Friday, July 13, 2018

July: Shine On Harvest Moon

Milton Brown: Shine On Harvest Moon


Leon Redbone: Shine On Harvest Moon


Asylum Street Spankers: Shine On Harvest Moon


Coleman Hawkins and Ben Webster: Shine On Harvest Moon


The term “classic” is certainly overused, but I think it’s fair to say that Shine On Harvest Moon has earned it. The song was written and originally recorded in 1908, and countless artists have performed it since. At this point, you could also call it a folk song, and I can live quite comfortably with that as well. The versions I have chosen show only a small part of the range of possibilities for performing the song.

Milton Brown is one of the subjects of a fierce argument in the field of western swing music. Bob Wills is widely known as the father of western swing. In fact, however, Wills, though not heard here, cut his musical teeth in Milton Brown’s band. So adherents feel that the title of creator of western swing should belong to Milton Brown. On the basis of this 1935 performance, I would say that one can hear western swing beginning to take shape, but we are not quite there yet. To be fair, however, I would have to listen to a lot more of both Brown’s and Wills’ music before giving a real opinion. It’s an assignment I would not mind at all, given the time.

I am sure I must have heard other versions of Shine On Harvest Moon, but this one by Leon Redbone was the first to make an impression on me. This is actually one of the best known songs Redbone recorded. He specializes in finding forgotten gems from the American songbook, and giving them the folk orchestra treatment heard here.

I included the Asylum Street Spankers here because, first of all, they do a great job with the song. But this version also restores the original female lead vocal, and the delivery here is close to how the song was originally sung. Also, the Spankers restore the original order of the months. Most performers nowadays sing, “January, February, June and July” But the original lyric is heard here: “April, January, June or July”, with April stretched somehow to three syllables. The Spankers opt for a musical feel that somewhat recalls Redbone’s version, but adds the klezmer feel of the clarinet line and the doubletime verse at the end.

I was done with this post, or thought I was, when I came across my last selection, by Coleman Hawkins and Ben Webster. Here is an instrumental version during a theme dedicated to lyrics. This version is just so sweet I had to include it. This is small combo jazz from 1959, at a time when bebop and cool jazz were all the rage, and free jazz was about to make its appearance. But this performance harkens back to an earlier time. I would put this on a short list of tunes to play for someone who is just hearing jazz for the first time.

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