I’ve always had a soft spot for that sweet old swing stuff. It just works for me, in ways that some other forms of music don’t. There’s a kind of joyful energy about the best of it, infectious and driving and lively, that I can’t resist. It makes me wish I could really dance (as opposed to having public seizures on a dance floor, which is really what I do most of the time). It also makes me regret never becoming competent on a wind instrument. There is nothing in the world like a really, really hot swing band.
One of the songs I really adore is a fun bit originally written for a Yiddish musical in the 1930s: Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen. Perhaps the most well-known version is the one the Andrews Sisters recorded (with English lyrics by the amazing Sammy Cahn and Vic Schoen). Oddly enough, though, one of my favorite versions of the tune is the one Janis Siegel recorded for the film Swing Kids — I love it not only for her voice, but because the studio players she sings with are great. It’s just a terrific rendition of the tune instrumentally, long before she ever sings a word. They’ve got a clarinet player who rocks the hell out of that song. Of course, the gold standard for the instrumental performance of this song is the inimitable Benny Goodman Orchestra (to whose arrangement the Siegel recording owes an obvious debt) — I love this live recording with Martha Tilton on vocals. Listen for the trumpet break at about 2:35 (with the clarinet joining in). I love this thing. The winner for awesome vocal version (plus a great band) is, obviously, Ella Fitzgerald. She breaks into occasional scat-duets with her wind players, and it’s gorgeous.
Of course, I don’t have a swing band in my pocket (hurhurhur), so in order to cover this tune I had to come up with something a little less amazing and a lot more manageable. I opted for acoustic guitar, vocal, and a little viola. I really, really wish I could have had more time (and better time, really) with that klezmer fiddle player I once got a short lesson from in college. I just haven’t quite got the chops for this sort of thing, although I don’t blow it too badly. I did flub the words a bit, but I liked the take so much it just didn’t seem right to ditch it over a little mistake.