Song Of The Day 1/30/2013: Richie Cole with Eddie Jefferson, The Manhattan Transfer & Tom Waits - "Waitin' For Waits"

OLYMPIA, WA -- Jazz composers, when the mood struck them, used to write songs in tribute to other jazz musicians: Jon Hendricks' "I Remember Clifford" (Brown), Weather Report's "Birdland," Gil Scott-Heron's "Lady Day And John Coltrane." Most of the time the jazz musicians in question were dead, in which case these tributes were called "threnodies."

The strangest tribute I've ever heard, however, was one to a musician who is very much alive. Saxophonist Richie Cole and vocalese genius Eddie Jefferson wrote this paean to Tom Waits in 1979, four years before Waits permanently altered his career trajectory away from the bebop/beatnik style with which he was most associated in the '70s. Granted, it's only in that context -- that Waits made a sharp turn towards rock and experimentalism in the '80s -- that this tune sounds bizarro. Hearing  Jefferson (who was killed the year this came out) and forchrissakes The Manhattan Transfer chirping about "The Piano Has Been Drinking" is disorienting enough, but then it gets punctuated by Waits' own contribution in the coda, where he whips out a quick sample of the kind of lyricism he had become semi-famous for.

It's no doubt a sincere appreciation, but sometimes I wonder if this kind of perky, harmless tune might've steered Tom in the unorthodox direction he eventually became more renowned for. So in a way maybe it is a threnody. I wonder if Tom has past-life insurance.
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