How Sinatra + AC/DC = Jazz

Creativity is a tricky thing, right up there with the idea of Talent. Useful scapegoats they are, Creativity and Talent, conveniently and nebulously explaining away engaging and disruptive ideas that otherwise seem to miraculously appear from nowhere.

While I’m the first person to acknowledge the mysterious nature of Creativity and Talent, I’m here to tell you that creative results can often be achieved in ways that are anything but mysterious. Sometimes it’s something as simple as being faced with a problem that prompts you to take two different elements, throw them up against the proverbial wall, and see what sticks. Or in this case, what mashes up together.

The other night, my wife and I were listening to a jazz station on Pandora, and one particular song made us stare at each other in amazement.

The song “My Funny Valentine” was originally written in 1937 for the Rodgers and Hart hit musical Babes In Arms. One of the song’s major early recordings came in 1955 by Frank Sinatra on his album Songs For Young Lovers. Sinatra’s performance stays fairly close to the original melody.

And now for something completely different.

Fast forward to July of 1980 to the release of Australian megaband AC/DC’s heavy metal offering Back In Black. Here’s the title song. For our purposes here, we’re interested in the first 26 seconds.

Back to “My Funny Valentine,” circa 2005. San Francisco-based jazz vocalist Jacqui Naylor was well aware that the song at that point had appeared on over 1,300 albums and had been recorded by over 600 artists. The old show tune-turned-jazz standard had been sung to death by everyone from Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald to Van Morrison, Dolly Parton, and Rufus Wainright.

According to an interview with the Seattle Times, Naylor said that she really didn’t feel like taking on “well-worn songs” without bringing something new to the table. But how the heck was she supposed to do that?

So she convinced her pianist, now-husband Art Khu, to combine – get this – a version of “My Funny Valentine” set to the opening riff of AC/DC’s “Back In Black.” And this is the song that popped up on Pandora that made my wife and I do a double take.




And there you have it, a musical mash-up that virtually anyone would consider Creative.

Just to be very clear for anyone who’s not used to comparing musical elements: the piano melody at the beginning and throughout the song is the exact same melody played by the lead guitar on the AC/DC song. So a jazz trio ends up blatantly referencing one of the highest-selling heavy metal bands of all time.

Creative stuff for sure. How did it happen? Two things:

It came from a problem: the need to do something really unique. Off-the-wall unique. Hence the thought, “Why don’t we stick these two ridiculously unrelated pieces together?”

It came within the context of the artist’s existing knowledge within her craft. “Art said it was a terrible idea, but he was intrigued,” says Naylor. “So we worked it out where I’d sing ‘My Funny Valentine,’ honoring the melody and lyric, and then we go into the music to ‘Back in Black.’ And it worked because they essentially have the same chord structure.”

In a weird way, the two songs actually made sense to put together, because the jazz musician, constantly aware of chord progressions in her music, knew that the two songs had the same musical DNA.

As a lifelong musician myself, I’d also add that the two songs have more similarities than just chord structure – they both have the same time signature (4/4), which is far from a given in the jazz world. And the tempo of “Back In Black” – about 96 beats per minute (bpm), for those keeping score at home – is such that the AC/DC riff can play at its recognizable speed while allowing the timing of the “Valentine” lyrics to still feel legitimately relaxed. They did lay back the “Valentine” tempo to about 82 bpm.

So to reiterate the larger point that goes beyond music jargon and jazz mash-ups:

Creative results came from a left-field solution to a significant problem, and that solution was fueled by the artist’s knowledge of her craft.

So guess what. If you as an artist or craftsperson have problems to solve, and you have knowledge of your craft, then that’s a huge chunk of what you need to be Creative.

And more specifically: if going beyond button-pushing to improving the actual craft of video editing interests you, then you and I very much have that in common. And you need to check this out.

And if hanging out with a ridiculously diverse, international mix of people who love the craft of editing interests you, then join us here.

Otherwise, just know this: astounding results that others might write off to Creativity or Talent are absolutely within reach for anyone who pursues them.

That means you.

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