Tag Archives: Dick Powell

IMMENSELY RESTORATIVE, 1934

hot-water-and-lemon

This may be better than other restoratives, such as a brisk walk before breakfast.

The details?  Dick Powell and the Mills Brothers.  A song by Al Dubin and Harry Warren, from the 1934 film TWENTY MILLION SWEETHEARTS.  And I read that Powell insisted on this being recorded and filmed “live” rather than have the five of them — notice, no studio orchestra (which would have been entirely unnecessary) — lip-syncing, as was the custom.

This performance, just over two minutes, is totally entrancing: clearly rehearsed, because there are a million places where collisions would be possible, it becomes a sweet vocal ballet with very uplifting visual touches.  Historically-minded listeners may hear parallels between this and what Bing had done even before he and the Brothers made a record in 1932 (and a film appearance in THE BIG BROADCAST) and I hear a good deal of what the Spirits of Rhythm were so memorably creating.

But right now, I plan to watch and listen to this clip several more times.  I encourage you to take as needed as well.  Thanks to Steven Potteiger of Facebook for pointing me to Ron Evry’s video — without them, I would have been unrestored.

May your happiness increase!

“PLEASE! HAVE SOME PITY,” AND ONWARDS

The inspiration for this blogpost is the fine guitarist and thoughtful modernist Nick Rossi — and our online discussion this afternoon is yet another refutation to the general scorn that nothing good comes out of Facebook.  Nick had been exulting about the pleasure of playing rhythm guitar in a jam session on LADY BE GOOD — a jam that went on for twenty minutes, like the fabled communal joys we read about.

And I pointed him towards one of my favorite recordings of the song.  Not Lester’s (in two takes) but something perhaps less famous — a recording (either from December 1933 or January 1934) by “Buck and Bubbles.”

buck_n_bubbles

Buck was the fine Hines / stride pianist who accompanied Louis on DEAR OLD SOUTHLAND and Hawkins on other sides (so his jazz credentials are stellar); John W. “Bubbles” Sublett went on to play Sportin’ Life in PORGY AND BESS — and together they were an extraordinary team.

For me, this recording summons up a whole era of theatrical performance — where two men could swing as winsomely and effectively as any large group. You can certainly see them in your mind’s eye as the performance moves from swinging piano introduction to sweet / sad narrative over piano, then to a key change and a solo piano romp, then a hilarious dialogue (anticipating Fats or moving alongside him?) with Buck taking the lead — which seems to have cheered Bubbles up considerably.  It’s a model of how to create a duet, to hand off lead and accompaniment, to “sell” a song without ever appearing to do so:

Bubbles’s slightly hoarse, worn voice, creates a half-amused, half-despairing plea (who could resist such a plaintive entreaty?) and if one cares, on a later listening, to concentrate solely on Buck’s piano, it’s quite remarkable.

And here’s a later British version (!) with clarinet and rhythm section — new to me and delightful:

Wouldn’t it be nice if Buck and Bubbles had appeared on film in their prime?

Your wish is our command.  1937 VARIETY SHOW, much more elaborate, but with good material:

And this improvisation on RHYTHM FOR SALE from 1944, introduced by a most august personage:

For a genial overview of Bubbles — as the “father of rhythm tap” as well as a singer alongside Buck, here’s Part One of a documentary that starts slowly but then presents the team alongside Dick Powell, Ethel Waters, and Duke Ellington:

The second part is primarily about Bubbles’s protege, Chuck Green, but contains some astounding footage — and it closes with audio of Buck and Bubbles performing ON THE SUNNY SIDE OF  THE STREET:

A small speculative footnote.  For years, I have been teaching Toni Morrison’s mournful, vengeful THE BLUEST EYE, whose victimized center, Pecola, suffers completely because of her misguided desire (stimulated by members of her own community) to embody a white, blue-eyed standard of beauty.  And when I teach it, I mention the sad spectacle of African-Americans deprived of handsome and beautiful and noble models of their own race on the screen.  But watching the first video from VARIETY SHOW, I wonder if I should tell my students that there were some exceptions, a few African-Americans in the movies who weren’t comic stereotypes, who weren’t afraid of ghosts, and point them to beautifully dressed and casually commanding Buck and Bubbles.

But, for the moment, I would send readers and listeners back to the first version of OH, LADY BE GOOD — a little sweet monument of swing and theatre.  No wonder George Gershwin wrote Bubbles a substantial part in PORGY AND BESS.

Postscript: if you can hear Nick Rossi play, you will be satisfied, gratified, and highly delighted.

May your happiness increase!

JAMES DAPOGNY’S CHICAGO JAZZ BAND at the EVERGREEN JAZZ FESTIVAL (Part Three)

Rainbow Two

The opportunities to hear James Dapogny’s Chicago Jazz Band at the July 2014 Evergreen Jazz Festival were delightful — a high point of the year for me.

That band neatly balances thoughtful arrangements and solos, and the result is hot, sweet,  eloquent, satisfying.

They are James Dapogny, piano and arrangements; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Chris Smith, trombone, vocal; Kim Cusack, clarinet, alto saxophone, vocal; Russ Whitman, clarinet, tenor and baritone saxophone; Rod McDonald, guitar; Denver native Dean Ross, string bass; Pete Siers, drums.

For those who might have missed the earlier posts in this happily extended series, here is the first part and here is the second.

And here are five more delights.

A serenade to a beloved Irish lass (with a tempo change, in honor of the 1944 Commodore recording featuring Miff Mole), PEG O’MY HEART:

The very optimistic paean to the Golden State, CALIFORNIA, HERE I COME:

A 1936 romper, SWING MISTER CHARLIE (recorded by, among others, a youthful Judy Garland backed by the Bob Crosby band):

“Another show tune,” this one from a Dick Powell film — more memorable in Fats Waller’s recording — here warbled by Mr. Cusack, LULU’S BACK IN TOWN:

And a mournful revenge song, JUNK MAN (1934, with unheard lyrics by Frank Loesser):

More to come — all equally rewarding.

May your happiness increase!

MATTERS OF THE HEART: RAMONA (and her Grand Piano) ON FILM 1933-35

The world knew her as Ramona and her Grand Piano when she appeared and recorded with Paul Whiteman and small groups of his sidemen.  She had an intriguingly deep voice and a precise although loose piano style.  Her 1932-35 recordings are treasures (I think the ones under her own name were all contained on one TOM CD) but she isn’t as well as known as she should be.

But here she is on film, announced as THE PRINCESS OF JAZZ, singing STRAIGHT FROM THE SHOULDER (RIGHT FROM THE HEART), lifting her eyes to heaven in the most winsome manner; Con Conrad’s carpe diem, WHY NOT? (“Not to love is no existence”) after having been introduced by Robert Benchley;  in the third clip, from Dick Powell’s 1935 THANKS A MILLION, we see the entire Whiteman Orchestra, with Roy Bargy at the second piano and the King’s Men, leading to her performance of BELLE OF NEW ORLEANS.

Here she is with the Whiteman Orchestra in 1934, singing both choruses of I GUESS I’LL HAVE TO CHANGE MY PLAN:

and the 1932 LET’S PUT OUT THE LIGHTS AND GO TO SLEEP:

LOVE THY NEIGHBOR (apparently from a 1934 broadcast):

The cautionary tale, ANNIE DOESN’T LIVE HERE ANYMORE (hear her lilt at the start of the second chorus):

The 1935 EV’RY NOW AND THEN (with Jack and Charlie Teagarden, Benny Bonacio, Dick McDonough):

And IF THE MOON TURNS GREEN, from the same year:

Distinctive, worldly, and sweet, no?

For an extraordinary biographical essay on Ramona — written by musician and scholar Peter Mintun — click here — one of the best pieces of enjoyable musicology ever.

May your happiness increase!

WHEN BECKY MET HARRY (Jazz at Chautauqua, Sept. 17, 2011)

“Becky” we know as our own Rebecca Kilgore, deeply moving but ever so natural — in pearly form for this Saturday morning set at Jazz at Chautauqua, surrounded by gentlemen with similar names: John Sheridan, piano; Jon Burr, string bass; John Von Ohlen, drums.

But the “Harry” in the title was neither Billy Crystal nor Harry Allen.  It was “Harry Warren,” born Salvatore Antonio Guaragna in 1893, author of more hit songs (musically valuable ones, as well) than almost any of his peers.  Here are five, each one its own little concerto — full of emotion and humor.

With its rarely-heard verse, here’s YOU’RE GETTING TO BE A HABIT WITH ME:

The classically pretty YOU’RE MY EVERYTHING:

NO LOVE, NO NOTHIN’ comes from a film musical, THE GANG’S ALL HERE, with Benny Goodman and Alice Faye.  It’s a classic wartime song, but it makes the vignette of fidelity-under-duress seem new:

I associate SERENADE IN BLUE with Glenn Miller and many other singers, but none bring to it the depth of casual feeling that Becky does here.  And listen very closely to what she does with the two versions of the phrase “whistling in the dark”:

Both Dick Powell and Art Tatum put their stamp on WITH PLENTY OF MONEY AND YOU, and Ms. Kilgore romps away with it here:

Thanks to our Rebecca for creating something so touching, so light-hearted, yet so deep.  I would send any singer to her work to admire, to study.  And let’s not omit the floating, on-target provided by the three gentlemen surrounding her: their melodies, their gracious accompaniment, their rhythmic embrace.  Together, they made for a memorable half-hour — sweet stylings without artifice.

Rebecca Kilgore’s gotten to be a habit with us, one we have no intention of breaking.

“THE LAST WORD IN HOT”: FROM THE McCONVILLE ARCHIVES (Part Eight)

New tidings from the world of McConvilliana — always delightful and surprising!

Leo Jr. told me at our last meeting that his father was famous not only for his beautiful lead playing but also for his mastery of half-valve playing!  Who would have thought Leo McConville a precursor of Rex Stewart’s BOY MEETS HORN?

And — on a more personal note — Leo Jr. said that his father had a substantial and beautiful HO train layout, complete with wooden houses, in a large upstairs room in their three-story house.  Leo Sr. was so proud of his autographed photographs that he had built picture molding for top and bottom, up at the ceiling and running around the four walls of the room, his pictures there on display.

Thus I am happy, in some small way, to recreate that display in installments on JAZZ LIVES.

A less happy story concerns Leo Sr.’s terror of bridges (I’ve also heard that his fears included high buildings) — so much so that his fellow passengers would have to lock him in the car trunk when they went over a bridge.  The solution seems as painful as the problem, but I can’t say — bridges aren’t one of my phobias.  It is possible that the only way Leo could endure going over a bridge would be in an utterly dark place where he couldn’t see what terrified him.

But enough of such matters.

Here’s another half-dozen friends of Leo — some famous, some whose name in the autograph calls up some dim recognition, some obscure.

Let’s start with someone who used to be famous, although you’d have to be a film buff or of a certain age to recognize him instantly:

The publicity still is from later in Powell’s life — did Leo meet him while playing in a radio orchestra, or had their paths crossed earlier, when Powell was a hot banjoist / guitarist (and perhaps cornetist, saxophonist) and singer in hot dance bands — including the Royal Peacock Orchestra and the Charlie Davis Orchestra?

Next, someone far less well-known these days:

The man above is Canadian-born, a saxophonist and bandleader — someone Leo would have known in radio.  He had connections to Sam Lanin and Bing Crosby, and made a few records with an all-saxophone ensemble that backed Seger Ellis on disc.  Or so I think — but there’s another man with the same name, born in 1897, died in 1978, whom I’ve read was “born in Watertown, New York.  Attended Clarkson Institute of Technology.  Teacher of Larry Teal. First American saxophonist to teach regulated vibrato and founder of the New York school of saxophone playing.”

Please advise!

How many readers have heard anything by the tenor saxophonist Jim Crossan (one of the section on a number of OKeh hot dance recordings) much less seen a portrait of him?

Frank Parker — radio singer!  Is this the Irish tenor associated with jack Benny, Harry Richman, and Arthur Godfrey?Now, “the last word in hot” — that’s more like it as a Homeric epithet for our Leo!  The handsome tenor saxophonist here is Dick Johnson — someone who played clarinet with Red Nichols and the Red Heads.  (Obviously “good-fellowship” in those days meant that trumpet players hung out with saxophone players: Leo Jr. remembers meeting Jimmy Dorsey, who was an old friend of his father’s.)

For a perceptive piece on the Red Heads, see Andrew Sammut’s review of the Jazz Oracle reissue: http://www.allaboutjazz.com/php/article.php?id=39412

Perceptive readers will notice that Johnson autographed his photo to “Wilbur,” which Leo Jr. said was a teasing name for his father.  I imagine (it is speculation) that Leo Sr. made it known to everyone he talked to that he really wanted to leave the music business, buy some land, and have a chicken farm.  “Wilbur” must have been the sharply-dressed New Yorkers’ nickname for a deep-down hick.

And someone I really knew nothing of:

My friend Rob Rothberg — deep jazz scholar and long-time collector — helped me out here, “The face is unfamiliar, but there was a Cecil Way who played trumpet in Charlie Kerr’s band in the mid-twenties;  I’m not sure what happened to him after that.  Leo and Cecil played alongside an up-and-coming banjoist named Eddie Lang in Kerr’s band in the early twenties.  I think I see some lip muscles, so I’ll vote for that Way.”

We are indeed known by the company we keep, and Leo had a wide range of musical friends!  Not all of them had lip muscles, but Leo was an easy-going fellow. . . .

POETRY IN SWING: BOB BARNARD / BOBBY GORDON at CHAUTAUQUA (Sept. 18, 2010)

This was a wonderful set — full of love in the lyrics and love for the music. 

It took place at the 2010 Jazz at Chautauqua party, and a quintet full of beautiful singer-poets was in the spotlight.  Trumpeter Bob Barnard, clarinetist / singer Bobby Gordon, pianist Rossano Sportiello, bassist Jon Burr, drummer John Von Ohlen played Irving Berlin and Harry Warren, paid homage to Louis and King Oliver, Bix and Basie, as well as Edith Piaf and Dick Powell.  You wouldn’t want any more, would you, in the space of half an hour?  

Bob Barnard has a great love for melodies and their associations, so THE SONG IS ENDED resonates with him as a triple play: Louis, the Mills Brothers, and Irving Berlin.  But Bob is also a sly humorist: how many players start the set with this title?  Even though “the melody lingers on,” as it does here:

Then Bob wisely asked Bobby Gordon what he had in mind for a second number, and the poetic Mr. Gordon chose that old favorite SWEET LORRAINE.  I don’t know why I broke it in two, but I suspect I was carried away by the emotions Bobby aimed at all of us.  And — let there be no mistake here: Bobby looks somewhat frail in this performance, sitting in a chair, bringing the microphone close to his lips, but his heart is strong, and that’s what matters:

That fellow Louis recorded I ONLY HAVE EYES FOR YOU late in the Fifties, and it’s a wonderful creation.  I don’t know whether Bob had that one in mind or he simply knew the tune — or perhaps saw the film with Dick Powell, Ruby Keeler, and those Busby Berkeley exuberances.  Whatever the reasons might be, it’s an intriguing and less-played song to improvise on:

Then — in his own romantic exultation, singing of passion and loss, Mr. Barnard offered LA VIE EN ROSE, his lines arching into the night and the room, ecstatically and sadly:

But an audience needs something of a different emotional tenor to conclude, so Bob called for the faithful ROYAL GARDEN BLUES and sent it off at a Basie tempo:

I can’t forget to praise that wonderful rhythm section — the two singular melodists Rossano and Jon, and the honest timekeeper John — who made this an ideal small group, swinging, poetic, intuitive, and full of feeling.

JAMMIN’ AT WHITLEY BAY (July 9, 2010)

Jazz musicians know that great truth: if you stay up late, you can always sleep tomorrow. 

Although the players at a jazz party might seem to have an exhausting schedule, many of them are fueled by the encounters with their peers and heroes — thus, an after-hours jam session often happens.  I was lucky enough to be awake for this one and have a fully-charged video camera.  The session took place at the “Victory Pub” in the Village Hotel Newcastle, the comfortable home base for the Whitley Bay International Jazz Party.  

Of course the seating arrangement scattered musicians here and there, and several flat-screen televisions remained on through the session, but the music was the focus here. 

The musicians who began the session were an organized band — a great one: Michael McQuaid’s Late Hour Boys: Michael and Jason Downes on reeds, John Scurry on guitar, Mark Elton on drums, Ian Smith on drums and washboard.  Then they were joined by Graham Hughes (from London) on trombone, and other gifted jammers.    

FORTY AND TIGHT comes from the Johnny Dodds book, and its title is a slang expression for something (or someone) who is splendidly gratifying.  How naughty the coinage is I don’t know; talk among yourselves:

MAMA INEZ certainly has a rocking, irresistible  beat:

Then, they were joined by a friend from the land of Oz — the fine trumpet player and singer Geoff Bull, who nudged them into SOME OF THESE DAYS:

Thinking of Louis, Jeff Barnhart unsheathed the keyboard and sang ROCKIN’ CHAIR:

But that might have been too mournful for a jubilant occasion, so they swung into another Louis-Hoagy connection, JUBILEE, which certainly did make the rafters ring / up to Heaven:

Bassist Henri Lamaire and drummer Josh Duffee joined the festivities and Geoff suggested the pretty THANKS A MILLION, again reaching back to the Thirties Louis book (or perhaps as homage to Dick Powell, who introduced the song in “the film of the same name”):

And the session concluded with a romping JUNE NIGHT, with pianist Martin Seck and a host of other musicians joining in (again, I’ll happily credit them by name if informed).  My hat’s off to Geoff Bull, who certainly knows how to get everyone going in the right direction with inspiring riffs.  And the wonderful solos are surely sparked by Josh’s exuberant drumming:

And here’s a very musical solo from Josh to wrap things up in a swinging way:

If you weren’t already convinced, I think this session is further proof that good things happen in the dark.

“LULU’S BACK IN TOWN” (1935)

It’s fashionable to make fun of Dick Powell’s singing.  As you will see, he did overact and flail his hands, and his occasional operatic forays into the tenor register have a penetrating intensity.  But this clip from the 1935 musical film BROADWAY GONDOLIER is priceless. 

In his singing, I hear Crosby dips and turns (although Bing was much more relaxed) and then — luckiest of men — Powell gets to sing with the Mills Brothers, who are in pearly form.  Steadied and enhanced by their musical comraderie, Powell draws on Fats Waller, with his air of amusement-just-barely-contained, although he doesn’t pop his eyes or dramatize anything by lifting an eyebrow.  (Did Powell remember his days as a dance-band guitar player who knew what hot was?)  Cab Calloway is in Powell’s consciousness as well, and the enterprise has the approving presence of a certain Mr. Armstrong standing in back of it.  The dialogue-in-contrasting-speeds between Powell and the Brothers at the end of the performance is wonderful, and for those of us who are snsitive to these things, note how beautifully the Brothers are attired.  They aren’t smuggled into the shot as porters or shoe shine boys who happen to sing: they are radio stars!  As they deserved and deserve to be . . . .

A deep and fervent “Yeah, man!” is the only appropriate tribute.  And a deep bow to Harry Warren for his bouncing, riff-based melody (even though the opening of the verse derives from SWEET GEORGIA BROWN)  and Al Dubin’s jovial, natty lyrics, which either take a poke at Cole Porter’s MISS OTIS REGRETS or nod to it — Miss Otis is going to be hanged; Lulu’s fellow is getting ready for the time of his life!

JAZZ FINDS ME IN NEW YORK

I made it to Smalls, that casual jazz mecca, on Thursday night to sit close to the bandstand and absorb the sounds.  Smalls seems a blessed place as soon as you descend the stairs and see the huge portrait of Louis, sharp as a tack, dressed in high British style, circa 1933.  And the two players who improvised under that portrait were clearly in tune with his spirit.  The immensely talented Dan Block, bringing his alto and clarinet, filled the hour with melodic shapes inhabited by notes that were full of meaning but never weighty.  And pianist Ehud Asherie gets wittier and wittier, more rhythmically subtle and melodically free, every time I see him.  And more modest, too!

I brought my little friend — Flip the Video Camera — and have two delightful bits of cinema verite to offer here.  The first, “Thanks A Million,” was a pop hit — from a Dick Powell film — in 1935.  Most of us know this pretty tune (expressing gratitudes in swing) from the eloquent Decca recording Louis did — and later versions by Bobby Hackett and Jon-Erik Kellso (the only one of the three who includes the pretty verse when he plays the song).

Following this, the duo offered a leisurely, ranging “The Love Nest,” a 1920 song that was later taken up by George Burns and Gracie Allen as their theme song.  I always think of a wonderfully hot medium-tempo version by Max Kaminsky on Commodore — with Frank Orchard, Rod Cless, James P. Johnson, Eddie Condon, Bob Casey (I think), and George Wettling.  (Sometimes I think I started a blog only for the pure pleasure of writing “Rod Cless” in public, in a quietly worshipful way.)

Incidentally, there are more clips of Ehud on YouTube — with Harry Allen and the aforementioned Jon-Erik.

Then, a beautifully dressed Rossano Sportiello took the stage with his Amici — the brothers Luigi and  Pasquale Grasso on alto and guitar, Luca Santangelo on drums, and Joel Forbes (an honorary Italian-American for the occasion) to saunter through a slow “Lady Be Good” in honor of Basie and “I’m Through With Love” in honor of Bing, perhaps.  Wonderful music — and I was sorry I had to leave, but Friday morning was calling.  (It sounds like an alarm clock.)

That would have been enough to make a splendid evening for anyone — including chats with Ehud and Rossano, with Mitch Borden and pianist Spike Wilner, two of the people who have kept Smalls alive and vibrant.  But two other incidents brought delight.  I had told Mitch about posting here, announcing the pleasures to come.  He looked slightly skeptical (although it might be his typical expression) and began asking people seated near us how they had heard about these Thursday sessions.  And an attractive black-haired young woman said pertly to Mitch, “Online,” with the (“. . . of course . . . “) unspoken but hanging visible in the air.  Blessings on your head, my dear woman, whoever you are.

After the gig, I made my way — valiant warrior that I am — to Penn Station for the trek back to my nest.  Dinner with the Beloved (at Bar Pitti) had been delicious but early, so I was peckish, not an unusual condition.  I headed to one of the better pizza palaces in Penn and bought a slice.  On line ahead of me there was a man and woman, of my generation, arousing no particular notice aside from being the people who had to be served before I could get fed.  This pizza oasis has a seating area, usually filled with sports fans because a television set is tuned to some game or the other.  (Like the audience at old-style movie theatres, the patrons here — sipping beer in plastic cups and eating — talk loudly to each other and to the set.)

All this is elaborate prelude to my finding a seat near this couple: he gray-haired, she auburn-tressed.  They were having an animated conversation, with him in the lead.  He was telling her what had happened at the concert — what the bass player did, where the drummer went, etc.  He sounded hip; he used the word “gig”; he was clearly a professional musician.  My eavesdropping talents, always highly honed, went into higher gear.  I finished my pizza and took one of my business cards out of my wallet, and gingerly approached the couple.  “Eavesdropping is very rude, so I apologize . . . but it sounded as if you were a New York musician.  I have a jazz blog and perhaps you might like to see it sometime.”  Unabashed self-promotion, I admit, but the man smiled and said, “Sure.  My name is Warren Chiasson, and I play the vibes.”

After a brief pause, I closed my mouth and told Warren he needed no introduction, and we had a brief, happy chat.  I had to make my train, so the three of us grinned at the coincidence and went our separate ways.  But I was elated all the way home.  Warren gave me his business card — so I know this was no hallucination — and I’ve added his website to my blogroll.  Hope he sees this posting someday!