A how do you do song by Johnny Burke (lyrics) and bassist Bob Haggart (music): intimate friends meeting each other after a while catch up. 'What's New' is their story told from one point of view, our hero's.
The first verse is a compliment; the second the story of the break up, self deprecation on the protagonist's part; and then the curious bathos of the last lines: 'I understand Adieu/Pardon my asking what's new/Of course you couldn't know/I haven't changed, I still love you so'.
Bob Crosby, tune writer Haggart was in his band, did the song early on with a 1938 version as did his famous brother Bing.
Erroll Garner's followed much, 14 years or so, later.
Garner has a fantastic sense of melodrama in his version of the song. It is very visual and full of decoration in an instrumental, solo piano version.
Any great song can be played on nearly any instrument, taste not a factor perhaps sometimes, however. I can't imagine a rendering of 'What's New' on the kazoo given all the goodwill in the world beyond a bit of novelty.
The skill of the instrumentalist is to make the song exist without the crutch of words to paint pictures and these images have to somehow be extremely vivid especially if the song is known to the listener which it often is given the age of some classic jazz standards and the distance of time and if they have been played a lot on the radio or become identified with a singer, say Frank Sinatra or Linda Ronstadt down the years in this instance.
I actually prefer Bags' Wizard of the Vibes version to Erroll Garner's. Its mood is completely different and not just because the melody emerges from the vibes and the counter melody of John Lewis' piano, adding layers of harmonic resource and melodic invention. The Kenny Clarke drum part is jauntier, his brushwork a Picasso, and the bass of Percy Heath is magisterial.
During the 1950s Stan Kenton and Coleman Hawkins delivered versions as did Clifford Brown. The song suits Clifford Brown best of all and this is my overall pick. Listen. It will stop you dead in your tracks and invade you. The song in Brownie's hands has been reborn. It is a stillness.
The song remained popular in the 1960s and versions pile in. Dudley Moore did one worth seeking out as did the great Wynton Kelly.
Let's stop off for a breather by taking Art (grindingly superlative two-punningly as you can glean) much much later and then a 1990s Hammond B3 slow slow version by Joey DeFrancesco to be listened to back to back if you can. That trademark tart reality from Art; super softness and tender elasticity from Joey D show the imagination at work from both. The sheer scope the song allows artists down through the years is remarkable.