If I end up in a restaurant with a six-page menu, I can be sure that I will stare helplessly, dither, and then order something that I will regret three ways: instantly, while I am eating it, and while I am paying for it. Alas. Too much choice induces a kind of paralysis in me.
So that’s one reason this bouncy Twenties romance-song (mixing love and food, always a pleasing idea) has always appealed to me. I like all three items on this musical menu!
Did someone think of modernizing Omar Khayyam’s jug and loaf — because of Prohibition or modesty?
Of course I wonder about the depth of Billy Rose’s contribution to the lyrics and would credit to the always-clever Al Dubin, who — as his daughter’s reminiscences of him describe — was so devoted to food that it shortened his life.
I am amused by the sheet music cover, where He has the coffee (one cup only) and She sits demurely, hands folded, in front of what looks like one-half of the most chaste sandwich imaginable. (Finally, my proofreading self yearns to put a comma after SANDWICH, but one cannot edit the untidy universe. On the Roger Wolfe Kahn label below, there isn’t a serial comma in the Spanish title, either.)
Here’s a rather sedate version by Jack Buchanan and Gertrude Lawrence which is intriguing — although not jazz-tinged at all — because it has both Boy and Girl choruses and the verse:
Now, something more heated: the Roger Wolfe Kahn version from December 1925 — with beautiful playing throughout: the trumpets on the verse, the reed section on the first and last sixteen (with a sweet interlude on the bridge). And, yes, that’s Venuti swinging out, followed by the pride of Roosevelt, Long Island, Miff Mole — noble support from Schutt and Berton as well. New York’s finest.
Tommy Gott, Leo McConville, trumpet; Chuck Campbell, Miff Mole, trombone; Arnold Brilhart, Owen A. Bartlett, Harold Sturr, reeds; Arthur Schutt, piano; Domenic Romeo, banjo / guitar; Arthur Campbell, tuba; Joe Venuti, Joe Raymond, violin; Vic Berton, drums; Roger Wolfe Kahn, leader.
If you couldn’t dance to that record, something was wrong.
Something quite different, possibly from the mid-Fifties, a recording that mixes big-band conventions and hipster cool, making me wonder what was in the coffee Matt Dennis was offering the fair maiden, what flavoring:
Incidentally, attentive viewers will see that the executives at RCA Victor (I assume) thought it clever wordplay to call this record WELCOME MATT and have the star apparently arriving with one under his arm. No one thought, “Hmmm. You stand on the WELCOME mat, you wipe your shoes on it. Does this work for all of you?”
And this delicious oddity on the Starck label, in 1926, when the song was new, a performance by the seriously energetic pianist Vera Guilaroff and singer Herbert S. Berliner — son of Emile Berliner, who invented the flat disc record. I love the dissonance between her rollicking playing and his stiff “singing”:
Now, some of you might be getting impatient. “Where’s the Hot Jazz, Michael?” Calm yourselves. All things come to he, she, it, who wait.
YouTube is like eBay. I cannot predict what I am going to find there at any moment, but it teems with surprises. I went looking for versions of COFFEE yesterday morning to play for a friend who had never heard it, and I nearly leaped out of my chair when I saw that someone had posted Jeff Healey’s 2001 version from AMONG FRIENDS, one of my favorite recordings. Ever. Healey (much-missed) is on vocal and guitar, and then there’s the Anglo-American Alliance contingent, Dick Sudhalter, trumpet; John R.T. Davies, alto saxophone; Jim Shepherd, trombone . . . and Reide Kaiser, piano; Colin Bray, string bass. From the opening wink at YOU’RE THE CREAM IN MY COFFEE, this record soars:
And when you’ve listened to it once, go back and savor all the other pleasures and in-jokes. What a fine singer Healey was. Sudhalter’s ANYTHING GOES. Healey’s Fats-like asides about hot coffee and smooth butter. Shepherd’s individual approach and fine sound. Ristic’s HUCKLEBUCK. Sudhalter and Shepherd humming behind the bridge. Bray’s slap-bass; Kaiser’s relentless stride push. Healey’s guitar solo — Django meets Lang — and then the riotous ensemble, bass break, and out. I wish this band had made a hundred recordings. I never tire of this, a delicious, satisfying Fats Waller ebullience without imitation.
I saw Healey only once in person — at a 2006 benefit for an ailing Sudhalter, and Jeff was gone in 2008. But with music like COFFEE, I can’t think of him as dead, merely taking a set break.
I hope that wherever you are, the menu offerings please.
May your happiness increase!