The cover art made Eleanor uneasy. Something about that neon yellow background, with Adderly’s beady eyes at the center. Not to mention the forced perspective of his feet – he looked as though he were about to slip off the roof.
But the album cover, she knew, was not what she had purchased from the garage sale. What she had intended to buy was a gift for Gwen. The record was an unexpected but appropriate discovery, matching Gwen’s passion for theatre and her hipsterish fascination with vinyl. A quick search confirmed that the record was indeed the combination the cover implied: an album of jazz covers of songs from Fiddler On The Roof, performed by the famed Cannonball Adderly Sextet.
On the walk back to the apartment, Eleanor popped in her earbuds, found the album on YouTube, and began to listen to what she had just purchased.
The opening violin lick was immediately recognizable – though transplanted to saxophone and supported by a rambling piano figure and simple drums. The upbeat energy of the song perfectly matched both Eleanor’s expectations for a jazz sextet, as well as the pounding klezmer of Fiddler‘s opening number.
The songs rolled by, lending an undercurrent of metropolitan sensibility to Eleanor’s walk back home. Jazz had always stirred images of the city to her – visions of skyscrapers at dusk. The second track, a slow-burning rendition of Fiddler‘s most upbeat number, “To Life,” featured a trumpet with a Harmon mute on the melody line. The Harmon mute held even more specific connotations for her. This was New York in Winter. The music that plays in Starbucks around the Holidays. Chris Botti on that one James Taylor album.
Arriving home, Eleanor pulled out wrapping paper from the closet, and sat down in the middle of the room to wrap the gift. She switched her phone to an external speaker, and continued to listen to Adderly’s group worm its way through the score as she worked.
– – – – –
By the time Gwen arrived home, Eleanor lay reclined on the couch, reading. Gwen hung her coat on the wall, and had only made it a few steps into the room before stopping. She listened intently – recognized a melodic line – and spoke up.
“Is this the Cannonball Adderly cover of ‘Now I Have Everything’ from Fiddler On The Roof?”
Eleanor looked up, in shock. Gwen knew the song? The album??
“Um,” she stammered. “Yes?”
“Nice, I just didn’t think you knew the album,” Gwen said, heading to the kitchen. “Kind of an obscure jazz record. Then again, you always did like jazz.”
Eleanor laughed, shooting a glance towards her room, where the album was wrapped. “I found it recently. Sorry, I didn’t realize I left the music on.”
“Oh, it’s fine,” Gwen said. “I’m just going to start on dinner. Where’s Dania?”
“In her room. I’ll grab her.”
Eleanor stood up and, with unwarranted caution, walked towards Dania’s room.
“Hello?” She knocked on the door.
Peeking in, Eleanor caught Dania in the final stages of wrapping her own gift for Gwen.
“Finish wrapping,” Eleanor whispered. “She’s here.”
“Oh!” Dania said. “Gotcha.”
Eleanor shut the door and crossed the apartment to her own room. “Dania will be right out.”
Gwen nodded. As Eleanor disappeared into her room, Gwen continued to take in the album. Adderly himself was grinding out a leathery solo to the tune of “Do You Love Me?” The album hit the balance that Gwen had always searched for in covers of musical theatre songs – respectful enough of the source material as to remain identifiable, but twisted enough that the song felt distinct, not just another cover. Adderly had retained much of the structure of the songs, save for the natural alterations of tempo and style that transitioned them to jazz. “Do You Love Me?” as a slow ballad was an obvious fit, with its repetitive melody in short phrases. Still, that didn’t stop the arranger from adding a drawl of a solo at the very end of the song.
“Is this one of Eleanor’s jazz albums?” Dania asked, as she exited her room, her arms tucked behind her.
“One of them,” Gwen said. “It’s ‘Cannonball Adderly’s Fiddler On The Roof.’ It’s all jazz covers of songs from the show. Most of them are solid jazz songs even disregarding where they came from.”
“Cool.” Dania listened. The theme from “Matchmaker, Matchmaker” was clear to understand, so she was able to follow that, at least – even if the babbling saxophone in the background occasionally trod on the melody.
Eleanor appeared, holding the wrapped gift in front of her. She eyed Dania, who pulled her gift bag from behind her back. The two approached Gwen.
“Happy Birthday Gwen!” they chimed in unison.
Gwen smiled, surprised.
“Aw, guys!” She blushed. “Stop.”
“You don’t have to open them now, but here they are,” Eleanor said.
“No, open them now!” Dania shouted. “We’re all here, right?”
“Why not now, I suppose?” Gwen turned the stove off, and wandered into the living room. “Which one first?”
“I know what Eleanor’s is, do it first,” Dania said, as she sat beside Gwen on the couch.
Eleanor sat uneasily in a chair as Gwen peeled off the wrapping paper. What followed was a slow double take – Gwen looking at the record, then to Eleanor, and back again.
“Woah, look at the cover” Dania said. “What’s with his eyes?”
“Where did you find this?” Gwen asked. “You were just – was that supposed to be a hint?”
“It was a garage sale,” Eleanor admitted, neglecting to mention it was earlier that day. “I’d never heard of it, but it’s so very your aesthetic.”
“Yours, too!” Gwen said. “Meshing of jazz music and showtunes, that’s right up your Schubert Alley!”
“It’s certainly a great album,” Eleanor said. “I’ve been listening to it since I bought it. The arrangements are pretty straightforward – but you know the album, right.”
“I’ve never heard it on vinyl, though. This is fantastic!” Gwen said. She stood up to hug Eleanor tightly.
“You’re welcome!” Eleanor grinned.
“Let’s listen now,” Gwen said, running to grab her record player.
Five minutes of setup and one near-scratch later, the trio listened to the sextet play the same songs that had rose up from Eleanor’s phone so recently. Dania lay along the couch, eyes glazed over – but Eleanor and Gwen sat intently, taking in every crackle of the record.
“It’s warmer, you know?” Gwen said.
“Sure,” Eleanor said. Her focus was on the music itself. Adderly’s arrangements were, as she mentioned, fairly straightforward edits of the Fiddler score, with most verses and choruses combining to form a longer A-section, after which were the requisite jazz solos, over the same chords.
“The chord progressions are so un-jazz-like,” Gwen commented. “You’d imagine they’d have thrown in some notes from outside the chord to spice it up.”
“No, the majority of the jazz influence is the rhythm alterations,” Eleanor said. “Still very klezmer, but less linear.”
“Fiddler’s score itself is nicely varied,” Gwen said. “Songs generally have a similar A-A-B-A form, but how that form manifests is entirely different across different songs. Adderly doesn’t even use the B-section of ‘Matchmaker’ in his version, it’s all the chorus.”
The chart “Sewing Machine,” based on a song cut in previews, began. “I wonder what compelled them to make most of the songs into ballads,” Gwen wondered. “‘Chavaleh’ makes sense, obviously. It already sounds like ‘Bolero,’ but they added the military snare underneath. This is really the only one that has an uptempo pace.”
“‘Matchmaker’ is uptempo, I suppose,” Eleanor added. “And it has the best piano solo, you should hear it.”
“I know the album, Eleanor.”
“I don’t know,” Dania added, stretching out on the couch. “I think I like the real version of Fiddler more.”
“You don’t like Fiddler, though,” Gwen recalled.
“Yeah, but I don’t like jazz either,” she returned. “It’s background music to me.”
“You gotta appreciate the complexity,” Eleanor said. “It’s about studying the way the music weaves around itself. Jazz is music with a narrative to its creation, since so much of it is improvized. You can trace thought patterns in it.”
“Which is why I like a Fiddler-based jazz album,” Gwen said. “The music already has so much storytelling woven into it. Look at how the notes in ‘Matchmaker’ rise and fall as the characters’ anticipation does. How the ‘Sabbath Prayer’ mirrors Hebrew incantation. You deviate off of that, and the music has another layer of storytelling to it.”
“That most people aren’t going to notice,” Dania countered, “because it sounds like music that you play in the background.”
The album continued, moving onto the quartet of songs at the end of the album that didn’t come from Fiddler – bonus tracks from Adderly’s catalogue.
“Like, talk all you want about the storytelling in the other songs,” she continued. “But they all sound really similar to these songs, and they’re not based on anything in Fiddler.”
“Well, if you’re writing from scratch, you have no limits,” Eleanor said. “Working with the songs from Fiddler, you are held to the verse and chord structure, and it’s more impressive to create something truly jazzy out of it.”
“Wait, so now using Fiddler is an obstacle?” Dania asked. “I thought it fit perfectly!”
“All good art is made despite obstacles,” Gwen said. “If there was nothing in the way, art would be easy to create. Sometimes the best artists have to put challenges up for themselves.”
“It proves Adderly’s skill as an arranger – and soloist, I mean listen to the middle of ‘Sewing Machine’ – that the album sounds as good as it does, while retaining so much of the structure of the original score.” Eleanor watched as the record spun, the fifty-year-old arrangements as fresh as ever. “It’s fascinating to listen to.”
Dania rolled her eyes. “I guess.”
“Oh, right, I have another present!” Gwen said, pulling away from the record. “Dania, what did you get me?”
Dania and Eleanor watched as Gwen opened the present. All the while, the music spilled through the air, adding a touch of passion to the proceedings.
Image Credit: CD Universe