One of the great pleasures of my California summer was being able to see and hear Mal Sharpe and his Big Money in Jazz Band every Sunday afternoon at the No Name Bar in Sausalito, California. Mal has so many talents that not all of them get to emerge at once: there’s the comic improviser, the surrealistic jester, the gutty trombonist, the head-arrangements-while-you-wait bandleader . . . as well as the creator of contests and quizzes with prizes of spectacular insignificance.
But one of Mal’s talents often overlooked is his singing — and I don’t mean the exuberant JUST A LITTLE WHILE TO STAY HERE that begins most sessions or the almost as joyous THE SONG IS ENDED. He says, “I just like to sing,” and that’s clear. But a recent performance of the Dietz-Schwartz I GUESS I’LL HAVE TO CHANGE MY PLAN continues to be bittersweet without being maudlin, memorable without being overdramatic.
The song has a lovely melody (think of the instrumental version by Bobby Hackett and Jack Teagarden) but a singer has to get inside the mixture of emotions — rueful surprise that admits to self-pity and self-blame without saying so. Call it jaunty despair. Mal conveys all of this beautifully, mixing wit and delicate sadness. He does summon up some of the lightness of Astaire, the sorrow of Rushing and Louis — and there’s even a joke in the lyrics — but he so completely gives himself to the song that when I return to California I am sure that I will ask him to sing more songs like this. He could be the next sensation as a rhythm balladeer, don’t you think?
Here’s I GUESS I’LL HAVE TO CHANGE MY PLAN, recorded on the spot on Sunday, August 26, 2012 — with the assistance of Leon Oakley, trumpet; Richard Hadlock, soprano saxophone; Si Perkoff, keyboard; Harley White, string bass (who told us about Earl Hines and his many toupees); Carmen Cansino, drums. And the band manages to summon up the great ones, too — Si’s quirky piano hints at Basie and Monk; Richard hints at late, late Lester; Leon tells us that Bunny and Wild Bill would have loved to play this; Carmen punches it home with the vigor of Thirties Wettling . . .
If anyone in California reads this and then goes to one of Mal’s haunts — the No Name on Sundays; the Savoy Tivoli (in North Beach SF) on Saturdays; Armando’s in Martinez . . . tell him, “I saw you on JAZZ LIVES!” Maybe he’ll give you a zipper or a letter-B sticker. And we’ll all be pleased.
May your happiness increase.