When Billie Holiday released "Gloomy Sunday," in 1941, accompanied by the Teddy Wilson Orchestra, no one could possibly imagine the back story and consequent repercussions associated with this song. Originally composed by Hungarian Reszo Seress in 1933 as "Szomorú Vasárnap," it was quickly rewritten with lyrics by poet Laslo Javor, and recorded by Pál Kalmár in 1934, becoming the infamous "Hungarian Suicide Song," among the populace. It has been imputed for the countless suicides connected with it, and considered a source of urban legend surrounding the tragedies. Holiday's popularization of the song caused the BBC to ban it from airplayuntil 2002due to its morose and despondent lyrics.
Hungarian Noir is a compilation of diverse variations on the "Gloomy Sunday," theme. The song is covered in several languages by international artists, and undergoes unique instrumental adaptations as well. The English lyrics by Sam M. Lewis are utilized, or loosely translated. No two versions are even remotely similar, the only common thread among them is the nucleus of the song itself, the disparity is obvious and that is exactly what the attraction is.
The record begins with the Cuban acappella group Vocal Sampling, whose lead singer's accented voicing depicts the lost Latin lover. In keeping with the Cuban connection, Manolito Simonet y Su Trabuco perform a danceable instrumental mambo version, and Havana vocalist Glenda Lopez envelopes the song in a charanga rhythm. The mood travels to Mozambique where it undertakes an African/Portuguese transformation with singer Yolanda Chicane joining the group Wazimbo, and Brazilian hip-hop artist GOG gives it a tropical street groove with a rap twist. The American group Matuto present a swaying samba infused rendition, while the Polish superstar Kayah, singing in her native tongue, delivers with an avant-garde dance edge to her Eastern approach. Chango Spasiuk hails from Argentina, and saturates the theme in an acoustical tango infusion, for a deepening forlorn interpretation. Continuing with the South American vibe, the folkloric Colombian band Bambarabanda adds dramatic poetic flairs to the vocalization. Kálmán Balogh and Miklós Lukács are two virtuosos of the cimbalom (Hungarian dulcimer) who formed Cimbalomduo, to honor this traditional and respected instrument. They offer a heart wrenching elucidation, with dark passages depicting authentic sadness and despair.
The definitive Billie Holiday version is featured next to last, and the final track is the Hungarian recording by Pál Kalmár, the first vocal rendition. Both of these singers took this song to widespread audiences, though in different times and languages, back when radio was the established norm of music appreciation. Phonograph records would of course make the song available for the masses, and with the records came the connection to tragedy, as people tended to replay and repeat the song, wrapping the lyrics around their melancholia. There have been many covers of "Gloomy Sunday" in the modern era, though none of them can rival Holiday's for effect and influence. Hungarian Noir is a heroic attempt to shake the song from its depressive association and reveal it as a work of musical art worthy of celebratory recognition, proposing it as a song for the ages.
All About Jazz & Jazz Near You were built to promote jazz music: both recorded and live events. We rely primarily on venues, festivals and musicians to promote their events through our platform. With club closures, shelter in place and an uncertain future, we've pivoted our platform to collect, promote and broadcast livestream concerts to support our jazz musician friends. This is a significant but neccesary effort that will help musicians now, and in the future. You can help offset the cost of this essential undertaking by making a donation today. In return, we'll deliver an ad-free experience (which includes hiding the bottom right video ad). Thank you.
Get more of a good thing
Our weekly newsletter highlights our top stories and includes your local jazz events calendar.