Friday, September 12, 2003

Gig Diary: Sophisticated Gentleman

The Leaf & Bean Coffee Co., across town, has only been open for a few months but is already a Saturday-night music destination. The owner, Will, seems to have a real grasp on a coffeehouse's place in the community—it always ends up becoming a de facto community cultural center, whether the owner wills it or no—and he's running with that. Not ostentatiously so, though; he's letting the buzz build of its own accord, simply by providing an excellent atmosphere in which to hear and play music.

Leaf & Bean has a more sophisticated aura than Jitters, so I'm leaning more towards the jazz/American songbook end of my repertoire. Here's the list...


You Couldn't Have Come At A Better Time (Luka Bloom)
These Days (Jackson Browne)
Living With The Law (Chris Whitley)
If I Only Had A Brain medley(Harold Arlen/Yip Harburg)
My Favorite Things (Rodgers & Hammerstein)
Night And Day (Cole Porter)
I Wish I Were In Love Again (Rodgers & Hart)
The Masochism Tango (Tom Lehrer)
Autumn Leaves (Johnny Mercer)
Veronica (Elvis Costello)
When The Spell Is Broken (Richard Thompson)
Lullaby Of London (The Pogues)
Ring Of Fire (Johnny Cash)
Sweet Thing (Van Morrison)
There She Goes (The La's)
Lovers In A Dangerous Time (Bruce Cockburn)
Purple Jesus
Cinnamon Girl
(Neil Young)
Earn Enough For Us (XTC)
Johnny Strikes Up The Band (Warren Zevon)
Tangled Up In Blue (Bob Dylan)
Werewolves Of London (Warren Zevon)
Maybe Monday (Aimee Mann / 'til tuesday)
(What's So Funny About) Peace, Love, and Understanding (Nick Lowe)
See The Lights (Simple Minds)
Walking The Long Miles Home (Richard Thompson)
I've been giving myself a crash course in the standards, or pre-rock pop music, trying to stretch myself—making a study of it, as I once studied folk and folk-derived musics; making a list of sixty or so songs, representative moments in the canon, and gathering around me recordings and sheet music.

It's a similar approach, actually, and yielding similar results. When I listen to, say, Tony Bennett singing "The Very Thought Of You," rather than be overawed because it's Tony Frickin' Bennett, I'm trying to listen dispassionately—listen to the song, not the singer—as if this were a sort of field recording, and ol' Tony was one of the folks keeping this oral tradition of music alive, out in the hinterlands.

To maintain this state of mind, I'm finding it helpful to listen to radically different versions of the same song back-to-back: Edith Piaf's "La Vie En Rose" followed by Jacky Terrasson's cubist-samba take on same, f'rinstance, or Chet Baker's "September Song" into Willie Nelson's into Lou Reed's—reinforcing the idea that this is a common cultural/musical heritage, and that no one (not even Sinatra!) "owns" any of these songs. From there, I'm defining and refining my arrangements—literally making my own versions—of these tunes, just as Fairport Convention or Steeleye Span used the Anglo-Scottish folk tradition as raw material for rock songs that fit their own sensibilities and aesthetic.

That's what I'm doing here, I think, as I did also with the sacred music I played for so many years: finding new colors to paint with, finding more stuff that I can work through my sensibilities and approach, more songs that I can turn into Jack Fear Music™.

Or maybe I'm just trying, like so many others, to extend my shelf-life by reinventing myself from aging rock'n'roll animal to cabaret crooner. After all, I may be an old man next to the teen-poppers ruling the charts, but I'm hell of a lot younger than Tony Bennett...

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