For no reason in particular, I recently decided to put some lyrics to the Ornette Coleman tune “Lonely Woman”. Of all of Ornette’s compositions, it’s the most naturally singable (though you’ll need quite a large range and a sympathetic key), and I wasn’t aware of any existing sung versions. (I believe there is a fairly obscure one out there, but I’ve refrained from listening to it.)
So here is my stab at it. I’ve interpreted the title fairly literally, with an anonymous, single female protagonist. Where the two horns play lines in harmony on the original recording, I’ve put this in a narrator’s voice. Where the sax plays solo or takes the lead, I’ve switched to direct speech, which felt like a natural interpretation of the music to me. There’s an improvised break at the end of the bridge, where I’ve let the singer improvise their own fill on the syllable “oh”.
I’ve fallen into the old habit of writing in a slight Southern States period dialect, and setting the song in that world by implication, but I hope it doesn’t come across as hackneyed as a result. I hope the lyrics contain as much truth, is what I mean, as if I’d written about my own world.
Here is Ornette playing the original piece, with Don Cherry (cornet), Charlie Haden (bass) and Billy Higgins (drums), from the album The Shape of Jazz to Come (1959):
Here is a transcription, so you can play along at home.
And here are my lyrics. Enjoy.
On her way to church one morning
She hears her mother’s song
Rising like heat from the ground:
“Little honey bee,
Seize ev’ry sweet day softly
And hurry back to heaven.”
In that tender voice, unfolding,
Fresh as the summer corn,
Dark as the sleek nevermore,
“When they buried me,
Nobody cried like you babe,
Oh nobody looked so frail,
Thinking of your life,
With all of your bright lights,
And all of your blue nights.
Oh, oh, oh…”
In the greasy heat of evening,
Up from the earth below,
Devilment tightens her jaw.
“Who will walk with me?
No one to hold my cold hands.
Oh nobody to save me.”
The words are copyright obviously, but don’t let that stop you. If you’re a singer or a student and you want to have a go at these, be my guest, and please send me a link or let me know how you get on. I’d love to hear the results. My friend Aisling is going to have a try as well, I think. Results will be posted here soon, maybe.
If you want to record or release them commercially though, then sure, let’s talk. And good luck to you.