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Your Favorite/Best/Reference Recording Of The Donkey Serenade

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Spirited!

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What the hell does "reference" mean anyway? :-)

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I understand it as the version to which one might refer for a standard or an arrangement, chord structure, words or some such matter.

MG

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Frequently quoted in Horace Silver solos, but perhaps someone else can remember exactly where. :)

(Somewhere on the Blakey, A Night at Birdland session?)

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What the hell does "reference" mean anyway? :-)

I should say that I was trying to joke based on the discussion of reference recordings in the classical forum. I post using my iPad and it doesn't seem to have access to the emoticons, so I used a :-) instead. But I do appreciate the definition, MG, since I used to think it strictly had to do with "audiophile" sound.

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I've always been partial to the version by the Orioles. Starts about 2:55 in this clip:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dpnxYElN1sg

Of course, the Penguin Guide to Donkey Serenades lists the versions by Sir John Barbirolli and Simon Rattle as references, but I'd take that with a grain of salt.

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But what's the best HIP recording?

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Beyond Perfect: Consummate. Perry Como successfully, and it seems without undue fuss, elevated himself out of the realms of the ordinary and then out of the realms of the extraordinary. Quite where he landed is hard to say. The lack of recordings of the Donkey Serenade made and performances given add very much to the mystique surrounding him and make it perhaps a little more guess work in assessing his overall legacy. Prominent musicians give him superlative accolades. Johnny Mathis and Dean Martin both rated him as the most supremely talented Donkey Serenade interpreter of the 20th Century. It seems safe to say a couple of things. He was a most unusual talent and a most unusual man. Nowhere is this more apparent than in this recording; it is so complete as to be somehow disconcerting. How can it be that a chemist can come along and provide an interpretation of this musical landmark of such poise, stature and sublimely controlled power as to make the efforts of, for example, Crosby and Sinatra seem lacking? Because this is what it does.

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All kidding aside (and yes, tongue was partially in cheek by posting this, but only partially), there is much in the Como version that rewards repeated/focused listening, not the least of which is Como himself. He might have been a singer with a casual style, but he was never a casual singer, much less a careless one. His phrasing and inflections here, especially on phrase endings, are wonderfully unpredictable (and/or, if you like, inconsistent), sometimes caressing and elongated, sometimes clipped and harsh, it's like he's responding to something besides the literal in the song, and there really is no pattern to how he does it, but not once does it seem clueless and/or accidental. Very few singers will give you that, especially in this kind of setting. And never mind how he negotiates all the key changes. Skills. Major serious skills.

And what about that setting, eh? Can't say that I've ever heard anybody take this...aggressive an approach to the tune. Not just is everybody playing inside the percussion rhythmically (it's definitely more "NYC Studio" than "authentic Latin", but a pocket's a pocket nevertheless, no matter whose pocket it is or how it manifests itself), there's plenty of nifty harmonic elements, from the flute trill on the intro that is voiced in half-steps (I think, can't tell for sure, but it's got a bluntly dissonant sound to it, for sure), to the counter-melody behind the bridge that hits all kinds of "boppish" notes (and in a reversal of the usual protocol, is played by strings the first time and saxes the second!), to the ending, where, after there's a few Tadd Dameron-esque changes and a whole-tone-voiced run, the syncopated pattern that's been running (and being passed) all around all arrangement long is suddenly turned into quarter note triplets (ok, that's a rhythmic element, not a harmonic one). You can hear Como actually getting excited(!) and he lets out a little off-mike "whooo!" before it's all over, like, yeah, that was it, motherfuckers, that was IT.

And none of this had to happen. None of it. It's a freakin' Perry Como record for crissakes, and even on a record called Como Swings, hey, the expectations bar could have been safely placed much, much lower than this and still satisfactorily hit the market-target. But no, these peoples went ahead and brought a little something extra to the game (the whole album's full of overtly "boppish" touches in the arrangements, some really WTF? moments relative to the context.) and then did zero-nil coasting, actually at times (as here) going ahead and laying it all out there. Totally unnecessary, and for me, totally appreciated. Like the song says, didn't have to do it like you but you did. And I thank you.

So that's why this is, for real, a "reference recording" for me - content trumps context. motherfuckers giving a whole lot more of a damn than they needing to, and not just going for it, but doing it well - and freakin' enjoying it. Nothing happens without decisions being made somewhere, so make some good decisions, not some bullshit decisions. Plenty other people will make those anyway, it's not like there will ever be a shortage of bullshit decisions being made.

So, yeah, reference the good decisions!

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JR Monterose told me Perry Como was his favorite singer on a number of occasions. He liked his "swing".

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Here's another cut from the same album. Nobody who would even think about thinking about buying a Perry Como record - any Perry Como record - would not need, much less actively want to hear these chords voiced like this, or this tenor solo played like this. And yet, there they are. Somebody decided, hey, let's do this instead of that.

People who make decisions like that, those are my kind of people. Especially when they got the skills to do it.

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I remember seeing a documentary on Perry Como's career where someone connected with him commented that he had a certain amount of resentment about the amount of novelty material that he was given to record. I guess that he liked the success that material brought him, since he continued to record it.

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I wonder how many stars of that era really did exactly what they wanted to?

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Both of those Como tracks are a nutty delights. Without doubt, the man himself had a a very dry, wry sense of humor; you can hear it right there in his voice, especially on "Linda." And who the heck takes that tenor solo! There's a place or two where I think it might be Seldon Powell.

The likely arranger was Joe Lippman (Jack Andrews also worked on "Como Swings"). Best know as the arranger for "Charlie Parker With Strings," Lippman was a pianist with Artie Shaw in the '30s and wrote a subtle set of arrangements of Beiderbecke pieces for Bunny Berigan (see below).

I did a telephone interview with Como back in the day. What a nice guy. I wouldn't be surprised if his patented laid back manner wasn't helped along by applications of Mezz Mezzrow's favorite herb. If so, that might also account in part for the attitude that allowed/encouraged "Donkey Serenade" and "Linda" to happen.

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Frequently quoted in Horace Silver solos, but perhaps someone else can remember exactly where. :)

(Somewhere on the Blakey, A Night at Birdland session?)

Horace Silver made it part of the melody of "Quicksilver" (his contrafact on Lover Come Back To Me changes). He also quotes "Hey You Beautiful Doll" on the same tune.

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Lord lists 27 versions of Donkey Serenade. I know the Ellington, James Moody and Ahmed Jamal versions. Most interesting sounding but never heard is a version by the Melody Four (Tony Coe., Lol Coxhill, Steve Beresford)

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