“Pretty Women”: The Marian McPartland Trio Meets Sondheim

“Pretty Women” comes near the end of the first act of Stephen Sondheim’s 1979 musical thriller, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. On the surface, the song appears to capture an amiable barbershop conversation—as Craig Zadan writes, “a seemingly innocent yet passionate anthem to the virtues of womanhood.” Its comfortably gliding melody soars and then falls back into contentment.

In context, it becomes spine chilling. It is Sweeney Todd’s calculating way of distracting Judge Turpin as he prepares his throat to be slit. Seeking revenge on the ruthless Judge who, years earlier, raped Todd’s wife and sentenced him to exile in Australia, Sweeney promises to give his unsuspecting client the ultimate shave (“The closest I ever gave”).

All of the terror of Sweeney’s sharpened blade and Mrs. Lovett’s stomach-turning meat pie shop melts away in this dreamy jazz cover of “Pretty Women” by Marian McPartland, recorded in 1995. Stripped of its dramatic irony, Sondheim’s melody emerges as a laid-back waltz—beautiful, sensuous, mysterious, and nostalgic.

Recordings

  • The Marian McPartland Trio: Live at Yoshi’s Nitespot Amazon
  • Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (Original Broadway Cast Recording) Amazon

About Timothy Judd

A native of Upstate New York, Timothy Judd has been a member of the Richmond Symphony violin section since 2001. He is a graduate of the Eastman School of Music where he earned the degrees Bachelor of Music and Master of Music, studying with world renowned Ukrainian-American violinist Oleh Krysa.

The son of public school music educators, Timothy Judd began violin lessons at the age of four through Eastman’s Community Education Division. He was a student of Anastasia Jempelis, one of the earliest champions of the Suzuki method in the United States.

A passionate teacher, Mr. Judd has maintained a private violin studio in the Richmond area since 2002 and has been active coaching chamber music and numerous youth orchestra sectionals.

In his free time, Timothy Judd enjoys working out with Richmond’s popular SEAL Team Physical Training program.

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