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On The Sunny Side Of Jazz

On The Sunny Side Of Jazz
Dan Bilawsky By

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Summer is a time of joy for many people. Children are treated to a well-deserved vacation, allowing them to recharge for the following school year, and barbecues are held in backyards, en masse, throughout every corner of America and beyond. Those fond of the surf and sand flock to the beach, and it's all-too-common to see people jogging, biking or just partaking in a simple stroll through a park. While summer brings all of these perks and many more, it also brings intense heat.

"Sunny" is a word that probably weighs heavily on people's minds during the summer season. Sitting here, writing this piece in early August and marveling at the fact that New York has seen almost thirty days of 90-plus degree weather this summer, I am naturally thinking about sunny times. The word, while most often used in weather-related discussions, goes well beyond this topic. Pleasant people are often said to have a "sunny disposition," and songwriters have used "sunny" as a way to express optimism or positive thinking when confronted with troubled times. When "sunny" is viewed from that particular angle, one song immediately comes to mind.

Audiences first had the experience of hearing "On The Sunny Side Of The Street" in February, 1930, when they went to soak in the sights and sounds of Lew Leslie's International Revue. Lyricist Dorothy Fields and composer Jimmy McHugh joined forces to make some magic and, though few people remember this short-lived production, this particular composition has become immortal. The lyrics, encouraging and spirit-boosting, were the perfect, uplifting distraction that depression-era listeners needed, and musicians including Ella Fitzgerald and Tommy Dorsey flocked to the song in the ensuing years. While eighty years have passed since this piece first found an audience, the United States finds itself in a gloomy financial state once again, making it the perfect time to sit back and "leave your troubles on the doorstep." This edition of Old, New, Borrowed and Blue will take a look at four drastically different takes of this classic, so sit back by the pool (or in the comfort of air conditioning) and enjoy your time "On The Sunny Side Of The Street."

Old

While plenty of vintage versions of this song—performed by a whole slew of jazz celebrities including Art Tatum, Frank Sinatra and Dizzy Gillespie—could have fit the bill here, I've always enjoyed hearing Louis Armstrong deliver this cheery message-of-a-song. Armstrong's real-life role as an ambassador of goodwill—travelling the world and bringing people together through the common language and love of music—seems to reflect the overall spirit of this piece, and he made it a part of his performances on many occasions.

One such performance of this song can be found on YouTube as Armstrong, flanked by the great Trummy Young, delivers good tidings before letting the trombonist go off on a terrific solo tangent. Armstrong takes control when Young is through, and brings his one-of-a-kind solo styling to the plate. Trombone and clarinet figures move beautifully around Armstrong during this woozy, relaxed performance and, while this is just one of many songs that Armstrong performed in his career, it really strikes a chord and reflects what the great Satchmo was all about.

New

Judging a book by its cover can be dangerous, and something that jazz writers probably succumb to more often than they'll admit. Encountering piles of recordings—arriving on a weekly or daily basis—makes it all-too-easy to take one look at an album and make a snap judgment about whether it might be review-worthy or not. Perhaps the writer is already familiar with the some of the musicians on the CD, or some of the material, and this might sway them in one direction or the other. Substandard packaging might make an album seem less desirable to crack open, and any number of other factors can influence the fate of a review.

When I cracked open my copy of Dana Lauren's It's You Or No One (Self Produced, 2010), I have to admit that I almost fell prey to the look-before-you-listen form of judgment. The cover photo and interior shot of Lauren, possessing an attractive and sensuous Idina Menzel-meets-Lea Michele-like appearance, made me wonder if this was just a case of somebody trying to cash in on looks while ignoring music quality. Fortunately, I went forward, learned my lesson, and was completely floored by Lauren's album. One listen made it easy to see why Arturo Sandoval generously heaped his praises upon Lauren, and felt compelled to work with her.

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