The Pleasure and Pain of Being Cole Porter

Adam Gopnik at The New Yorker:

Porter is so famous for his gifts as a lyricist that it might seem mischievous to the point of perversity to suggest that his real greatness resides in his skills as a composer. Yet how many other popular composers have had more hits with instrumental, unsung versions of their work? Artie Shaw’s version of “Begin the Beguine” is the best known, but the Dave Brubeck Quartet’s album of Porter songs, from the mid-sixties, with Paul Desmond’s peerless sax, is just as good. Though rarely overtly jazz in the Arlen-Gershwin manner, his melodies have so much mysterious inner propulsion that, asked to swing, they practically swing themselves.

For all Porter’s aristocratic mien, his tastes were rather plain, as those of the American upper classes usually are—high taste is typically simple taste, as anyone who has eaten at a Wasp club knows.

more here.