August 7, 2009


Filed under: Uncategorized — improviz @ 3:19 PM

My Zumix Radio partner J.T. Potter thought he was making a joke when he suggested the song “Misty,” but that’s his tough luck.

Pity once again the great jazz musicians who became associated with one song (2 previously covered in this blog-Ellington and Kenny Dorham). In this case, it’s pianist Erroll Garner.

As a musician, Garner was an interesting case: Couldn’t read music, which in jazz by the 1950’s, was getting to be rare; made a bunch of records, but only a few clicked; at 5’2″ (nickname: The Elf), he needed to put phone books on the bench to get up to the keyboard. To my ears, he does attain one of the classic jazz goals-you can recognize it’s Garner right away, largely because of the stretching of time, the independence of left and right hands and the frequent use of octaves and tenths, a la Stride players like James P. Johnson and Fats Waller. Jackie Byard was a similar eclectic stylist a half-generation later.

A song like Misty served Garner well, allowing for the kinds of melodic, harmonic and rhythmic digressions he liked to make. However, as this song seeped more and more into the popular repertoire, Garner’s version of it came under attack by the dreaded kitch-a-coccus, began to age badly and lost its appeal.

Johnny Burke was the lyricist. Burke was a protean collaborator, who worked with many composers on song ranging from “Like Someone In Love”(good tune) to (gulp) “Swinging on A Star.” These lyrics are not as stupid as most we’ve covered here in the Crypt:

Look at me, I’m as helpless as a kitten up a tree;
And I feel like I’m clinging to a cloud,
I can’t understand
I get misty, just holding your hand.
Walk my way,
And a thousand violins begin to play,
Or it might be the sound of your hello,
That music I hear,
I get misty, the moment you’re near.

Problem is, over time, the metaphors weaken, overwhelmed by the bathos of the song’s underlying idea, which is the utter dependence-lack of center-of the person singing the song.

Can’t you see that you’re leading me on?
And its just what I want you to do,
Don’t you notice how hopelessly ‘Im lost
That’s why I’m following you.

Eventually, your response has got to be: “Tough patooties. Get a freakin’ life.”

So, while it started off with better raw material than “Satin Doll,” it’s fate has been justifiably similar. Every wedding in every Elks hall in American resounds with this song. In fact, Mephistopheles himself combines these tunes in a “First Dance” medley, played by a Styxian combo at every Bar Mitzvah and First Communion held Down Below. Nice choice.



  1. I'm surprised you didn't mention Johnny Mathis' version, found on his Greatest Hits album and played at every "blue lights in the basement" make-out party of the early 60's. I think it's the true source of boomers' attachment to this tune. Notwithstanding your legit critique of the lyrics, aren't young teens entitled to some emotional masochism?

    Comment by Marlene — August 9, 2009 @ 6:34 PM

  2. I like it. Mixing your critique with a dollop of jazz history is most enjoyable!Cobalt Patricia

    Comment by Anonymous — August 9, 2009 @ 6:36 PM

  3. Of course, Johnny's version is the benchnmark against which all vocal versions will forever be measured. And alors, Cherie, young teens are largely composed of sugar, spice, emotional masochism and sadism… I'm not advocating lyrics that are artificially pumped up with the self-esteem thoughts de jour; merely positing that the intensive mooniness of the protagonist makes it harder to accept the song's somewhat heightened level of poetic imagery. Now, are you all thoroughly confused? Good.

    Comment by Steve — August 9, 2009 @ 7:48 PM

  4. "Misty"….talk abouot an over-recorded song! Clint Eastwood's debut as a director in the 1971 "Play Misty For Me" helped make it more popular than it ever deserved. Personally, I think the changes suck! An interesting note in the History of Jazz is that Richard "Groove" Holmes" version of "Misty" on Prestige made the charts, and that's something for a Jazz recording in 1966. Cal Lampley was the A & R man for that date, but he was fired several months later for the production of "Super Soul" with "Groove" in a big band setting as he had "Groove" and the drummer on the same channel. You're only as good as your last hit!

    Comment by Tom Curry — August 22, 2009 @ 3:47 AM

  5. I can only say that you're bound to have the soloist and the drummer on the same channel at least part of the time, as the idea of isolating the many mics on a drum set to one channel is pretty weird. Normally there's at least some panning.

    Comment by Steve — August 22, 2009 @ 4:20 PM

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