A couple of Sundays ago, I listened to Private Passions on BBC Radio 3. This is a programme hosted by Michael Berkeley in which guests from all walks of life discuss their musical likes and hates. Theatre director Katie Mitchell commented that when she first hears a piece of music that she really loves, it is often that particular recording that is her ever after favourite.
I’m not entirely certain that this is always true for me. The Bach Cello Suites come to mind. I first heard some of them played on Radio 3 during a Bach marathon in 2005. Last year, I went to Opus Classical, a very good classical CD shop in Exeter and it was very strongly reccommended that I purchase Steven Isserlis‘ recording (2008 on the Hyperion label) . Most people think of Yoyo Ma when purchasing classical cello recordings, but I was told that the Isserlis recording is far superior, not least because the artist was 50 when it was made. “I finally dared do it…”, he said.
Well, I’m not going to write any more about Bach Cello Suites, but of a jazz song written by Elvis Costello. He says of Almost Blue:
“It’s strange how this song finally found its way to the singer for whom it was intended. I wrote it in 1981 after spending a lot of time with a couple of Chet Baker’s vocal albums. I fell in love with the Brown/Henderson composition ‘The Thrill Is Gone’ and resolved to write a song modeled on Chet’s rendition of it. My version of “Almost Blue” was recorded for the album ‘Imperial Bedroom’.”
Here is Elvis Costello’s recording:
Chet Baker’s version, starting with his elegant trumpet solo:
and from the 1988 documentary about Chet Baker’s turbulent life ‘Let’s Get Lost':
and finally, the first version that I ever heard and still my favourite. This recording comes from Everything But the Girl’s 1988 album ‘I Always Was Your Girl’. Tracey Thorn on vocals: