1. "Bess, You Is My Woman Now" by Gershwin, performed by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong. This comes across as a love song, even though the words imply an unequal ownership, with Porgy owning Bess. This cognitive dissonance bothers me, perhaps because the opera is about race and disability issues, but ignores gender issues here.
2. "I Got a Woman" performed by Ray Charles. Yes, more ownership issues. This is worse, as it is more contemporary, and has a line that lays it out explicitly: "She knows a womans place is right there now in her home." My kids love this CD, and often would ask for it when we were commuting a lot. I hated it when this song came up, and frequently felt obligated to point out how wrong it was.
3. "Kind of Woman" from the musical Pippin. Much more empowering, this song is about the strengths of average women.
4. "Lonely Woman" by Horace Silver. A haunting ballad, no lyrics to offend.
5. "Pretty Woman" by Duke Ellington. This love song annoys me, but not because of the lyrics. They are fairly standard, about a guy who is in love with a pretty woman and hopes she loves him. The emphasis on "pretty" could be offensive, but this term could be taken to mean her attitude or her intelligence as much as her looks. No, the song is annoying because I don't like the singer (Al Hibbler) and the band sounds chunky on this track.
6. Sequenza III for woman's voice, by Luciano Berio, performed by Luisa Castellani. This breakthrough piece blurs the edges of performance space, when the soloist comes on stage muttering to herself. Has the piece started yet, or is the performer crazy? Either is a valid option for many performers. One could make an issue about the incomprehensibility of most of the lyrics, but I think Berio was going for the interesting timbre issues rather than for statements about women. He did compose this piece for his then wife, Cathy Berberian, so I would think it was done with a positive attitude towards women in general.
7. "My Lady", by Bill Russo, performed by Stan Kenton's big band. This gives off a slight femme-fatale feeling because of the sax solo, but overall it doesn't have enough grit for that. I think this is an attempt by the Kenton band at sentimentality.
8. "Song for Lady M" performed by the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. Nicco describes it better than I can: B
ut the other song on the album which captured my teenage attention was Song For Lady M—a sad, slow saxophone solo number. Although some of the progressions are still reminiscent of Dixieland, this is more of Coltrane-inspired sound. It starts slow and sad. For some reason I could always imagine it being played from a high window off a dark street. It’s that kind of smoky feeling. In the middle of the song it starts to pick up—but the sound is not any less sad, it starts to communicate a sort of desperation. A Desperate Song for Lady M.9. "Sophisticated Lady" by Duke Ellington, Irving Mills, and Mitchell Parish. I have two versions of this, by Duke and by Chick Corea. The instrumental by Corea is very elegant and sophisticated. The lyrics of the original song are okay, except for the line "She sticks close to her lover, she obeys God's rule." This strikes a little too close to the idea of woman obeying man.
At 15, I had no idea what heartbreak was. But Song for Lady M was heartbreak—an intense, personal heartbreak, different from “Soul Gestures in Southern Blues”. Marsalis’ jazz genius on that number is the menacing yoke of history; the Dirty Dozen sax solo is mournful, a personal love lost.