This Sunday Elder Music column was launched in December of 2008. By May of the following year, one commenter, Peter Tibbles, had added so much knowledge and value to my poor attempts at musical presentations that I asked him to take over the column. He's been here each week ever since delighting us with his astonishing grasp of just about everything musical, his humor and sense of fun. You can read Peter's bio here and find links to all his columns here.
It’s time for another variation on a single song. It also gives me an opportunity to play a rather diverse range of performers in the one column. The song is Georgia on my Mind.
It was written by Hoagy Carmichael and Stuart Gorrell. The song has been adopted by the state of Georgia (that’s the American one, not the country that used to be part of the Soviet Union) as its official song in spite of Stuart, who wrote the words, saying he wrote it about Hoagy’s sister, Georgia Carmichael.
Given that, the appropriate place to start is therefore with the version by HOAGY CARMICHAEL himself.
Hoagy has been called the "most talented, inventive, sophisticated and jazz-oriented" of the songwriters composing pop songs in the first half of the 20th century. Looking through the songs he wrote, that’s not too far off the mark.
Hoagy recorded the song in 1930 and if you listen carefully, you’ll hear Bix Beiderbecke playing along as well on this version. Unfortunately, this is one of the last tunes Bix recorded. Hoagy was a good friend of Bix and always ensured he had a job when he was down on his luck and boy, did Bix get down towards the end.
Probably the best known version is by RAY CHARLES.
Indeed, it was Ray singing the song, with which he had a number one hit in 1960, at the Georgia state legislature in 1979 when the state adopted it. Ray was originally from that state so it was apposite that his version would be chosen.
I can’t imagine he would have been given that honor in 1960, but that’s neither here nor there. Sing it, Ray.
For a complete change of pace we turn to the DAVE BRUBECK QUARTET.
This version has a lovely sax solo by Paul Desmond and, it goes without saying, a wonderful piano piece from Dave. This was taken from an album called “Gone With the Wind” which had, as you can probably guess, songs of the south.
An unlikely version is by THE BAND.
The Band mostly recorded their own songs (and occasionally a couple of Bob’s). However, on one album, “Moondog Matinee,” they recorded music that had inspired them to take up instruments and perform in the first place.
Georgia wasn’t on that album, it was from a later one. This has the soulful voice of Richard Manuel performing the vocals on their version.
It’s taken from the “Islands” album, generally considered the one they recorded purely as a contractual agreement album and the last studio album made by the original band.
BILLIE HOLIDAY was born Eleanora Fagan in Philadelphia.
She led what is generally described as an “interesting” life. One that deserves a column of her own and you won’t be at all surprised to learn that she will get one.
During her recording career, she was often given second rate songs to sing by the powers that be. Naturally, her version turned them into first rate performances. Of course, there were the occasional first rate tune as well, like this one.
Yet another instrumental version, this time by OSCAR PETERSON.
Oscar was born in Montreal and was influenced by the jazz scene around where he lived. He started playing trumpet and piano at a young age but decided to concentrate on the piano after a bout of tuberculosis rather put paid to the trumpeting.
He studied classical piano but he was always taken by jazz musicians, particularly Teddy Wilson, Nat King Cole and Art Tatum, and that won out in the end. Let’s hear Oscar play the tune.
WILLIE NELSON recorded an album called “Stardust” – another song of Hoagy’s – in 1978 containing old standards, and what a fine job he did of them too. I’ve always looked upon Willie as a jazz singer anyway and this album is more evidence of that.
This was released as a CD a couple of years ago with another album with similar songs he’s recorded over the years. That second album was pretty good too; well, it is Willie, so how could it not be? Here’s Willie’s version of the song.
I think LOUIS ARMSTRONG may have played every song known during his lifetime.
I’ve also featured him quite a bit over the years and, like Billie, there’s a column in works as well.
Louis was the most important popular musician in the first half of the twentieth century. No one else in that time set the parameters for music as he did. His remarkable musicianship set him apart from his contemporaries. I’ll just let you hear what he does for the song.
Ah, the dynamic duo, ELLA FITZGERALD and JOE PASS.
I really don’t need to tell you about Ella. She and Joe made several albums together and this is the way I like Ella best, with just Joe backing her with impeccable guitar playing (okay, there’s a bass player in there as well). I don’t think any more instruments are needed.
Here they are with the song of the day.