“Night and Day” isn’t number one on my list because it’s Cole Porter’s best work (though make no mistake: its Porter’s best work by far.
Nor is it number one because of a long history with the song (I first heard this song in 2002, well after first hearing most of the other songs on my countdown).
Quite simply, “Night and Day” is my number one song from the Great American Songbook because it’s the song my wife and I danced to at our wedding. It’s a beautiful song and for the rest of my life I will always think of her when I hear it. I chose the song for the wedding because I thought it perfectly summed up my affection for my wife. Check out these lyrics:
Night and day, you are the one
Only you ‘neath the moon or under the sun
Whether near to me, or far
No matter darling where you are
I think of you, night and day
Day and night, why is it so
That this longing for you follows wherever I go
In the roaring traffic’s boom
In the silence of my lonely room
I think of you, night and day
Of it’s many recordings, I believe Frank Sinatra’s version from Sinatra and Strings (arranged by Don Costa) is the most elegant (as it is a ballad instead of the upbeat version usually heard).
I’ve blogged about my love of Porgy and Bess before, so it should come as no surprise that one of George and Ira Gershwin’s tunes from the opera would make the countdown. I read somewhere that “Summertime” is the most covered song ever; artists from Janis Joplin to John Coltrane to Al Green to Ella Fitzgerald to The Roots have recorded this aria. The appeal of the song is evident on it’s first listen – it’s just a great song to sing and play.
Of the many versions in my collection, Miles Davis’ recording will always stand as my favorite. This version, arranged by Gil Evans, has become the de facto standard. (Note: Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong also have a nice recording, but this is one time where I think the classy Fitzgerald sounds out of place -though Satchmo fits right it).
I first heard Rogers & Hart’s “My Funny Valentine” on Rachelle Ferrell’s First Instrument. Right away, I fell in love with song. The words are so elegant: My funny valentine, Sweet comic valentine, You make me smile with my heart.
There are hundreds of versions of this song; notable covers include Chaka Khan’s take (her smoky voice really works), Melinda Doolittle’s American Idol performance, and Cyrus Chestnut’s version (with Anita Baker on vocals). Still, I don’t think anyone sings this as well as Ella Fitzgerald; the lyrics sound so regal coming from her. I guess there’s a reason she’s called the First Lady of Song.
Rodgers & Hammerstein wrote “My Favorite Things” for the Sound of Music. While Julie Andrews’ version is well known, I would argue that Coltrane’s 1961 cut is just as, if not more, well-known and significant. Released on Coltrane’s same-named album, “My Favorite Things” continues the modal exploration from Coltrane’s work on Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue. In addition to the modal rendition, “My Favorite Things” is also notable for introducing us to Coltrane’s work on the soprano saxophone. His solo, along with McCoy Tyner’s piano work, is a work of art.
I was browsing Barnes and Nobles sometime during the summer of 1997 when I came across the simply-titled John Coltrane & Johnny Hartman album. I knew this was an LP that I had to own after hearing the duo cover Bill Strayhorn’s “Lush Life”. I still get goosebumps listening to it. No other version (not even Trane’s solo take) can compare to this recording. Their take is, simply put, the definitive recording of this classic.