“What would life be like if you didn’t see magic?” asked Rickie Lee Jones*
Magic in life. Magic in music. That’s what I’ve always heard in her music.
I heard Rickie Lee Jones’s rendition of “I’ll Be Seeing You” on the Pop Popalbum (1991) and was struck by the Spanish guitar and bowed bass introduction. Melancholic and tender, so different from the bold, orchestrated introduction in Bing Crosby’s 1944 version. Rickie Lee’s soft, emotionally poignant rubato gave me chills. She turned the song into a story.
Written by two former vaudevillians, Sammy Fain (music) and Irving Kahal (lyrics), the song debuted on Broadway in the play Right This Way in 1938. The play was a flop and closed after only fifteen shows. While Fain and Kahal had success with other endeavors, the song had no traction until Bing Crosby recorded it in 1944, and it topped the charts. Frank Sinatra and Billie Holiday recorded their own versions later that year, cementing the song as a jazz standard. Unfortunately, Irving Kahal died two years before “I’ll Be Seeing You” became popular.
Billie Holiday’s version, considered the ultimate rendition of the song, was featured in the film The Notebook. And while it’s hard not to love her interpretation, I’m also drawn to the 2014 recording by Carsie Blanton and the Tank and The Bangas version in the 2018 film Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Each generation finds the song personally significant. That is magic.
*The Orange County Register interview April 2021