“Should the teacher stand so near… my love?”
In 1953, when Sammy Cahn and Gene De Paul wrote the song “Teach Me Tonight” the culture was innocent. Unmarried men and women for the most part didn’t acknowledge sexual liaisons beyond marriage.
In the era where the Catholic “Legion of Decency” still ruled the film industry, I find it hard to believe that a song with such suggestive (at least to me) lyrics was published.
Yet despite a fairly provocative lyric, multiple recordings of this wonderful, and I think for the time, daring song were, and are still are being made.
Though I have known this song for many years, my recent attention was drawn to it by You Tube surfing to a video of a young Amy Winehouse, who recorded the song before her alcohol-fueled terminal decline.
Now I’m not a person to find anything compelling about drug-and-booze addled musicians. I really have little sympathy for the Janis Joplins, Jimmy Hendricks and Kurt Kobains of the world. Really laudable talents include a reasonable self-preservation gene. Hell, Frank Sinatra, who’s life-style defined the swinging 50’s and early 60’s lived until his 80’s.
But I digress. This song is fun and I love listening to different versions. Let us first sample Amy Winehouse, who does a nice job. God rest her soul. I do wonder,in a different situation, what a wonderful and enduring artist she might have become.
Let’s talk about Dinah Washington. Great singer. Eight husbands. Incredible voice. Died of an overdose of sedatives. How sad is that?
Next is a version by Etta James, who also shares with the late Ms. Winehouse and Ms. Washington, her substance abuse issues, but unlike the other ladies, heroically overcame them. Etta was a wonderful singer, and has probably been overlooked by the public.
My sainted mother loved Nancy Wilson. I remember riding in the passenger seat of our Buick station wagon with Mom driving, listening to Nancy singing “You’ve Changed” coming from the eight track player in the dashboard. Mother was always concerned that I and my siblings would not appreciate good music. She needn’t have worried.
Nancy Wilson has an extraordinary voice; I also remember being at an outdoor concert in Philadelphia with my lovely wife Cathy years ago. Ms. Wilson was astounding, and the audience absolutely loved her. I really like her take on the song.
Still and all, there is one jazz singer that I cannot ignore. I think Sarah Vaughn has one of the best recordings of the song one that remains one of my absolute favorites. In 1978 she recorded “Teach Me” with a quartet comprised of the finest jazz musicians of the era, Oscar Peterson, Louie Belson, Ray Brown and Joe Pass. I freely admit that Nancy Wilson’s vocal is more interesting, but I believe that Oscar Peterson’s piano work on this recording drives it to the top. You can decide if you agree..
Great song deserve great singers. There are many more recordings of this song to be savored. Find them and enjoy.
Graduation’s almost here my love.
Teach me tonight.