One Note/One Phrase: Tom Waits

Tom Waits: A Good Man is Hard to Find

One quality of a truly remarkable performance is that there is often one note and/or one phrase that can encapsulate the grace, fire, virtuosity, subtlety, or authenticity of the artist. I believe it is the duty of all Listeners and Performers to seek out, catalog, & utilize these gestures as references to further inform their aural pallets.

A Good Man is Hard to Find is from the 2002 release Blood Money and is a slice of pop perfection. To begin, Tom Waits's voice couldn't be more Louie Armstrong and he wields this instrument at the listener with evocative and stylish lyrics such as: 

I always play Russian Roulette in my head, it's 17 black and 29 red. How far from the gutter, how far from the pew? I'll always remember to forget about you. A good man is hard to find – only strangers sleep in my bed. My favorite words are good-bye and my favorite color is red.

The music and lyrics aside, what makes this track stand apart in comparison with the entire Waits oeuvre is the ensemble's ability to push and pull rhythm to make clear the phrase length, as well as drag the listener by the ear to the next down beat. The moment I have in mind is delivered by trumpet player Ara Anderson during his  solo at 1:50. Here you will hear the band pull back around Ara's musical delivery as a means of delaying the next downbeat; this is a means of shaping sound referred to as tenuto.

Ara Anderson

A rule in music generally accepted is that the audience should always know where to tap their foot while listening. This is the simplest explanation of rhythmic security I can think of, and if you ever find yourself at a child's piano recital you'll understand exactly what I'm talking about. Tenuto (the movement in and around the steady beat) is a subtle art and a tool often overused, but Ara Anderson and Tom Waits take it to the exact limit during this solo and it always resonates with me as a special moment from one of my favorite artists. You dig?