Tag Archives: Anna Moffo

OF COURSE, THEY WEREN’T “TRAINED SINGERS”!

Anna Moffo, one of my mother’s favorite sopranos: my definition of a “trained singer.”

Everyone of us has pet theories: there’s a secret way to fold fitted sheets; day-old bagels, toasted, are better than fresh, and so on.  You, no doubt, have yours.

One of mine that is relevant to JAZZ LIVES is that often, singers who never sing because they are busy playing are the best singers of all.  I don’t mean those who are clearly identified as singers — Louis, Jelly, Teagarden, Cleo Brown — but those instrumentalists who have recorded once or twice only.  So I assembled a host of my favorites, leaving out scat choruses.  Some recordings were inaccessible: Sid Catlett’s OUT OF MY WAY, Basie’s HARVARD BLUES (where he, not Jimmy, takes the vocal) Ed Hall’s ALL I GOT WAS SYMPATHY — but this is, I hope, a pleasing, perhaps odd offering.  I present them in no particular order, except for Lester being the last, because that recording so touches me.

James P. Johnson, 1944 (with Frank Newton, Al Casey, Pops Foster, Eddie Dougherty).  The story is that Alan Lomax thought that James P. was a blues pianist when he interviewed him for the Library of Congress — and compelled him to sing this.  I don’t know: James P. is having a good time:

Coleman Hawkins, 1936, highly impassioned (when was he not?):

Vic Dickenson, crooning in 1931 with the Luis Russell Orchestra:

Vic — nearly fifty years later — singing his own composition with Ralph Sutton:

Benny Carter, aiming for Bing and having a dear good time in the process, 1933.  (This has been one of my favorite records since 1974.  Catch Benny’s trumpet solo and clarinet solo.  And Sid Catlett pleases.)  Those clever lyrics aren’t easy to sing at that tempo: ask Dan Barrett:

And another helping of Benny-does-Bing, gliding upwards into those notes.  Another favorite:

Yes, Art Tatum could sing the blues.  Uptown, 1941:

I save this for last, because it leaves me in tears.  Lester Young, 1941, and since this is the only copy of a much-played acetate, there’s a lot of surface noise.  Be patient and listen deeply:

Little is known about that recording, but I remember learning that one side of it was a dub of SHOE SHINE BOY by Jones-Smith, Inc., and this — a current pop tune with glee-club embroideries — was the other.  It’s been surmised that this was a demo disc for Lester’s new small band that he hoped to make flourish after leaving Basie.  Some of the sadness, to me, is that the attempt worked poorly, and although Lester loved to sing, there is only one other recording (the 1953 IT TAKES TWO TO TANGO) that exists.

These singers go right to my heart.

May your happiness increase!

A PORTRAIT OF BOBBY HACKETT

This marvelous documentary in miniature — a precious tribute to the cornetist Bobby Hackett — surfaced recently on YouTube, courtesy of “The Murphy Family.”

I saw Hackett play less than a dozen times in the last five years of his life, twice at close range.  I was too awed and too shy to attempt conversation, but he was gracious to me, a fan lugging a heavy tape recorder, asking for an autograph.  His autograph, incidentally, says a good deal about the man: “Thanks, Bobby Hackett.”

So I cannot claim any particular intimacy.  But when I was growing up in darkest suburbia, the New Jersey radio station WPAT-FM often played Hackett’s recordings with strings — extraordinary traceries against dark blue skies.  My mother loved melodies: Puccini and Verdi, Streisand and Anna Moffo, and she shared my affection for Hackett.  The YouTube documentary awakened a memory: my mother calling me to come downstairs quickly, “Your friend is on the radio!”  And it would be Hackett, playing LAURA or MOONLIGHT BECOMES YOU.  And we would stand in front of the speakers, marveling.

Years later, a Hackett solo has the power to make me wonder at its shape, its logic, its warmth.  His music makes me feel his absence as a true loss.

The YouTube documentary, created by Kathleen Griffin, is touching for other reasons.  The photographs — from the collection of Michelle , Hackett’s granddaughter, remind us that the jazz musicians whose sounds we cherish and annotate are people when not behind their cornets or drum sets — people with families and houses, lounging on couches, eating dinner, hugging their children, caught in snapshots.  The soundtrack seems to be taken from a concert or concerts Hackett played with Benny Goodman in the 1970s.  And the jazz fanciers will notice rare pictures of Hackett in performance as well, amidst Punch Miller, Pete Fountain, Vic Dickenson, Dizzy Gillespie, George Brunis, Maxine Sullivan, and many others — but the eye comes back to Hackett.  As does the ear, inevitably.

I urge every reader of this blog to listen closely to a Bobby Hackett solo today.  And give thanks.