The Jazz Standard In the Satin Strap

Great tunes tell us a story we want to hear. Plot lines, era or location, maybe timeless. Characters we want, believe in, or love to hate. A memory, gestalt or vibe. Performance-hall hailed or dive-bar belted, the tunes we want to hear again and again have a story. ‘Standards’ are song-stories that merit retelling.

Jazz tunes often have a hip, breaking-new-ground story element. In its earliest days, jazz music was considered downright dangerous with roots in the beyond-the-pale, not-quite-acceptable, slightly-taboo. So off-the-page! Jazz sheet music is called a chart, and may not have any notes on it at all! That inheritance lends itself to the vibe of new. Trendy. Edgy. Slangy.

Satin Doll is a quirky 50’s example. Duke Ellington’s instrumental hit got lots of radio play in the summer of ’53. As with other existing hits, wordsmith genius Johnny Mercer wrote lyrics for it years later. In an Ellington biography by Stanley Dance, Mercer said that Ellington wrote the tune for his lady-love, Evie, to whom he frequently left notes around the house addressed to ‘Dearest Doll’ or ‘Darling Doll’. Mercer matched the supple, uptempo feel of Satin Doll with lyrics full of current slang, still hip even when we fast forward 60 years:

Cigarette holder which wigs him, over her shoulder she digs him,
out cattin’, that Satin Doll…
Baby shall we go out skippin’? Careful amigo, you’re flippin’.
Speaks Latin, that Satin Doll… She’s nobody’s fool so I’m playing it cool as can be…

Still a story we want to hear, we’ve SEEN her!! That Satin Doll standing with a cosmopolitan in hand, in a local upscale bar. Attractive, hair up, neckline down. She does Pilates, with a waistline to brag about. Enjoys being noticed.

Into the bar walks Harold Hill, mythical protagonist from brilliant composer and songwriter Meredith Wilson’s The Music Man. He is no fool either, a con man who has been around the block a few times. Knows how to get into and out of anything and everything. And then he sees her. That Satin Doll. In the more playfully edgy portion of his 1957 Broadway hit, Meredith Wilson wrote one of Harold Hill’s trade mark songs about adult romance, The Sadder But Wiser Girl. And like Satin Doll, the song has additional clever lyrics added later. Seth MacFarlane has genius wordsmithing abilities like Johnny Mercer’s. His interpretation has a final verse of edgy wit:

No honey throated beckoning siren, I plug my ears and I grab my oars and I flee…
I jeer, I boo at the Puritan-hearted ingenue,
I yearn, I long, for the woman who’s Pop says “What went wrong?”,
I root, I clap for the dame in the gownless evening strap… the sadder but wiser girl is the girl for me

Don’t you think these two would be chatting it up in the bar???


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