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September 25, 2012


Another beautiful column, Ira. My compliments. Like you, I love the Coltrane cover of "My Favorite Things" and marvel that such a sweet R & H number -- like, too, "The Surrey withe Fringe on Top" -- would hold such attractions for jazz musicians both pre- and post-bop. I think you're too hard on Doris Day -- and on "Tea for Two," which isn't a product of the 1950s but was a last-minute insert in the 1925 musical "No, No Nanette." Vincent Youmans wrote the catchy number and woke up happy-go-lucky lyricist Irving Caesar in the middle of the night. The latter says he promptly if grouchily wrote the words for "Tea for Two" as if it were a dummy lyric. In ten minutes, he said. It's a sophisticated example of iambic dimeter -- "Picture you / upon my knee, / just tea for two / and two for tea / just me for you / and you for me / alone!" (In the lines you quote, it's "Day will break and I'll awake.") As naively affirmative as "Love and Marriage" -- too beautiful not to be, in its musically comical way, true. I'm being very pedantic but only because I love the song as much as did Lester Young or Art Tatum. But let me not obscure, with these remarks, your wonderfully sensitive readings of, musings, on, Coltrane and Monk. -- DL

Hi David,
First, thanks for your kind words about the columns. Much appreciated.
I should have been more clear about the "Tea for Two' reference (got another smart email about it). What I should have added was that the Doris Day version was in the air, both as hit song and hit movie in 1950 with Gordon McRae. My guess is that's what Monk's thinking about in 1955 (he'd been playing it in clubs since '52). Sorry I don't share your affection for Doris Day's version (though she was an ok white jazz singer in the Forties). Way too much syrup in the content of the dream in her interpretation.Caesar's an interesting case and an interesting lyricist, though his composing those lyrics during the height of flapper-dom is already sentimental. And it's not that I lack affection for the melody (or the meter, which looks better on paper to me than as song); it's that Monk makes me hear the tune in such a way I can't be suckered by the Tea for Two dream again. Thanks for your feedback: my guess, though I share your love of Sinatra absolutely, is that we have different feelings about musical comedy: I have to admit too that it's far from my area of expertise.
warm regards,

The first time I heard Coltrane's interpretation of "My Favorite Things" I was stunned: how could he hear the possibilities in that song, written for so specific a purpose (to calm frightened children - hence those lyrics, which do work for the intended purpose, yes?). That Coltrane could locate the depth of the composition speaks to his genius and Rodgers's too. Coltrane's version always sounds somewhat mournful to me and that's one thing I love about it.
I don't hear sexism in the lyrics of either song and even though my feminist bona fides are unimpeachable, I've always found "Tea for Two" to be charming despite its conjuring of a domestic idyll that breaks down along conventional male/female roles. I've always wanted to bake a sugar cake! I haven't visited here in a while and am glad I stopped by during this week. It's been fascinating. More please.

These are great comments. Thank you for weighing in, Marissa. Ira, I don't know Doris's cover of "Tea for Two"; I was rising to her defense in general -- she has such a pure tone. BTW, and WAGBW, how did you know I'm a Sinatra fan? Speaking of the "hoodlum from Hoboken," he did a nifty duet with Doris Day on the radio in the 1940s: Berlin's "Let's take an old fashioned walk." -- DL

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"Lively and affectionate" Publishers Weekly


I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark

from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman


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