It’s always a pleasure to observe Thomas “Spats” Langham — singer, vaudevillian, string virtuoso — and he always surprises in the nicest ways. One of his specialties is bringing “new” (as in unheard or rarely-heard) song treasures to us. In this case — at the 2015 Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party, the song was SLEEPY HEAD, written by Banjo Ikey Robinson. As far as I can tell, the only official recordings of this song have been by Spats and Jeff Barnhart, individually and as a duo. (There are several other songs with that title, the one I know being a tender Thirties lullaby that Bobby Hackett used as his closing theme on his 1949 broadcasts from Nick’s in Greenwich Village.)
In this performance, Spats is joined by Robert Fowler, reeds; Martin Litton, piano; Malcolm Sked, brass bass.
What I find delightful here is not simply the song itself, or the vocal, or the instrumental interludes, but the blend — that seems so right — between the sad lyrics and the swinging tempo, something that musicians in the late Twenties and Thirties brought to a high art: the lyrics are frankly sad, but the dancers wanted to swing. As they would here.
Thank you, Spats, Robert, Martin, and Malcolm, for making beauty out of sadness.
More of this — the “beauty” part more than the “sadness” — will be offered generously at the 2016 Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party — one of the most rewarding weekends I could imagine. And I won’t have to imagine it. See you there, I hope.
May your happiness increase!