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.

 

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CD cover EP A Breath She Took

A Breath She Took ~ A new Jazzoetry Release

 

CD cover EP A Breath She Took

While sorting through material for my first full-length musical poetry, aka jazzoetry album, I came across three poems I had already recorded. Listening back to them with fresh ears, I suddenly realized that they were thematically too different from the other pieces I was writing. I thereupon decided to release these three pieces separately. These poems – now jazzoems – will be available in January 2019 as a three-track EP in all digital music stores titled A Breath She Tookwhich is also the name of the first jazzoetry piece.

All three are of autobiographical nature. This is exactly why these three pieces stood out from the other pieces, which are about other women. In these still unreleased poems I have been exploring an array of unusual, often imagined stories about women from diverse cultural and socio-economic backgrounds. I have focussed on their unique struggles – but not my own. Although, maybe I did in a metaphorical and symbolical way, now thinking of them.

Jazzoetry. The Principle

The principle that unites all of these poems musically is that they follow the same approach of poetry in combination with jazz improvisation [= jazzoetry]. I developed this concept in 2009 when I first released my piece Gold & Frankincense as a single. It was followed by the EP During the Hours, which includes my favourite piece, Songs of the Soul, initially inspired by the saxophonist Zane Musa. You can read about the development of this story here.

Once I have completed a poem, the recording process follows the same method for each one but is of course at the same time, very individual: According to the sentiment and temperament of the piece, I search for a jazz musician with great improvisational talent. Atmospherically, I want her or his instrument and playing to feel and sound most suitable in the interpretation and illustration and communication of that specific poem.

Jazzoetry. The Recording Process

My goal is always to capture complete performances. Unlike the usual studio procedure of assembling tracks, I don’t want any overdubbing or editing to take place. This would spoil the principle of a live improvisation and any spontaneity involved. That’s why I ask each musical soloist –who has never read the poems prior to their studio arrival– to respond to my reading as if they were at a live jazz gig, improvising on the spot.

Each piece is recorded live in two separate recording booths in dialogue: with my recital of the poem and the individual instrumentalist’s interpretation. For my reading and performance, the atmosphere of being in the moment, just like on stage is often just as inspiring and electric as it is for the musician. Invariably, my concept is usually achieved within two to three takes.

Jazzoetry Recording of A Breath She Took

For the poem A Breath She Took, which is track number one on the EP, I chose the cello for its warm and resonant sound and its associated features: the softly swung curvatures of a female body. Albeit loving the piano, I have a very close relationship with the cello. It was my first instrument as a child. I was extremely proud that our music teacher chose me to be trained for the school orchestra. When we moved to Germany, however, I was completely heartbroken: the cello was a school instrument and I consequently had to give it up.

Le Violon d'Ingres (Ingres's Violin) Artist/Maker: Man Ray (American, 1890 - 1976) Culture: American Place: Paris, France (Place Created) Date: 1924 Medium: Gelatin silver print Object Number: 86.XM.626.10 Dimensions: 29.6 × 22.7 cm (11 5/8 × 8 15/16 in.) Copyright:
Man Ray, Le Violon d’Ingres (Ingres’s Violin) Paris 1924 © Man Ray Trust ARS-ADAGP

Ironically, later, my mother bought herself one and started taking lessons, which obviously brought up a lot of feelings. The cello therefore mirrors perfectly not only my longing for that instrument and the close relationship I was developing with it, but my longing for an empathetic, nurturing and loving mother.

I asked the cellist Matthew Cooker to provide his improvisational talents. He is one of Los Angeles most prolific cellists and has played in many orchestras and for diverse live artists (like Barbra Streisand and Luis Miguel). I first met him on a studio session for a few tracks on my fist solo album The World I am Livings In, which consists of very sparsely instrumented songs, surrounding themes of loss. Matthew’s playing has, in equal parts, the right amount of tenderness, fierceness and edginess a cellist. He moreover, possesses a sheer endless inventory of resin, ego, musicality, creativity and elbow grease.

When we were recording A Breath She Took live in the studio, I felt that that he was translating the contents of that piece and complimenting my reading so fittingly that I spontaneously decided to ask him to also improvise over my reading of another piece: Goldfish Bowl. [Read the lyrics by clicking here]

 

Jazzoetry Recording of Goldfish Bowl

So once again we were recording live, in a dialogue between voice and instrument and Goldfish Bowl, became the second poem on the EP. This piece is about the taxing and highly confusing effects of being psychologically abused. It’s about feeling trapped – even if only in one’s own head. And how a state of feeling crazy, slowly takes hold, destroying self-confidence and self-trust. Goldfish Bowl is about utter helplessness dwindling into hopelessness being that the abuse is already taking a severe toll. [Read the lyrics by clicking here]

 

Jazzoetry Recording of Ink on Silk


The third and last piece on the EP, Ink on Silk is similar to Goldfish Bowl because it’s about feeling highly frustrated and crazy-made. In Goldfish Bowl there’s a permanent state of lingering, total confusion and powerlessness. Whereby in Ink on Silk it is about trying to solve things but not having any impact, thus getting more and more infuriated and frustrated. This is why a percussive instrument with clanging metal bars seemed so suitable.

I had heard the vibraphonist, Nick Mancini, a couple of times live and was always impressed by his eagerness and fearlessness to improvise both rhythmically and melodically on his instrument. Some soloists carefully plan their improvisations. But Nick lets his instrument lead him, moreover, seduce him into stepping out onto stormy expeditions. During the recording of Ink on Silk, he was also able to create some quite unusual sounds by almost bending the aluminium sound bars with his felt mallets and giving the piece its perfect colourings. [Read the lyrics by clicking here]

 

Future Jazzoetry Projects

My next jazzoetry project will be to complete writing, and then to record and produce a full-length Jazzoetry album. It will comprise around 15 poems featuring a similar number of outstanding jazz soloists. The poems I am writing for this album explore an array of typical female topics. They are based on women from very diverse socio-economic and cultural backgrounds.

Being a woman myself, I have always been interested in my own and equally intrigued by other women’s paths. Being that per society and biology, we still face completely different challenges than men. There are so many stories and dreams of other women that ultimately seem to interweave with one another’s. Many stem from the sad truth that culturally, socially and politically (thus, economically) we are still confined and suppressed by expectations.

 

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https://franceslivings.com/poetry/goldfish-bowl/herbert-list-goldfish-bowl-santorini-greece-1937-gelatin-silver-print
© Herbert List, Goldfish Bowl, Santorini Greece, 1937
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:

Frances Livings performing live with jazz band Ipanema Lounge at Genghis Cohen 2016-07-05

Genghis Cohen ~ L.A.’s Legendary Singer-Songwriter Venue

 

 

Genghis Cohen

I love playing concerts with the full band at one of my favourite music venues in Los Angeles – the famous singer-songwriter club Genghis Cohen. It is primarily a Chinese restaurant but it has a lovely, separate music room with a stage, lighting and a backline. I usually perform there every two months and often try out new songs, like in February, I presented my new single, Ma Solitude. Naturally, I always play songs from my latest album, Ipanema Lounge (2016) and a include a few from The World I Am Livings In (2013).

Genghis Cohen is a Hollywood staple and has now been around for 35 years. That’s a long time for the fast-moving and ever-evolving restaurant scene but also for a music club. I always look forward to being there. The atmosphere is very artist friendly and some of my favourite sound people work there. Over the years, I have played there with different musicians and in various constellations. And sometimes, mostly by chance, I have even met stars like Jackson Browne, Stevie Wonder and most recently Annie Lennox, who was there to see her daughter, Lola Lennox perform.

The “Original” Genghis Cohen

The original owner, Allan Rinde, opened Genghis Cohen in 1983. He was Jewish, hence the “Cohen”. He had been a staple in the music industry for decades. I luckily got to meet him on many an occasion, occasionally dropping in even after he sold the restaurant 15 years later.

Allan was a former publicist, a journalist, the West Coast Editor of Cashbox. He sadly passed away suddenly on December 16, 2012. Allan was head of West Coast A&R at Columbia, where he was behind Billy Joel’s first hit, “Piano Man,” and he was the man who helped break the Jesus Christ Superstar album.

A close friend and colleague, the songwriter and producer Artie Wayne, who had over 250 covers recorded by such artists as Michael Jackson, Aretha Franklin, and Tony Orlando wrote a wonderful blog post here, covering years of insider stories in and around Genghis Cohen, their years in the music industry and of course many celebrity encounters.

In 1998 Allan sold the restaurant to Raymond Kiu, who had been a waiter at the restaurant for 14 years. After his death, his son Denis Kiu took over, who however, died prematurely, at the age of only 43 of a heart attack. A lot has changed in the last few years but that said, atmospherically, not that much.

That is why this article from 1998 in the L.A. Times still, in a way, rings true and names some of the reasons why I still love playing there: “The Cantina [the music room] is configured like a church, with benches functioning as pews, and a stage functioning as the altar. The room is warm and inviting and manages to make both the performers and guests feel at ease. In fact, they are. Too many clubs are set up to incite little interaction between audience and performer, but the family-like comfort of the Cantina inspires a bit of camaraderie.”

The music room is only one part of the complex that consists of the restaurant, the bar area and the closed off music room. The restaurant section sports red leather booths, dim lighting, red accent walls. There’s a bit of Old Hollywood charm, along with self-conscious kitsch — that has however, slightly diminished since the most recent restauranteurs took over in 2015.

 

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:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

_________________________________

[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.

Pablo-Picasso-Girl-Before-A Mirror-1932-Aganju

Aganjú ~ Music and Spirituality

 

Pablo-Picasso-Girl-Before-A Mirror-1932-Aganju
Pablo Picasso, Girl Before A Mirror, 1932

Aganjú was the last song we worked on yesterday in the studio for my new album Ipanema Lounge. I had actually gone through a bit a of a crisis with it and I think this was our third studio session working on the song. The rhythm section, Sandro Feliciano (percussion) and Isaias Elpes (electric bass), also from Brazil, had created some amazing grooves and my vocal track was in a complementary, nicely contrasting sultry style. But I still thought it was plainly boring and that we didn’t “own” the song.

I was actually close to taking the song off the record.

I first heard the song Aganjú on Bebel Gilberto’s album Tanto Tempo. It was written by the Brazilian musician, songwriter and record producer Carlinhos Brown, whose musical style blends tropicália, reggae, and traditional Brazilian percussion. Later, especially the Latin remix by Thievery Corporation, caught my attention. It expresses my love of a Brazilian and European Nu jazz style that never quite took a foothold in America the way it did in Europe. It was a movement derived from drum & bass that started in the early 1990’s.

Always seeking new material and ideas, I thought Aganjú would be a nice tune to play live, which we still do. Even with a very sparse instrumentation as a trio; with voice, bass and guitar, it works very well as a groovy, atmospheric lounge style song.

When it comes to recording a song that has already been recorded before, you have to make it your own. I absolutely did not want it to sound like a cover version. Or, like Billie Holiday said,

You can’t copy anybody and end with anything. If you copy, it means you’re working without any real feeling. No two people on earth are alike, and it’s got to be that way in music or it isn’t music.

I had already contemplated horn arrangements but thought it would be too costly and time consuming. But then I thought of simply asking one of my favourite saxophone and flute players to add some movement and interest with some horn tracks in a very last recording session. I booked a three hour session, which was supposed to give us enough time for recording horns, an additional vocal track, some last mixes and mastering. I admit, I did wonder whether it was a bit daunting with so little time…

 

A Track with Veteran Jazz Musicians

Robert Kyle, a multi-instrumentalist and composer, who also just released a new album himself, came in to the studio. I was thrilled with my co-producer’s idea of creating some friction and dissonances, which was ultimately the direction in which I had planned on going with the vocals. Robert played and improvised multiple amazing tracks on tenor and soprano saxophone and some beautiful and haunting parts on the alto flute that you will recognize in the intro of the song. I added another vocal track, the mix was done – et voilà! The track became a wonderful conversation between the vocals and the wood winds over a very infectious Nu jazz groove.

 

Listen and download the track here:

This is exactly where not only excellent players, who can sight read and improvise on the spot, but a production team like Greg and Nolan Shaheed are crucial for any record to sound as good as Ipanema Lounge simply does. Nolan, whose studio I have been recording in for years, is a veteran trumpet player who has toured with greats like Stevie Wonder and recorded with many others. You can hear him on two songs of the album too. He played Flügelhorn on One Note Samba and on Sway you can hear his sassy trumpet ad libs that add a flair very reminiscent of Cuban Mambo bands of the 1950’s.

 

Magical Connections

Suddenly, sitting there in the studio, while the end mix was being done, my thoughts started to drift. I think the fact that Nolan is also a world class, medal-winning runner made me think of the current 2016 summer Olympics. They were being held in Rio de Janeiro – the very place the song Aganjú stems from. Athletes, like any performer won’t survive if he or she is not dedicated to their craft by striving for continuous improvement and stamina. It occurred to me that this was occurring at the same time we were recording those last fragments. It all seemed magically connected and suddenly I realized, that’s exactly what the song is about.

Despite the Portuguese lyrics being really hard to translate, the essence of the song and the name “Aganjú” is that of the African deity of volcanoes and deserts, who spreads magic and protection from Brazil, whose religious culture was originally brought to the country by the African slaves. In an interview Bebel Gilberto, said about the phrase:

‘Aganjú’ ‘Aganjú’ is everywhere, in San Francisco, in New York. People get so hypnotized by this song, so maybe that is a good thing, they see the religion in my music.

Music has always had a place in the history and practice of all religions of the world through the meditative use of chant and hymns during liturgical celebrations. In his book, Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain, the British neurologist Oliver Sacks underscores the power of music to console, nourish and even save us from despair. In the song Aganjú this devotion to the saints for protection, good health and a better life is expressed in both the song’s lyrics and in its trance like mood, which was ultimately, what I was looking to reinterpret.

aganjuI suddenly remembered another interesting link. The origins of the Olympic games in ancient Greece were deeply rooted in mythology, and attributed to the gods. The athletes believed their training honoured these gods, and that victory was a sign of favour from a deity.

 

Musical Dedication & Inspiration

I finally felt it was all coming together but not only musically. I was suddenly so aware of the principle of dedication and inspiration, of how deeply connected they are, that one doesn’t exist without the other. Olympians were performing at their highest skill level in Rio de Janeiro, after decades of practice, determination, and sacrifice, in the same way as musicians do at recording sessions or live shows. And during that session, the god Aganjú had seemed to have blessed us with that magical spark that even, when the most virtuous musicians record or play together, can be missing. That magical spark, the essence of spirituality was created for that song, that very link that connects us humans to music and something larger, divinity.

 

DOWNLOAD your copy of Aganjú here

 

Or – if you liked this post, why not simply…

Press Release: New Album Frances Livings’ Ipanema Lounge

 

 : : FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE : : MOONTRAXX, LOS ANGELES, SEP. 2016 : :

Capturing a rich atmosphere of cultural diversity, this sensual, multi-lingual world jazz album, with songs in French, English, Spanish and Portuguese, guarantees to carry you along on an emotional journey.

Moontraxx Records & Music Productions proudly presents the release of Frances Livings’ new album, Ipanema Lounge. The official release party and live show will take place on Thursday, September 15, 2016 at 7pm at Genghis Cohen, Los Angeles. If you are a member of the press please contact us here to receive a free copy and a VIP spot on the guest list.

                      Whenever I meet a new song, I fall madly in love with it. I think, why haven’t I met you before?

                                                                                                ~ Frances Livings

The multi-lingual world-jazz album Ipanema Lounge, produced by the artist Frances Livings in collaboration with the composer, arranger and guitarist Greg Porée for Moontraxx Records Los Angeles, captures a rich atmosphere of cultural diversity.

As a vocalist and a songwriter, Frances Livings has always been drawn to the unique crafting of a song, to its rhythm, melody, texture, linguistics and story. Frances discovered early in her career that you don’t have to be a native of any country to become attached to its culture. Another source of inspiration were her travels, like extensive stays in Southern Europe, and from having lived and worked in the multi-ethnic melting pot Los Angeles for the last decade. Bringing to this album even more than her deep love of these cultures, she choose a foreign language repertoire. She selected songs written by artists native to countries such as France, Mexico and Peru, whose tunes with their unique phonetical sounds evoke a very classy and lush atmosphere.

The cello is considered to be one of the most expressive and satisfying instruments to listen to. Its ability to speak beautifully whether in a low or high register makes it a joy for composers to write for. Frances’ alto voice resonates in the same manner. With her richness of overtones, she brings a wide range of emotion and passion to each song, truly a gift for the listeners.

COVER_Ipanema Lounge Frances 600x600The album’s thirteen songs, in French, English, Spanish and Portuguese, guarantee to carry you along on this emotional journey. With each new melody, you are immersed into a new locale, yet never fully leave the last one. They will transport you to the contemporary bars and lounges of urban metropolises, where French art house chansons, soulful American standards and groovy Brazilian music have had their undeniable impact on today’s global music and art culture.

The musical ensemble succeeds in bringing out the colours of these tunes, which range from contemporary to classical – the oldest song being from 1946. The jazz standard One Note Samba is a perfect example of the musical imagination and refreshing engagement that was brought to the production.

On Corcovado, Waters of March, Aganjú and One Note Samba, Greg Porée re-harmonized and restructured their arrangements, giving a brand new perspective to these familiar songs. Joey Heredia created an enticing drum pattern that possesses the dramatic nuances of a New Orleans march and that compliments Trey Henry’s moody bass in the intro and his syncopated patterns in the verse and bridge. These killer grooves Greg contrasted with steel string acoustics that were used to create dissonant pads for Frances’ playful vocal.

Rhythmically, Sandro Feliciano (percussion) and Isaias Elpes (electric bass), originally from Brazil, contributed very fresh cultural perspectives in developing their parts: On Jardin d’Hiver they were playful and danceable, on Aganjú and Come Closer the percussion and bass underpinnings were in a contemporary, sultry and passionate Nu Jazz style, and on Hoy they captured the flavours of Peru and Mexico. The exotic flairs of Argentina and Paris were brought to Hoy and Jardin d’Hiver by Mariano Dugatkin with his bandoneon.

On the ballads Dansez Maintenant, La Puerta and Pour te Plaire, the accompaniment for Frances’ intuitive vocal delivery required the highest level of experience, technical skill and sensitivity. The jazz veterans Jeff Colella on piano and Trey Henry again on double bass, along with Frances’ vocals, took these ballads way past the generic renditions one normally hears. Joe Ayoub played with similar musical insight on double bass on Sway and Waters of March. Darrell Diaz, a Los Angeles veteran, went way beyond the norm with his creative solos in Tell Me All About It and Waters of March, including his tasteful keyboard support on Jardin d’Hiver, Come Closer, Hoy and Sway.

For Dindi, Waters of March, Hoy and Corcovado Greg Porée created signature parts on the classical guitar that are elegantly cohesive in nature and especially impactful on Waters of March. Instrumentally, this set the stage for Frances’ and the band’s superb performance. On Dindi her beautifully crafted vocal was complimented by the linear sounds of an almost whimsical archtop guitar. For Dansez Maintenant and Pour the Plaire the atmosphere was the intimate, late night jazz club that also suited the sound of that guitar.

One of the four guest soloists was Paul Cartwright on violin who added an imaginative and atmospheric solo to the already haunting track Come Closer. John Nau did the same on electric piano for Corcovado. The studio veteran Nolan Shaheed’s trumpet ad libs on Sway take you right back to Cuba of the 1950’s, and when faced with the challenge of playing a solo over completely new chord changes for One Note Samba, Nolan rose to the occasion and took the song to new heights. On Aganjú, the interplay between Robert Kyle’s multi-layered flute and saxophone tracks and Frances Livings’ vocals brought a unique sensuality and Nu Jazz feel not previously heard on this Latin hit song.

The song sequence reflects the cycle and harmony of a day. Its moods flow through us as we awake, engage, dance, mourn and love. Some songs convey a playful attitude, like the staccato romance of possibility of Jardin d’Hiver that opens the morning. As the hours count noon, the poetic Waters of March followed by Dansez Maintenant meander us into the afternoon. Aganjú transports us into evening with its sultry tone. Come Closer, penned by Frances and the German bassist and songwriter Volker Schwanke, captures the intensity of longing and never attaining. The Portuguese ballad La Puerta exhibits a sensual flare for the dramatic and Corcovado evokes the serenity of dusk.

Sway, originally written by a Mexican composer and made famous by Dean Martin, is a flirtatious invitation for more. We transcend twilight with Pour te Plaire, an adaption of Glenn Miller’s famous jazz standard Moonlight Serenade. This French version is a perfect example of Frances Livings’ vision – how shifting language alters atmosphere, meaning and scenery. Passion flares our senses as we lay exposed, open to the magic of the night.

Each language is like a beautiful musical composition, made up of its own unique melody, rhythm and form.

                                                                                                ~ Frances Livings

PRESS CONTACT: by email Moontraxx@icloud.com by mobile phone (1) 323 719-0747

COMPANY WEBSITE: http://www.moontraxx.com

ARTIST’S WEBSITE: https://franceslivings.com

 

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…

 

For some more French chansons sung by female artists, follow me on Spotify and subscribe to my playlist!

…merci et à bientôt!kiss_small

Franz Marc In the Rain 1012 Painting Lenbachhaus Waters of March

Waters of March and the Circle of Life

Zur deutschen Version hier klicken:

Franz Marc John Constable Rain Storm Score Tom Jobim

 

Waters of March is a magical, world-famous Brazilian jazz song, written by Antônio Carlos Jobim. The very first time I performed it live was at a Sunday show in Los Angeles. I was nervous. It’s one of these songs you know you have to connect with as a musician. Otherwise the audience won’t stay with you. Besides, it’s such a famous song, you almost have the obligation to take listeners on a musical and emotional journey. So whether live or in the studio – and this is valid for all songs – the challenge lies in finding and interpreting the essence of that specific song. And yes, sometimes we succeed, sometimes we don’t. Interestingly, at my debut of Waters of March not only I, but the whole band connected with it.

Moreover, it took me on a journey, on a quite unexpected journey – into the deep waters of March!

I’ll go back a bit: Waters of March (in Portuguese, Águas de Março) had been a song request from a friend and jazz lover after attending a prior show of mine. Like other songs in my repertoire, it was written by the Brazilian songwriter Antônio Carlos Jobim. My friend handed me a CD, so on my next early morning dog walk, I listened to the enticing version he had given me a copy of. I indulged into delightful notes by no one less than Art Garfunkel – a recording on his 1975 album Breakaway. During the course of the next few days, I dug up and listened to many others, like the original by Jobim and by contemporary female jazz artists like Cassandra Wilson. I immediately loved the flow of the song in combination with such interesting lyrics. He was right. It was a perfect fit for Ipanema Lounge, a musical band project I had founded and later the title of my 2016 album. After all, I had been originally inspired by Jobim – which is why the word Ipanema – from his biggest hit song, The Girl From Ipanema – is in the title. I decided to yet again look deeper into Jobim’s catalogue and to play with some of the songs.

Waters of March in Five Languages

Águas de Março was first released in 1972. Jobim wrote the original lyrics in Brazilian Portuguese and a second version a year later in English. Then, in 1973, another favourite songwriter of mine, the Egyptian-French troubador Georges Moustaki, released a recording. It was titled Les Eaux de Mars with French lyrics that he had penned. An Italian version, La Pioggia di Marzo followed in the same year written by Giorgio Calabrese, an Italian songwriter and frequent collaborator with French pop star Charles Aznavour. Many years later, in 2007, a further adaptation called Solen i maj was written in Swedish by Anders Lundin. The Spanish-French singer-songwriter Sole Giménez penned a version in Spanish in 2009, titled Aguas de marzo.

Waters of March – All Time Best Brazilian Song

Almost 30 years after Jobim had written Waters of March, Brazil’s leading daily newspaper, Folha de São Paulo conducted a poll including more than 200 Brazilian journalists, musicians and other artists. In 2001 Waters of March was named the all-time best Brazilian song. The lasting effects of Águas de Março is also discussed in The Atlantic, including suggestions, comments and videos from many readersListening to many of these versions I once again understood that it was a very magical and philosophical song. But the more I listened, the more impossible it seemed to memorize the lyrics for a live performance…

For Jobim Songwriting was like Psychotherapy

The words of none of the versions – whether in English, Portuguese or French – are constructed to create a logical narrative. There are no recognizable stanza patterns or traceable rhymes either. The lyrics consist of strings of free associations, of singular objects broken out of their original context and then assembled to a collage – moreover, since they are in motion, literally, figuratively and musically, it’s really a montage. It was not unusual for Jobim to write in this kind of stream of consciousness. The composer-guitarist Oscar Castro-Neves recalled that Jobim had told him, that was his version of therapy, which had saved him thousands in psychoanalysis bills. It had indeed been the psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud who, at the end of the 19th century, had developed the technique of “free association” as a clinical method for his patients undergoing psychoanalysis.

Waters of March et l’objects trouvés

In the song nearly every line starts in Portuguese with “É…” (“[It] is…”) and in English with “a”. “It” is a stick, a stone, a sliver of glass, a scratch, a cliff, a knot in the wood, a fish, a pin, the end of the road, and many other things. This technique of listing trivial objects reminds me very much of the art movement “l’objects trouvés”, originally founded by Pablo Picasso and Marcel Duchamp. As early as 1912, Picasso began to incorporate actual pieces of newspapers and other domestic items like matchboxes into his cubist collages. The word collage is derived from the French tern coller (to glue or stick together), resulting in an assemblage. Other artists like Kurt Schwitters, Georges Braque and Hannah Höch also utilized this technique, depicting wine glasses, bottles, cups and calling cards.

Pablo Picasso 1942 Bull's head bicycle seat handle bars metal wielded art
Pablo Picasso Tête de taureau (Bull’s Head) 1942, Musée Picasso, Paris

Aside from painting these objects – or even using photographs – another tendency was to make cubist constructions from various scavenged materials. Most famously introduced by Duchamp’s “Ready Mades“. These are individual objects, sometimes slightly modified and presented as art. His most well-known piece is Fountain (1917), a standard urinal purchased from a hardware store and displayed on a pedestal. Thus, by “simply choosing the object (or objects) and repositioning or joining, titling and signing it, the found object became art.” This was a technique Picasso  also used in 1942: Tête de taureau (Bull’s Head), consits of only two parts, a bicycle seat and handlebars, which were wielded together.

Found Sounds

In music, “Found Sounds” follows the same principle, whereby domestic sounds from the world around us are used. It can be anything, like a ball hitting the floor, a machine motor running or a lift door opening and closing. It was created in the 1940s, by a group of avant-garde French composers, who named it musique concrète (concrete music). In 1948 the French composer, writer, broadcaster, engineer, musicologist and acoustician Pierre Schaeffer composed the piece Etudes aux chemins de fer, which is constructed entirely from sounds found at a train station. The piece is like a musical collage, featuring train whistles and the sound of steam engines clattering along a track. With digital methods available nowadays, this technique is now called sampling as in the musician taking a sample of something else and using it in their work. 

In Waters of March it is the environment, which is dissembled by the storm and the gushing waters, delivering these fragments and debris in the form of words.

The Influence of Poetry in Jobim’s Songwriting

The song lyrics also made me think of one of the 20th century’s most prominent poems, The Waste Land by T. S. Eliot from 1922. Not only is the poem’s form similarly obscure and untraditional – The Waste Land has many shifts in speaker, location and time – but especially the famous first line, “April is the cruelest month” easily conjures up Jobim’s seemingly unusual depiction of March as a destructive and cruel time. The influence of a renowned writer is not surprising, since Jobim was an avid reader of poetry by authors like Rimbaud, Baudelaire, Bandeira and Eliot, many of whose poems he could recite by heart.

The Influence of Weather on Songwriting

It is not unusual for songwriters to use weather conditions in songs. Rain is an especially popular topic, whether in the song Singing in the Rain, which was also a romantic comedy, or the smash hit It’s Raining Men. In the Southern hemisphere, March is the rainiest month of the year, which was Jobim’s initial inspiration for Águas de Março. He is said to have been travelling to his family rancho in Rio de Janeiro state, when a heavy rainstorm turned the roads and landscape to mud, which is also one of the lines in the song, “It’s the mud, it’s the mud…”. In Brazil, March represents the end of summer and the beginning of the colder season. In an article titled “Brazil: Waters of March“, the author, a foreign correspondent for the Al Jazeera media network, describes the rain like in the following:

“It hasn’t been raining more than 10 minutes when streets begin to flood. Thick and murky, it falls in corrugated sheets. Water. So coarse it’s opaque. Nothing but grey. And brown. And more grey. It’s March in Rio.”

Especially in the state of Rio de Janeiro, the weather is typically marked by sudden storms with heavy rains and strong winds, which cause flashfloods, violent flooding and landslides in many places around the city, sometimes killing people. The lyrics of the Portuguese version therefore also reflect this loss and destruction.

The Rite of Spring

This destructive interpretation of spring, reminds me of another groundbreaking piece: Igor Stravinski’s famous ballet and orchestral concert work from 1913, The Rite of Spring, which was so challenging at its time that it famously caused a riot at its première. It was in a similar way a piece of work with no specific plot or narrative, consisting of a succession of choreographed episodes. Stravinsky himself described The Rite of Spring as “a musical-choreographic work, [representing] pagan Russia […] unified by a single idea: the mystery and great surge of the creative power of Spring”.

The English Lyrics

For the English version, Jobim – whose music was already being played around the world by the early 60’s – changed a few elements. His goal was to provide a more life-affirming and universal perspective : He intentionally omitted specific references to Brazilian culture (festa da cumeeira, garrafa de cana), to its flora (peroba do campo) and folklore (Matita Pereira). So consciously holding a listener from the Northern hemisphere in mind, he depicted March as the month which marks the beginning of spring, an awakening. The waters are now instead from melting snow, from thawing, and not from the torrential rains as referred to in the Portuguese original.

Although both versions speak of “the promise of life”, the English one allows for these other, more positive interpretations with additional phrases like “the joy in your heart” and the “promise of spring”, a seasonal reference that would per se, be more relevant to most of the English-speaking world.

Both the lyrics and the music have a constant downward progression much like the water torrent from those rains flowing in the gutters, which would typically carry sticks, stones, bits of glass, and almost everything and anything. The orchestration creates the illusion of the constant descending of notes much like Shepard tones – an illusion that does in sound, what the old-fashioned barbershop pole does visually, just the other way around, that means, it seems to be rising forever.

Original, handwritten score of Waters of March by Antonio Carlos Jobim

Looking at an original score by Jobim, it becomes apparent that he was meticulous about the voicing, whereas many composers notate the chord symbols and melody, leaving the interpretation and therefore the voicing to the musician.

My Interpretation of the Song

Shortly before my first performance of the song, I was actually quite nervous. I wanted to do the song justice by being able to convey these sliding kaleidoscope images both lyrically and musically. I also wanted to be able to transport the ambivalence between tension and flow without over dramatization. Waters of March I think is a challenge for every vocalist. Who wants to sound too monotonous when listing these seemingly endless and disconnected objects? Because what matters is not so much the meaning of the individual words. According to the psychoanalyst Freud, their meaning varies in all of us anyway. It was rather, more about the sounds they create when put together in context with the music.

My musical director and guitarist, Greg Porée and I, had worked on our own arrangement of the song. So if you listen to the recording you will hear that the guitar starts with a very unique lick. Then the piano sets in. Riding on the groove of bass and percussion, I then start singing these strings of words. And that’s exactly how it was live. Very soon, I felt the emotion building up inside me. I felt in anticipation of something wonderous. I felt excited and suddenly realized, I had understood the universal meaning of the song!

Whether in Portuguese or English, streaming through me were all of these “things”, a stick, a stone, a sliver of glass. I was channeling metaphors and symbols of life flowing by in never ending new constellations, each one laden with its own history. Like in the line, “and the river bank talks of the waters of March”, that serves as a metaphor for events in the past and promises of things to come. Suddenly, to me even the English version didn’t feel like a calm stream just flowing along – but like a torrent.

In a similar way to Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, even the English version wasn’t pastoral; a Beethoven or Schubert idea of spring, but an explosive one. Hence, without pain there is no joy. Without destruction there is no beginning. Whether it is the end of a cycle or the beginning of one, a cycle means life: No matter which way around, a beginning implies an end and an end implies a beginning of something new that will inevitably come. These were metaphors for events and situations that are chaotic, surprising, sometimes devastating. It made me feel very alive and that for me in that very moment was “the joy in my heart”.

Listen to my recording of Waters of March here…

*

UPDATE a few years later, on Saturday, September 10, 2016:

Since I first wrote this blog post, in 2013, I have performed Waters of March at many different venues, with different musicians and in different moods. What strikes me is that more and more, it has become this magical song that acts like a dream catcher, moreover, a poetic facilitator of a news bulletin. Like shortly after the Boston Marathon attacks happened in 2013 I almost, while singing, choked on the lines: “The foot, the ground, the flesh and the bone, the beat of the road, a sling-shot stone…” There have been and probably still will be many stories whose journeys I will be taken on and sceneries I will be enticed to visit because of this song’s associative contents and its permanent poetic state of flux, which is lastly what makes this song such a timeless classic.

For those of you who love these Brazilian jazz and Bossa Nova classics, here’s a whole playlist, including lots of different variations of Águas De Março / Waters of March:

Oil painting by John Constable, Rain storm over the sea (Seascape Study with Rain Cloud) circa 1827
John Constable Rainstorm over the Sea, circa 1824-1828
Franz Marc In the Rain 1912 Fauvism Blauer Reiter Lenbachhaus
Franz Marc, In the Rain, 1912

 

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