Find Out How Burt Bacharach Changed & Defined Music History
I’d like to share my arrangement of the Burt Bacharach classic song “I Say A Little Prayer” with my improvised solo.
It’s a great song! I really enjoy using “I Say A Little Prayer” as a vehicle for my improvisation techniques.
If you were asked to compile a list of the best songwriters of the Pop & Rock era (so from the 60’s until today) who would you pick?
Where would you start?
Who would you start with?
One name that would have to be included is Burt Bacharach.
How Bacharach Kickstarted A Career
Bacharach had over 70 Top 40 hits! I wonder how many songwriters achieved that?
I’m sure there would be those that would find his music a little too “easy listening” but he composed for the occasion regardless if it was for a movie soundtrack like James Bond, Arthur & Alfie or for Pop singers like Dione Warwick.
Bacharach could always come up with likeable, catchy melodies and always interesting chord progressions.
A Classically trained pianist who was smitten by Jazz & Bebop, Bacharach studied with the composers Darius Milhaud, Bonuslav Martinu, Henry Cowell and Nadia Boulanger. “That’s a totally enormous education”.
In 1950 Bacharach was drafted into the army and while stationed in Germany he met the Pop singer Vic Damone who was also serving in the military at the same time.
Following their discharge Bacharach worked as Damone’s musical director for 3 years.
Bacharach was then engaged as the musical director for Marlene Dietrich the legendary actress and performer.
Bacharach and Those History Making Collaborations
He toured the world with her but at the same time, he also became a songwriter at New York’s hit factory “Brill House” where he met the aspiring lyricist “Hal David“.
While recording a song that Bacharach had written for “The Drifters” called Mexican Divorce, he was really impressed by one of the backing singers, Dione Warwick.
Bacharach took Warwick aside and told her that he was writing songs with a lyricist called Hal David and they needed a singer to record those songs…with that, one of the most successful collaborations in Pop music history was born.
I’ve never heard The Drifters version of Mexican Divorce, I knew Ry Cooder’s recording from his album “Paradise & Lunch”.
Cooder was known for his slide guitar prowess so this demonstrates the strength of Bacharach’s songwriting with such varied musicians doing his songs.
“I Say A Little Prayer” was a massive hit for team Warwick, David & Bacharach, but the following year Aretha Franklin released her version with her huge voice (not that Dione Warwick didn’t have a big voice) Franklin turned the song into a “tour de force” which made Warwick’s seem, by comparison, subtle and understated.
Bacharach’s “Favourite Things”
Neither version is better or worst, they’re both great and worth hearing but… very different.
There’s an elegance about Warwick’s version but Franklin’s version is about creating excitement from the first bar.
Jazz musicians have been taking well known Pop songs and giving them a makeover, a unique interpretation for a very long time, it’s an established practice.
I remember hearing John Coltrane’s version of “My Favourite Things” for the first time.
It’s astonishing how the same song could be so different yet recognisable as the same song.
“My Favourite Things” as in the movie “The Sound Of Music” is so clean cut, polite yet uplifting while Coltrane’s version reflects his intense improvisation.
Coltrane was a master in the Jazz and Bebop genres but he’d spent a lot of time studying the music of other cultures especially Indian and Arabic music.
He would adopt and integrate his findings into his own playing.
This is what made his “Favourite Things” such a mystical experience for the listener.
Coltrane’s and Bacharach? What Did They Share?
It’s well known that Coltrane listened to and studied Debussy & Stravinsky’s compositions. He adopted and integrated concepts that he found with his careful study of these great innovators.
I was really struck by something I read in the booklet that came with John Coltrane’s CD box set “The Heavyweight Champ – The Complete Atlantic Recordings”.
Lewis Porter (who, incidentally, wrote a great bio of Coltrane) wrote a really insightful article in the booklet and quoted one of the Downbeat Magazine journalists that had interviewed Coltrane at his peak –
“but despite his success, Coltrane was always pushing himself, always searching for new things.” Coltrane then went on to say:
“I work a lot by feeling. I just have to feel it. If I don’t, then I keep trying. I haven’t found it. I’m listening all the time, but I haven’t found it. I don’t know what I’m looking. Something that hasn’t been played before. I don’t know what it is. I know I’ll have that feeling when I get it. I’ll just keep searching”.
His “hipster speak” of the time may sound a little unusual to us today but his drive and commitment to create something better is clear.
What Burt Bacharach and John Coltrane had in common was their search for a great musical experience.
With my arrangement I’ve tried to marry a great song with the freedom to improvise and extend the song