once in a very remote past, i had a vocal jazz quartet. singing in such a quartet was a strong focus in my life for almost ten years. we began in junior high school, in high school, and then a more advanced quartet during college years. at the time everyone's heroes were the four freshmen, a jazz quartet that was the first vocal group to play its own instrumental backup. their first single release was it's a blue world which was a phenomenal hit on the radio. no one could believe that all that sound was coming from just four guys.
i wrote songs for our college jazz quartet, the first impressions. my training ground was absorbing the vocal arrangements of the freshmen, which provided the effect of a five-voice brass or sax section with only four voices. the medium was vinyl and i sharpened my ears by writing down their arrangeents to teach to our quartet. i noted all the subtleties such as dynamics, subtle doublings, and quarter-tone inflections. our programs consisted of singing four freshmen favorites and then our own original tunes.
we were a close-knit group and we could get high on just the sheer beauty of sound. i remember one night when i had just finished composing a song i called must you go? for the quartet. it was around 11 p.m. and the lead came into the practice room where i was working and i played through the song. he was knocked out by it and wanted to get the group together to sing it, so we found our top tenor and bass and started singing. we found ourselves mesmerized by the song and kept singing it over and over, finally piling into a car and continuing to sing it as we drove around the city. finally, around 5 a.m. we wound up at the toddle house (a chain of 24/7 diners that started in nashville and stretched west to texas and east to new york). the sound of the song was still resonating in our heads, and as we were eating breakfast each one of us exclaimed about some part of the song that was still grabbing him. quite an experience!
in our final year of being together before graduation split us up, the four freshmen came to town for a concert. needless to say, all of us were in the audience, hanging on every note. after the concert, we went backstage and were graciously received by the guys of the quartet. When we told them that we had learned and sang their arrangements, they laughed and said that they often met groups on their tour who made the same claim, but there were always errors. they asked us to sing a little, and we opened with how can i tell her? They listened all the way without stopping us and then said, "you guys have really done it!" With that, they pulled out their instruments and we stood in a circle singing their arrangements with them. i can still hear that incredible resonance of two voices to a part with those incredible voicings. the moment is dynamically etched in my memory as vivid as any multi-track recording.
we had sung for them our theme song "must you go?" which they liked very much, and even expressed interest in getting the song, but i was too distracted with my own personal ambitions to take advantage of the opportunity.
over the years, the song continues to haunt me, and i understand it not only as the question that a lover asks when a love affair is over, but a song that values the deep relationships we have on every level and the profound regret and pain we experience when people disappear from our lives...
must you go? is always answered by the bitterweet nod that life is always moving us on to new challenges and experiences...