Daily Archives: February 12, 2013

“COULD WE HEAR IT AGAIN?”: TEN YEARS WITH BING (1932-42)

Early in his career, Bing Crosby was a very erotic figure.  And the film industry recognized his power.  It wasn’t his naked torso.  It was his voice — warm, entreating, rich, sensitive, full of yearning.

Before he became more “fatherly” in his films; before he became grandfatherly on television (the man with a narrow tie and a hairpiece, singing Christmas songs alongside David Bowie and Michael Buble), he was a genuine all-purpose wooer.

A chick magnet, to put it plainly.

In many of his early films, the setup is simple: a lovely blonde, splendidly dressed (often in white) is reserved, cool, or even sullen.  Bing aims that voice at her, in a yearning love ballad, and she melts in a series of reaction shots.  Once the song is over, she has fallen for him.    One can imagine tuxedo and gown being shed . . .

In some of the later films, Bing is moved from the more formal environment to more working-class environments: once a pianist / singer or a college professor teaching crooning, he is a sailor dangling from a rope, a man building a shelter for the castaways, a cowboy.  Yes, he’s in blackface for ABRAHAM and pretends to play the clarinet for THE BIRTH OF THE BLUES.

I don’t think I have to make a case for Bing’s easy rhythmic suppleness, that his “boo-boo-boo” runs parallel to scat singing, that he is one of the influences on a segregated America that made Caucasians receptive to African-American jazz, even when Louis was not in the picture.  He swings, even at ballad tempo.

And for those theoretically-minded, Bing is deep in meta-consciousness of a post-modern sort, singing songs about his own singing.  But enough of that.

These thoughts were provoked by an accidental YouTube discovery —  thanks to 1926VictorCredenza  — his generous offering of a nearly two-hour videocassette of Bing’s musical moments from his 1932-42 films.  The Sennett shorts aren’t here, nor is PENNIES FROM HEAVEN, but I saw performances new to me.  You’ll also see Martha Raye, Carole Lombard, Louis Prima, Jack Teagarden, Harry Barris, Mary Martin, Eddie Lang.  And for Ralf Reynolds: Bing plays a washboard in that last film.  Watch for it!

And those songs!  

I offer this as a prelude to Valentine’s Day.  Learn to croon — if you want to win your heart’s desire!  (And she’ll take off her shoes.)

BIG BROADCAST 1932:  Dinah / Here Lies Love / Please (Eddie Lang) /

COLLEGE HUMOR 1933:  Just An Echo In The Valley / Learn To Croon / Please / I Surrender Dear / Just One More Chance / Moonstruck / Learn To Croon (reprise)

TOO MUCH HARMONY 1933:  Boo Boo Boo / The Day You Came Along / Thanks

WE’RE NOT DRESSING 1934:  May I? / Love Thy Neighbor / May I (reprise)

SHE LOVES ME NOT 1934:  Straight From The Shoulder / I’m Hummin’, I’m Whistlin’, I’m Singin’

TWO FOR TONIGHT 1935:  From The Top Of Your Head / Without A Word Of Warning / I Wish I Were Aladdin

ANYTHING GOES 1936:  Sailor Beware / Moonburn /

RHYTHM ON THE RANGE 1936: I Can’t Escape From You / Mr. Paganini / I’m An Old Cowhand

WAIKIKI WEDDING 1937:  Blue Hawaii / Sweet Leilani / Sweet Is The Word For You

DOUBLE OR NOTHING 1937:  Smarty / All You Want To Do Is Dance / It’s The Natural Thing To Do / The Moon Got In My Eyes

EAST SIDE OF HEAVEN 1939:  Hang Your Heart On A Hickory Limb / East Side Of Heaven

HOLIDAY INN 1942:  Abraham / Song Of Freedom

BIRTH OF THE BLUES 1941: Goin’ to the Jailhouse / The Waiter, The Porter, and The Upstairs Maid / Wait ‘Til The Sun Shines Nellie / St. Louis Blues / Birth Of The Blues.

May your happiness increase.

“SAY A WEE PRAYER” FOR MIKE DURHAM

Mike Durham (left) and Rene Hagmann, pensive, at Whitley Bay, probably 2010.  Photo by Michael Steinman

Mike Durham (left) and Rene Hagmann, pensive, at Whitley Bay, probably 2010. Photo by Michael Steinman

I last saw trumpeter / singer / benefactor / tireless festival organizer Mike Durham in November 2012 at the Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party.  Although he was recovering from minor surgery, he was entirely himself, masterfully running the huge enterprise with wit and love.

A few weeks into 2013, I was told that he was suffering from a grave illness and would not recover — news I was asked to keep to myself.

Yesterday, his daughter posted this on Facebook:

Dear Mike’s Facebook friends….for those of you that do not know already, I have some sad news.  This is Cassie Durham, Mike’s daughter, and I am writing to tell you that Dad is seriously ill having being diagnosed with terminal (and untreatable) brain tumours on January 22nd.  Things have moved on very fast and he is now in a hospice in Newcastle.  I could not think of another way of letting everyone know and this seemed a good an option as any.  As you can imagine, it has been a huge shock to Mum and Dad and my brother and I and all I can say is that he is comfortable and is not in any pain….say a wee prayer for him all of you – thanks.

This news makes me so sad.  I will have more to say about Mike eventually, but I thought, “Since we can send love through the universe just in our focused thoughts, why not send some of it to a man who has brought nothing but love to us?”  

I don’t mean a message to his family — who must be suffering with what is unendurable already.  But I would like to imagine Mike comforted by love.   

If you’ve appreciated any of the videos I and others have taken at Whitley Bay; if you’ve dug Mike’s own playing live or on disc; if you’ve had a good time because of him, send him a wordless THANKS.  

A “wee prayer” is never wasted.    

And here’s a JAZZ LIVES prayer suggestion.  Find a track with a hot trumpet passage and play it louder than usual.  Play it again.  

May the gentle spirits of Louis, Papa Joe, Muggsy, and Mike’s other friends and heroes guide him from one bandstand to the next.

“This one’s for you, Papa Mike.”

Here’s Mike in action — as trumpeter and spiritual leader — in a jam session at the Victory Pub in July 2010, with friends Andy Schumm, Martin Seck, Attila Korb, and ten others, moving easily through MY GAL SAL.  Mike gave us two gifts: not only did he play his horn but he made it possible for lovely jazz to go on all around him:

And the 2013 Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party is rolling along — musicians booked, tickets sold, everything pointed forward under the guidance of some of Mike’s devoted musician friends and his two young lieutenants Julio Schwarz Andrade and Jonathan David Holmes . . . so the music will go on, as he would have wanted.

May your happiness increase.

LOUIS and EDDIE FISHER at the HOLLYWOOD BOWL (1954)

Thanks to Alberto Lancia — of Facebook — for bringing this gem to our attention.  How remarkable to see this, nearly sixty years later — with Gordon Jenkins having the time of his life behind Louis.

Yes, you can point out all the negatives: that the BOPPENPOOF SONG was divisive (Lee Konitz said it turned him away from Louis for years.  More’s the pity.)  You can say that Eddie Fisher was a minor talent.

But the fact remains that the deep good humor in this medley is like the sun chasing the darkness.

May your happiness increase.