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Tin Pan Alley Made New

Jeremiah Cymerman
Charmaine Lee
Jacob Zimmerman

Because of the beauty of their melodies and the simplicity of their harmonies, the songs of Tin Pan Alley composers continue to be treasured material for young improvisers and composers. The tunes of that era provide the adventurous musician with material that is strong enough to bend to its limits while still retaining its original character. Beyond the compositional possibilities, there are always the possibilities of deep readings of Tin Pan Alley involving nostalgia, sense of place, and a certain innocence not found in music from later eras.

In this very special issue of Sound American, we've commissioned three versions of pieces from the Tin Pan Alley tradition from young improvisers and composers residing in the US. Their contributions confirmed that there was something magic about the songs of that era. We think you'll agree.

Jeremiah Cymerman on "Tenderly"

"Tenderly" is one of my favorite of all jazz standards. I love everything about it. It's a simple melody, austere and spare, expressing a poignant mixture of love, innocence and vulnerability. Throughout the piece, space is allowed to do the talking and in the version presented here, I am letting my apartment perform that role. With a couple of hot mics throughout the space, one can hear the Williamsburg Bridge, some construction down below as well as some of my favorite previously recorded versions of the tune: Buddy Defranco, Chet Baker and Bert Kaempfert.

Jeremiah Cymerman plays "Tenderly" (with the Williamsburg Bridge)

Charmaine Lee on "I Loves You, Porgy"

There’s something about the love and sadness in "I Loves You, Porgy" that feels timeless. I thought it called for a quiet, intimate atmosphere–imagine whispering your most private thoughts to another late at night, so soft it’s barely audible. To evoke that kind of stillness, we drew inspiration from music both old and new: Ligeti’s placid piano etude “White On White”, and the hushed piano and voice songs from Grouper’s Ruins. Recording the right take was a real exercise of patience–the sparse and static nature of the arrangement meant that every note and every breath needed to be treated with supreme delicacy.

Charmaine Lee Performs "I Loves You, Porgy" with Jeremy Corren

Jacob Zimmerman on "Reaching For Someone"

I learned "Reaching For Someone" from working with Meredith Axelrod, a singer and guitarist in San Francisco. Learning songs "on the job" is a very liberating and personal experience. I enjoy being free from thoughts of YouTube videos and sheet music telling me how a song could or should go. The arrangement on my recording was inspired by Meredith's slow rubato interpretation of the song, savoring every note. I want the song itself to be the most important part of the performance. Often my most expressive musical experiences are when I devote myself to serving a song I love. These personal yet egoless moments sharing great music are when I feel most true to myself.

Jacob Zimmerman performing "Reaching For Someone" with Ray Skjelbred (piano), Matt Weiner (bass). Recorded and mixed by Doug Haire at Jack Straw Studios.

Tin Pan Alley Made New