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Billie Holiday, a blue note e a caipirinha


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No ano do centenário de Billie Holiday (hoje a dama faz 102), Ruy Castro escreveu na Folha “Querida leitora, se alguém a convidar a ‘ir lá em casa para ouvir uns blues da Billie Holiday’, não vá. É golpe. Billie Holiday nunca gravou um blues na vida, exceto, talvez, ‘Billie’s Blues’.”.

Claro que gravou. Stormy Blues (1954), Long Gone Blues (1939) , Fine and Mellow (1939), Now or Never (1949), Billie’s Blues (1936, 1946), St. Louis Blues (1940) , My man don’t love me (1957), Rocky Mountain Blues (1951) , Be Fair To Me (1951), Ain’t Nobody’s Business If I Do (1951), são todos Blues naquele formato “chato” de que Ruy fala.

De fato, Billie considerava Blues como algo ultrapassado e geralmente quando gravava algum, era por um pedido do produtor. Mas essa associação de Billie ao Blues, creio que se deve em parte à sua autobiografia ‘Lady Sings the Blues’ (1956) e ao seu LP de mesmo nome (1956), e Blues aí tem um sentido mais amplo.

Billie e seu 'escritor fantasma' William Dufty
Billie e seu ‘escritor fantasma’ William Dufty

Assim, se eu lhe convidar “para ir lá em casa ouvir uns blues da Billie Holiday”, pode ir sem receios.

E vamos deixar de lado a afirmação “Billie não era uma cantora ‘de jazz’, no sentido de detonar a melodia”.

Discutir o que é ou não é Jazz ou Blues seria uma chatice, mas isso me lembrou um famoso artigo do Chicago Tribune de 11 de julho de 1915, “Blues is Jazz and Jazz is Blues”. Até onde se conhece, é o primeiro registro impresso da palavra Jazz.

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O artigo está disponível no site do jornal, também muito difícil de ler, por isso fiz a reprodução do texto lá no fim.

http://archives.chicagotribune.com/1915/07/11/page/54/article/display-ad-36-no-title

De acordo com o texto, um elemento comum entre Blues e Jazz seria a presença da blue note:
And then he unraveled the mystery of the “blues.”
A blue note is a sour note,” he explained. “It’s a discord – a harmonic discord. The blues are never written into music, but are interpolated by the piano player or other players.

Não sei traduzir, não sei dizer se “nota azeda” seria uma boa tradução para “sour note”. O dicionário inglês registra “off-pitch” como um sinônimo de “sour” nesse caso. Mas azedo me lembra limão, o que imediatamente me faz pensar em caipirinha. E blue note e limão podem ser azedos, mas funcionam muito bem dependendo do contexto.

Estas são a versão original de ‘Georgia on My Mind’, de Hoagy Carmichael (1930), e a versão de Billie Holiday (1941).

 

Na primeira vez que Billie canta “Georgia, Georgia”, ela segue mais ou menos a melodia original.

Na segunda e na terceira vez que Billie canta “Georgia, Georgia”, ela ignora completamente a melodia de Hoagy Carmichael. O que estão entre o início e o fim da frase, e que a fazem soar um tanto melancólica, são blue notes. Pra ajudar a perceber, ouça Billie Holiday com uma caipirinha e dê uns goles nesse trecho.

Aqui estão as transcrições. Hoagy Carmichael canta em fá, mas para fazer a comparação, a melodia foi transposta para o tom de Billie Holiday, si bemol.

partitura

 

 

 

 

 

 

Essa forma de cantar pode ser percebida durante toda a música. Ora Billie segue a melodia com algumas mudanças, ora ela a altera completamente (quando canta “other arms reach out to me” p. ex).

E Billie era conhecida entre os músicos por sua habilidade em improvisar e por suas melodias refinadas. Teddy Wilson conta que certa vez, durante uma gravação, apareceu o compositor de uma das músicas e disse “sei lá que música é essa, mas não é minha” ao que Billie respondeu “se preferir, não gravo. Tem um monte de outras músicas boas aqui.”. O compositor retrucou, “de jeito nenhum, gostei da sua versão”.

Sei lá o que “detonar a melodia” quer dizer. É chavão dizer que Billie tinha uma voz de alcance limitado e que compensava isso de outras formas, blá blá blá. Mas há uma passagem em sua autobiografia em que ela diz que já não tinha mais o mesmo entusiasmo ao gravar porque os músicos ensaiavam demais durante as sessões e, além disso, os “acordes estavam errados”. Claro que não estavam. Apenas as harmonias já estavam mais sofisticadas, aí já não era a sua praia.

Mas a dama cantava o Blues. E cantava Jazz. E como cantava.

O texto do Chicago Tribune:

She leaned against the table while the waiter slunk away and in a pledging voice said something to the Worm. The Worm was her husband. You may have guessed this before. Anyway, what she said was this:
“Ortus”, she murmured, looking into his tired eyes, “if you don’t fox trot with me shortly, I shall bring suit for divorce. Our life cannot go on this way”.
“Don’t I give you clothes – all you want?”, the Worm returned. “Huh- don’t I Now? Don’t I love you?”
“Stop!” she cried, deathly white. “You don’t understand me-Clothes bah! – covering for the skin. Love – a mockery. You do not realize that I have a soul – that I have two feet – that I want fox trotting”.
“You know I can’t dance. Last wee-“
“Enough” she cried imperiously drawing a veil over her snow white shoulders which always appear in scenes like this. “You may consult my attorney tomorrow. You have failed me in the fox frot. I cannot go on”.
She stopped. The music had started. Suddenly from above the thread of the melody itself came a harmonious, yet discordant wailing, an eerie mezzo that moaned and groaned and sighed, electrified a haunting counter strain that oozed from the saxophone.
The Worm stopped. His eyes shone with a wonderful light – the light that lies in the eyes of a man who has had two around the corner. His mouth moved convulsively. The years fell away from his shoulders leaving only his flock coat.
The Worm had turned – turned to fox trotting. And the “blues” had done it. The “jazz” had put pep into the legs that had scrambled too long for the 5:15.
What mattered to him now the sly smiles of contempt that his friends had uncorked when he essayed the foxy trot a month before: what mattered whose shins be kicked?
That’s what a blue music had done for him.
That’s what “blue” music is doing for everybody – taking away what its name implies “the blues” . In a few months it has become the predominant motif in cabaret offerings; its wailing syncopation is heard in every gin mill where dancing holds away.
Its effect is galvanic. Cripples take up their beds and one-step; taxi drivers willingly suffer sore feet because of it; string halt becomes St. Vitus’ dance in its grip.
Maybe you, poor soul, in your metropolitan ignorance, do not gather just what the “blues” are. Worry not; neither does the average person that plays them, and it was only after weeks of toiling that the true definition was obtained.
The first sortie after the definition was made in a song publisher’s arena, where beautiful actresses try their voices and the manager’s nerves.

“Halt,” cried the seeker after the definition, “fixing a dark haired piano player with a relentless eye. “What are the blues?”
The young man recoiled and shuddered. “I don’t know,” he said. “All I can do is play ‘em. A kind of a wail you might call it. Still I couldn’t tell you positively. But, say! I can take any piece in the world and put the blues into it. But as for a definition – don’t ask me.”
At the next place a young woman was keeping “Der Wacht Am Rhein” and “Tipperary Mary” apart when the in terrogator entered.
“What are the blues?” he asked gently. “Jazz!” The young woman’s voice rose high to drown the piano.
A tall young man with nimble fingers rose from the piano and came over. “That’s me,” he said. And then he unraveled the mystery of the “blues.”
A blue note is a sour note,” he explained. “It’s a discord – a harmonic discord. The blues are never written into music, but are interpolated by the piano player or other players. They aren’t new. They are just reborn into popularity. They started in the south half a century ago and are the interpolations of darkies originally. The trade name for them is “jazz.”

“There’s a craze for them now. People find them excellent for dancing. Piano players are taking lessons to learn how to play them.”

Thereupon “Jazz” Marion sat down and showed the bluest streak of blues ever heard beneath the blue. Or, if you like this better: “Blue” Marion sat down and jazzed the jazziest streak of jazz ever.
Saxophone players since the advent of the “jazz blues” have taken to wearing “jazz collars,” neat decollete things that give the throat and windpipe full play, so that the notes that issue from the tubas may not suffer for want of blues – those wonderful blues.
Try it some time – for that tired feeling the blues.