Friday, April 21, 2006

Set 'Em Up Tom

I spent a rare evening noodling round on the piano last night.

Back in my youth I developed a sort of ersatz cocktail bar style in which I hit the keys largely at random. My left hand plays four note harmonised block voiced chords (leavened with chromatic passing chords) and my right hand plays blues inflected runs and trills.

I've found that Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer's 'One for My Baby' is a handy tune for this style as you can do the bulk of it as a sort of Cmaj7, Dm7, Em7, Fmaj7 vamp without the substitutions getting too ridiculous.

Nowadays, I'm never - if I can help it - more than a heartbeat away from an internet connection so it is difficult to resist the myriad online fake books even when you are at the (ebony and ivory) keyboard. Last night among all the dross (chord progressions are surprisingly slippery) I found a 'One for my baby' transcription that seemed to be quite closely based on the classic version from 'Frank Sinatra Sings for Only the Lonely' so I ponied up the four or five bucks required to download it.

This inevitably lead to further involuntary research.

It's quarter to three, there's no one in the place
Except you and me
So set 'em' up Joe, I got a little story
I think you should know.

According to Wikipedia, Mercer wrote the lyrics sitting in bar called P J Clarke's on Third Avenue in midtown Manhattan, while being served by a barman called Tommy Joyce and apparently called Joyce up the next day to apologize for not being able to make his name fit.

That seems a bit lame to me. I propose:
It's quarter to three, there's no one in the place
Except you and me
So set 'em' up Tom, just like back in high school
No date for the prom.
Was that so hard? But wait, P J Clarke's has another claim to fame. It also stood in for Nat's Bar in Wilder's 'The Lost Weekend' in which Ray Milland (born Reginald Truscott-Jones in Neath January 1905 and hereby inaugurated Welsh Born Icon) declaims:

It shrinks my liver, doesn't it, Nat? It pickles my kidneys, yeah. But what it does to the mind? It tosses the sandbags overboard so the balloon can soar. Suddenly I'm above the ordinary. I'm competent. I'm walking a tightrope over Niagara Falls. I'm one of the great ones. I'm Michaelangelo, molding the beard of Moses. I'm Van Gogh painting pure sunlight. I'm Horowitz, playing the Emperor Concerto. I'm John Barrymore before movies got him by the throat. I'm Jesse James and his two brothers, all three of them. I'm W. Shakespeare. And out there it's not Third Avenue any longer, it's the Nile. Nat, it's the Nile and down it moves the barge of Cleopatra.
I've already had a Bloody Mary in Harry's Bar in Paris. Do I need to pencil in a nervous breakdown in PJ's before I die, I wonder?

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