[Monday Notes n.15] All of me is one of the first songs that aspiring jazz singers learn. The melody is simple and graceful, the phrases symmetrical and easy to remember, the tempo bright but not too fast. The song is so typical that its simple melody immediately evokes the 1920s and the swing era.
Often this piece is played at too fast a tempo, emphasising a cheerful quality typical of much jazz music but in this case not confirmed by the words of the song. The lyrics of All of Me express the bitterness of a disappointed lover who feels used and abandoned.
American jazz musicians are often more attentive to the lyrics of the song, this is certainly the case with Lester Young in this interpretation, which is very delicate and lacks the excesses of many overly brilliant performances of All of Me.
Lester Young’s saxophone is melancholic by nature, it is impossible to hear him play in a vulgar or overly bright way, especially in the last, not too fortunate period of his life.
After an eight-bar introduction performed by the drums, Lester Young performs the theme by playing short and clean phrases; then we can appreciate his improvisation (minute 0’41”) for the duration of two choruses.
Lester Young’s improvisation unravels almost with difficulty, the phrases are broken, intimist and thoughtful. After him, pianist Teddy Wilson performs three improvisation choruses with a more brilliant feel (1’46”).
It is clear that Lester Young and Teddy Wilson speak exactly the same language, both hinting at the theme from time to time and having a great sense of proportion, never falling into unnecessary and uninspired embellishments.
After Teddy Wilson’s improvisation we can hear a chorus of exchanges with the drums, in which the sax and the drums alternate playing four bars each (3’23”). After the exchanges, the sax again plays two improvised choruses (3’55”), concluding the piece almost alone with a languid descending phrase (5’02”).
This is one of my favourite versions of All of Me, for the great balance of the ensemble, the delicacy of the performers and the slightly sweet, slightly bitter vein that reflects the song’s poetic lyrics.
Until next Monday!
This song is part of the list How to learn 100 jazz standards