I’ve al­ways liked Doin’ Time by Sublime which is (gasp!) ap­proach­ing twen­ty years old. But I have a se­cret rea­son, be­cause the breathy back­ing track is off a record ap­proach­ing six­ty years old by Her­bie Mann that my Dad bought when I was still in short pants, and I still have the orig­i­nal, and love it. Wel­l, and al­so be­cause it’s based on Sum­mer­time; I’ve been in a musically-literate room where some­one called it the great­est song ev­er writ­ten and while some­body else said “What about Good Vi­bra­tions?” a few heads were nod­ding. Let’s take a trip through the times.

The needle drops on At the Village Gate
· · ·
At the Village Gate by Herbie Mann

Above, the nee­dle drops at the start of the Doin’ Time of­fi­cial video. Below, the record the nee­dle was drop­ping on.

What hap­pened was, when I was a kid and we were liv­ing in Le­banon where my Dad was a Pro­fes­sor of Agri­cul­ture, drifters came through and some­times we ac­ci­den­tal­ly took them in. The pair I re­mem­ber were called Ping and Les­lie, les­bians and big jazz fan­s, who brought us, among oth­er things, At the Vil­lage Gate by jazz flautist Her­bie Mann. My Dad fell in love with it and bought a bunch of oth­er Her­bie Mann record­s, but I nev­er liked any as much as this one.

Am I about to ar­gue that Mann has the defini­tive take on Sum­mer­time? Nope, in fact it’s not even the best song on the al­bum; that would be Comin’ Home Ba­by. But his Sum­mer­time is great too, be­cause of the hip, re­laxed, spa­cious play­ing of the At the Vil­lage Gate band, with a grace­ful slid­ing bass line, the funky flute and sparkling vibes float­ing over it.

Doin’ Time al­so isn’t the best take on Sum­mer­time, but it’s fun to lis­ten to, even though you have to be a lit­tle sad about the death of Bradley Now­ell, an­oth­er shoot­ing star sunk by hero­in. Sublime, his band, is de­scribed as “ska punk”. Huh?

So, you ask, what is the best take on Sum­mer­time? Sil­ly ques­tion; what’s the best fla­vor of ice cream? My own mu­sic col­lec­tion has ver­sion­s, along with Mann’s, by Char­lotte Church, Big Brother & the Hold­ing Com­pa­ny (feat. Ja­nis Jo­plin), Bil­ly Ste­wart, El­la Fitzger­ald with Louis Arm­strong, Pa­tri­cia Bar­ber (twice), Miles Dav­is, and Chet Bak­er. Guess what: They’re all good, ex­cept for Char­lot­te. I guess I have no choice but to of­fer a tour.

This is the #102 in the Song of the Day se­ries (back­ground, Sp­po­ti­fy playlist).

Sublime · Ska punk they say? Hm­m­m, on iTunes, Ama­zon, Spo­ti­fy.

Her­bie Mann · Sum­mer­time on Ama­zon, iTunes, Spo­ti­fy.

Comin’ Home Ba­by on Spo­ti­fy, iTunes, Ama­zon.

Big Brother/Ja­nis Jo­plin · This is a live ver­sion, off Cheap Thrills. Ja­nis re­al­ly over­does it be­cause that’s what Ja­nis did. It doesn’t quite work for me, but I love this ver­sion any­how be­cause of the weird con­tra­pun­tal electric-guitar ar­range­men­t, not re­al­ly like any­thing else. Big Brother might’ve been a bunch of fucked-up smack-heads, but damn they burned bright. On iTunes, Ama­zon, Spo­ti­fy.

Bil­ly Ste­wart · I don’t know much about this guy, wiped out in a car crash aged 32; old­er than Ja­nis any­how. He sets out to prove pthat Sum­mer­time is re­al­ly an up­tem­po funk-pop num­ber at heart. He doesn’t quite make his case, but it sure is fun to lis­ten to. On Ama­zon, iTunes, Spo­ti­fy.

El­la and Louis · I am gen­er­al­ly not a Louis Arm­strong fan, sor­ry. I’m with Miles Davis on this, who just couldn’t get past Louis’ con­stant cheesy smile. Yeah, I know he had to do that com­ing up in the biz as a black guy play­ing for white au­di­ences, but it’s still weird and bad. Al­so, maybe the prob­lem is with me, but his trum­pet play­ing nev­er grabs my in­ter­est. Hav­ing said that, the ver­sion he record­ed with El­la Fitzger­ald, while the string ar­range­ments are too mushy, is mem­o­rable; Louis’s so­lo has more soul than usu­al, he sings well, and then El­la re­al­ly brings it on the last verse, leap­ing up to an as­ton­ish­ing wide-open vibrato-free high note on “your daddy’s rich”. On iTunes, Spo­ti­fy, Ama­zon.

Miles Davis · Miles, as usu­al, plays the fewest notes while some­how at the same time of­fer­ing the most mu­si­cal depth and den­si­ty. But I just loathe Gil Evans’ back­ing ar­range­men­t, gooey and plod­ding. Stil­l, three min­utes and 21 sec­onds of Miles bear­ing down on a tune is not to be sneezed at. On Ama­zon, iTunes, Spo­ti­fy.

Chet Bak­er · Mm­m­m, I re­al­ly like this. It’s the most con­ven­tion­al “jazz” per­for­mance, with the stan­dard pi­ano/bass/­drums back­ing, tak­en maybe too fast, and the breaks wan­der way off the melody. But Chet brings a whole lot of emo­tion to his play­ing, and his round­ed gold­en tone is just the thing for this song. On Spo­ti­fy, Ama­zon, iTunes. But Chet record­ed this a lot, I might not have your fave here.

Pa­tri­cia Bar­ber · She’s done it twice, once in the stu­dio on A Dis­tor­tion of Love; that ver­sion is most­ly in­stru­men­tal, large­ly a love­ly bass break, then she sings it once straight through, not dress­ing it up much, which is the right ap­proach. On Spo­ti­fy, Ama­zon, iTunes. Then again on Mon­day Night: Live at the Green Mill Vol­ume 2; I think she overem­bel­lish­es the vo­cal line, but then makes up for it with a love­ly un­fussy deep pi­ano break. It’s not on Ama­zon but you can buy the mu­sic straight from Pa­tri­cia.

Live Video · And now for my own fa­vorite ver­sion of Sum­mer­time, which I ran across re­search­ing this piece; El­la Fitzger­ald in 1968, with a small band play­ing slow. Oh my good­ness. And, well, Bil­ly Ste­wart on TV, be­cause ev­ery day needs a smile in it; and he’s re­al­ly pret­ty great; al­so dig the flashy cam­era and mike work. I am sure there are bril­liant video cap­tures of many of the oth­ers I men­tion, but I’ve al­ready been work­ing on this piece for days and it’s late.



Contributions

Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: Michael Constans (Apr 12 2018, at 21:55)

I sang 'Summertime' in high school chorus in LIma, Peru. And I have to say that we had no clue what was available in those notes. The version that woke me up is the Ray Brown Trio with Gene Harris on the piano. Resplendant.

https://music.amazon.com/albums/B01LWLU4GP?trackAsin=B01LZV3477&ref=dm_sh_44c5-e780-dmcp-05e9-0bc23&musicTerritory=US&marketplaceId=ATVPDKIKX0DER

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From: g (Apr 13 2018, at 06:50)

So, *Summertime* originally comes from Gershwin's opera *Porgy and Bess*. Have you compared any performances of the opera, or standalone performances by opera singers, with the standalones above?

(Random example, which I don't in the least claim is the best available: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R44waInkjgI is an old recording by Anne Brown, who was the first ever Bess in *Porgy and Bess*. The song isn't actually sung by Bess in the opera, but never mind that.)

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