Who do you turn to first when you think of 'Sweet Lorraine', the 1920s song by Cliff Burwell with or without lyrics by Mitchell Parish? That was my first thought listening to the fine new instrumental solo piano version of the piece by Anthony Wonsey. Does the present equal the past and how does this new version stack up with the masters? Will you be as ''happy as a baby boy with another brand new choo-choo toy'' and stop dead in your tracks when you think of Nat King Cole's vocal version and just leave it at that in all blissful timelessness?
It's ages since I heard Wonsey in the flesh, back in 2012 playing Ronnie Scott's with the great Carmen Lundy. He blew me away that night and proved an ideal player digging in behind the great Carmen.
Immediately here Erroll Garner's dreamy version from 1947 leapt straight to mind. It's definitely getting to the heart of the matter. There are earlier versions in other arrangements by Jimmy Noone's Apex Club Orchestra, Joe Venuti and his Blue Six, Teddy Wilson and his orchestra, the Benny Goodman trio, Frankie Carle, Frank Froeba, the Coleman Hawkins Swing Four and Irving Fazola and his orchestra. Later what about Steve Allen ''at the Wurlitzer electronic piano'' in the 50s on Electrified Favorites? Ah, no.
Basie in 1960 on String Along With Basie is far more like it. But maybe it's Earl Hines' version on Blues in Thirds (Fontana, 1966) even more to the point? It's no way similar to what Wonsey is doing but it really works via a certain swagger. It's certainly my favourite version of the ones I know for the piano lines if not the vocal element so much.
What about Oliver Jones' dazzling version from the 80s? Yes it's a good one but far more showier than Wonsey's. There are lots more versions. The song is such a great vehicle for improvisation. But to be honest Wonsey's is as good as any. It's a winner. The album from which it is drawn entitled Lorraine's Lullabye is to be released next week by the Cellar Live label and was produced by the great trumpeter Jeremy Pelt. It includes a Milton Suggs vocal on 'Melancholy Mind'. Fine bassist Brandi Disterheft is among the personnel on a couple of tracks. SG. Anthony Wonsey, top