In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning

I recently got a new cd by veteran jazz pianist Fred Hersch called “Alone at the Vanguard”.   Solo piano, obviously, recorded in the famous Big Apple nightspot.  The first cut is “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning”.    For a long time I used to think that “Only the Lonely” was Sinatra’s greatest torch song album, but realized that “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning” was the masterpiece.  Sinatra always recorded live with an orchestra, and often called studio sessions based upon what he was feeling or going through.  The Wee Small Hours album is about his tempestuous breakup with Ava Gardner, a beautiful, successful, and tough woman every bit his equal.  It’s the ultimate heartbreak song.  In fact, the whole album is about hurt, loneliness, late-night isolation.  Even the album cover depicts Sinatra on a desolate street, reflecting  the prevailing mood of the songs.

File-WeesmallhoursAnd I ask:  who hasn’t stayed up all night, smoking cigarettes and drinking oneself into oblivion, waiting for the phone to ring.  I certainly have, and this song always reminds me of those sad and sorry times.And I ask:  who hasn’t stayed up all night, smoking cigarettes and drinking oneself into oblivion, waiting for the phone to ring.  I certainly have, and this song always reminds me of those sad and sorry times.

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Fred Hersch performs the song with senstivity.  He knows something about loneliness.  He has spoken openly about it:  it’s hard being  a gay man, HIV+, in the jazz world.   He has survived near-death illnesses more than once.   And yet he has survived, and creates musical art of great subtlety, honesty, and feeling.