The latest Version Compare was as, so many of the series’ subjects, inspired by hearing someone special play the song in question live... not so much as a matter of the melody lingering long but the mood too as part of the totality of the experience.
That someone was Keith Jarrett. Later curious to know more having been blown away by his poignantly bittersweet melancholic version of the song once known before the English lyrics were added as ‘Mütterlein’ and a hit in the 1950s, it seemed that Joni Mitchell’s version was the one Keith liked. Let us not pass over the Jug either, with a version I had not heard until today. Gene Ammons is someone I want to listen to more. (Brandon Allen has kept the Ammons flame alive in recent years) As for the Joni version itself by contrast I have lived with it for a while and it is slower and thoughtful in an analogous way to the consummately still Standards trio instrumental version. In other words time and silence are treated in a different way.
I have always loved Nat King Cole and remember while browsing disconsolately given the choice through the cassettes in a wet and dank Warsaw subway market stall near the Forum Hotel a certain delight at finding a much cherished compilation tape back in the 1990s. His version does not disappoint (we will draw a discreet veil over Frankie Laine’s overwrought rendition however: one for Frankie’s fans only of whom there were many and not relevant here).
This week I have been listening to a lot of Etta Jones so cannot resist her version and it is you will hopefully find and agree wonderfully laid back and full of feeling and it is that latter quality all the versions above share. The artists feel the song like superbeings and they are living it via their unique qualities as performers and which partly defines their ability added to their musicianship and skill communicating the sense of the song to us to send us away with something that we never knew we had inside us. And that also goes for the warmth of the Aga too, a Polish singer too little known alas beyond eastern Europe. Words or melody? I prefer the Gerhard Winkler and Fred Rauch melody to the Carl Sigman lyrics I must confess but togetherness, the way lyrics and tune invade each other is what counts and Sigman reinvented the song and deserves our undying gratitude to inspire all the above and many other treatments.