My Spanish Repertoire

Víctor Meléndez, Poster design for National     Hispanic Heritage Month, 2019

I recently performed with my Latin jazz band, Frances Livings’ Ipanema Lounge at the West Covina library in California in honour of National Hispanic Heritage month, which is celebrated each year, from September 15 to October 15. For me it was a welcome occasion to dig a little deeper into my Spanish repertoire. In this blog post I would like to share my love of some of these often highly romantic and rhythmically enticing songs and some of their backgrounds.

During National Hispanic Heritage month the focus is on the histories, cultures and contributions of American citizens whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America. Especially significant is hereby, the 15th of September because it is the anniversary of independence for Latin American countries Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. In addition, Mexico and Chile celebrate their independence days on September 16 and September 18, respectively. Also, Columbus Day or Día de la Raza, which is October 12, falls within this 30-day period.

I always love the process of searching for new songs to explore and interpret. So I spent a fair amount of time searching for new material and came across some beautiful songs to add to my Spanish repertoire ­– some written by contemporary songwriters, others deemed meanwhile almost classic. Since the venue I performed at was a library, a place of knowledge with most likely, information hungry patrons, I thought it would be nice to also provide some background information to some of the songs and music styles – which would ultimately, also honour the specialness of these Latin compositions for the occasion.

La Puerta by Luis Demetrio

Long before I even imagined that one day, I would develop such a passion for singing jazz songs in foreign languages, I fell in love with “La Puerta”. It is a slow, heart-felt ballad that was written by the Mexican singer and songwriter Luis Demetrio (1931-2007). I haven’t been able to find out when it was exactly written or recorded for the very first time but in 1957 “La Puerta” was placed among the great favorites of the Spanish-speaking public, interpreted by the famous Chilean singer Lucho Gatica. It has since then been made popular by contemporary singers like Luis Miguel and Laura Fygi. For a very long time it was the only Spanish song I had in my repertoire – but that was before I moved to Los Angeles…

I later discovered that Demetrio co-wrote another favourite song of mine, “¿Quién será?”, a bolero-mambo better known to the English speaking world as “Sway”. Like often falsely assumed however, Demetrio didn’t co-write the song with his fellow songwriter Pablo Beltrán Ruiz (1915 – 2008) but sold the rights to him. Beltrán recorded the song for the first time with his orchestra in 1953 as an instrumental cha-cha-chá. Dean Martin’s 1954 tongue-in-cheek recording with the Dick Stabile orchestra in English was then the first version to achieve considerable success in the United States. Norman Gimbel (1927 – 2018) who in the 1960’s became famous through his lyrics for “The Girl From Ipanema”, which is probably the most famous Antônio Carlos Jobim song, wrote the English lyrics for “Sway”. I recorded both “La Puerta” and “Sway” on my 2016 album, inspired by Dean Martin and the Mexican pop-singer Kalimba, I recorded it half in English, switching to the Spanish lyrics in the first chorus.

Hoy by Gian Marco

Another song really wanted to introduce at the library performance – and that I simply love singing live (ideally, with a minimal instrumentation of guitar, bass and percussion) –, is “Hoy” (which means in Spanish “today”). This contemporary ballad, written by the Peruvian singer-songwriter Gian Marco Zignago, known as “Gian Marco”, became popular after Gloria Estefan recorded the song on her Spanish album, “Amor y Suerte”. Estefan is the original Latin crossover international star. First as lead singer of Miami Sound Machine and then as a soloist, she has achieved success in both languages, English and Spanish.

Especially for the occasion of Hispanic Heritage Month I thought it would be interesting and relevant to introduce “Hoy” because it addresses the topic of being an immigrant, of your heart belonging somewhere else. Gian Marco wrote the song, after immigrating to the United States. Its lyrics, carried along by a beautifully crafted flowing melody, sounds like a love letter to a person with many beautiful metaphors, but is ultimately a love letter to his home country Peru that he left when he moved to Florida to pursue his music career. “Un camino empinado” (a steep path) for instance, is a reference to the Andes that are the longest continental mountain range in the world, and extend from north to south through seven South American countries: Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile and Argentina. The line “tengo el mar del otro lado” means as much as, I have the sea on the other side, which refers to when he lived in Miami, saying in an interview that his ocean is “the Pacific, not the Atlantic”.

In his official video for the song he even integrated some of Peru’s traditional instruments: towards the middle, you can listen to and watch traditional Peruvian music and dancers. His musicians are playing a small guitar called the “Charango”, which is a native Peruvian instrument. A charango is a relatively small string instrument, around 65 cm long, similar to the size of a ukulele. It typically has ten strings in five courses of two strings each, but many other variations exist. Traditionally, they were made of armadillo shell, today superseded by wooden parts. Some designs however, still imitate the patterns of armadillos on the rounded back. Interestingly, and somewhat serendipitous (why it caught my attention maybe), is that as a spiritual animal totem, the armadillo symbolizes that it is time to define your own boundaries and space. It also symbolizes trust, peace, pacifism, balance, complexity, and compassion.

 

Did you enjoy this post? If so, why not…

 

Frances Livings O Barquinho My-Little-Boat Brazilian jazz Bossa Nova

O Barquinho ~ My Little Boat

 

Frances Livings O Barquinho My-Little-Boat Brazilian jazz Bossa Nova

Finding new songs for my foreign-language repertoire always involves a lot of musical archaeology. It is definitely a most enjoyable process. It’s like stepping into a dark, mysterious castle with only a spotlight at hand, never knowing what you’ll find. That was how I came across O Barquinho (Little Boat) from 1961, a very playful and cute Bossa nova song about a boat sailing along on a calm summer day as the evening falls.

I had only recently discovered the American vocalist Karrin Allyson through a search for interpretations of the French chanson Sous le Ciel de Paris, which I was adding to my French repertoire. Her version of this 1951 classic from the French film with the same title, is from one of her early albums, From Rio to Paris. I very much took to her grounded voice and her elegant intonation – despite finding her interpretation a little humourless. She frequently spikes her songs with very delightful and short, not endless, self-indulged scatting sequences.

So, while enjoying a cooking session in my kitchen, I flipped through the other songs in French and Portuguese. I immediately took to her very cute and enticing version of O Barquinho, sung in both beautifully phrased Portuguese and English. Later, I understood why The New York Times, had called her a “no-frills singer with a feline touch and impeccable intonation, […] is an interpreter who cuts to the chase, but with minimal psychodrama.”

 

Brazilian Jazz Rhythms ~ The Bossa Nova

I have now been performing O Barquinho after learning the Portuguese lyrics for a couple of weeks now. In its lightheartedness and cheerfulness, it very much reminds me of tunes like Summer Samba (also known as So Nice and in Portuguese Samba de Verão). So Nice is a song I also enjoy singing because of its cheerful bounciness. It was written in 1964 by the Brazilian composer Marcos Valle, with English lyrics by the American lyricist Norman Gimbel and original Portuguese lyrics by the composer’s brother, Paulo Sérgio Valle.

O Barquinho was written three years earlier and also has very buoyant lyrics. Its rhythmical temperament makes it a very typical bossa nova song.[2] When playing these kinds of songs live, it is crucial for the right tempo to be counted off. If it’s too slow it will lose it’s lightheartedness and cheeriness. When only a bit too fast, it’s like singing the title melody to a breath taking car-chase. Another element of course, is the groove itself. While So Nice is a Samba and O Barquinho is a Bossa nova, Brazilian jazz tunes like these have in general their very own rhythmic feeling – like the Bossa nova composer Carlos Lyra, described  in reference to one of his own songs, Influência do Jazz. He said that overall, the rhythm has a “swaying” feel rather than the “swinging” feel of jazz. The samba rhythm moves “side to side” while jazz moves “front to back”.[3] 

 

O Barquinho (The Little Boat) 1961 ~ The Topic of the Sea

This swaying notion lends itself of course perfectly to the topic of the sea. Indeed, Roberto Menescal used references to the sea in many of his songs – like in O BarquinhoRoberto Menescal was born on October 25, 1937 and is a Brazilian composer, producer, guitarist/vocalist and important to the founding of bossa nova.
The idea for the song came when Menescal, Ronaldo Bôscoli (another composer), and some other friends were in a boat just off the coast of Cabo Frio, a city near Rio de Janeiro, when suddenly the boat had problems and the motor broke down. To pass the time, Menescal started playing the guitar and making up a tune. By the time another boat came and rescued them, he had created the main parts of the song. He and Ronaldo Bôscoli completed it the next day. The English version, My Little Boat was written by the songwriter, musician and producer Buddy Kaye in May 1967.

The topic for the song was obviously already present but the Portuguese children’s song, that carries the same title, O Barquinho may have also influenced him. You can read the Portuguese lyrics and an English translation here.

 

O Barquinho was first recorded in 1961 by the guitarist João Gilberto. A year later, in 1962, it was recorded by the American guitarist Charlie Bryd – and many times since then. That year, the American entertainment magazine Billboard (also known for its music charts, including the Billboard Hot 100 and Billboard 200), listed Charlie Byrd’s recording of O Barquinho in the column of singles with “strong sales potential”. Indeed, it was to become one of Menescal’s most famous songs.

O Barquinho Brazilian Jazz 1961 Roberto Menescal
 

And here’s João Gilberto’s version from 1961:

Further Info & Reading on Brazilian Jazz:

~ For some more insight into this music genre check out the book Brazilian Jive: From Samba to Bossa and Rap” by David Treece, professor of Brazilian studies, author and founder of the Centre for the Study of Brazilian Culture and Society.

~ Watch the documentary filmCoisa Mais Linda: Histórias e Casos da Bossa Nova (This is Bossa Nova: The History and Stories) released in 2005: Menescal and fellow trailblazing composer Carlos Lyra tell the stories of the people, places and performances that put Brazilian music on the international music scene in the early 1960s, culminating in a 1962 performance at Carnegie Hall in New York.

~ See also this playfully illustrated and informative website called Mama Lisa’s World that collects international children’s songs from around the world.

 

Brazilian Jive (Reverb Reaktion Books by Treece, David

Here’s one of my Brazilian tracks, Aganjú, from my album Ipanema Lounge. It was written by Antônio Carlos Santos de Freitas (Carlinhos Brown) [EMI Blackwood Music Inc.]. My recording features a dear friend and fellow musician,  Robert Kyle on alto flute, tenor & soprano saxophone, who is also responsible for the arrangement at the beginning of the track:

lonesome figure horizon sun set blue landscape solitude tree

Livings In Los Angeles – Ma Solitude

lonesome figure horizon sun set blue landscape solitude tree
Alphonse Osbert, Solitude du Christ, 1897

Los Angeles, December 24, 2017

Dear Visitor, dear Readers and Listeners,

I am writing this blog post shortly after the release of my new single, the French chanson Ma Solitude. I have known and loved this song since I was in junior art college, where I also studied French (read more about those influences in my post French Chansons). Ma Solitude was written in the 1960’s by the singer-songwriter Georges Moustaki (1934-2013), who became famed in France for his repertoire of simple romantic ballads, one of them being Édith Piaf’s hit song “Milord”.

Although it’s been in my repertoire for quite a while now, I only recently decided to make a recording. My motivation was on the one hand, that my connection with this beautiful tune had deepened naturally after having performed it so many times. On the other hand, it was almost as if I had to learn what the song really meant before recording it. Ma Solitude came to mark the end of a very painful journey both emotionally and geographically. It stands for a time during which I felt utterly alone but somehow transitioned into a state of solitude, which in contrast to loneliness, offers a special value to those who learn to cherish their own inner worlds. This is after all, exactly what the songs describes. It has therefore been emotionally very cathartic to sing.

Ma Solitude is such a beautifully crafted melancholic song but it is not sad. While you listen to my new recording you can read the French lyrics and an English translation by clicking here.

Available for streaming and downloading:

 

2016 – A Year of Many Losses

The years 2016/17 were for me personally completely traumatic. After months of stressful arguments, debates, break-ups and reconciliations, my husband moved out in May. It was so hard to adjust to being on my own again and the challenge of trying to be survive as an artist in one of the world’s most expensive cities seemed almost impossible. I somehow managed. But then, in the autumn, I was given notice on the house we had been living in for over eight years – a house that had been our home and that, in midst of all of the change, at least was a familiar staple. Unsettling for me, as was for many, was then the shocking outcome of the US election in November. It became apparent that more people in America – more than most had ever imagined –, had voted for a misogynistic, narcissistic, reality-TV creator, simply an autocrat: for Donald Trump.

It verified for me a complete decline of society, which ironically felt like an epitome of my life.

I was “hanging in” as they say, until completely out of the blue, on December 16, my beloved dog Ginji died. I surrendered to a paralyzed state of utter grief and shock. Ginji was a beautiful, mischievous Whippet-Basenji mix who I had named after one of my favourite jazz tunes Dindi. I have since then been unable to sing that song live. My other dog, a small rescue called Leonora, was similarly shocked and visibly grief stricken. For weeks she would run out of the door into the garden and then stop, look behind her and – wait, wait for Ginji to join her.

Meanwhile, I still had to face the task of packing up a decade’s worth of married life, of hopes and dreams – many, that never came to be. I had no clue where I would move to or what I would do. My small family had diminished within a few months from four to three, and then suddenly to two members. And although “It Never Rains in Southern California”, those were the months with the most rainfall in years. So last year I spent Christmas in utter loneliness, grieving. It was the first year of not creating a warm and festive family Christmas – for us, his sons, their partners, and random orphan friends.

 

Months of Restless and Relentless Moving…

I was so distraught by January from all of the losses, that I felt more than paralyzed by all of the decisions I had to make. Would I even stay in Los Angeles? Would it be better to move back to Europe? Maybe I needed to get away from the political climate, away from all the heartbreak? Do a “geographical” as they say. I felt too heartbroken to think clearly. In addition, the housing market in Los Angeles was, and still is, in a total crisis. So to find an affordable, clean and dog-friendly apartment anywhere, was more than daunting.

The packing of endless boxes, the wrapping of furniture in old blankets and discarded sheets felt sheer overwhelming. What would I keep, what would I even need in the future? Where and what was my future? I managed to cram everything into a mobile storage container that was picked up by a huge truck and hauled off to Compton. What followed was quite an odyssey. I spent five fairly unhappy and cold but also eye-opening weeks in Berlin but then returned to L.A. in April. I was determined to find an apartment and refocus on my music and writing. While apartment hunting however, I had to couch-surf here and there, constantly looking for new places to stay for as little money as possible. It was distressing for both my little dog and I.

But a few weeks later, in May, I finally  found a new home! So I thought. My luck didn’t last. After two days I started to get throbbing headaches and flu-like symptoms. But I had no fever. It dawned on me that I was having a severe allergic reaction. That something was wrong with the apartment. It had smelled musty when I moved in but I thought it was just lack of being aired out properly. After talking to the neighbours and doing some research it became apparent that it was toxic! There had been water damage, which had never been properly tended to and behind the walls the building was full of hidden mold!

 

Not Being Able To Function on Many Levels

Feeling absolutely awful, desperate, heartbroken and sick, I knew that if I didn’t move out again, I would never be able to function again, let alone sing. So in June, I was forced to pack everything up again and put it into storage. After that second move I basically collapsed and fell incredibly ill for six weeks. I had such a painful and hacking cough, that I had to use an asthma inhaler. An ex-ray of my lungs showed that at least it wasn’t anything like the valley fever, a fungal pneumonia that can lead to hospitalizations. But I was unable to earn much money, so yet again, I bunked with friends. Some of these “friends” I had never met before. I learned very quickly who stepped up and who couldn’t be bothered. On August 6, still searching and in full-on crisis mode, I was taking a break, sitting on a park bench, poking around in some greasy, store-bought salad in a plastic container, and wrote in my journal,

“I watch the homeless thinking, I feel you – I’m one favour away…”

During that time I definitely gained empathy for people whose lives, sometimes through a simple turn of fate, unravel. The sight of hundreds of homeless encampments thereafter, has become more and more unbearable.

 

One Year Later – Full Circle

Then finally, in September, I was able to move into a proper home in L.A. again. It felt as if years had gone by – around the world in 90 days – and emotionally they had. Despite still feeling all of the losses in my bones, this Christmas, I am spending my alone time reflecting in solitude but not in loneliness. And this is exactly what the lyrics of Ma Solitude illustrate so perfectly and why I wanted to record the song before the year was over, so to also mark a full circle. The chorus alone is a beautiful and clever oxymoron:

“Non, je ne suis jamais seule / avec ma solitude”

which means, in a very existentialistic way, “No, I am never alone / with my solitude”.

Being in solitude implies being on your own but Moustaki cleverly personifies this “quality time” in one of the verses as if it were time spent with a lover. And the third verse always brings a smile to my face:

“Quand elle est au creux de mon lit
Elle prend toute la place
Et nous passons de longues nuits
Tous les deux face à face”

The intimate scene of two people sleeping in a bed together makes me think of my little rescue dog Leonora. She felt the loss of Ginji, who was like a mother to her, as much as I did. Leonora now seeks solace by hopping onto my bed at night and curling up into a little fur ball – in that dip in the middle of bed, that “creux de mon lit” and indeed, “elle prend toute la place”!

To reflect this kind of intimacy of the song is why I ultimately decided to record the song with a very intimate ensemble, consisting of voice, guitar and double bass. Another meaningful factor was the release date I chose, the 16th of December, marking the anniversary of Ginji’s sudden death.

 

Solitude versus Loneliness

After sharing these very personal experiences and my motivation to record Ma Solitude I would like to bring the following to anyone reading this:

Obviously, solitude can only be productive if we don’t feel excluded, hurt or punished.[1] But in tranquil times it offers an intimate connection, a realm of solace, like with a lover. The philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche declared on a similar note: “My solitude doesn’t depend on the presence or absence of people; on the contrary, I hate he who steals my solitude without, in exchange, offering me true company.” The French philosopher and novelist Jean-Paul Sartre even wrote, “If you’re lonely when you’re alone, you’re in bad company.”

Ma Solitude has always so poignantly illustrated the beauty one can find in alone time. It’s a deep connection with oneself. But this connection can obviously also get severed in times of deep grief and trauma when our brains are stuck in a state of terror and operate in pure survival mode. Sadly, not everyone is capable of this inner connection or willing to let go to this sometimes almost meditative state. I was quite shocked to recently read about a study at the University of Virginia in which several participants – a quarter of the women and two-thirds of the men – chose to subject themselves to electric shock rather than be alone with their thoughts.[2]

On the other hand, it seems as if in our hyper-connected, social-media driven and extremely competitive society, alone time or solitude is more devalued than it has been in a long time. The author Ray Williams writes in an essay published in Psychology Now, “all current meanings of ‘alone’ imply a lack of something. Invariably, a desire for solitude is viewed by others as a sign there is something wrong. Even worse, people associate going it alone with antisocial pursuits and unnecessary risk taking, like jumping off cliffs. And when we see photos of people sitting alone by a lake on a mountain top, many of us might wonder if that person is lonely or even depressed.”[3]

For me solitude is about consciousness. It’s about asking the – sometimes uncomfortable – questions, how deeply am I feeling myself when I’m feeling lonely? Am I feeling disconnected and if so, where is it stemming from? Are we comparing other people’s outsides with our complicated insides? Especially social media can have that effect. On Facebook we only see glossy versions of our “friends’”. We see their feats but seldom their failures illustrated by carefully curated glamour-selfies. During this outer and inner journey I was forced to embark upon, my inner world has shifted from grief and loneliness to solitude. In the process I discovered who my real friends were – one of them being myself.

Button image to buy the single Ma Solitude by Frances Livings on Bandcamp

Click on the picture to stream the song on Spotify or download the recording from Bandcamp or from iTunes.

Click here to read the French lyrics and an English translation.

Did you like this post? If so, why not…

Also, keep an eye out for my next blog post on inspiring art depicting the topics loneliness and/or solitude.

May you also find some inspiration in the following books:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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[1] Brent Crane, “The Virtues of Isolation”, in The Atlantic, posted March 30, 2017. https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2017/03/the-virtues-of-isolation/521100/

[2] ibid.  [see also Matthew Hutson, „People Prefer Electric Shocks to Being Alone With Their Thoughts”, in The Atlantic, posted July 3, 2014 https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/07/people-prefer-electric-shocks-to-being-alone-with-their-thoughts/373936/.

[3] Ray Williams, “Why Solitude Is Good and Loneliness Is Bad. Loneliness is becoming an epidemic but the value of solitude is unappreciated”, in: Psychology Today, posted Oct 31, 2017, https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/wired-success/201710/why-solitude-is-good-and-loneliness-is-bad.

Elliot-Erwill-Paris-Rain-French-Chansons

Frances Livings’ Ipanema Lounge Repertoire. French Chansons

Elliot-Erwill-Paris-Rain-French-Chansons man leaping couple hugging umbrellas eifel tower tour eifel
© Elliot Erwill, Paris 1989 (100-year jubilee of the Eiffel Tower)

 

I have always loved French chansons which definitely derives from my strong affinity with the French culture – and I am not only referring to the delicious food. I was thrilled to start learning French at middle school and very excited about being able to count to ten, say bonjour, merci, oui and non after a couple of lessons. My emotional bond with French music however, developed later in junior art college, where I had a very Francophile teacher. He spent (probably) all of his holidays in France and often came to class wearing the typical black beret. So often, instead of bending our heads over books, like the children’s (and adult’s) classic Le Petit Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry we were supposed to be reading at the time, he would bring his acoustic guitar and we pour our hearts into singing French chansons.

Apart from loving to sing I always felt that these songs were very special, very pensive and always very poetic. One of my favourite lines was from the song Ma Solitude by Georges Moustaki. I thought it was just so beautifully melancholic and at the same time a clever play with words: “Non, je ne suis jamais seul / Avec ma solitude” (No, I am never alone / with my loneliness). I have, in the meantime recorded the song. You can read about my thoughts and inspiration here and listen to it embedded in a beautiful Spotify playlist while you read this blog post…

Years later, my mother’s second husband bought and renovated an old French farmhouse in Perigord, the southwest of France. I was very lucky to be able to spend so much time there before he sadly passed away unexpectedly. The property stood slightly elevated on a small mound and was surrounded by a beautiful soft and green, hilly landscape. It was a whitewashed house with a huge, heavy oak barn door and Bordeaux-red window shutters. A low, irregular, old mossy stone wall, next to which luscious bushes of red roses and lavender grew, semi-enclosed it. There was no telephone, internet or TV. It was perfect for either relaxing or being creative. I wrote and sang a lot and sometimes listened to the radio, which was always very inspiring because of the large amount of French songs they played.

While searching for material and writing my own songs to continuously expand my repertoire, these songs have always been in the back of my mind. It wasn’t until compiling the music for my multi-lingual Ipanema Lounge project, and playing some regular gigs at some of L.A.’s best French restaurants, The Little Door, and Le Petit Paris, that they resurfaced and I started learning some of them, gradually adding more and more. So after a friend of mine asked me for the lyrics of the ones I had been singing live, I thought I would just upload them here for anyone who is interested. I have uploaded the following medley and added our recording of the songs with some background information.

Jardin d’Hiver

Years ago, a friend of mine compiled these lovely mixed tapes for me. One of them included a very cute and amusing song Jardin d’Hiver, written by the French-Israeli songwriter Keren Ann. Later I learnt that the most well-known recording, the one I listened to over and over again from that tape, is by Henri Salvador. He was French but originally born in Guyana, and virtually an institution in France from the 1930s until his death in 2008. This song is from his 2000 comeback album, Chambre Avec Vue that he recorded at the ripe age of 83!

My recording of this song borrows from the Beguine and the Cha Cha Cha. The tempo is 126 bpm and the backing track consists of various percussion instruments (Sandro Feliciano), nylon guitar (Greg Porée), double bass, bandonéon, synthesizer string pads and piano.

Listen to and download the song here:

Jardin d’Hiver

Je voudrais du soleil vert
Des dentelles et des théières
Des photos de bord de mer
Dans mon jardin d’hiver

Je voudrais de la lumière
Comme en Nouvelle-Angleterre
Je veux changer d’atmosphère
Dans mon jardin d’hiver

Ma robe à fleurs sous la pluie de novembre
Tes mains qui courent, je n’en peux plus de t’attendre
Les années passent, qu’il est loin l’âge tendre
Nul ne peut nous entendre

Je voudrais du Fred Astaire
Revoir un Latécoère
Je voudrais toujours te plaire
Dans mon jardin d’hiver

Je veux déjeuner par terre
Comme au long des golfes clairs
T’embrasser les yeux ouverts
Dans mon jardin d’hiver

Ma robe à fleurs sous la pluie de novembre
Tes mains qui courent, je n’en peux plus de t’attendre
Les années passent, qu’il est loin l’âge tendre
Nul ne peut nous entendre

 

Pour te Plaire

The song Pour Te Plaire was written in French by Maxime Le Forestier and was first released by the chanson singer Julien Clerc in 2003. It was adapted from the famous American jazz standard That’s All (Bob Haymes, Alan Brandt) that was written in 1952 and made popular by Nat King Cole. To be completely honest, I like the lyrics better in French than in English. I absolutely adore the line, “Que toujours et plus encore” which means basically for longer than forever – isn’t that romantic?

My recording of the song features three of Los Angeles most wonderful studio musicians: Greg Porée on guitar, Trey Henry on upright bass and Jeff Colella on piano – just wait until you hear the short and sensitive, most romantic solo. Remember, this is a serious love song… Also, when we did the premix I wanted the song to have a special guitar sound. I was inspired by Jeff Buckley’s recording of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah and Paul Simon’s use of very atmospherical, spherical sounding electric guitars. The sound credit here goes out to Greg Porée and the sound engineer Nolan Shaheed.

Stream the song here:

Pour Te Plaire

Je te donne seulement l’amour pour la vie entière,
La promesse de me trouver à tes genoux,
Aussitôt que tu m’appelles,
Rester toujours fidèle,
C’est tout. C’est tout.

Je te donne tous mes printemps, mes étés de mer,
mes automnes quand les feuilles tombent partout.
Si ce n’est pas une bonne affaire,
Je te donne tous mes hivers,
C’est tout, C’est tout.

De ces choses qu’on t’a dites pour te plaire
Ces promesses avancent pour séduire
Il y en a-t-il de meilleur que l’on puisse faire,
un amour que rien ne peut détruire.

Si tu veux savoir quoi me donner pour ma peine
Rassures-toi je ne veux presque rien du tout
Que toujours et plus encore,
Je soit la seule que tu adores,
C’est tout, c’est tout.

De ces choses qu’on t’a dites pour te plaire,
ces promesses avancent pour séduire
il y en a-t-il de meilleur que l’on puisse faire
un amour que rien ne peut détruire

Si tu veux savoir quoi me donner pour ma peine,
Rassures-toi je ne veux presque rien du tout
Que toujours et plus encore,
Je sois la seule que tu adores,
C’est tout, c’est tout.

Que toujours et plus encore,
Je sois la seule que tu adores,
C’est tout, c’est tout.

 

Ne Me Quitte Pas

“Ne Me Quitte Pas” (English: “Don’t Leave Me”) is a song I frequently sing live, ideally with the full band but I haven’t recorded it yet. It was written and recorded in 1959 by the Belgian chansonnier Jacques Brel. Considered by some as Brel’s ultimate classic, it has since then been translated into over 20 different languages! Brel wrote the song after his mistress “Zizou” (Suzanne Gabriello) ended their affair. Zizou was pregnant with Brel’s child but Brel refused to acknowledge it as his own which resulted in her having an abortion.

The lyrics “Moi, je t’offrirai des perles de pluie venues de pays où il ne pleut pas” (“I’m offering you rain pearls from countries where it does not rain”) are sung to a theme that Brel borrowed from the second part, Lassan (Andante), of the Hungarian Rhapsody No. 6 by the composer Franz Liszt.

For me as a woman it has an overly dramatic component in which the man is persuasive and almost intrusive. Sting’s hit song Every Breath You Take speaks similarly of an obsession to the extent of stalking someone (“I’ll be watching you…”). Sting’s lyrics however, are void of any romantic or poetic, high-flying promises. Unlike Brel who makes offerings or maybe bribes like rain made of pearls or light and gold to cover her body; he will be king, she will be queen in a world ruled with love… The French film “Le Chambre Bleue” (2014) deals with the topic of love in a similar way. Its female protagonist reminded me very much of the obsessive character (Brel) of this song.

To lift the slightly triste and melodramatic atmosphere of the song, I like playing it live as a teasing Tango –

Ne Me Quitte Pas

Ne me quitte pas
Il faut oublier
Tout peut s’oublier
Qui s’enfuit déjà
Oublier le temps
Des malentendus –
et le temps perdu
A savoir comment
Oublier ces heures
Qui tuaient parfois
A coups de pourquoi
Le cœur du bonheur

Ne me quitte pas
Ne me quitte pas
Ne me quitte pas

Moi je t’offrirai
Des perles de pluie
Venues de pays
Où – il ne pleut pas
Je creuserai la terre
Jusqu’après ma mort
Pour couvrir ton corps
D’or et de (la) lumière
Je ferai un domaine
Où l’amour sera roi
Où l’amour sera loi
Où tu seras reine

Ne me quitte pas
Ne me quitte pas
Ne me quitte pas
Ne me quitte pas !

Ne me quitte pas
Je t’inventerai
Des mots insensés
Que tu comprendras
Je te parlerai
De ces amants là
Qui ont vu deux fois
Leurs coeurs s’embraser
Je te racont’rai
L’histoire de ce roi
Mort de n’avoir pas
Pu te rencontrer

Ne me quitte pas
Ne me quitte pas
Ne me quitte pas
Ne me quitte pas

On a vu souvent
Rejaillir le feu
De l’ancien volcan
Qu’on croyait trop vieux
Il est paraît-il
Des terres brûlées
Donnant plus de blé
Qu’un meilleur Avril
Et quand vient le soir
Pour qu’un ciel flamboie
Le rouge et le noir
Ne s’épousent-ils pas?

Ne me quitte pas
Ne me quitte pas
Ne me quitte pas
Ne me quitte pas

Ne me quitte pas
Je ne vais plus pleurer
Je ne vais plus parler
Je me cacherai là
A te regarder
Danser, danser!
Et à t’écouter
Chanter et puis rire
Laisse-moi devenir
L’ombre de ton ombre
L’ombre de ta main
L’ombre de ton chien

Ne me quitte pas
Ne me quitte pas
Ne me quitte pas

Ne me quitte pas !

 

Dansez Maintenant

This song was originally composed by Glen Miller as the theme for his orchestra and is usually known with English lyrics as Moonlight Serenade. I recorded it as a swung-ballad with French lyrics. The track is very true to how it would have been performed in the 1940’s. It’s such a cheerful tune about the summer holidays. The tempo is 90 BPM and is backed by electric piano, double bass, electric guitar and a brush snare. It is frequently one of my most popular tunes on Spotify.

Listen to and download the song here:

Dansez Maintenant

Dansez maintenant,
tout l’été les pieds nus dans le sable
Dansez maintenant
Et jetez vos ennuis dans les vagues
Qui dansent, balancent, au gré du vent sale

Dansez maintenant
Tout l’été aimez-vous sur le sable
Dansez maintenant
Tout l’été vous serez des cigales
Qui dansent, balancent, au gré du vent léger

Quand l’hiver sera venu vous
prendre au dépourvu
Vous danserez main dans la main
En attendant l’été prochain

Dansez maintenant
Tout l’été aimez-vous sur le sable
Dansez maintenant
Tout l’été vous serez des cigales
Qui dansent, balancent, au gré du vent léger

Quand l’hiver sera venu vous
prendre au dépourvu
Vous danserez main dans la main
En attendant l’été prochain

Dansez maintenant
Tout l’été les pieds nus dans le sable
Dansez maintenant
Et jetez vos ennuis dans les vagues
Qui dansent, balancent, au gré du vent salé

 

Caravane

Caravan (Caravane) is a jazz standard composed by Juan Tizol and Duke Ellington, and was first performed by Ellington in 1936. Irving Mills wrote lyrics that were however, seldomly performed. It is more known as an instrumental. Its exotic sound interested musicians; Martin Denny, Arthur Lyman, and Gordon Jenkins all covered it.

The French lyrics were written by the chansonier Philippe Elan and first recorded in 2007 by the Dutch jazz artist Laura Fygi. I haven’t made a recording yet but am burning to…! It’s a great song to play even in a trio.

Woody Allen used the song in two of his films, Alice and Sweet and Lowdown. The song is also heavily featured in the 2014 film Whiplash as an important plot element. The Mills Brothers recorded an a cappella version, making the instruments’ sounds with their voices, and Johnny Mathis recorded the song in 1956. There are more than 350 recordings of this song by Duke Ellington’s orchestra, the great majority of them now in the public domain.

Caravane

Nuit – s’aimer d’étoiles
Qui pris si fort
Le mystère de reflet d’or
Aimer de notre caravane

D’or – sur mon épaule
Tout en rampon
Dans le vent le sable mouvant
Souvenir de notre caravane

Tout semble possible
Tu es irrésistible
Blotti dans mes bras
Je subi
Ton mystérieux charme

Oh, toi,
Si près de moi,
Sous le ciel roi
Mon rêve se réalisera
Au cœur de notre caravane

 

The Ultimate French Chanson: Ma Solitude

The writer of this poetic piece is Georges Moustaki, an Egyptian-born French singer-songwriter who became famed for his repertoire of simple romantic ballads. In his obituary in 2013, The Irish Times called him a “troubadour of love, tenderness and anti-racism [who] gave France some of its best-loved music.” Ma Solitude was first recorded in 1967 by the Italian-born French singer and actor Serge Reggiani. Two years later, in 1969, Moustaki released it himself. His version has been so far the most popular one. Read about what inspired me to record this beautiful ballad here.

Listen to and download the song here:


Ma solitude

Pour avoir si souvent dormi
Avec ma solitude
Je m’en suis faite presque une amie
Une douce habitude

Elle ne me quitte pas d’un pas
Fidèle comme une ombre
Elle m’a suivi çà et là
Aux quatre coins du monde

Non, je ne suis jamais seul
Avec ma solitude

Quand elle est au creux de mon lit
Elle prend toute la place
Et nous passons de longues nuits
Tous les deux face à face

Je ne sais vraiment pas jusqu’où
Ira cette complice
Faudra-t-il que j’y prenne goût
Ou, que je réagisse ?

Non, je ne suis jamais seul
Avec ma solitude

Par elle, j’ai autant appris
Que j’ai versé de larmes
Si parfois je la répudie
Jamais elle ne désarme

Et, si je préférais l’amour
D’une autre courtisane
Elle sera à mon dernier jour
Ma dernière compagne

Non, je ne suis jamais seul
Avec ma solitude
Non, je ne suis jamais seul
Avec ma solitude

English translation:

My Solitude

After having slept so often
with my loneliness
I have almost made it to my friend
like a sweet habit

She doesn’t leave my side
Faithful like a shadow
She has followed me here and there
to all four corners of the world

No I’m never alone
With my loneliness

When she’s in the crater of my bed
She takes up all the space
And we spend long nights together
Both of us, face to face

I really don’t know how far it will go
with this accomplice
Will I have to take a fancy
Or will I react?

No I’m never alone
With my loneliness

Through her, I have learned so much
that I have cried tears
If sometimes I reject that
She never disarms me

And If I preferred the love
of another courtesan
She will be on my last day,
My last companion

No I’m never alone
With my loneliness
No I’m never alone
With my loneliness

Did you enjoy this post? If so, why not…

 

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…merci et à bientôt!kiss_small