REVENGE SET TO MUSIC, 1934, 2015

The text for today is the early Frank Loesser – Joseph Meyer threat in 4 / 4, JUNK MAN.  Here is the memorable vocal version by Mildred Bailey, so we can hear Loesser’s lyrics:

It is an updating of FRANKIE AND JOHNNIE, but with a shift.  The older song is told by someone narrating the sad tale, where Johnnie has been making love to Nellie Bly, and is shot dead by his betrayed lover Frankie.  “He was her man / But he done her wrong.” We see the hearse go to the graveyard and Frankie will either be hanged or in jail forever.  Sophocles or Shakespeare, depending on the director of this murder ballad, all corpses, misery, retribution.  Betrayal does not pay, but crime pays even more poorly.  (There are many variant versions of this song for American vernacular musicologists to investigate.)

JUNK MAN has a much different edge.  The singer is a sophisticated woman who is aware of the betraying lover, plans to get her revenge, and apparently goes unpunished and unremorseful to the conclusion.  And that conclusion?  The unfaithful man is rubbish for the junkman to sweep up and take away.  Its only ambivalence is that I find it difficult to tell whether the betrayal(s) have already taken place or if this is an elaborate scenario: “If you betray me / continue to betray me, this is what I guarantee will happen.”

But the woman telling the story is in control, with no hesitation: empowered, as we say now.  I see Barbara Stanwyck, calmly lighting a cigarette in her narrative. Imagine any pre-Code young woman taking her revenge and not spending a minute in jail and you have the tenor of this tough song.  (“Be faithful or beware!”)

Oh, the sound of Mildred’s voice — sweet, salty, every syllable ringing clear — and that band:  Mannie Klein, Charlie Margulis, trumpet; Sonny Lee, trombone; Benny Goodman, clarinet; Coleman Hawkins, tenor saxophone; Arthur Schutt, piano, arranger; Dick McDonough, guitar; Artie Bernstein, bass; Gene Krupa, drums; Mildred Bailey, vocal.  New York, February 2, 1934.  It’s a recording chock-full of delights: the way Mannie Klein slides in and out of the synagogue on the first chorus; the gorgeous sound of Dick McDonough and Artie Bernstein. Note that Bernstein switches between arco and pizzicato throughout, which I don’t think was usual in 1934, at least not in bands edging towards “hot.”

Yes, and that is Coleman Hawkins, thanks to John Hammond  — the hidden “Negro” on the date who was also the pre-eminent tenor saxophonist — intense in his obbligati behind Mildred.  (I wonder how many hip listeners of any color there were in 1934 who said, “Damn.  That sounds like that fellow on those Henderson recordings.  But it can’t be, can it?”  He plays the introduction, which is remarkable but one doesn’t take notice of it on the first listening.)

This YouTube video is an odd pleasure: recordings did not run for 4:08 at that time.  This song was recorded in two takes, and the first half of this recording is one of the two takes and Mildred’s vocal chorus is heard twice — the two takes joined together fairly seamlessly.  I don’t mind the extended play.  Who would?

Forward into the recent present.  Here is the gorgeous instrumental version by James Dapogny (piano / arranger) and friends at last year’s Allegheny Jazz Party:

The band is, as well as Professor Dapogny, Pete Siers, drums; Jon Burr, string bass; Marty Grosz, guitar; Bill Allred, trombone; Randy Reinhart, cornet; Scott Robinson, tenor saxophone; Dan Block, clarinet.  This Dapogny arrangement allows us to hear Meyer’s melody as if presented for chamber ensemble of piano and horns, where the soloists ebb and flow, but the song takes the center stage. Dapogny’s piano is a barrelhouse lyrical dream, but his arrangement is a multilayered lovely edifice, and it’s worth listening to this track with a notepad to catch the scenery gloriously moving by.  And this sort of thing will happen soon, again, at the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party.  Trust me on this.

Or, “Don’t forget our Cleveland date!”

May your happiness increase!

4 responses to “REVENGE SET TO MUSIC, 1934, 2015

  1. Don "Zoot" Conner

    A lovely tune;a fine arrangement,well played by an all-star band.Heaven on earth!Nice post,Michael.

  2. Annd, of course, there’s the classic version with Jackson Tea and harpist Casper Reardon, from Sept 18 1934; no vocal, though.

  3. You should have heard my mother sing “Junk Man!” I wish I had taped her. You would be impressed! Oh my I loved Dapogny’s piano on this tune!! I love Dapogny on any tune! Thank you so much NM.

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