with Ray Brown, I think, on bass.

AAJ: Just Ray on bass and Blossom singing?

RM: No. I think it's Blossom playing piano as well and maybe Jo Jones playing drums. I can't remember. I think my favorite one on Paradox Of Continuity is "How Long Has This Been Going On. One of the issues for me working on this record was to go back and find all the verses to the songs. You know, to treat it like it was a song. Well, I shouldn't say like a song that I'd written, that's not what I mean. But to honor the actual song and maybe the songwriter's intentions.

AAJ: Yeah. Verses are left out kind of regularly, right? Which is not so great...

RM: Oh, I think it's absolutely terrible because the verses change the whole meaning of the song. It's almost as if the verses have been eliminated for the instrumentalists to just blow through or lift off or something. But without them you miss the melodic part of the tune that's so important in the lyric that changes the entire meaning of the song from that little first part of the tune. It's less understandable for me with singers because a lot of singers don't sing the tunes with all the verses either. To me, just lyrically, that's so important. But I don't know why it's been done like that for so long, for the most part.

AAJ: Maybe it's got something to do with most of these singers not being writers themselves—and you're a writer as well as a singer—so they're not coming at it from a writer's perspective.

RM: But I'm worried that it has to do with listening; not listening to enough versions of the tune to get back to the source. Because so many of the great singers sang the verses. In a way, it almost seems like a lot of singers are imitating the instrumentalists and just singing what they're hearing without doing the research. And again, that's not a fact. But it seems odd that if you listen to even just half a dozen versions that you can just get on iTunes, you don't even have to go looking that far; the verses are there: Doris Day, Sarah Vaughn, Ella Fitzgerald...just real common, well-known singers, not to mention the more obscure ones. So, like I said, I suspect the verses have been left out over the years because they're not really a section—they're odd measures or bars. So you can't really solo over it. If you're coming back to the top of the tune to blow...

AAJ: Maybe it's too much work to try to incorporate the verse.

RM: Yeah, I'm not sure. But that's what I suspect. It was eliminated so that it was easier to call out and play. But man, it'd be nice to get the verses in there as much as you can. That was really important to me. For Middlehope as well.

AAJ: So the tune you said was your favorite from Motian's record, "How Long Has This Been Going On, that has a verse, right?

RM: There is. It's a great verse.

AAJ: I played it for my dad and he had kind of a funny reaction to the words in the verse. He actually thought there was something relatively sinister going on, in the beginning of it. You can listen to that and make that leap.

RM: They've been changed a little bit. Actually the original lyric is creepy. I'm not quite sure what it means yet. I got together with a friend the other day and we were going through it. Louis Armstrong I think says, " a tot when I trotted in little velvet panties, which is closer to the actual lyric.

There are two verses. I'm not sure if it's done in a duet or if there are two separate verses with one written for a female and one written for a male. I haven't gone that far back to research it yet. But another thing I've noticed with verses is that the singers who have done them often change the lyric slightly to make the meaning, maybe, more clear to them, because some of the language is really old. This is what I suspect. They're trying to update the meaning somewhat, which I appreciate. For instance, there's this tune "Kentucky Babe, that I think Hoagy Carmichael wrote. It's a pretty racist tune in just the way the singer is interpreting the tune. But back in the day when it was written —I think it was in the '30s—and performed in a show or whatever, it was just pretty much accepted, you know. It's more dialect or slang. It's just the way she's singing it. It's definitely not something you can sing today.

AAJ: Who's singing this one?

RM: I think it's Maxine Sullivan. That wouldn't make sense though because I don't think she was around then. I'd have to look. I'll look and let you know, because it's a beautiful song.

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