Tag Archives: Al Rinker

DESIRE (SUPPRESSED) and PASSION (SECRET), THEN and NOW

Does popular art follow high art, or the reverse, or are the coincidences simply coincidental?  In 1915, Susan Glaspell and George Cram Cook premiered a play, SUPPRESSED DESIRES; 1924, Eugene O’Neill’s DESIRE UNDER THE ELMS; 1929, Dali’s THE ACCOMODATIONS OF DESIRE.  PASSION had always been part of the cultural vocabulary, so no need to search out appearances in the Twenties.  A graduate student in early modernist popular culture would probably trace some of this to Havelock Ellis, Theodoor Hendrik Van de Velde, and others writing for a curious public.  I don’t doubt that Dr. Freud is behind all this in some way, also.

I know that the stereotypical idea of pop songwriters is cigar-smoking fellows looking to make money off the latest craze, but it is possible that some of those brilliant tunesmiths read something in the paper besides the sports pages.  Make what you will of the synchronicity or the coincidence, these two songs, HE’S MY SECRET PASSION and MY SUPPRESSED DESIRE enjoyed some fame in that year, the second creation even featured in a film where I would think little was suppressed.

I’ve known MY SUPPRESSED DESIRE for years through the Bing Crosby – Harry Barris – Al Rinker recording, a series of small hot comedic playlets unfolding one after another:

Bing’s “Tell it!” at 1:35 is a favorite moment, and I like the way the recording morphs through moods and tempos — a whole stage show in miniature, with the introduction coming around as the conclusion, and the rocking intensity of Bing’s last bridge.

Here’s a very pleasing Goldkette-styled version by Abe Lyman’s California Orchestra:

There are several excellent contemporary dance band versions of this song — by Coon-Sanders Nighthawks, Verne Buck, and Lud Gluskin — which I leave to you to find on YouTube, because for me the Rhythm Boys’ version blots all the others out.

Now (thanks to Jonathan David Holmes) I have a new recording of HE’S MY SECRET PASSION by The Four Bright Sparks, my favorite new band name, to share with you.  I find the instrumental combination of clarinet, xylophone, guitar, drums, and piano entrancing, and Queenie Leonard’s slightly emphatic singing is also charming.  Discographer Tom Lord sniffs, “The above was a studio group but they played straight dance music and nearly never featured hot solo work,” a classic example of jazz-snobbery:

And here is Marion Harris’ impossibly tender reading of PASSION:

Showing that passion has living validity in this century also, Barbara Rosene and friends (among others, Conal Fowkes, Michael Hashim, Pete Martinez, Brian Nalepka, and Craig Ventresco) in 2007:

Barbara, Conal Fowkes, and Danny Tobias will be performing at Mezzrow on West Tenth Street in New York City on June 13.  Her shows are always delightful, and, yes, attendance will be taken.

Attentive textual explicators will note that these are not the same song at all: the singer of PASSION is wistful and hopeful that an introduction can be arranged and great things will result, where the singer of SUPPRESSED notes accurately that the Object of Desire belongs to someone else, which is an entirely different situation.  But these recordings and the songs are atypically cheerful — no one is lamenting that the opportunity has passed forever.  For listeners, we hope for the best: gratified passion, reciprocated desire.

May your happiness increase!

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GETTING HOT IN SPOKANE

According some serious-looking online research, the average temperature in Spokane, Washington is 48.05 degrees Farenheit.  So you know my title is not, strictly speaking, true as a statement about climate.

BING AL MILDRED

But there are kinds of heat one can’t measure with a thermometer, as JAZZ LIVES readers know.  I know Spokane as the birthplace and early proving grounds for some serious artists: Harry Lillis Crosby, Mildred Rinker Bailey, and her brother Al.  Put them all together and you have a sizable chunk of twentieth-century creativity in fine music.  But they run the risk of being forgotten, which is sad.

I was thus amused and pleased to hear from Garrin Hertel, swing guitarist and cultural crusader, who wrote me (he’s very articulate, so I’ll let you read his words):

I’m emailing to send you a press release for a project I’m starting here in Spokane with my band Hot Club of Spokane. While the band name probably brings to mind Django Reinhardt, we’re actually more in tune with the original Hot Club of France. That is to say, we’re less concerned about being just like Django, and more concerned with keeping traditional jazz, swing, and blues alive and well.

So, with that in mind, we’re recording a CD aimed at celebrating our local jazz icons – Bing Crosby, Mildred Bailey, and Al Rinker. Most people in Spokane, sadly, have never even heard of Mildred Bailey or Al Rinker. And as you’ll see in our Kickstarter video (which is short – 3min for the main message) – many people in Spokane couldn’t even name a Bing Crosby tune that wasn’t associated with Christmas.

[But] Jazz lives in Spokane, even though the jazz lives that were so influential a century ago have faded. We want to help light up our community again, and you know, play some great music.

I was curious about the video, so I clicked here. I was enlightened although only a little dismayed by the absence of Crosby-recognition in this century.  (The collective memory resembles a drop of water in a hot cast-iron skillet, but I digress. Collective ignorance is much more durable.)  But I was intrigued to learn more about Al Rinker as a composer, and any project that brings more attention to Mildred is just fine with me. The Hot Club of Spokane is also offering a free collection of five Christmas songs for your listening and dancing pleasure here: they are a limber medium-sized group with their own personality, which always pleases.  I asked Garrin about the musicians in the HCS, and he sent me a list — although they often work as combinations of six, seven, or eight: Rachel Aldridge, Abbey Crawford (vocal); Michael Harrison (trumpet); David Fague (tenor); Christopher Moyer (tenor, alto, bari, bass, and clarinet); Robert Folie (alto, bari); Steve Bauer (lead guitar); Don Thomsen, Aaron Castilla (fiddle); Eugene Jablonsky, Kim Plewniak (string bass); Mark Stephens (drums); Garrin Hertel (rhythm guitar).  I hope you’ll feel motivated to investigate and support this project, and if you can’t, spread the word about the Hot Club of Spokane and the good sounds they create.
May your happiness increase!

 

“IN A SLEEPY LITTLE VILLAGE”: NORVO, MOLL, BAILEY 1932

I thought I knew a good deal about Mildred Bailey and Red Norvo — the records and sheet music (copies of IT’S SO PEACEFUL IN THE COUNTRY, ‘LEVEN POUNDS OF HEAVEN, WHEN IT’S SLEEPY TIME DOWN SOUTH, and — less frequently — ROCKIN’ CHAIR).  But this one, from 1932, is new to me.  And that the sheet music heralds it as MILDRED BAILEY’S THEME SONG is even more of a surprise, especially since I thought that Mildred had adopted Hoagy Carmichael’s ROCKIN’ CHAIR as hers before 1932.  Was there a brief Bailey – Carmichael rift?

MILDRED == IN A SLEEPY LITTLE VILLAGE 1932

Billy Moll is almost forgotten today, but he was part of three remarkable compositions: ICE CREAM, WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS, and I WANT A LITTLE GIRL.  Mildred was Al Rinker’s sister; Rinker, Barris, and a fellow named Crosby were friends and musical partners in the Rhythm Boys — thus the trail might lead back to a Rinker – Bailey – Crosby connection by way of WRAP YOUR TROUBLES.

And here’s what I could find online — from the index to the sheet music collection of the Indiana State University Library.  The first line of the verse is: “Shadows creep to end a lonely day, and soon the stars appear above. . . .and the chorus begins, “In a sleepy little village, let me lay me down to sleep again.”

But somehow I think this song wasn’t a huge hit.  Did anyone else record it?  Or did Mildred say, “Hey, hands off!  This is my [possibly soporific] theme song!  Get your own sleepy little village!”?

May your happiness increase.

“WHERE’S MILDRED?”

A very good question, and thanks to Julia Keefe for asking it, for making sure others hear it, and for keeping Mildred alive in her own singing!  Read all about it:

Idaho tribe touts ‘Mrs. Swing’s’ Indian heritage in bid for Lincoln Center recognition

By Associated Press, Updated: Thursday, March 15, 3:32 AM

 BOISE, Idaho — Mildred Rinker Bailey was known to fans as “Mrs. Swing,” whose slight, throaty voice won her acclaim as one of the great white jazz singers of the 1930s and 1940s.  

But the Coeur d’Alene Indian Tribe is now hoping to set the record straight once and for all: Bailey, who died impoverished in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., in 1951, was an American Indian who spent her childhood on the reservation near DeSmet, Idaho.

This week, the tribe introduced a resolution honoring Bailey in the Idaho Legislature, in part to convince the Jazz at Lincoln Center Hall of Fame in New York City to add her to its inductees — on grounds she helped blaze a trail for better-known singers like Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday.

“Mildred was a pioneer,” said Coeur d’Alene Tribal Chairman Chief J. Allan. “She paved the way for many other female singers to follow.”

Though Bailey’s Coeur d’Alene ties may not have been common knowledge among her fans, it clearly wasn’t a secret.

“Part Indian, she was born Mildred Rinker on a farm near Spokane,” reads her Associated Press obituary, dated Dec. 13, 1951.

Still, in jazz history books, Bailey has gone down largely as a white female jazz stylist.

The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz hails her as “the first white singer to absorb and master the jazz-flavored phrasing…of her black contemporaries.”

Howard Koslow, the illustrator who created Bailey’s likeness on a 29-cent U.S. Postal Service stamp based on an image by iconic jazz photographer William Gottlieb, said he had only that brief New Grove entry as a reference.

But his depiction of Bailey’s dark complexion and black hair, for the stamp issued in a series honoring jazz and blues musicians, appears to capture her complex heritage.

“She has that look about her,” Koslow recalled Tuesday in an interview from his Toms River, N.J., home.

Bailey was born Feb. 16, 1900, in the Washington farming town of Tekoa, near the Idaho border.

Her mother was a Coeur d’Alene tribal member, her father of Swiss-Irish stock.

At 13, she moved from the reservation to Spokane, where a neighbor destined to become world famous as “Bing” Crosby joined Bailey and her brother, Al Rinker, at the family’s piano. Al Rinker and Crosby formed the group “The Rhythm Boys.”

By the mid-1920s, all three were singing in California; in 1929, Crosby recommended to famous orchestra leader Paul Whiteman he add Bailey as a regular.

“I was lucky in knowing the great jazz and blues singer Mildred Bailey so early in life,” Crosby wrote in his 1953 autobiography. “I learned a lot from her.”

So has Julia Keefe, a 22-year-old jazz singer from Spokane.

Keefe, a member of Idaho’s Nez Perce Indian Tribe, discovered Bailey as a student at Spokane’s Gonzaga Prep, while researching Crosby’s own time at the Catholic high school.

“It took off like a flash flood,” remembers Keefe, now a performance major at the University of Miami with Bailey’s photograph hanging on her Florida apartment wall.

In 2009, Keefe performed a musical tribute featuring Bailey’s songs, including “Old Rockin’ Chair” and “He’s Not Worth Your Tears,” at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.

A year later, Keefe was touring the Jazz at Lincoln Center Hall of Fame, pondering the greats on its 18-foot video wall when she asked herself, “Where’s Mildred?”

Thus began her quiet effort to elevate Bailey’s profile in the modern jazz world, a push the Idaho Legislature hopes to assist.

“It’s sad to think she died penniless, or nearly penniless, after all the things that she accomplished,” said Rep. Bob Nonini, a sponsor of resolution. “But it’s never too late to recognize somebody.”

Lincoln Center officials didn’t immediately respond to an AP request for comment.

An important question remains: How important were Bailey’s Indian roots to her art?

An undated quotation, attributed to her by the U.S. Postal Service in 1994, hints at an answer.

“I don’t know whether this (Indian) music compares with jazz or the classics, but I do know that it offers a young singer a remarkable training and background,” Bailey reportedly said.

Bailey’s niece, Julia Rinker-Miller, a Los Angeles-based singer whose credits include the “Three’s Company” theme, was seven in 1951 when her aunt died in a Hudson Valley hospital, from complications of diabetes and obesity; Frank Sinatra reportedly helped pay her medical bills.

“Even though she was large, she was delicate, very exotic, sensual,” Rinker-Miller recalled during an interview Tuesday.

From her father, Rinker-Miller heard stories of how they were called “breeds” after moving from the Coeur d’Alene reservation to Spokane.

Consequently, he downplayed his own American Indian background, she said.

She figures Bailey was forced to do likewise during her career — possibly why she became known as a white artist.

“Mildred’s returning to her roots,” Rinker-Miller said, of the tribe’s effort to reclaim Bailey. “She’s going home.”

MILDRED BAILEY by JULIA KEEFE

Mildred Rinker Bailey

“The Rocking Chair Lady”

February 16, 1900 – December 12, 1951

Mildred Rinker was born one hundred and ten years ago today in Tekoa, Washington.  Her mother, Josephine Lee Rinker, was an enrolled member of the Coeur d’Alene Indian Tribe.  Mildred’s early childhood was spent on the family’s tribal allotment near DeSmet, Idaho, where she spent many happy hours riding her pony, Buck.

The Rinker family moved to Spokane’s North Central neighborhood when Mildred was thirteen, and she graduated from St. Joseph’s School. Mildred and her younger brother Al spent many happy hours singing and playing piano under the instruction of their mother, an excellent pianist who could play both classical and ragtime music.

Mildred’s musical talent inspired both her brother Al and one of his band mates, a singing drummer named Bing Crosby, who once said, “I was lucky in knowing the great jazz and blues singer Mildred Bailey so early in life.  I learned a lot from her.  She made records which are still vocal classics, and she taught me much about singing and interpreting popular songs.”

Shortly after her mother’s death from tuberculosis in 1917, Mildred moved to Seattle and found work singing from sheet music at a local music store.  Her career path led her throughout the Pacific Northwest and Western Canada, eventually settling in Los Angeles, where she joined the Paul Whiteman Orchestra and became the first full-time female big band singer in America.  Mildred Bailey’s groundbreaking achievement opened the door of opportunity for later jazz greats including Billie Holiday, Helen Ward, and Ella Fitzgerald.

Mildred Bailey’s earliest recordings were made in 1929, and she recorded nearly three hundred songs over the years, several of which became best-sellers.  Mildred had her own radio show in the 1940s, and was voted either first or second most popular female jazz vocalist in the first three annual Esquire Magazine jazz polls. The most famous artists from the swing era recorded and performed with Mildred, including Benny Goodman, Art Tatum, Mary Lou Williams, Coleman Hawkins, the Dorsey brothers, and Artie Shaw.

In 1944, Time magazine reviewed her show at the Café Society in New York and called her “just about the greatest songbird in the U.S.”  Mildred and her husband, pioneer xylophone and vibes great Red Norvo were known as “Mr. and Mrs. Swing” during this phase of her career.

Mildred Bailey died on December 21, 1951 in Poughkeepsie, New York, where she lived on a farm with her beloved dachshunds, Spotty and Susan.  In 1994, the U.S. Postal Service issued a series of stamps honoring legendary jazz and blues singers, including “Ma” Rainey, Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday and Mildred Bailey.  One jazz historian said of Mildred, “She had a magic. So many people down the line, so many singers, benefited from her, owe debts to her – and they don’t even know it.”

Thank you, Mildred, for the trail you blazed and the beautiful songs you left behind.  You demonstrated that a little girl from an Idaho Indian reservation can dream big dreams, and make those dreams come true.  We’ll never forget you. Thanks for the memory!

Julia Keefe, Nez Perce tribal member

www.juliakeefe.com

(For those of you who haven’t heard of Julia Keefe, I promise that you will.  She’s more than an articulate Mildred Bailey fan; more than a diligent researcher — who provided these pictures of a seventeen-year old Mildred about to leave Spokane for the big time (the pictures came from Mildred’s niece, Julia Rinker Miller, whose father was Al Rinker) . . . she’s also a 20-year old jazz singer with a future.   She reveres Mildred and sings some of her songs, but Julia is wise enough to know that imitation is both impossible and no one’s idea of flattery.  More from and about her in future!)  And Julia went to the same Spokane high school, Gonzaga Prep, as that fellow Crosby . . . it’s a small world after all.