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Take Two


Michael Caine Alfie.jpg

Although The Great American Songbook has been a rich source of popular songs that jazz musicians hve drawn on, their are other good songs that jazz musicians improvise on that don't seem to feature as often. One of these is Burt Bacharach and Hal David's title song written for the 1966 movie Alfie. The original film soundtrack featured jazz saxophonist Sonny Rollins with London musicians including Stan Tracey (piano) who improvised "Little Malcolm Loves His Dad" (although it was never credited), Rick Laird (bass); Phil Seaman (drums) and Ronnie Scott (tenor sax).  In that same year Sonny Rollins released an album of music from the film and  he has played the theme from the film a few times - here is a video of him playing it at the International Jazz Festival at Laren in thge Netherlands in 1973. Cilla Black had a UK hit with the title song, although it was Cher who sang it over the film's closing credits.

Burt Bacharach often introduced the song in his concerts as his favourite composition and that he considered the lyrics the best Hal David had written.

What's it all about Alfie
Is it just for the moment we live

What's it all about
When you sort it out, Alfie
Are we meant to take more than we give
Or are we meant to be kind?

And if, if only fools are kind, Alfie
Then I guess it is wise to be cruel
And if life belongs only to the strong, Alfie
What will you lend on an old golden rule?

The story, in brief, is of Alfie Elkins, (played by Michael Caine, and Jude Law in the re-make) a young, womanising man leading a self-centred life, until events force him to question his uncaring behaviour, his loneliness, and his priorities. Alfie cheats on numerous women, treating them with disrespect, using them for sex and domestic affairs. Eventually he decides to settle down but finds one of the women he hoped to settle with has a younger man, and another has lost interest in him. Alfie is left lonely, wondering about his life choices; he speaks to camera, "What's it all about? You know what I mean."

Here is Burt Bacharach singing the song at London's Royal Festival Hall in a 2015 concert. It is a very poignant, lovely  performance. Burt Bacharach died last year (2023) at the age of 94.

Our first jazz take on the song is by guitarist Pat Metheny. It comes from his 2011 album, appropriately titled What's It All About. The album is a collection of songs Pat recorded alone in his apartment one night looking back at some of the songs he remembered from years before. He talks about the album here. Listen to the Alfie track:

Our second take on Alfie is from trumpeter Art Farmer originally on his 1976 album The Summer Knows with Cedar Walton (piano), Sam Jones (bass) and Billy Higgins (drums). One comment eslewhere on YouTube says: "The man's heart reaching beyond his horn so softly."

As sure as I believe there's a heaven above
Alfie, I know there's something much more
Something even non-believers can believe in

I believe in love, Alfie
Without true love we just exist, Alfie
Until you find the love you've missed
You're nothing, Alfie

When you walk let your heart lead the way

And you'll find love any day Alfie,

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