I don’t remember in which antique store I found a shiny copy of the record above, except that my boredom (prowling through aisles of overpriced odd fragments of human history) stopped instantly. It’s a famous recording, because more than twenty years ago, an unidentified trumpet solo that sounded rather Bixian was seized upon as being a true Bix improvisation. I assure you that the dramatic discussions that went on — read here if you like — are not my subject.
Before I delve into why, here’s some data: the personnel as stated by Tom Lord: Ray Miller And His Orchestra : Muggsy Spanier (cnt) Max Connett, Lloyd Wallen (tp) Jules Fasthoff (tb) Jim Cannon (cl,as) Maurice Morse (as) Lyle Smith (ts) Paul Lyman (vln) Art Gronwall (p,arr) Leon Kaplan (bj,g) Jules Cassard (tu,b) Bill Paley (d) Bob Nolan, Mary Williams (vcl) Ray Miller (dir).
Why should I post the two takes of CRADLE OF LOVE? For one thing, I have been putting my 78s in order and I saw the record, decided to play it, liked it, played it several times over. And I continue to do so: it has become something I love.
The song itself — by the team that had a hit with RAMONA — is delightful in its limited scope. You might know the story that Ray Henderson, Bud De Sylva, and Lew Brown — responsible for many hits — decided to write the worst song they could, with every tear-jerking cliche, and the result was SONNY BOY, which — with Al Jolson’s fervent performance (and his adding his name to the credits) was a million-seller.
I don’t know if the SONNY BOY story is true, but there’s something about CRADLE OF LOVE that hints at its composers asking themselves what they could do to assure themselves a hit.
First, pick a very optimistic premise: the young couple, so in love, in their tiny rural paradise which will be paid off in a year; they have chickens; their neighbors love them; they will have a baby soon. Fecundity, domesticity, domestic bliss, prosperity — pleasing dreams, especially in January 1929 with no hint of the Crash to come. Home, young love, sex, and chickens! And yes, the song is very close to MY BLUE HEAVEN, which made a great deal of money not too long before.
Second, invent a melody with an irresistible hook that sounds much like MAKIN’ WHOOPEE (a song with a clearly divergent view of domestic bliss, curdled) and put the two together. The one touch of realism in this dream-world is that the neighbors “smile / most of the while” (my emphasis). Why there are these noticeable lapses in grinning is never explained, especially since “all” would have worked just as well in the line. Perhaps Wayne and Gilbert had some scruples.
CRADLE OF LOVE should have been memorable, but didn’t become so. However, there’s so much that pleases me in these recordings (there are rumors of a third non-vocal version, made for the German market, but I don’t know anyone who has heard it). The Miller band just sounds good, and they balance their instrumental work and the “hot” solos so beautifully. (Yes, the question has been asked, “Why two trumpet / cornet improvisations on the same — white — dance band record?” to which I have no answer.) It means a great deal to me that the statement of the verse is a wonderful early Muggsy Spanier episode, as well. I don’t feel the need to mock Bob Nolan, either. And Eddy Davis was telling me, a few weeks ago, about working with pianist Art Gronwall — to which I could only say, “Wow!” The rhythm section has a nice bounce, and the trombone interlude reminds me cheerfully of Miff Mole.
So I invite you to listen, to put aside preconceptions, and simply enjoy.
and, just because YouTube makes it possible for me to share it with you, here is the Paul Whiteman version recorded fourteen days earlier, an entirely different orchestral rendition, with a lovely Trumbauer bridge near the end:
Slightly more than ten months after the Miller recording, the stock market crash changed everyone’s lives. I hope the young couple had paid off every stick and stone before then, and could make a living selling eggs. How the toad plays into this I can’t imagine, but I hope (s)he and others prospered. Otherwise it’s too dire to contemplate.
Note: readers who feel a pressing need to extend the Bix-or-not-Bix discussion will not find their comments printed here. Enough idolatry, thanks. I don’t think it’s Bix — but it’s my blog and I have some privileges therein.
May your happiness increase!