Tag Archives: Bill Robinson

EXPERIMENTS IN MUSIC THERAPY, THANKS TO DOCTORS HILL AND WALLER, AND OTHER PRACTITIONERS OF THE HEALING ARTS

Here’s the recipe, or perhaps the prescription:

And the first musical exhortation, this by Mamie Smith (Note: I’ve consciously not written out the known personnel on each of these musical therapies, thinking it a distraction.  If you need to know who’s in the section, write in and I will look it up in Tom Lord’s discography.):

Step two:

and another contemporaneous version, by Lou Gold and his Orchestra:

and the next step:

and the Fletcher Henderson version, arranged by Benny Carter:

Another step:

and the Ellington version that thrills me — vocal by Chick Bullock (whom I like):

Another step:

and the Red Nichols version, where Jack Teagarden delivers the sermon:

and the frankly amazing recording of Bill Robinson.  Follow along!

That’s a hard act to follow, but here are three “modern” versions that have delicious energy of their own.  First, Jeff Barnhart:

and one version by Marty Grosz (there’s another, easily found, on YouTube) where he borrows liberally from Fats’ DON’T LET IT BOTHER YOU for the opening:

and this Teddy Wilson-styled small-group masterpiece by Rebecca Kilgore and Hal Smith’s Rhythmakers:

May your happiness increase!

“THEY ADVISE BUCK-AND-WINGIN'”: FAYARD, HAROLD, and BOBBY MAKE MUSIC at DECCA (1937)

There’s something weirdly irresistible about jazz records with tap-dance passages, especially in this multi-media age when we expect to see as well as hear.  The tradition goes back to Bill Robinson, Fred Astaire, and forward to Jack Ackerman and Baby Laurence, among others.

A charming example of the phenomenon is the two sides the Nicholas Brothers (Fayard and Harold) recorded for American Decca, with a small, well-disciplined yet hot band — Decca studio players (who were also recording with Dick Robertson, the Andrews Sisters, Frank Froeba, and Teddy Grace) including Bobby Hackett, cornet; Ralph Muzzillo, trumpet; Al Philburn, trombone; Sid Stoneburn, clarinet; Frank Signorelli, piano; Dave Barbour, guitar; Haig Stephens, string bass; Stan King, drums.

I single out Bobby because he has a pearly eight-bar bridge on the first side, and to me, eight bars of Hackett is like a previously unknown Yeats fragment.  On the second side, Philburn and Stoneburn take the solos.  But listen closely to the underrated but distinctive Stan King throughout.  I don’t think the sides sold very well, because Decca did not repeat the experiment.

and the flip side:

Perfectly charming.

May your happiness increase!

THAT DANCING FEELING: RAY SKJELBRED, MARC CAPARONE, JOHN OTTO PLAY FIELDS and MCHUGH at SAN DIEGO (Nov. 25, 2016)

I could have called this post WHY I WENT TO SAN DIEGO, but the music — not my travel itinerary — is the real subject.  For me, “San Diego” is not the city, but the Jazz Fest there, which unrolled happily during Thanksgiving weekend of this year, a true cornucopia of delights.

doin-the-new-lowdown

One such delight was a trio performance by Ray Skjelbred, piano; Marc Caparone, cornet; John Otto, reeds — and this little gem, their cheerfully swinging exploration of the Fields and McHugh delight made famous by Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, DOIN’ THE NEW LOW-DOWN:

“That dancing feeling / Has my feet in a trance,” state the lyrics by Dorothy Fields.  How true, when this trio is around — a sweet compact lesson in ensemble intelligence, generosity, and swing.  Happily, there’s more from this session to share with you.

May your happiness increase!

AS CINEMA, IT HAS ITS LIMITS: AS A TIME MACHINE, IT’S FLAWLESS: “HARLEM IS HEAVEN” (1932)

The great connoisseur of popular culture, especially women singers, Alan Eichler, just shared with us his VHS copy of the 1932 film HARLEM IS HEAVEN.  It’s a great gift, as it may be the first “all-colored” feature sound film, with starring roles for Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, Putney Dandridge, James Baskett, and with incidental music provided by Eubie Blake and his Orchestra, also with an appearance by Noble Sissle.

HARLEM HEAVEN poster

Now, I have reservations about the film itself.  Henri Wessell as “Chummy” and Anise Boyer as “Jean” are both beautiful young people, although their naturalistic acting is, to my taste, none too subtle.  And the plot (the film was written and directed by Irwin R. Franklyn) is thin to the point of transparency.

But what other film shows us so much of Bill Robinson as an actor, singer, and dancer — the stair dance sequence has been shown often but without credit, but the rest was new to me.  The dancers are presented to us as the world-famous Cotton Club entertainters, which is a look behind the scenes that we would otherwise not have had.

And this is serious business: is there any other film in the history of cinema that has Putney Dandridge as a deadly moral avenger who is never arrested or tried? I rest my case.

Even though I could not view the whole film in one sitting, I was captivated from the start by the little touches of 1932 Harlem reality: the marquee reading MILLS BROS. and the glimpse of the exterior of Connie’s Inn. Then, later on, there is a whole history of early-Thirties theatre and music and dance.  For fans of pre-Code splendor, “Jean” takes off her dress, revealing beautiful silk lingerie, while “Chummy” looks elsewhere, and later on there is a brief catfight between “Jean” and “Greta Rae.”  Worth viewing?  That’s up to you.

Here’s the film.

On its own terms, it is indeed Heavenly.  Thank you, Alan.  And here — reaching back even more — is Bill, in Technicolor (!) in the 1930 DIXIANA:

May your happiness increase.

YOU’LL BE INTRODUCED TO GLORY!

Fats Waller and Alex Hill wrote one of the most irresistibly encouraging songs I know, a sweet spiritual paean to optimism, KEEP A SONG IN YOUR SOUL.  I thought it would be fitting to let you hear as many versions of it as I could find.

SONG IN YOUR SOUL cover

Ellington, with a friendly vocal by Chick Bullock (1931):

Fletcher Henderson, arrangement by Benny Carter (1930):

Red Nichols with Jack Teagarden and Benny Goodman:

Mamie Smith:

Lou Gold and His Orchestra:

SONG IN YOUR SOUL inside

Now, for some of my favorite intersections — living hot musicians playing beautiful swing classics:

Marty Grosz and his Optimists:

Jeff Barnhart and friends at the 2013 Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party:

Michael Hashim with Claudio Roditi:

Bohem Ragtime Jazz Band with Viktoria Vizin:

Howard Alden and Warren Vache:

Rebecca Kilgore with Hal Smith’s Rhythmakers, featuring Marc Caparone, Bobby Gordon, Chris Dawson:

Another version from Jeff Barnhart and a British band with Nick Ward:

And an earlier version from Marty Grosz and his Philosophers:

SONG IN YOUR SOUL Brunswick Bill Robinson

There is a wonderful 1931 recording of Bill Robinson, singing and tapping.  Here is Bojangles as a marionette, invented and manipulated in the most extraordinary way by Bob Baker.  Initially it might seem perverse, but I came to marvel at it.  If you see this as demeaning, Robinson’s wife liked this and encouraged Baker to keep it in his show:

I was excited to see that so many versions are accessible to us, and perhaps I got carried away.  But I love this song, its message that music can make everything right, and I love the ways that the music itself blossoms in so many contexts.

May your happiness increase!

CATNIP FOR HUMANS! (June 21, 2015)

You don’t have to be a cat or have one.  Just get comfortable and watch this extraordinary offering — joy doubled and tripled, in sound and motion.  I’m so delighted that this exists:

Thanks to Erin Morris and Her Ragdolls*: Erin Morris, Brittany Armstrong Morton, Sarah Campbell, Rachel Bomphray, Hayden Nickel.

Thanks to James Dapogny and his Jazz Band: Tom Bogardus, clarinet; Paul Finkbeiner, trumpet; Chris Smith, trombone; James Dapogny, piano / arrangements; Shannon Wade, string bass; Rod McDonald, banjo; Van Hunsberger, drums.

Thanks to Laura Beth Wyman, who filmed this delight at the Zal Gaz Grotto, Ann Arbor, Michigan on June 21, 2015.

And a few muttering comments.  One refers to the asterisk above, which leads the righteous among us to the Facebook page of Ms. Morris and her Ragdolls.  I’ve done my best — leaving aside threats and whinging as unseemly — but so far only 495 people have “liked” the Ragdolls.  Is this what Bill Robinson would have us do?  Or Walter Page?  Knute Rockne?  Joan Blondell?  William Carlos Williams?  Reginald Marsh?

I ask you.  Please, so that I sleep longer and happier, “like” them tonight.  Now.

I spent several hours in a waiting room today — for boring reasons, nothing serious — where there was the inevitable cable television on, bolted to the wall above our heads.  The E! cable channel.  I despair, when I think that there is no Dapogny – Morris channel, yet the E! channel blathers on.  Well, instead of succumbing to darkness and bleakness, I will watch the video of ST. LOUIS BLUES again.  It occurs to me that this package — band and dancers — could be wooed out of Ann Arbor, Michigan, for someone willing to uplift the rest of the country.  Anyone daring reading this post?

May your happiness increase!

MARK CANTOR’S CELLULOID IMPROVISATIONS (JAZZ ON FILM)

celluloidimprovisations

The renowned (diligent but never stuffy) scholar of jazz on film, Mark Cantor, is also a generous fellow, and he has launched a new website.

There, you can see and hear Fats Waller, Joe Marsala and Adele Girard, Louis Armstrong, Mary Lou Williams, the Washboard Serenaders, Andy Secrest, Benny Carter, Connee Boswell, Red Nichols, Lionel Hampton, Harry James, Dave Brubeck, Punch Miller, Lady Will Carr, Ethel Merman and Johnny Green, the Max Fleischer team of surrealists, Leo Watson, Teddy Bunn, Ray Eberle, Sidney Bechet, Thelma White, Buck and Bubbles, Maude Mills, Gerry Mullingan, the MJQ, Jack Teagarden, Buddy Rich, Oscar Peterson, Bill Robinson, Louis Jordan, Joe Williams, as well as groups and musicians we might never have heard about — the daring Sandra among them — and a few mysteries: unidentified players just waiting for you to recognize them. (If you are interested in footage of “the girls in the band,” you will find some here as well.)

Some of these films and excerpts are familiar, but many are rare: offered here for your viewing in the best available prints with good sound and clear images.

May your happiness increase!