A Universal Song

I seldom watch anything these days except videos that are music-related – either films, videos, or documentaries. Some weeks ago, it was the brothers Gershwins’ Summertime. After watching this, I never listened to this song the same way again and I began surfing for various versions of the song 33,000 covers? It’s more than a classic. And here’s why; this one-hour documentary offers the answer.

Pauline Black, program narrator: “Great songs that transcend all styles, languages, nationalities have a beautiful simplicity at their very heart. Summertime shares this quality with the other two most-covered songs in the world – My Way and Yesterday… 

“Summertime’s global appeal is also due to its brilliant ability to trigger personal emotions in us all…

“Summertime has magically tapped into something deep inside us all. Nostalgia and innocence, sadness and joy and our intrinsic desire for freedom.”

BBC Documentary about the creation of George and Ira Gershwin and DuBose Heywood’s song “Summertime”, which has been covered over 33,000 times.

Colin Blunstone, vocalist The Zombies: “A really good song touches people. It means something to people and in this case it’s meant to millions of people and all three of those songs on their own level work like that, whether you prefer one over the other. They just touch all people.”

The Zombies version broke the pop audience in the 60s. I believe this is one most popular version to date, this is why the BBC program opened with it.

Bonnie Greer, Author of Obama Music: “Summertime is a state of mind. Everybody has got a Summertime somewhere. Everybody knows what that means…”

I particularly share this view of Bonnie Greer. She expressed it pretty well.

Stanley Crouch, jazz critic, author: “There’s something about that song that makes people feel more free when they’re playing it and when they’re listening to it. And I think that’s the greatest achievement of all.”

The best jazz cover by Ella Fitzgerald according to many critics. Now I must include Louis Armstrong, of course who plays the trumpet and vocals here.

An instrumentalist’s take on this, Courtney Pine, saxophonist: “I think, as an instrumentalist, when you approach a piece, a classic like this, which has a strong lyric, that has a strong melody, you are able to explore it in other ways. Sometimes in ways the vocalist would not explore. They wouldn’t bend certain melodies in the way that we would as instrumentalists do.”

But finally, this Janis Joplin rendition embedded the song in the counterculture consciousness.



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