Summer of Covers continues!
Billy Joel recorded “New York State Of Mind” for his fourth studio album, Turnstiles, in 1976. The song never got a single release, but has become a standard anyway, recorded by… dang near everybody, it seems. Wikipedia lists among others, Barbra Streisand, Tony Bennett, Carmen McRae, Elton John, and even the Muppet’s Dr. Teeth And The Electric Mayhem. Now that’s a performance I have got to see.
Mel Tormé seems to have been the first to have caught on to what a great song it is, recording his version for A New Album just one year after Turnstiles. Mel’s version featured Phil Woods on sax, making it automatically superior to anyone else’s.
(ASIDE: Tonight I learned that on subsequent reissues, Joel replaced Richie Cannata’s sax solo with a new one by Woods. To this day I don’t know what the rupture was between Joel and Cannata [it happened in time for Cannata to be replaced by Mark Rivera for 1983's An Innocent Man and later albums], but I guess it was serious enough for Cannata’s work on “NYSOM” to get flushed down the memory hole.)
Part of the first verse didn’t sit quite right with Tormé, the part which goes like this:
I’ve seen all the movie stars in their fancy cars and their limousines.
Been high in the Rockies under the evergreens
If, like me, you have trouble picturing a tuxedoed Mel Tormé smoking a joint out in the woods, then you understand why the race car-driving crooner changed it to this:
Been down to Mozambique, climbed a mountain peak, drove a racing car
Made plans for Tahiti, but that’s way too far
Now that sounds more… Melish.
Much as I love Tormé’s ’77 studio recording and Woods’ original sax solo, I came across this 1982 concert recording without Woods and with a band I’d never heard of. However, Tormé is at his concert best here, playing with the lyric, with the audience, and even throwing in a little of his trademark smooth-scat.
It’s such a fine performance it’ll almost make you wish you lived somewhere you can get decent Chinese food at 3AM.