Stay, the poem Hinterhof by James Fenton set to a jazz melody


This month shows me trying my hand at writing and performing a jazz standard of my own invention. I even got all dressed up like Frank Sinatra to croon like Tony Bennett. Unfortunately, despite the wardrobe, it still mostly sounds like me, struggling at 10:00 AM with a morning voice not quite ready to sing with the grace and agility of either of those legends.

About the gear and the recording

I'm playing my trusty 38 Vega through my super reliable little Roland Street Cube, so the guitar sounds jazzy, and ace engineer Doug Smith has given me a nice pool of reverb to swim in on the principle that even I might sound like a crooner in a big enough tiled shower enclosure.

About the song

As regular readers know (hi sis!) I've gotten into jazz in a small way in my middle age. I never really thought of myself as an accomplished enough guitarist to play jazz, let alone write in the idiom, but since no one is really paying attention to me outside of very supportive family and friends (hi mom!), I feel free to indulge myself these days and explore song writing and performing in any way, shape, or form that strikes my fancy. In this instance, inspiration came via my morning drive to NIST...

I try to get to work fairly early, at least by scientist standards, so I'm usually on the road when Garrison Keillor and the Writer's Almanac come on WAMU at 6:45 AM. I struggle A LOT when it comes to lyrics, and lately I've been keeping my ears open for anything that I can use as source material so that I can at least sing something...anything along to all these little chord progressions I have laying around. The first song I posted on my channel, The Living, contains lines lifted from James Joyce's The Dead and from Samuel Barber's Twelfth Night, for example. So it shouldn't be surprising that I always try to listen as Garrison is reading the daily poem during my drive. Who knows, maybe one will work for a song? One morning this poem Hinterhof was read, and I thought..."this is really a kind of sentimental poem...romantic, but not what I think of as great poetry... what it really sounds like is the lyrics to one of those classic jazz pop standards from the 40's and 50's...hmmm...I wonder if anyone else has had that thought?...I also wonder why the heck it's called Hinterhof?"

When I got home and Googled around I didn't find any examples of anyone having set this lyric poem to music, so I started seeing if any of the jazz chord progressions I had been toying around with might work as a musical setting. It took me probably all of 10 minutes to discover that this simple little set of chords I'd been playing and singing random vowel sounds over would work nicely as a musical setting for this poem. Presto a new song! And according to Google, this poem is very popular for readings at weddings, and as it turns out, I've been asked to provide music for a wedding this spring...hmmmm...now if I can just find out why Fenton calls his poem Hinterhof I'll have a Trifecta!

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