Moonlight in Vermont

Johnny Smith - Moonlight in Vermont

“Moonlight in Vermont” is a ballad written by John Blackburn and Karl Suessdorf in 1944. It was recorded by Margaret Whiting and the Billy Butterfield Orchestra and became immediately a big hit.

The lyrics of John Blackburn are also special, since they do not rhyme, but they describe perfectly a late fall-early winter landscape in Vermont (an area which has the perfect scenery for an American Christmas dream) and no wonder, that the song was also very popular with the American troops fighting in Europe during World War II.

The form is the very popular 32-bars AABA form with an additional 2 bars played as ending, sometimes after each chorus, sometimes only at the end of the tune. The original key was Db major, but the real book notates it in Eb, and the most popular cover version by Johnny Smith was played in C major.

The version of guitarist Jimmy Smith, released in 1952, became also the inspiration for many other guitar player and that is one of the reasons why my playlist has the focus on that instrument:

  1. Johnny Smith and Stan Getz: This instrumental version of the song is the most popular version and I think also the most interesting one. It shows Johnny Smith playing very closed voicings on the guitar sounding almost like a steel-guitar and Stan Getz adding a very cool and relaxed saxophone.
  2. Stan Getz has recorded another cool version of this tune together with Chet Baker on trumpet. The tempo of this version is quite similar to the version with Johnny Smith, but Chet Baker and Stan Getz play the melody well-composed and arranged in two voices.
  3. Nat King Cole recorded an instrumental version of this song in 1947. Very soft and easy played with a sparkling Nat King Cole on piano. Interesting enough I found no version where he sings.
  4. Billie Holiday recorded this song in 1957 with her orchestra, featuring Ben Webster on tenor saxophone and Barney Kessel on guitar. Also very easy and relaxed and I like her voice anyway very much.
  5. From Joe pass you can find two nice versions, one as soloist on his CD “Unforgettable” from 1992, released after his death in 1998, where Joe Pass plays the song on a nylon string guitar, not on his regular Gibson ES-175 Jazz guitar. The other version is a duet with Ella Fitzgerald on the album “Easy Living” from 1986.
  6. Finally I would like to present a version from country singer Willie Nelson. His version is from 1978 from the album “Stardust”. This album consists of pop and jazz standards that Nelson chose from his list of favorite songs. The album was 10 years in Billboard’s Country Charts and Nelson won a Grammy for the song “Georgia on My Mind” in 1979. The song starts simple and easy with guitar and vocals and has a very sweet harmonica solo part.

Listen to the songs in the playlist and if you know an interesting and unusual version of this song, please leave a comment.

 

Mad Romance: Aim High

Mad Romance

If you like vocal groups like Manhattan Transfer or New York Voices I have another classic vocal quartet from Miami for you: Mad Romance. The group released in 2011 a very nice album called “Aim High”. The CD presents songs from the Great American Songbook, with some beautiful and refreshing arrangements done by leader Rick Harris who is also a professional trumpet player. Harris has re-formed this group with some big names from the Miami Jazz scene: Lisanne Lyons (voc), Wendy Pedersen (voc) and Greg Diaz (voc, sax).
The CD starts with a very funny version of “Pick Yourself Up” which features Rick Harris followed by “You Don’t Know What Love Is” which I introduced to you some weeks ago. This song is a classic vocal quartet arrangement with a nice call-and-response solo by trumpet and saxophone.
The next song on the CD is a Salsa-inspired version of “How Long Has This Been Going On” featuring Wendy Pederson on vocals supported again by trumpet and saxophone.

The promise the band makes with these first three titles is kept throughout the CD. Every song is perfectly arranged and shows a different side of the technical and musical capabilities of the group.

“From This Moment On” is a swinging up-time Jazz standard, “Time of the Season” is a cover version of the Zombies’ hit from the late sixties and “Yesterdays” a typical Jazz standard ballad.

“Aim Low” is a composition by Rick Harris and is somehow the title song of this album. The lyrics are very sarcastic, like “You wanna work, so aim low” and shows the arrogance and ignorance in the music business. The CD ends with “The Thrill Is Gone” which is again arranged as a Salsa.

I think the whole CD is brilliant and the voices fit excellently together. The variety of the arrangements is outstanding and the musical and instrumental skills of Rick Harris and Greg Diaz make this album a great experience. The best part for me are the Salsa arrangements, a Miami based vocal group should know how to do that. I hope I will have the chance to see this quartet once.

I created again a playlist for you, so you are able to listen to the songs:

The group has a website where you can download the song “Aim Low” and where you can find some more information about the band. Please look at www.madromance.com. Unfortunately I do not see any updated concert information.

The following video is also found on the website but since I think it’s very entertaining I added it right here for you: