One thing that may make me a little different from most of my colleagues is that my favorite part of this job is not the performance, but the process of learning a new song and putting it together for the first time. Much like my favorite exhibit in an art museum is usually artists drawings and sketches, not their final work.
I enjoy doing research and listening to as many different versions of a piece of music, trying to figure out what makes each one unique.
Over the last few weeks, I have been fortunate enough to do that with the Billy Strayhorn tune Lush Life, which I will be playing with my friend Humphrey Cobb at Mozarts this Friday, November 30th (we hit at 8 pm).
This tune is tricky, I think of it as less of a song as a recitative, and should be accompanied as such. The singer is telling a story (a particularly dark one at that) and the music should bring out the story. At the moment, my favorite versions are Joe Pass & Ella Fitzgerald, and Billy Strayhorn himself playing and singing it.
Give them a listen, and you’ll hear the drastically different approaches to the tune.