Girl, Put Your Records On

A couple of weeks ago I caught that old Mel Gibson/Helen Hunt romantic comedy What Women Want on one of the cable networks. I thought this was a stylish movie when I first saw in the theater (not with my husband; this is definitely not his kind of movie). Not only did Helen Hunt have a fabulous wardrobe, but the settings were like a two-hour advertisement for New York. And the music was nothing short of heavenly.

This viewing I perked up at two songs I knew I had to hear again: The standards Night and Day and If I Had You, both sung by vocalists my ear didn't recognize. I've always been a big fan of standards, having grown up with my parents listening to their favorites, Sarah Vaughan, Dinah Washington, Joe Williams, Frank Sinatra, and Doris Day. So I went to the Internet and researched the identity of these singers. Night and Day was performed on the soundtrack CD by none other than the Temptations, who gave the Cole Porter classic a dreamy, romantic sound I hadn't heard before. Frank Sinatra came close, but like many other artists, his version includes the intro, ("Like the beat-beat-beat of the tom-toms . . . .") that I've concluded is impossible to sing, Cole Porter lyrics notwithstanding, nearly ruins the rest of the song, and is best left in instrumental versions.

Of course, the Tempts have had more lineups than my husband has had in 15 years of league bowling, so I don't know which incarnation of the group performed this song, only that they did a fabulous job with it. (Another artist who can turn a mean standard is Chaka Khan. I heard her sing a cute little ditty called Hazel's Hips plus a few other gems on her Classikhan CD, which I've got to get a copy of.)

The other vocalist (If I Had You) was someone named Nnenna Freelon, whose name I remembered seeing simply because of the unusual spelling of her first name, which I imagine is pronounced, "Nina." I listened to other recordings by her, and she is one talented sister. She does covers of standards and more contemporary music (i.e., the music of Stevie Wonder), always applying her own unique phrasing. Her version of the standard Prelude to a Kiss (the title of one of my early novels which was around long before that Meg Ryan movie) just blew me away. Ms. Freelon took ownership of that song, just the way Lena Horne owns Stormy Weather and Etta James owns At Last. Why this singer is not a huge star falls under the "Life's-Not-Fair" category.

Then again, maybe I've just been in the dark. Is anybody reading this familiar with this gifted artist? I'd love your recommendations.