The Covers #1- Night and Day
I’ll be doing a series throughout the week looking at most of the covers SL has recorded in his career. We’ll be comparing Lerche’s version to the original or discussing why he may have chosen to record that particular song.
Written for the 1932 musical, The Gay Divorce, “Night And Day” has become one of Cole Porter’s most performed songs and one of the most celebrated songs in the American Songbook. It was first premiered on stage by Fred Astaire, whose recording of the song rose to number one on the charts and held the position for ten weeks. Popular recordings of the song have also been made by Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, and Charlie Parker.
My favorite version, though, is the 1934 Fred Astaire from The Gay Divorcee film (the Hays Code requested the name be changed for the film adaptation saying that, while a Divorcee could be gay, a divorce should not be). Part of the appeal in this version (shown above) is the dramatic power added by the narrative. This song, and specifically the captivating dance between Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, represents a major turning point for the characters. As in most of Fred Astaire’s films (with Rogers or not), his character generally earns the trust of the girl through dance. This particular dance is especially powerful, and you can see Rogers slowly letting her guard down throughout the dance until the two truly become one during the final shout-chorus. I particularly enjoy how, stepping off at the end of the song, Astaire wipes his hands and offers Rogers a cigarette, just incase you didn’t pick up on the “dance as sex” metaphor. Another wonderful thing about this version is the way Astaire handles the intro. More so than any version I’ve heard, he makes a distinct difference in the way he sings when the chord changes. When he starts singing, “Like the drip, drip, drip of the rain drops…”, the harmonic center shifts up one half-step. The arrangement here changes, the tempo steadies, and his phrasing adds a hint of a swing to the eighth notes. I’ve always found that his phrasing here gives a more musical reasoning of the sudden change of harmony.
Sondre Lerche recorded his version for the Duper Sessions, his third studio album, which focuses his sound through a jazz quartet. The album contains mostly original songs played in a mostly jazz style, and includes three covers. Two of these are covers of pop songs adapted into jazz idioms (Elvis Costello’s “Human Hands” and Prefab Sprout’s “Nightingales”, both of which will be discussed later this week), while the third is, of course, Cole Porter’s “Night And Day”. The choice to include these covers plays on two common jazz tropes. Instrumental jazz groups often reinterpret popular songs of the time (think John Coltrane’s “My Favorite Things”), and jazz singers often sing songs from the American Songbook.
What’s most interesting about his version of “Night And Day” is its arrangement. Instead of utilizing the jazz quartet arrangement featured on the rest of the album, this song, the only true jazz song on the album, is accompanied just by the guitar. Further, his guitar accompaniment is distinctly not-very-jazz. His chord voicings are most often standard-position barre chords and although, in the more intricate harmonic sections, he uses more detailed chords, for the most part he eschews the use of harmonic extensions like 7ths, 9ths, and others.
Sondre Lerche’s cover of Night and Day is my favorite Sondre Lerche song. I can’t tell you why, it just is. One day I’ll request it at a concert, maybe, and then I’ll die happy.