I’m in favor of authenticity, especially when it comes to matters of the heart, but for fifty years, Benny Carter’s song (music and lyrics) SYNTHETIC LOVE has been a true favorite of mine. So many things come together in it: the irresistible little motifs of the opening melody line and the notes that underpin “Although my life may be pathetic, better that than more synthetic love.” It should have been a hit, but I think the lyrics — so clever — were not easy for singers. “What rhymes with synthetic? With artificial?” Benny was living in the age of synthetics — between Bakelite in 1907 and nylon in 1935 (yes, I looked this up) — so the idea of “synthetic love” might have hit him as hard as “milkless milk and silkless silk” did W.C. Handy.
I am terribly fond of Carter’s early singing, how clearly he idolizes the equally-young Crosby, with the patented mordents, dips and slides. The usual jazz-history response to Bing is that he was influenced by African-American musicians, but I think the reverse is also true: his work was deeply absorbed by them as well.
I cannot provide any facts about his vocal work of the time: our friend Matthew “Fat Cat” Rivera, founder of the Hot Club of New York, talked to Hilma Carter, Benny’s widow, who told him that the King had no desire to linger on or in the past . . . he was always moving forward, so that he recorded SYNTHETIC LOVE once in 1933, then a year later, and never again. Here are those two versions and two modern evocation-tributes. All entrancing, I feel.
Shad Collins, Leonard Davis, Bill Dillard (tp) George Washington, Wilbur DeParis (tb) Benny Carter (cl,as,tp-1,dir,arr) Howard Johnson (as) Chu Berry (ts) Nicholas Rodriguez (p) Lawrence “Larry” Lucie (g) Ernest Hill (b) Sidney Catlett (d,d & vib-2) New York, March 14, 1933.
Here we have — in addition to Carter, composer, arranger, and singer, Benny’s first recorded trumpet solo, a beauty. This recording is not only splendid jazz, but wonderful dance music, thanks to Lucie (who takes a break), Hill (who’s swinging with the bow), Sidney Catlett’s propulsive brushes — switching to powerful press rolls in the outchorus. Also note the trombone (Washington?), early Chu, and lovely Carter clarinet. Hard to believe one man was so talented!
If the first version was an expansive yet unaffected display of Carter’s talents, the second is far more modest (although not in its effect).
Russell Smith, Otis Johnson, Irving “Mouse” Randolph (tp) Bennie Morton, Keg Johnson (tb) Benny Carter (as,cl) Ben Smith, Russell Procope (as) Ben Webster (ts) Teddy Wilson (p) Clarence Holiday (g) Elmer James (b) Walter Johnson (d) Charles Holland (vcl). New York, December 13, 1934.
The trumpet solo is by Irving “Mouse” Randolph, whom no one chronicles — maybe I should? — the glorious trombone solo is by Bennie Morton, and you hear Teddy Wilson gleaming throughout. Carter did not sing again; rather, the vocal chorus is by Charles Holland, who also recorded with Chick Webb; he was (I learned this morning) trumpeter “Peanuts” Holland’s brother:
Into this century, from November 2000. Dan Barrett, cornet and vocal; Chris Hopkins, piano (a version I had the honor of playing for THE Benny Carter scholar and all-around gentleman Ed Berger, who hadn’t known of it). What a wonderful idea to take the chorus rubato, then pick up into a swinging 4/4:
The most recent version, from 2002, by ECHOES OF SWING: Colin Dawson, trumpet / vocal; Chris Hopkins, alto saxophone; Bernd Lhotzky, piano; Oliver Mewes, drums:
Who will bring this neat, clever song into 2021? And may I wish all my readers love that is in no way synthetic. We know the difference.
P.S. This blogpost is for all the members of the Hot Club of New York, many of whom love this song as I do.
May your happiness increase!