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A look at GOOD-BYE, the Gordon Jenkins song – jazz standard as the ultimate valediction

A theme for Benny Goodman in the 1930s, how the evening at his rollercoaster concerts of the time came to a more thought-provoking close, the song still had appeal by the time Frank Sinatra came to record Only The Lonely in the late-1950s (the arrangement above by Nelson Riddle).

Decades later the song still possessed consummate power as Keith Jarrett and Charlie Haden proved not only on Jasmine but with an extra version heard last year on the hitherto unheard Last Dance. 

In Goodbye: in Search of Gordon Jenkins written by the songwriter and arranger’s son Bruce Jenkins there is an explanation of the story of the inspiration behind the song, an untold tragic story amounting to a reflection by his father on the death of a former wife who had died at childbirth with their baby.

Jenkins had a remarkable magnetism he channelled in the song both in its melody and lyrics. According to Charles L Granata in his book Sessions with Sinatra: Frank Sinatra and the Art of Recording Sinatra found “a haunting melancholy” in Jenkins’ arrangements generally explaining that Jenkins favoured “the higher sweeter tones of the violin and viola. To this he added the barest whisper of minor key woodwinds, horns and soft percussion lending the songs the poignant back-alley late night colour of Lonely Street.”

Will Friedwald in Sinatra! The Song Is You: A Singer’s Art goes one step further to pinpoint the intimacy Jenkins was so adept at creating, as he quotes Sinatra directly: “With Gordon Jenkins it’s all so beautiful and simple that to me it’s like being in the womb.”

The song lyrics have a power brought alive by the melody but stand up by themselves. How they work is in the first verse’s repeated vow: I'll never forget you coupled with the power of memory choked with emotion and the impossibilty of separation: We said we’d never say, “Good-bye.” The second verse heightening the atmosphere is full of regret and morbidity but the song isn’t as gloomy as it could be. And perhaps the stoicism of But we’ll go on living/Our own way of living brings it back from the brink. And that folksy touch, referencing the traditional 19th century song ‘The Bonnie Banks o’ Loch Lomond’ So you take the high road and I’ll take the low cushions the impact of the terribly sad parting the devastating bathos of Good-bye, the last word, beguilingly going on to convey somehow drawing the mood back from becoming a lament of desolation.

The clarinet, the closest musical instrument to approach the sound of the human voice, removes some of the pathos of the song in Goodman’s version (it’s to function as a dance after all) to go back to where the story began – the spell unbroken.

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