When an artist performs an original piece, it gives them a chance to publicly display their art in an intimate, personal way. Covers, contrafacts, and reinterpretations of music and art allow other artists to express themselves through a new medium. When comparing multiple versions of recordings, it is important to consider the context of the piece and what the song means to the performer. In this essay, I will compare three different recordings of Slim Gaillard’s “Tip Light.”
Slim Gaillard was an American singer, songwriter, guitarist, pianist, and vibraphonist. He was born on January 4th, 1916 and died on February 26th, 1991. Throughout his career, Slim used a personalized version of hipster-talk called “vout,” (pronounced vOWT). He has compiled a dictionary of gibberish terms and syllables that he uses alongside their meanings. Slim entered vaudeville in the 1930s where he played the guitar while tap dancing. Later, he moved to New York to form a duo with the bassist Slam Stewart. There, he performed with Stewart under the group name of Slim & Slam. Throughout his career, Slim performed mostly original repertoire. He has performed with a number of early jazz and bebop legends such as Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, and Coleman Hawkins. In 1947, Slim recorded a song called “Tip Light” with the Slim Gaillard Trio. Gaillard’s original recording of “Tip Light” features himself playing guitar and singing with a bassist and pianist. The opening of the track has a light guitar intro, followed by Slim singing the melody. Known for his simplistic and quirky lyrics, the song is very minimalist in its lyrical delivery: “Tip light, tip light, tip light, tip light, shhhhhh.” After singing the melody once, the pianist takes a solo. Throughout the song, the bassist switches between playing two-to-the-bar and four-to-the-bar. Overall, the song has a heavy swing feel to it as most jazz does. The chord changes are simple and hummable. Gaillard’s light voice paired with his trio’s laid back soloing and comping style make for a very mellow recording amidst the faint buzz of record static.
The most recent recording of “Tip Light” was recorded in 2011 by a New Orleans-based jazz group called The Grandsons. The Grandsons record most of their usual material under The Grandsons and record children music under The Grandsons, Jr.. The group consists of Alan MacEwen as a vocalist, guitarist, and trumpeter. Alongside him is Matthew Dedgley and saxophonist Chris Watling. The Grandsons’s bassists vary. In the past, they have featured Moe Nelson, John Young, Eric Bowers, and Steve Saachse on bass. “Tip Light” was featured on their latest release on their album The Big Orooni. Since recording technology has improved drastically since the 1940s, this recording of “Tip Light” is considerably cleaner and of higher quality. Surprisingly enough, this recording is in the same key as Slim Gaillard’s version. The Grandsons, Jr. kick off this recording without an intro; they immediately start playing the melody. Instead of having guitar noodling, a tenor saxophone plays fills and interludes, not unlike the role of clarinets in early jazz music in New Orleans. The first soloist features Chris Watling on tenor sax. After improvising over a chorus, Chris goes back to playing fills. The Grandsons, Jr. sing one final chorus before playing a simple outro. Because this music is aimed at a younger audience, it is meant to be very open and accessible to a general (and perhaps younger) audience. Harmonically, the soloists never play outside of the chord changes, making this recording light and easy to listen to to the general public.
A third recording of “Tip Light” was recorded by German electronic musician and producer Jan Jelinek. Jan Jelinek began as an avid record collector. He listened to dub, jazz, funk, and soul. Once he discovered house music, he began making music of his own. Jelinek’s music is all about taking existing music and slicing it into tiny pieces. He then manipulates these fragments of sounds until one is unable to recognize the original. Jelinek’s wide influences caused him to produce in a wide array of styles and subgenres. He records under three different names: Jan Jelinek, Farben, and Gramm. Music under his own name is glitchy, minimalist, and experimental. It is meant as art music for listening, not dancing. Farben, “colors” in German, features more danceable songs. Farben’s music is poppy, catchy, and intricately subtle. Gramm’s recordings serve as a medium between Jan Jelinek and Farben’s recordings. In 2001, Jan Jelinek released an album entitled Loop-Finding-Jazz-Records under his own name. As the album’s name implies, Jelinek took tiny samples of jazz music from his record collection and manipulated them into his own art. Though his music sounds nothing like jazz, he is heavily influenced by the jazz records that he collected growing up. In 2004, Farben released an EP (Extended Play) entitled Presents the Presets_The Sampling Matters EP. Slim Gaillard’s recording of “Tip Light” is a hidden gem of early jazz music. In the same manner, Farben’s “Tip Light” is a hidden gem in the world of microhouse. Farben’s “Tip Light” opens with a simple loop. A heavily-swinging bass riff hops on and off the beat, setting the tone for the rest of the quirky quasi-modal microhouse composition. Before the bass drum enters, it is unclear whether or not the bass follows a clear beat; it lags slightly behind the time. Despite the mechanical and grid-based format that electronic music still has, Farben’s rhythmic imperfections make this recording sound soulful and human. Like most house music, this recording has a four-to-the-floor bass drum pattern. After looping this groove, murmurs and hints of Jelinek’s jazz records begin to emerge through the texture. Tiny clips and cuts of samples jut into the groove in a syncopated and catchy comping style. After a one-minute intro, the recognizable refrain begins. Clear vocals say the same lyrics used in Gaillard’s original recording. In addition to the repetition of “tip light,” Farben adds another layer of subtle intricacy to his music. The lyrics are as follows: “Tip light, tip light, tip light, vout, tip light.” Though lasting less than a second, a clear “vout” is spoken before the fourth repetition of “tip light.” As mentioned earlier, vout is the name of Slim Gaillard’s invented hipster-talk that he used in his performances. In the most sly way possible, Jan Jelinek pays homage to Slim Gaillard. After one chorus, a sample is looped in a triplet pattern over the existing beat only to be suddenly scratched out. Fragments of the vocalist’s samples are used as fills and accompaniment. After the CD-skip like interlude, the song returns to its previous groove, without the vocals. The vocals join in again for a second chorus. After this chorus, the CD-skip interlude returns and fades out. In terms of form, Farben’s “Tip Light” has an intro, then a chorus (A) followed by the CD-skip interlude (B). With these labels in mind, the form (minus the intro) is ABAB. While some jazz fans would not listen to this kind of music, Farben made a classic jazz song re-emerge into the modern music scene through his own medium of expression.
Each artist portrayed their version of “Tip Light” in their own unique ways. Slim Gaillard’s version was light and mellow, The Grandsons, Jr.’s recording took a more modern-jazz approach, where Farben’s approach was more digitalized and danceable. The two jazz recordings cater to a more general audience, despite how popular or unpopular jazz music may be. On the other side of the spectrum, Farben’s microhouse rendition of the piece caters to fans of electronic music.
The Grandsons, Jr. – “Tip Light” (available on iTunes)