Posts Tagged ‘Toots Thielemans’

Saturday Single No. 559

October 7, 2017

Autumn, that most melancholy and sweetest of the four seasons, is here in full. I should be appreciating the glint of sunshine on golden and red leaves as they fall. I should be watching great V’s of waterfowl as they make their ways across the skies heading south. I should be nodding in appreciation as a song of loss and growth and hope plays in the car or the study.

I should be enjoying autumn as I have almost always done.

But this has been a dismal season so far. We have had many more days of rain and cloud than of sunshine in the past four weeks, and most of the leaves that have fallen from the oaks and the basswood here lie sodden on the lawn. One cannot kick one’s way joyfully through wet leaves.

My physical ailments – my cramping and stiffening legs – make it difficult as well for me to find joy in the season. Neither physical therapy nor a wealth of advice drawn from numerous sources seem to be helping, and I am worried.

And this autumn is different in at least one other way. My sister and I both have September birthdays, and when I wished her well during a phone call the other day, she noted that this year’s birthdays were our first without either of our parents. She said our mom often called her about 7:30 in the morning on her birthday, as that was the time of day she was born. I said that Mom often called me at 7:50 in the evening on my birthday for the same reason. And then neither of us said much for a few moments.

Not all the leaves have fallen yet, and we may still get the sunny days that have always leavened autumn’s melancholy for me in years past. My ailments may subside; if they do not, I will find ways to live with them. My grief will never disappear, but it will fade to a level that I can both tolerate and embrace.

And if it still turns out that this autumn is not one I can celebrate or cherish, well, I have had similarly sad autumns before, and I may have them again. Likewise, I may still have one or more gloriously bittersweet autumns waiting for me in the years to come. And as I ponder those things, I remind myself that here in this human plane of joy and woe, we are granted those things we need at the times we need them.

And that tells me that I must embrace this season with all its disappointments and worries just as fully as I have embraced the seasons that were sweet and thus more easily embraced.

As for music this morning, here’s the wistful and lovely “Early Autumn” by Toots Thielemans. It’s from his 1958 album Time Out For Toots, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

‘Riding With The Wind . . .’

October 30, 2015

Originally posted June 16, 2009

To this day, Jimi Hendrix remains an enigma to me. And that’s my fault, I suppose.

There’s no doubt about his prodigious talent; when one talks about great rock guitarists, his name is – and should be – one of the first to be laid on the table. (I’d also include Eric Clapton and Duane Allman among those first named; maybe Derek Trucks, Stevie Ray Vaughan. Who else?) But I never got into Hendrix when he was alive. At the time of his death in September 1970, I was still sifting through music that was much more accessible and less challenging: the Beatles, CSN&Y, Chicago.

And I didn’t really dig into Jimi’s music until I began collecting LPs seriously in the late 1980s. Over the years, I’ve gathered seven Hendrix albums, from 1967’s Are You Experienced? through Experience Hendrix, a 1997 two-LP anthology. (I have a couple of things on CD as well.) So I know the music – and I like most of it – but it never really brought along to me that “wow” factor that other listeners have told me about over the years. That doesn’t negate the brilliance of what Hendrix accomplished in a very short time; all it means is that when I put together a playlist of favorites, there are very few Hendrix songs that would show up: “Red House,” “All Along the Watchtower,” “The Wind Cries Mary” and “Little Wing” are the most likely.

I suppose that I might have heard Hendrix’ version of “All Along the Watchtower” when it was getting a little bit of airplay in 1968 (it went to No. 20 that autumn). I might have heard some Hendrix as I wandered the residence halls at St. Cloud State during my freshman year. But my first verifiable exposure to Hendrix’ work came in the spring of 1972 through a cover version of his song, “Little Wing.” Derek & the Dominos’ version of “Little Wing” was included on Clapton At His Best, a two-LP set that included highlights of the single Blind Faith album, Clapton’s first solo album and Layla.

That first hearing is probably one of the reasons why “Little Wing” remains one of my favorite Hendrix songs. Beyond familiarity, though, it’s a great song: It’s got a strong melody and chord structure, and the lyrics – enigmatic and evocative – are among the best that Hendrix ever put on paper. Here they are as presented on the inside cover of Axis: Bold As Love:

Well, she’s walking through the clouds,
With a circus mind that’s running wild,
Butterflies and Zebras,
And Moonbeams and fairy tales.
That’s all she ever thinks about.
Riding with the wind.

When I’m sad, she comes to me,
With a thousand smiles she gives to me free.
It’s alright, she says, it’s alright,
Take anything you want from me,
Fly on, little wing.

Of course, given the song’s quality, cover versions of “Little Wing” abound. All-Music Guide lists more than 300 CDs with a recording of the song. Maybe fifty of those include Hendrix’ version and another fifty include Derek & the Dominos version (or versions by Clapton), but that leaves a hefty number of cover versions by other performers. I can’t provide my customary rundown of some of the more interesting names on the AMG list, as the site is being balky this morning.

But here are a few of the cover versions of “Little Wing” I’ve come across over the years.

“Little Wing” by the Corrs from Unplugged [1999]

“Little Wing” by Sanne Salomonsen from In A New York Minute [1998]

“Little Wing” by Toots Thielemans & The London Metropolitan Orchestra from In From the Storm: Music of Jimi Hendrix [1995]

The most familiar name there is no doubt that of the Corrs’, the Irish group that dances a line between Celtic folk and pop.

Salomonsen is a Danish performer who records in both Danish and English. The album, In A New York Minute, was a project that brought Salomonsen together with Danish-American jazz pianist Chris Minh Doky and his quartet for a series of largely improvised sessions. In addition, Doky brought along some friends and colleagues, including among them American alto saxophonist David Sanborn, American trumpeter and flugelhornist Randy Brecker and his brother, saxophonist Michael Brecker, American blues, jazz and rock guitarist Robben Ford and legendary Belgian guitarist and harmonica player Toots Thielemans. The album, which is out of print and quite pricey even used, is well worth a listen. “Little Wing” is one of the better performances.

As I was digging around for information about Salomonsen’s album last evening, I came across that reference to Thielemans, whom I’ve seen called many time the world’s greatest classical harmonica player. And then I found a reference to Thielemans’ own cover of “Little Wing,” which I’d never heard. I managed to find a copy, and I think the album from which it comes – which also includes performances by Buddy Miles, Taj Mahal and other folks – is going to end up on my want list.

To Tide Us Over

December 14, 2012

It’s been a hard week here under the oaks: Too many things needing doing and too many of them yet undone. So I’m going to send Odd and Pop on vacation today and get back to my list of tasks. In the meantime, here’s a track I came across pretty much by accident the other day:

Toots Thielemans’ European Quartet, in a live recording released in 2010, performing the “Theme from Midnight Cowboy.”

I’ll be around tomorrow with a Saturday Single.

‘Riding With The Wind . . .’

September 15, 2011

When Jimi Hendrix’ “Little Wing” first showed up in 1967, it was as an album track on Axis: Bold as Love, tucked near the end of Side One, almost seeming an afterthought between “Ain’t No Telling” and “If 6 was 9.”

Well, she’s walking through the clouds,
With a circus smile running wild,
Butterflies and rubies,
And moonbeams and fairy tales.
That’s all she ever thinks about.
Riding with the wind.

Lord when I’m sad, she comes to me,
With a thousand smiles she gives to me free.
It’s alright, it’s alright, it’s alright
Take anything you want from me,

Fly on, Little Wing.
(Anything you want . . .)

“Hendrix,” says William Ruhlman of All-Music Guide, “originally developed the lovely guitar pattern that serves as the basis of the song while playing in Greenwich Village in 1966 and finished it in the fall of 1967 in time to record it for his second album. Playing the guitar through a Leslie organ speaker, he emphasized its melodic appeal, adding lyrics that paid tribute to a generous, if somewhat ethereal female who might as easily be a child or an angel as a woman.”

The track today sounds as if it would have been a perfect single to pull from Axis: Bold as Love, but it seems that the only single released from the album was “Up From the Skies” b/w “One Rain Wish,” which spent four weeks in the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at No. 82. The A-Side of that one sounds like a science fiction/fantasy shuffle and it has some elegant wah-wah guitar, but – with, as always, the benefit of hindsight – I have a sense that “Little Wing” might have done better on the chart.

As it was, the song seems to have been pretty much ignored until Eric Clapton brought it to life during the sessions for  Layla & Other Assorted Love Songs in September of 1970 (just nine days before Hendrix’ death). Adding what Ruhlman correctly describes as “a majestic opening riff,” Clapton, Duane Allman and the rest of  Derek & the Dominoes recast “Little Wing” from Hendrix’ semi-mystical musings to – in keeping with the rest of the album – a tale of love gone awry.

But amid the riches of Layla, even an iconic performance of “Little Wing” didn’t merit a single. The track wound up as the B-Side of Polydor 15056, with “Bell Bottom Blues” as the A-Side.

(The 1973 Polydor release of “Bell Bottom Blues” is notated by Joel Whitburn in Top Pop Singles as “longer version,” leading me to believe that the Atco single released two years earlier must have been an edit. The Polydor single was in the Hot 100 for four weeks and went to No. 78; the 1971 Atco single – with “Keep On Growing” as the B-Side – stayed in the chart two weeks and peaked at No. 91.)

The Polydor single, I have to assume, was the result of Polydor releasing in early 1972 the anthology Clapton At His Best at about the same time as Atco released The History of Eric Clapton. At the time, I opted for the Polydor set – I wrote about its influence on my life as a music fan some years ago – because it was the first of the two that I found.

(Though both of those anthologies have been supplanted by releases like the Crossroads box set and more, it’s still interesting to compare the tracks included: The Atco draws heavily on Clapton’s time with the Yardbirds, John Mayalls’s Bluesbreakers and Cream, then touches on Blind Faith and Clapton as studio musician. It also covers Clapton’s time as one of Delaney & Bonnie’s friends and finally offers the title track from the Layla album. The Polydor collection pulls much of its material from Layla and Clapton’s ensuing self-titled solo album, with two tracks from Blind Faith and nothing from the years before.)

On that Polydor album, “Little Wing” announces itself after the jam that ends “Keep On Growing,” and the first time it did so in our basement rec room, it caught my attention completely. Because of repeated listening to the Polydor anthology over the years, the track still seems to me to belong there – after “Keep On Growing” and before “Presence Of The Lord” – more than it does leading off Side Four of the vinyl configuration of Layla or being tucked between “Have You Ever Loved A Woman” and “It’s Too Late” on the Layla CD. Wherever one finds it, however, the track is brilliant.

What got me thinking about “Little Wing” this week was a cover version. A while back, the Texas Gal and I went down to one of the local sales lots and bought a 2004 or so Chevy Cavalier to replace the 1998 Nissan that I had been driving into the dust. For practical reasons, she adopted the Cavalier and handed off to me our 2007 Nissan Versa. Besides having a driver’s side window that works, the greatest benefit of driving the Versa is that it has a CD player. So I spent several evenings a couple months ago ripping CDs of pretty much random stuff pulled from the mp3s. Among them, as it turned out, was an intriguing cover of “Little Wing” by famed harmonica player Toots Thielemans & the London Metropolitan Orchestra.

It’s not the only cover version of “Little Wing,” of course. A quick look at listings at AMG show versions by Sting, the Corrs, Danish singer Sanne Salomonsen, Concrete Blonde, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Gil Evans and numerous others. But I thought the Thielemans version – which I found on In From The Storm, a 1995 collection that offers cover versions of twelve of Hendrix’ songs – was worth a listen this morning.