The July 26 Sunday Arts&Style article “Why do pop singers keep releasing jazz standards? The results are mixed” confused the repertoire now generally known as the American songbook with jazz. They are not the same, but the article treated them as if they were. The American songbook contains the classic songs of George Gershwin, Cole Porter, Richard Rodgers, Vernon Duke and their peers. One hundred years into usage, the term “jazz” is well defined and understood as an improvisational genre based on the forms and repertoire of the American songbook. Cabaret also uses the American songbook, but is not jazz. Linda Ronstadt, Rod Stewart and Barry Manilow were not attempting jazz; they performed cabaret-style.
Also, to consider Bob Dylan’s “Shadows in the Night” as a jazz performance was wrong-headed. Dylan has developed a unique performance style grounded in Southwestern roadhouse blues that is a distant cousin to jazz. He cast these songs associated with Sinatra through his sui generis lens with mixed resuts, from the sublime (“That Lucky Old Sun”) to the awful (“Some Enchanted Evening”).
Joni Mitchell, an artist with solid jazz bona fides, was also badly treated here. She worked with jazz artists from the beginning of her career (although not on recordings for a while) and delivered a solid, knowing performance of Annie Ross’s and Wardell Grey’s “Twisted.” She was accepted as a peer in the top echelons of jazz by the time she recorded “Mingus.” To use her diminished sales as an indication that her foray into jazz was unsuccessful is a blind assertion. Her sales diminished because she followed her muse into realms of thought and expression where her fans didn’t care to go, not because she did so unsuccessfully. (Mitchell blames marketing, and she has a bit of a point.)
Finally, Lady Gaga’s wonderful and fully realized recordings with Tony Bennett were a great opportunity to work in the field in which she started. She was raised in the American songbook. I’ve been waiting for her to return to it and fully expected her to be great. She is, but it isn’t really jazz. It’s just an older form of pop and very well done.
David Julian Gray, Silver Spring