An aural journey through "Spring is Here"
I recently performed a concert celebrating the arrival of spring with a program featuring songs with the word "Spring" in the title. It Might As Well Be Spring, Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most, You Must Believe in Spring, and Joy Spring proved to be fun to play and provided me with many harmonic and rhythmic opportunities. Of course, the theme of the concert demanded that I play Richard Rodger's Spring is Here, and it turned out that this song took me on an interesting journey. Researching the history, listening to, and studying many versions of this song gave me several new musical avenues to explore, and enabled me to create a fresh treatment of this song.
Two sources provided historical perspectives on the tune. The first was Richard Rodgers, Musical Stages—An Autobiography (Random House, 1975, reissued 2002 by Da Capo Press, ISBN 0-306-81134-0). The second historical viewpoint was especially important to me, because it provided treatments of the song by various jazz musicians. The second source was the website www.jazzstandards.com. I clicked on 'Search' and typed "Spring is Here"; what appeared was a tremendous amount of information. In a section called Origin and Chart information, I discovered that Rodgers and Hart wrote two songs with this title. The first Spring is Here was the title of a 1929 Broadway show (filmed the following year), and the song was an upbeat tune, soon forgotten, and not the ballad that became a jazz standard. A section called Jazz History Notes revealed which jazz musicians recorded the tune, the public's response, suggested sources for additional analysis of the tune's structure, and CD recommendations. On the right side of the page was a marvelous learning tool called Listen and Compare, where I could sample various jazz interpretations.
Another road of discovery I visited was www.allaboutjazz.com. In the search box (upper right), I typed in "Spring is Here" and a list of articles appeared. Toward the bottom were two: "Best Jazz Songs of Spring, Part 1" and "Best Jazz Songs of Spring, Part 3" (I couldn't find Part 2!). Much to my delight, there were twenty songs; most I had heard, but some I hadn't— a nice discovery. Each song had a paragraph that described its origin, who wrote the music and lyrics, who recorded it, and a link to one or two short audio clips. For example, I found out that there were more than 250 versions of Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most—did I have a lot of homework to do! (The one clip included here was by singer Irene Krall, who beautifully portrayed the melancholy of the lyrics.) I was also intrigued by the titles and descriptions of songs I wasn't as familiar with: So It's Spring, Some Other Spring, Springsville (recorded by Miles Davis— can't wait to study this one), Spring Sequence, and A Spring Morning, to list a few. Spring will come around next year and I can do an entirely new program!
A third avenue I explored was http://www.last.fm/tag/jazz%20piano. Again, I typed in "Spring is Here" in the search box (upper right) and a list appeared under the box. At the bottom of the list, I clicked on Search for Spring is Here, and was taken to TRACKS, with Spring is Here as the sole listing. There were fifteen selections on this opening page alone, with twenty-five more pages to go!
This song has been recorded by such jazz pianists as Bill Evans, Ahmad Jamal, Dave Brubeck, George Duke, Count Basie, Nat Cole, Kenny Barron, Bud Powell, and Oscar Peterson; and singers Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Ella Fitzgerald, Tierney Sutton, Julie London, Chet Baker, and Nina Simone. I clicked on as many arrows as time allowed, and was taken on marvelous side roads of interpretations thirty seconds in length.
All this preparation gave me many insights into this lovely song, filling my head with numerous possibilities. These interpreters became my teachers, urging me to try harmonic choices I had never dreamed of, revealing rhythmic nuances, subtle melodic treatments, and timing. What a fabulous lesson for me!
Below is a brief visual example of the results of my journey. Here are measures 9-12 of the song:
Here is my harmonization of these four measures, influenced greatly by my aural "lessons" with other jazz pianists' interpretations, especially that of Bill Evans.
All my travels helped immeasurably in formulating ideas for the song. To hear a recording of one of my version, click on the audio player below.