Thursday, March 1, 2018

Harmony series 4, The Uninvited and Stella by Starlight

Here is a suggestion for a project/assignment that a student with jazz background might undertake. Victor Young composed the standard "Stella by Starlight" for the film The Uninvited (Paramount, 1944). This theme is treated in a number of different ways in the film, and charting and analyzing them can lead productively to interpretation.

As part of the backstory:
What the student will immediately realize is that "Stella" is not a song—it's a piano composition that is often treated like a concerto. In fact, Young himself created a 5-minute piano concerto version and recorded it in 1945 for Decca, with whom he had a long-term contract. Even after lyrics were added by Ned Washington, a song version was published in 1946, and then recorded by several well-known singers, "Stella" didn't really catch on (it was always on the B-side of the record). It was after John Coltrane included it in an album that it really took off, but still mostly with jazz instrumentalists. The best known set of changes for "Stella" are by Miles Davis. An interesting part of the project might be to compare Young's original harmonies with Davis's version (hint, though: they're surprisingly similar).