Here is a strange, slightly-off piece from The Atlantic about a good new book by Ted Gioia called The Jazz Standards. I link to it in part because the author of the review, Benjamin Schwarz, mentions the beautiful version of Rodgers and Hart’s “Where or When” by Benny Goodman and Peggy Lee.
Schwarz calls it “the most poignant jazz record ever made.” Well, it’s certainly poignant, but more so than dozens of songs by Louis Armstrong, including the 1929 “Black and Blue,” or Billie Holiday, including “Strange Fruit” and “Don’t Explain,” to mention only some obvious examples? The whole review sounds a little off in its hyperboles. He also calls Strayhorn’s “Lush Life” the greatest jazz song of all. I’ve known other people to hold that view, but, even though I am fond of the song and love Strayhorn’s music, I’ve always felt that it was just a tad overwrought. Oddly, in the attached video Schwarz says, “the so-called Great American Song Book,” even though his main argument is that the Songbook, “a product of a fleeting set of cultural circumstances when popular, sophisticated music was aimed at musically knowledgeable adults, was the crucial wellspring of jazz,” and because we’ve lost touch with it and don’t have such sophisticated popular songs, jazz has lost its vitality.