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Straight No Chaser - A Jazz Show

Welcome to Straight No Chaser, the Award-winning Podcast hosted by Jeffrey Siegel

Aug 4, 2012

Having been brought up on a steady diet of Simon & Garfunkel on my Dad's car stereo, I find that "Bridge Over Troubled Water" is a song I always enjoy hearing performed in new and different ways, so long as it remains true to its gospel-tinged roots. The song surely must be considered a modern standard.

Paul Simon wrote the song when he was in a period of great personal reflection, as he was on the rocks with his partner Art Garfunkel and was questioning what musical direction to follow next. Simon wrote the song after listening to a number of older gospel recordings, and was particularly impressed by Claude Jeter’s line "I'll be your bridge over deep water if you trust in me," from the Swan Silvertone’s in the 1958  song “Mary Don’t You Weep”. He claimed to have Garfunkel’s airy tenor voice in mind when he wrote the tune, and insisted on his partner singing lead on the entire song. To this day, Simon often claims to regret that decision.

The song was recorded in 1969 in New York and Lost Angeles and released as a single on January 26, 1970, It reached number one on the Billboard charts a month later, and stayed at the top of the chart for six weeks. It went on to win Song of the Year and Record of the Year at the 1971 Grammy Awards. It’s worth noting that the highly memorable piano introduction to the song was composed and played by session veteran Larry Knechtel, who worked for four days before getting it to a point everone liked.

Podcast 290 examines a number of artists' interpretations of this Paul Simon classic, which is estimated to have generated about $7 million in royalties from cover versions alone. The original recording ranked in the top 50 of the latest Rolling Stone magazine list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All-Time, including:

Paul Simon from Paul Simon in Concert: Live Rhymin’.  A few years after the duo broke up; Simon finally got his chance to record the song without Garfunkel singing lead. This live recording is closer to the gospel feeling Simon mined when he wrote the song, and features the Jessy Dixon Singers supplying background vocals and the Reverend Dixon singing one verse.

Aretha Franklin from Queen of Soul: The Atlantic Recordings. Paul Simon asked the Queen of Soul to do a cover version of the song, and the result won the 1971 Grammy Award for best R&B Performance. Peaking at Number 6 on the Billboard charts. This may be the single finest recording of the song, placing it squarely in the church from which Aretha began.

Jay Hoggard and James Weidman from Songs of Spiritual Love. Jazz musicians have enjoyed the gospel setting of the song as well. Here, a vibes/piano duet presents a quiet, even delicate, mood of need, but also of support.

Kevin Hays Trio from You’ve Got a Friend. Musicians also can place the song with those tunes with which “Bridge” dominated the charts in the early Seventies. Kevin Hays: (piano); Doug Weiss: (bass); and Bill Stewart: (drums), mixed songs by the Beatles, Carole King and Paul Simon with jazz standards on this 2011 release. The result is a wonderful set of improvisations and reexaminations of their melodies and harmony structure.

Lua Hadar with Twist from Like a Bridge. One of the latest cover versions of the song comes from this Cabaret singer and her musical arranger, pianist Jason Martineau. Recorded live in the legendary Fantasy Studios in Berkeley, California Hadar and her band take a decidedly global approach to reinventing tunes without losing the spirit originals. Martineau takes a world beat approach to “Bridge”, and Hadar glides through the song on a wave of sonic bliss, sparked by solos from horn player Larry De La Cruz.

Matt Wilson’s Arts & Crafts from An Attitude for Gratitude. One of my favorite recordings of 2012 is from this talented drummer and a quartet that includes Terrell Stafford on trumpet, Gary Versace on keyboards and Martin Wind on bass. This is a respectful yet decidedly different take on the song, with Versace leading the way.