Daily Archives: August 10, 2017

PAT KIRBY SINGS! (Steve Allen, The Tonight Show, August 8, 1955)

This post is entirely due to the generosity of a like-minded collector, Anthony DiFlorio (of Philadelphia) who is a scholar of what now seems very distant — a time when great art came in to our living rooms through the television set. Earlier this week, Anthony uploaded a short clip from Steve Allen’s TONIGHT SHOW — predating Carson and his successors — from August 8, 1955.

I don’t find much ancient verbal comedy all that hilarious, but Allen deserves gratitude because he presented the best music he could to an audience that might not otherwise have experienced it.  In this, he is to be treasured as a pollinator spreading beauty and joy over the airwaves.

What makes Anthony’s present to us so precious is that we can now see and hear Pat Kirby tenderly and thoughtfully sing I’M GLAD THERE IS YOU (by “Paul Madeira” — ex-Goldkette pianist Paul Mertz — and Jimmy Dorsey) after Steve gets through reading a telegram from Bob Hope, the latter promoting his new motion picture, THE SEVEN LITTLE FOYS.

If “Pat Kirby” is someone you don’t know, you will want to.  Here are the results of my research, posted on June 20 of this year.  I was guided by serendipity, or by the cosmos, to find her one long-playing record in a thrift store, and the rest is immense gratification.  The trail leads to the real Pat, who is happily very much with us.  I hope, later in this year, to meet her.  Yes, that!

What makes her so remarkable is what I perceive of as a total clarity of vision.

Some women singers of the time (and ours) took a seductive approach to their audience. They could sing, but it was secondary: what was important was a theatrical carnality, where they seemed to ask, “Wouldn’t you like to slide my dress off one shoulder?”  Others were more boisterous, at higher volume, with everything in motion, simulating some version of a Twenties speakeasy or a Vegas show.  Others proffered girlish charm as reason to pay attention, “Don’t you want to come to the beach with us?”

Although she is quite young and lovely in this performance, Pat Kirby explicitly chooses none of these paths, and to a viewer expecting flash, an invitation to the boudoir, or a beach volleyball game, initially she seems austere, reserved.

For the first two-thirds of the song, she gazes straight ahead, her only motion coming from her face and the slightest motions of her hand.  I don’t think anyone can be wholly without ego, but there is no trace of LOOK AT ME in her performance.  It is as if she has willed herself to disappear into the song.  She is rapt, thus so are we.

What Pat chose (and since the medium of video makes all things present, chooses) to offer us is tenderness, intelligence, warmth — focused on the lyrics, then the melody, then the song’s complete emotional message.  Her stillness is riveting because she has chosen to do nothing that would distract us from the song.  She is quiet, serene — but paradoxically commanding our attention in the least ostentatious way.  She believes the words: she IS glad that “there is you.”

Her precise diction isn’t artifice, but the expression of an artist who knows that every single syllable is crucial.  Her pure voice concentrates on the melody line, and her physical stillness — a stance I associate with art song — is matched by her willingness to let silence come between the notes and phrases.  I find her focused restraint memorable.

I am grateful to Anthony for making this affecting interlude available to all of us. And as for Pat Kirby, my writing “I’m glad there is you,” is an easy punchline, but it is no less true.

May your happiness increase!