Four great artists – and their live interpretations of “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat”
Having heard the live version, by different artists, of what has become somewhat of a “standard”, namely “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat” it is remarkable how durable this composition has been throughout a rather long time span of jazz and rock history. My first encounter was this melody was the live version by Charles Mingus himself on double bass, at the very beginning of the 1970s. Mr. Mingus – being an impressive figure, musically and in terms of stage presence, performed his piece very much in the manner expected by jazz musicians in the mid-1960s – first years of the 1970s – jazz and big band-oriented. As the saying goes – the inspiration for this composition was the hat that Lester Young usually wore.
Later live versions of the melody, by other artists, after the 1970s have been much in jazz-rock or fusion territory. John McLaughlin performed the melody with Jonas Hellborg (bass) both in the context of their short-lived duo – and with the very late version of Mahavishnu, which also included, Mitch Foreman (keyboards), Bill Evans (saxophone) and Danny Gottlieb (drums). The duo version was, indeed very jazzy. The Mahavishnu – quartet version – had more of a fusion approach, introduced by John McLaughlin, as an encore: “A song to give you sweet dreams”. Both of Mr. McLaughlin´s versions were played on electro-acoustic, hollow body guitars. His version, which appears on “My Goals Beyond”, in many respects, sticks to the original.
Jeff Beck has performed “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat”- numerous times – on his Stratocaster, first as a separate number – later as a medley – “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat”/”Brush with the Blues”. His version includes the intro but does not give a complete rendition of the composition. The “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat”/”Brush with the Blues” medley has always been a “crowd pleaser”.
August 15, 2009 – Bill Frisell performed “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat”, on a Telecaster, at Oslo Jazz Festival. His version also contains much of the original composition but is, in a way, more “soundscape-oriented”, mainly because of Mr. Frisell´s extensive use of sound modulation. The beginning was very loose. The theme itself appeared somewhat later in his performance. The sound was very clear. The various digital delays and other modulators were used with great taste. This was a solo concert, so there was just one artist and his guitar – which highlighted the composition. No other instruments distracted.
To sum up: it is not difficult to understand why this composition has gained such attention in the jazz and rock context. It may be played and re-defined in very many ways – each time/every concert version – being different – and always challenging.