Monday Notes

Jay Jay Johnson, Lover Man. Between blues and American song

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[Monday Notes no. 93] Love is one or the main subjects of great American song. There are several sub-genres: lost love, unrequited love, a secret love. Lover Man belongs to an even different category: the longing for a love that is yet to be. We listen and analyse Jay Jay Johnson’s performance on trombone.

In these kinds of songs, it is often a female character who sings, a woman who suffers because she has no one to love. For example, in Someone To Watch Over Me and The Man I Love the singer longs for tenderness and protection.

In Lover Man, however, love has a more physical, almost carnal meaning. From this point of view, the lyrics are closer to the blues tradition, which deals with this topic in a very straightforward and concrete manner.

The first part of the song is in the key of F major, the melody is smoother in the first four measures before rippling over to a dissonant 7#9 chord in measure 5, and concludes in measure 7 with a bluesy phrase.

Lover Man parte prima

In the middle part the piece modulates to the key of G major (17-20), then returns to the key of F major (21-24).

Lover Man parte seconda

The blues is one of the constant ingredients of great American song, yet Lover Man merges the two elements in a particularly successful way.

The AABA form developed over 32 measures, the G major modulation in the middle part and the overall elegance belong to the tradition of American songwriters. The explicit lyrics and the dissonant phrases, on the other hand, are of blues derivation.

Jay Jay Johnson is one of the greatest jazz trombonists of all time. The piece opens with an introduction, then Jay Jay Johnson performs the first theme (0’23”). This is followed by a short solo by pianist John Lewis (2’32”), then the trombone again, which concludes the theme together with the other wind instruments.

Jay Jay Johnson’s performance is intense and vibrant, his dark trombone voice is so expressive that you can almost hear him speak the words of the song.

In fact, the best jazz musicians always respect the lyrics of a song, even when they play it instrumentally. This is certainly the case in this beautiful rendition by Jay Johnson, one of my favourite versions of Lover Man.

Until next Monday

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