When putting together the tracklist for their album Night Sessions, Louise Howlett and Albert Combrink had no dispute about including the exquisite Stardust, one of Hoagy Carmichael’s most loved songs. This song is often one of the highlights of their stage-shows, as they communicate the timeless and delicate nostalgia of love remembered and lost.
Listen to more demotracks from their CD Night Sessions HERE.
Hoagland Howard “Hoagy” Carmichael (1899 – 1981) was an disinterested law student who supported himself by playing piano with dance bands. He did pass with a law degree from Indiana University, but was too busy as a “gigging muso” to study for his bar exam, resulting in his being fired from his law firm. The legal fraternity’s loss was the gain of lovers and music lovers across the globe.
Carmichael seems to have had a special affinity with night themes in his songs. He is known for nocturnal gems such as In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening and In the Still of the Night. Georgia on My Mind has “a song of you [that] comes as sweet and clear as moonlight through the pines.” In The Nearness of You, “It’s not the pale moon that delights me, that thrills me or delights me; Oh no, it’s just the nearness of you.”
A delightfully romantic tale has resulted in a creation myth that is so exquisitely sweet, one almost wishes it were true. Biographer Will Freedman describes Hoagy on a nostalgic visit to Indiana University. As he walks down the moonlit lover’s lane, or “spooning wall” as it was called, he recalls an old school romance, and it instantly inspires the tune. Then our hero dashes across campus in search of a piano, and finds one in the campus coffee shop – the “Book Nook”. Here he works out the melody until an old classmate remarks that it reminds him “of the dust from the stars drifting down through a summer night.” Hence, the original title, “Star Dust”.
Richard Sudhalter’s biography Stardust Melody paints a less poetic but perhaps more accurate picture. It seems that Carmichael had fragments of a melody in his head, which he took to a jam session with some fellow musicians, who included cornetist Charles “Bud” Dent, who added his own shreds of melody. Out of this jam-session the song started to take shape. Perhaps Hoagy created the “creation myth” himself to boost the song’s romantic appeal with audiences. He needn’t have worried. The exquisite song has remained a firm favourite since its composition over 80 years ago.
The all-important lyrics were similarly created in collaboration. Charmichael was not convinced that it even needed to be a song and argued for it to remain an instrumental number. However, the Mitchell Parish text became a part of world music history when recorded in 1931 by both Bing Crosby and Louis Armstrong. It became an instant hit in both the pop and jazz genres.
It is fascinating that just two years after its birth, the song had already received such divergent musical treatments, and both of these had won a very large audience. One of the big thrills of hearing this song – almost a century old – is in the revising and musical rethinking of the material.
Louise and Albert take a very dreamy approach to this number, to create an atmosphere of space around the music. Not simply looking up in the sky and seeing the moon and the stars, but that special place of knowing that – once upon a time – you truly did love.
Stardust (Carmichael & Parish) – Download Free Sheet Music:
Some useful links:
Read an interview by Jerry Jass Musician with Carmichael’s biographer Richard Sudhalter HERE.
Listen to Bing Crosby’s original recording HERE.
Listen to Louis Armstrong’s original recording HERE.
I found the Blog SONGBOOK most useful in compiling this article. Visit the American Songbook Blogpage HERE.
Read more about this song and discover a catalogue of over 918 different recordings of this song at Paul Morissette’s Site devoted to Stardust.
To view a video of Louise Howlett and Albert Combrink performing Carmichael’s classic Stardust, Click HERE
Photos of Louise & Albert: Dirk Visser