Sunday, 15 November 2009

Moments of Magic Number 4

Stella By Starlight (written by Victor Young) - Percy Faith and his Orchestra

Stella By Starlight is one of the most beloved jazz standards of all time. Quirky, bouncy interpretations by the likes of Miles Davis, Stan Getz, Ray Charles and Ella Fitzgerald have ensured that the song is kept on the exclusive playlists in the underground jazz parlors of the world, as well as in the minds of many a jazz enthusiast.
However, this 'song' started life without lyrics. It was, to begin with, merely an instrumental theme in a Ray Milland feature called 'The Uninvited.' The popularity of the 'theme' encouraged an official 'song' release and in 1946 Ned Washington penned the now famous, if slightly peculiar, lyrics for what was intended to be a big band standard.

This 1960s orchestration by the legendary Percy Faith is far closer to the original 'spirit' of the piece than any of the charming interpretations since. It is extraordinarily lush and melodramatic, something which adds to rather than detracting from the quality of the piece. The soaring romance of the strings requires this kind of tear-jerking sensitivity; the light echo at the tail end of this piece is an excellent example.

This sample picks up at the end of the second, vigorous repeat of the refrain and fades out into a beautiful violin and cello duo, with trademark Faith vibrato that brings to mind a tearful scene from a black and white movie romance, with the high echo following taking the melody up from the depths and bass of the repeated refrain to a subtle and celestial ending that slows mournfully.

The shame is, music of this calibre of arrangement is largely ignored today. It is considered to be schmaltzy, weepy and indulgently saccharine. I do not share this view. There is magic and wonderful skill in this interpretation; it is gorgeous and indulgent but it is not the lesser for it. It takes those fabulous falling chords and wrings an exquisite and startingly melodic flourish. A perfect ending to a rather perfect tune.

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