Tag Archives: Bert Lahr

IRRESISTIBLY SWINGING: THE BROOKS PRUMO ORCHESTRA: “THIS YEAR’S KISSES”

The new CD by the Brooks Prumo Orchestra, THIS YEAR’S KISSES, is wonderfully groovy, rather like the thing you can’t stay away from, Bert Lahr’s single Lay’s potato chip.  (You can look that up on YouTube.  I’ll wait.)  By the way, I loved the BPO’s first CD, PASS THE BOUNCE (2017): read about it here.

Here‘s the Bandcamp link for KISSES, where you can see the personnel, the song titles, hear a sample, download, or purchase this CD.

The description reads: The Brooks Prumo Orchestra was made for dancing. Featuring brand new arrangements of long-lost big band tunes, original compositions, and crowd favorites, the Brooks Prumo Orchestra aims to embody a big band dance orchestra of the Swing era. Filled with world-class musicians, the band will evoke thoughts of Count Basie, Earl Hines, Andy Kirk, and Billie Holiday.

The noble members of the BPO are Alice Spencer, vocals*; Mark Gonzales, trombone; Jonathan Doyle, tenor saxophone, clarinet; Lauryn Gould, alto saxophone; David Jellema, cornet; Oliver Steck, cornet; Hal Smith, drums; Ryan Gould, string bass; Kris Tokarski,  piano; Brooks Prumo, guitar.

And the delicious repertoire is  CASTLE ROCK / SOMEBODY LOVES ME* / ‘T’AIN’T LIKE THAT / PEEK-A-BOO / THIS YEAR’S KISSES* / JO-JO / DON’T BE THAT WAY / ARMFUL O’ SWEETNESS* / OUT OF NOWHERE / THE THEME / WHAT’S YOUR NAME?* / BLUE LESTER / BROADWAY / I’M THRU WITH LOVE* / JEEP’S BLUES.

Those who know will see splendid associations: Al Sears, Johnny Hodges, Rex Stewart, Count Basie, Karl George, Billie Holiday, Joe Bushkin, Jo Jones, Lester Young, Buck Clayton, Alex Hill, Fats Waller, Henry “Red” Allen, Dexter Gordon, Nat Cole.

Happily, the CD is very forgiving of the dance-challenged: it allows me to sit in my chair, listen, and beam.  And to give you an idea of the intense attraction I had for this CD on my first hearing I thought, “I want this CD!” and then calmed down enough to think, “You already have it.”

Listening to it again and again, I envisioned the eleven members of this orchestra as a kind of M.C. Escher drawing, people swimming blissfully in two divergent streams at once.  One could be labeled NOW, which means that the musicians here sound like themselves — and their voices are so individualistic — but they are also having a high old time splashing around in THEN, so that many of the performances have a tender connection to past recorded performances.  But there is no conscious attempt (use your Steve Martin voice) to say, “Hey! Let’s Get OLD!” — no archival stiffness.  And the familiar material, say SOMEBODY, BROADWAY, NOWHERE, is delightfully enlivened by the band’s passionate immersion in not only the notes but the emotions.

The rhythm section is fine-tuned, flexible and resourceful, four individuals playing as one; the solos are memorable; the ensemble work is both loose and graciously cohesive.  This is a band, and even if there isn’t the official BPO band bus for the one-nighters, you can hear their pleasure in working together, easy and intense.

And a few lines, once again, for the miracle of nature known as Alice Spencer, who takes familiar music and makes it fresh, who makes songs associated with Billie Holiday for decades into her own without warping their intent, who can be perky or melancholy with utter conviction.  She is full of surprises — many singers telegraph what they are going to do in the next four bars, but she doesn’t — although her surprises always seem like the right thing once they have landed.  I won’t compare her to other singers: rather, she has an aura like a great film actress, comfortable in many roles.  Think Joan Blondell or Jean Arthur, and you have some idea of her great personal appeal.

This CD is a great gift.  It’s music for dancers, music for those of us who know the originals, music for people who need joy in their lives.  THIS YEAR’S KISSES is like sunshine breaking through: a consistent delight, much appreciated.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to listen to it again.

May your happiness increase!

“THE WOOF SONG” (1937), or A WOOF A DAY KEEPS URGENT CARE AWAY

Everything I know about alternative medicine at home I learned from the gifted practitioner Dr. Winston Comba of Richmond, Virginia, so this post is a small thank-you to him.

For those of you wondering why such a post is on JAZZ LIVES, which should be properly devoted to hours of coverage to your favorite band or musician, whom everyone knows is the greatest ever, be patient.  (Or don’t.)

Thanks to Confetta-Ann Rasmussen, the hardest-working woman west of the Rockies, for pointing me to this: Bert Lahr’s “The Woof Song,” from the 1937 film LOVE AND HISSES.  Some sources say that the sequence was deleted before the film’s release, although not everyone agrees.  Lahr was cast as “Sugar” Boles, which should give an idea of the film’s comic subtleties.  LOVE AND HISSES depicted the feud between columnist Walter Winchell and bandleader Ben Bernie, with, alas, forgettable songs by Gordon and Revel and dubbed singing by Simone Simon.  It is not a film I feel a deep need to see, but Lahr’s bit is wonderful, and relevant here.  “The Woof Song,” misheard as “Wolf,” on one site, was written by Norman Zeno and Will Irwin — a vaudeville turn full of hot-music references.  See if you catch the most prominent ones:

Immediately, it’s clear that Stuff Smith’s I’SE A-MUGGIN’ (the second side, with the counting game) is being referenced, as is Cab Calloway, TIGER RAG, SWEET AND HOT, YOU RASCAL YOU, and more.  Perhaps Jolson is being evoked on SHOE SHINE BOY, and there’s the obligatory high-note trumpet passage (the band is Ben Bernie’s, according to Mark Cantor).  It’s a Wonderful Woof, isn’t it?

May your happiness increase!

FINDING MISS WILEY

Readers will have noticed my fascination with used bookstores.  When it’s hot, they offer the promise, sometimes illusory, of being dark and cool.  “Fine” books means everything is clean but costly; “old” books sometimes means 1846 town registers, intriguing but irrelevant.  What we require is a large stock of gardening books and cooking pamphlets for the Beloved, who is very selective, and sheet music mixed liberally with old records for your correspondent.  We found both yesterday at Owl Pen Books, 166 Riddle Road, Greenwich, New York. 

Here are my latest treasures, both 10″ long-playing microgroove records, to call them by their proper name:

Lee Wiley 003

You might not recognize Miss Wiley, especially if you have in your mind’s eye the late Thirties picture of her, her hair long, straight, and dark, wearing a while blouse and a dark vest.  Fashion photographer Peter Marshall gave her the full VOGUE treatment: a low-cut ruffled strapless dress, a necklet, a formal hairdo, and what look like false or mascara-ed eyelashes.  The music inside has been issued on Mosaic, I believe, and the idea of putting Miss Wiley alongside Stan Freeman and Cy Walter doesn’t entirely work — too much piano-busyness in the background.  But the picture is worth a great deal, and I wonder if Miss Wiley approved of her temporary makeover.

Lee Wiley 001

Lee Wiley 002

The caricatures on the cover are by John DeVries, who wrote the lyrics for WHEREVER THERE’S LOVE, and on this issue Miss Wiley is surrounded by Bunny Berigan, Joe Bushkin, Sid Weiss, and George Wettling for four selections, and a small group with Bushkin, Berigan, and members of the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, arranged by Paul Weston. 

Should you wonder, the other records for sale — at a pittance — at Owl Pen — were classical and Broadway show music.  I bought these and two more (a bootleg collection of Bert Lahr on stage, screen, television, and radio) and a UK compilation, annotated by Brian Rust, of early Irving Berlin songs recorded before 1922 — for a modest amount.  It made me quite happy to acquire these, but also to imagine someone who loved Miss Wiley as much as I and others do.  I saw her only once, at her last public performance in 1972, but she was a magical presence.  And she remains so.

For another perspective on Lee Wiley — one I find quite touching — here is an excerpt from a documentary about the Japanese actress, Nobuko Miyamoto, who starred in the film A TAXING WOMAN, and her visit to the United States in search of “her” Lee Wiley.  She was fortunate enough to meet — and sing with — the memorable vocalist Barbara Lea, who knew Miss Wiley well.  There is a good deal of untranslated Japanese in this clip, but it’s all understandable:

And here are two YouTube clips, posted by “leewileyandfriends,” who generously offer 78 videos of Miss Wiley — looking lovely — and her gorgeous sound.  The first comes from the Irving Berlin sessions, a jaunty RISE AND SHINE; the second is the wistful LOOKING AT YOU, from her Cole Porter recordings: