The Twenties marked an explosion of female freedom that would blossom in our time, with political empowerment and social power running parallel: the right to vote and the right to choose what you would wear. I am sure that somewhere in that decade a singer was whimpering through SHE’S ONLY A BIRD IN A GILDED CAGE, and NOBODY’S SWEETHEART appears to — note I write “appears” — say that a young woman could lose her virtue in the big city, with a wink at the listener as if to say that scandal is more fun than conformity. But the songs below, which resurface as hot jazz classics in their own decade, say that the rewards of freedom and pleasure and hugely gratifying. (I amused myself a few years ago here by writing about several of those songs — with a guest appearance by Thomas Hardy.)
By coincidence, the songs I am considering were given splendid performances by Dave Stuckey and the Hot House Gang at the 2019 “Sounds of Mardi Gras” in Fresno, California — on February 9. The HHG was Dave, guitar and vocal; Gareth Price, drums; Sam Rocha, string bass; David Aus (subbing for Carl Sonny Leyland), piano; Nate Ketner, reeds; Marc Caparone, cornet — on LIZZIE, the delightful trombonist Riley Baker joins in the fun.
Let’s begin with Bessie, from 1929 — not Smith, but a young woman with no last name who is completely enjoying herself. I’ve always wondered if Bessie’s yelling with delight celebrates the female orgasm. And although the lyrics suggest a faux-pity about Bessie, who “couldn’t help it,” as if she could be an entry in Krafft-Ebing, we are meant to cheer her on:
Then there’s Lizzie, who is dancing all over town with such wild abandon that she shakes the pots and pans in what we must assume is a more sedate lady’s kitchen. Ah, flaming youth! (Or, as Dave exhorts the band, “Come on, cats!”). I also note the repeated reference to what I know as “Oh, they don’t wear pants / in the southern part of France,” which suggests that Lizzie’s dance is close to the hootchy-kootchy:
These songs have wonderful jazz pedigrees, should you want to listen to other versions: Louis and Hoagy and Marty Grosz for BESSIE; “Irving Mills” and then Eddie Condon for LIZZIE.
Hot jazz, social emancipation, wild dancing, orgasms. Fine with me. And I write with untrammeled pride that I think this is the only jazz blog where Krafft-Ebing and Louis have equal time.
May your happiness increase!