Thursday, November 8, 2012

Cole Porter - "Begin the Beguine" - 2 Versions

Artie Shaw performed this iconic rendition of  Cole Porter's classic masterpiece “Begin the Beguine” in 1938 for a short film. His swing version has become the most familiar; it topped the charts at #3; and many people even think he wrote it. When Cole Porter met Artie Shaw he is said to have quipped, "I'm glad to finally meet my collaborator." Shaw asked him, in return, "Does this mean I get half of the royalties?"

The song was actually written in 1935 by Cole Porter while on a Pacific cruise aboard the Cunard liner Franconia. In October of that same year the song made its Broadway debut with June Knight singing it in the musical “Jubilee” at New York’s Imperial Theater. It didn’t cause any stir at all. Even the following year when Josephine Baker came over from France and performed the song with the Ziegfeld Follies as a dance, it garnered little notoriety. It would be two more years before the song found its place.
Artie Shaw, the great bandleader and clarinet player, heard the song and was drawn by its unusual composition of 108 bars; as compared to the standard “pop” song which has 32 bars; or measures. Artie Shaw, along with the help of his arranger Jerry Gray, scored the song as a swing number, which Mr. Shaw and his orchestra can be seen performing in the video above.

A bit of background on the song itself; the term Beguine derives from the 13th century, when it denoted a Christian woman living in a religious community without taking the ordinary vows.  The term was somehow corrupted to mean a “white woman” in the Creole communities of the Caribbean on Martinique and Guadeloupe. After that it became the term for a slow style of “couples” dancing, which was a staple of Latin and French ballroom dancing. When Cole Porter used the term in song, and Artie Shaw made the song popular, the term became a part of ordinary language.

Due to its unusual composition, Cole Porter claimed he could never remember it without having the music in front of him. Over the years just about everybody has recorded their own version of this classic. It’s no easy feat to perform. All of the big bands released their own versions, and all of the great vocalists; from Frank Sinatra to Ella Fitzgerald and even Elvis Presley have taken a turn at it. Even the great painter Max Beckmann used the title for one of his paintings.
To give you an example of how versatile this song is; without losing its original beauty in any genre; here is a link to the most unlikely vocal interpretation by Pete Townsend, who originally recorded it in 1970 and then re-released it sometime in the late 1970’s. Though the version by Artie Shaw is my favorite instrumental rendition of the song , Pete Townsend’s is my favorite vocal arrangement. The flash player says it’s too big to upload here; so I have provided the link instead;
And here are the beautiful lyrics from Mr. Cole Porter;

When They begin the Beguine by Cole Porter
When they begin the beguine
It brings back the sound of music so tender
It brings back a night of tropical splendor
It brings back a memory ever green.

I'm with you once more under the stars
And down by the shore an orchestra's playing
And even the palms seem to be swaying
When they begin the beguine.

To live it again is past all endeavor
Except when that tune clutches my heart
And there we are, swearing to love forever
And promising never, never to part.

What moments divine, what rapture serene
The clouds came along to disperse the joys we had tasted
And now when I hear people curse the chance that was wasted
I know but too well what they mean.

So don't let them begin the beguine
Let the love that was once a fire remain an ember
Let it sleep like the dead desire I only remember
When they begin the beguine

O yes, let them begin the beguine, make them play
Till the stars that were there before return above you
Till you whisper to me once more, "Darling, I love you"
And we suddenly know what heaven we're in
When they begin the beguine.

When they begin the beguine.

No comments:

Post a Comment