Saturday, November 25, 2017

All the Fixings: Gravy Waltz

Sarah Vaughan: Gravy Waltz


Joe Williams: Gravy Waltz


Let me start this post by talking about Steve Allen. Allen was the first host of what would eventually become known as The Tonight Show. Allen was a comedian, but he also was a piano player and song writer. Allen claimed to have written 8,500 songs, but there are different ways of counting. Take Gravy Waltz for example. The tune was written by Ray Brown, who was the bass player at the time for the Oscar Peterson Trio. Steve Allen had nothing to do with the writing of the music, but he did add the lyrics after the fact. Oddly, although a version of the song was used on Allen’s show, that one was an instrumental. The record of that version was credited to “Steve Allen with Don Trenner and His Orchestra”, and the songwriting credit on the label was for “R. Brown- S. Allen”. Although the piano is featured prominently on that recording, Allen was not the player. Still, Allen’s lyric is a good one, but one must look elsewhere to hear it. I looked to two of the best jazz singers active in 1963, when the song enjoyed a burst of popularity.

Sarah Vaughan is still a legendary figure today. Her Gravy Waltz is a celebration of the importance of family. Her voice had a soulfulness that instilled this song and so many others with a powerful emotional depth. By contrast, Joe Williams is perhaps lesser known today, but was at least as famous at the time. He was known as Big Joe Williams from his long stint with the Count Basie Orchestra, and he had also made a name for himself as a blues singer. His Gravy Waltz, despite his blues pedigree, was more of a light-hearted romp. So, dear readers, I offer you to different moods from Steve Allen’s lyric. Either way, our Thanksgiving feast here an Star Maker has some fine gravy.

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