Tag Archives: Ginger Rogers

“I KNOW THAT MUSIC LEADS THE WAY TO ROMANCE”: HARRY ALLEN / EHUD ASHERIE (Cleveland, September 13, 2015)

Fred-and-Ginger-color

Here is a shining, memorably understated lesson in how to play the melody, how to embellish it, how to honor it.  Harry Allen, tenor saxophone; Ehud Asherie, piano, perform the Jerome Kern – Dorothy Fields song I WON’T DANCE (so deeply associated with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers) at the 2015 Allegheny Jazz Party — now the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party:

I honor Dorothy Fields’ dear clever lyrics in my title, and when Harry and Ehud play Kern’s melody and their own beautiful embellishments on it — at a very danceable tempo — I still hear the words, which is all praise to her work.

Did you know that this duo (and perhaps two dozen other musicians) will be appearing at the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party — starting on Thursday, September 15? Now you do.  And when we meet there, I or someone else will explain the secret of that huge flower arrangement, which serves a very useful purpose.

May your happiness increase!

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“REJECTED TAKES,” DECEMBER 17, 1937

Teddy Wilson, 1937, New York, LIFE magazine

Teddy Wilson, 1937, New York, LIFE magazine

Most jazz aficionados, if asked what pianist / bandleader Teddy Wilson was doing in the recording studio in 1937, would reply that he was a member of the Benny Goodman Trio and Quartet — recording for Victor — and creating brilliant small-group sessions with Billie Holiday for Brunswick.  Some might check the discography and report that Teddy had also recorded, under John Hammond’s direction, with singers Helen Ward, Boots Castle, and Frances Hunt.

But few people know about one session, recorded on December 17, 1937, with an unusually rewarding personnel: Teddy; Hot Lips Page; Chu Berry; Pee Wee Russell; possibly Al Hall; Allan Reuss; Johnny Blowers.  The singer is the little-known Sally Gooding.  (All of this material has been released on Mosaic Records’ Chu Berry box set, and two sides appeared on a Columbia/Sony compilation devoted to Lips Page, JUMP FOR JOY, with nice notes by Dan Morgenstern.  My source is the French Masters of Jazz label, two Wilson CDs in their wonderful yet out-of-print series.)

Teddy Wilson And His Orchestra : Hot Lips Page (trumpet); Pee Wee Russell (clarinet); Chu Berry (tenor sax); Teddy Wilson (piano); Allen Reuss (guitar); possibly Al Hall (string bass); Johnny Blowers (drums); Sally Gooding (vocal on the first three sides only)
New York, December 17, 1937
B22192-2 MY FIRST IMPRESSION OF YOU
B22193-1 WITH A SMILE AND A SONG
B22193-2 WITH A SMILE AND A SONG
B22194-2 WHEN YOU’RE SMILING
B22195-2 I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH ME

All of the instrumentalists on this session are well-known.  One can imagine Hammond selecting Chu from the Calloway band, Pee Wee and Blowers from Nick’s, Reuss from Goodman.  Lips and Al Hall were presumably free-lancing, although Lips may have been on the way to his own big band.

Sally Gooding is now obscure, although she was famous for a few years, making records with the Three Peppers and appearing at the 1939 World’s Fair. Here, thanks to www.vocalgroupharmony.com, you can see and hear more of Sally.  And this 1933 Vitaphone short allows us to see her with the Mills Blue Rhythm Band:

with-a-smile-and-a-song

WITH A SMILE AND A SONG (by Frank Churchill and Larry Morey) comes from SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS, which had not even been released in theatres when this session was made:

with a smile and a song two

The singer whose voice you hear is Adriana Caselotti.  Nearly sixty years later, our own Rebecca Kilgore recorded the finest version of this song for an Arbors Records session led by Dan Barrett:

MOON SONG Becky Barrett

The obvious question for some readers is “Where’s Billie?” Although Miss Holiday recorded several sessions with Wilson in 1937, I presume she was on the road with Count Basie — which also explains the absence of Lester, Buck, Walter Page, Freddie Green, and Jo Jones.  Hammond and Billie didn’t always get along, and he was trying out other singers when he could.  Someone else has hypothesized that Billie would have been opposed to recording a song associated with SNOW WHITE, but this seems less plausible.  When she and Wilson reunited in the recording studio in 1938, they did IMPRESSION, SMILING, and BELIEVE, which may add credence to the theory.

Here are “the rejected takes” — each one mislabeled on YouTube:

MY FIRST IMPRESSION OF YOU (from another 1937 film, HAVING A WONDERFUL TIME, also known as HAVING WONDERFUL TIME, with Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. and Ginger Rogers — and Lucille Ball, Eve Arden, and Red Skelton, early on):

This version — for those who know Billie’s — is taken at a jaunty tempo, which makes the melodic contours seem to bounce.

All I can say is that both Chu and Lips Page leap in — not at high volume or extremely quickly — with swing and conviction.  (I love Lips’ flourish at the end of the bridge.)  Sally Gooding’s singing is not easy to love for those who know Billie’s version by heart, but she is — in a tart Jerry Kruger mode — doing well, with quiet distractions from Pee Wee and the bassist.  Wilson is energized and surprising, as is Pee Wee, and there is a moment of uncertainty when one might imagine Chu and Lips wondering whether they should join in, as they do, yet the record ends with a solid ensemble and a tag.

The first take of WITH A SMILE AND A SONG:

I love Chu’s introduction, and Teddy sounds typically luminous as the horns — almost inaudibly — hum harmonies behind him.  (When was the last time you heard a front line play so beautifully behind a piano solo?)  Then, Pee Wee at his most identifiable, lyrically sticking close to the bridge but with two of his familiar turns of phrase leading into a Lips Page interlude — sweetly restrained, as if modeling himself after Buck Clayton.  Sally Gooding, who may have seen the sheet music for the first time only a few minutes ago, sounds slightly off-pitch and seems to sing, “With a life and a song,” rather than the title.  But she gains confidence as she continues, and her bridge is positively impassioned (although her reading of the song is less optimistic than the lyrics).  No one should have to sing in front of a very on-form Pee Wee, whose obbligati are delightfully distracting.  When the band comes back for the closing sixteen bars, they are in third gear, ready to make the most of the seconds allotted them, although it is far from a triumphant ride-out (think of the closing seconds of WHAT A LITTLE MOONLIGHT CAN DO, in contrast). The rhythm section is quite restrained, but the bassist, Al Hall or not, adds a great deal.

The second take of WITH A SMILE AND A SONG has, alas, eluded me on YouTube (thus I cannot post it here).  It is similar in its outline to the first take, although everyone seems more comfortable with the song.  I wonder if Gooding had had real trouble avoiding her singing “life” on the first take, so each time she sings — correctly — “smile” on this version, there is the slightest hesitation, as if she wanted to make sure she wouldn’t make the mistake again.  You’ll have to imagine it.

WHEN YOU’RE SMILING:

The conception of how one could play this simple tune had changed since Louis’ majestic 1929 performance, and with four star soloists wanting to have some space within a 78 rpm record, the tempo is much quicker and the band much looser (hear Lips growl early on).  The ambiance is of a well-behaved Commodore session or three minutes on Fifty-Second Street, the three horns tumbling good-naturedly over one another.  In fact, the first chorus of this record — lasting forty-five seconds — would stand quite happily as the heated rideout chorus of another performance.   Behind Wilson, the rhythm section is enthusiastically supporting him, Blowers’ brushes and Hall’s bass fervent. When Chu enters, rolling along, he has a simple riff from the other two horns as enthusiastic assent and congregational agreement; his full chorus balances a behind-the-beat relaxation characteristic of Thirties Louis as well as his characteristic bubbling phrases.  Behind Pee Wee, the guitar is happily more prominent (did someone think of the lovely support Eddie Condon gave?) and Lips’ phrases at the end are — without overstatement — priceless.

I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH ME:

Like SMILING, this 1930 song was already a classic. Wilson is sublimely confident, chiming and ascending, followed by a tender, perhaps tentative Lips (had Hammond asked him to play softly to emulate Buck?): the eight bar interludes by Chu and Lips that follow are small masterpieces of ornamented melody.  Wilson’s half-chorus has the rhythm section fully audible and propulsive beneath him.  Pee Wee, who had been inaudible to this point, emerges as sage, storyteller, and character actor, transforming the expected contours of the bridge into his own song, with hints of the opening phrase of GOOFUS, then Wilson returns.  (What a pity Milt Gabler didn’t record those two with bass and drums for Commodore.) Chu glides on, his rhythmic motion irresistible, then the guitarist (audibly and plausibly Reuss) takes a densely beautiful bridge before the too-short — twelve seconds? — rideout, where Blowers can be heard, guiding everyone home.

“Rejected” might mean a number of things when applied to these records.  Did Sally Gooding’s vocal error at the start of SONG convince Hammond or someone at  Brunswick (Bernie Hanighen?) that the session was not a success? Was Hammond so entranced by the combination of Billie and the Basie-ites that these records sounded drab by comparison?  Were there technical problems? I can’t say, and the participants have been gone for decades.  The single copies of these recordings are all that remain.  I am thankful they exist.  This band and this singer are musical blessings, music to be cherished, not discarded.

May your happiness increase!

FACING THE MUSIC: EHUD ASHERIE, DAVID WONG, AARON KIMMEL: JAZZ AT THE KITANO (March 4, 2015)

An ideal evening in New York — or anywhere else — with the brilliant pianist / composer Ehud Asherie and his expert friends, David Wong, string bass; Aaron Kimmel, drums.  This mini-concert took place at Jazz at the Kitano on March 4, 2015.

Songhounds will notice that Ehud currently draws much of his inspiration from songs written before 1945, but that his approach is wide-ranging, “modern” yet lyrical and deeply respectful of the original inspirations. He can offer a lovely classical tribute to a jazz set-piece (as in the deliriously fine Waller interlude below) but he is not only a conservator of traditions.

Ehud never reduces a song to a stark harmonic formula; rather, he opens its doors and plays around inside and outside of it. The trio swings assertively but cheerfully; this is endearing and engaging music.

A well-deserved nod to Fred and Ginger and those glorious films, LET’S FACE THE MUSIC AND DANCE:

A whimsically titled but emotionally kind original, THE WELL-EDUCATED MOTH (Ehud explains it all):

The very tender Eubie Blake – Noble Sissle love ballad in swingtime, A DOLLAR FOR A DIME:

For this, our tour  guides are Kenny Davern, Dick Wellstood, Duke Ellington, and [stowing away in the hold] James P. Johnson — the accurately titled FAST AS A BASTARD:

Ehud’s Brazilian souvenir, SAMBA DE GRINGO:

His brilliant solo excursion into the Land O’Waller, AFRICAN RIPPLES / VIPER’S DRAG:

Who remembers Vincent Youmans?  Ehud does: FLYING DOWN TO RIO:

The Ralph Rainger / Leo Robin THANKS FOR THE MEMORY is most often played at an appropriately mournful tempo, but Ehud gives it a kind of jaunty wave as he and the trio say “Bye now!”:

And we come back to Berlin and Astaire for TOP HAT, WHITE TIE AND TAILS:

Jazz at the Kitano happens regularly in a comfortable space in the Kitano Hotel (66 Park Avenue in New York City) — worth the trip!

Thanks to Ehud, David, Aaron, our friend Maggie Condon, and the durable Gino Moratti, who helps good things like this to happen — always.

May your happiness increase!

UP IN THE CLOUDS with EHUD ASHERIE and JOEL FORBES at MEZZROW (Sept. 23, 2014)

Ehud Asherie has always been one of the most brilliant pianists, wherever you find him, with a witty imagination and a racing car driver’s ability to change course, creating elaborate sound-constructions as he goes.  At the remarkable new jazz club Mezzrow (163 West Tenth Street, Greenwich Village, New York City) on September 23, 2014, Ehud and the eloquently swinging bassist Joel Forbes played a few songs before bringing on Rebecca Kilgore.

This cinematic fantasia on Vincent Youmans’ FLYING DOWN TO RIO — a twisting steeplechase of a song — stays in my memory as a virtuosic display worthy of Bud Powell and a whole generation of swinging pianists:

And, if you haven’t seen it recently, here is the actual “pre-Code” aviation fantasy, from the 1933 RKO film of the same name — with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, although they weren’t yet paired:

Incidentally, if Mezzrow seems a cozy, welcoming room with a fine piano and glorious sound — all of these perceptions are correct.

May your happiness increase!

UNDERCOVER SWING SESSION: THE GRAND STREET STOMPERS (TRIO) at THE CUPPING ROOM CAFE (Oct. 3, 2012): GORDON AU, MOLLY RYAN, NICK RUSSO, ROB ADKINS, DAN LEVINSON

I don’t mean that my title should be taken entirely seriously, but the music that Gordon Au’s Grand Street Stompers made at the Cupping Room Cafe (359 West Boardway) on the first Wednesday in September and October gives me pause.  I really feel like a restaurant critic who has discovered a new place where the food is tasty, fresh, inexpensive, surprising — and then has a moral dilemma.  Does (s)he share this knowledge with the world, knowing that it will then be impossible to get a table?  Or should I keep this information quiet?  The CRC is a lovely place to hear music, reasonably quiet, with a very attentive staff and a good menu . . . so perhaps you can tell a few people, but only those who are truly worthy.  You’ll have to decide.

This was the Grand Street Stompers Trio — Gordon, cornet, compositions, arrangements; Nick Russo, guitar, banjo; Rob Adkins, string bass (hear his intonation! so splendid!); Molly Ryan, vocals; Dan Levinson, guest star / reedman.

For now, here are some wondrous highlights of the October 3 evening

MY LITTLE BIMBO is a song I’ve only heard a few bands do — John Gill sings it memorably.  Gordon’s lovely, loping reinvention is MY LITTLE BIMBO GOES CALYPSO:

PAVONIS is connected to the beautiful bird, the peacock — one of Gordon’s haunting compositions:

Molly joined in for a typically lilting GOODNIGHT, MY LOVE:

She then backtracked through the musical romance with LOVE IS JUST AROUND THE CORNER:

And she then offered Berlin’s very wistful series of love-questions, HOW DEEP IS THE OCEAN?:

Gordon’s BROOKLYNBERG RAG is one of his new / old tunes — consistently surprising, twisting and free from cliche:

And here’s his ONCE, DEAR (which I assume is a swinging love ballad rather than a warning to a potentially erring Dear?):

For Fats!  BLUE TURNING GRAY OVER YOU:

Years ago, a test pressing of a Dick McDonough group playing BROADWAY ROSE surfaced, with some hopeful listeners opining that the trumpet soloist was Bix Beiderbecke.  That theory deflated quickly (in favor of Mickey Bloom or Bob Mayhew) , but the song is a real treat — a side-glance at NOBODY’S SWEETHEART and GLAD RAG DOLL, perhaps:

For Fred and Ginger: LET YOURSELF GO, with help from husband Dan:

And a rocking instrumental version of YOU DO SOMETHING TO ME:

And by the way, a new GSS CD is on the way . . . called CHRISTMAS STOMP.  Even I’m awaiting it anxiously!

May your happiness increase.

SHE’S THE LAST WORD: DAWN LAMBETH SINGS

One of the finest singers I know — Dawn Lambeth — has released a new concert DVD, and it’s delightful.

This intimate performance finds her alongside the peerless pianist Chris Dawson — with special appearances by Marc Caparone, cornet; Katie Cavera, string bass; Mike Swan, guitar.  The DVD is like being in a small room, among friends, while Dawn and her friends make the best kind of music — sweet, unaffected, lively swing.  The songs are YOU DO SOMETHING TO ME / S’POSIN’ / CHEEK TO CHEEK / IT’S EASY TO REMEMBER / MOONBURN / DROP ME OFF IN HARLEM / I CRIED FOR YOU / SOMEONE TO WATCH OVER ME / CAN’T WE BE FRIENDS? / ‘S’WONDERFUL / THE MAN I LOVE / ON A SLOW BOAT TO CHINA / TRUST IN ME / I’VE HEARD THAT SONG BEFORE / BLUE MOON / WHAT A LITTLE MOONLIGHT CAN DO.

Readers who know their repertoire will recognize small homages to the great songwriters and Bing, Mildred, Billie, Fred and Ginger.  But Dawn imitates no one, and she doesn’t have to.  Her voice is a pleasure in itself — full of subtle shadings but never self-consciously dramatic; a fine pianist herself, she knows the harmonies and is always in tune with the rhythm, taking improvisatory liberties when they fit the mood but always honoring the song — the intent of its words and music.

Here are three songs from the CD.  The first, a 1935 paean to romance outdoors at night — first immortalized by Bing and Joe Sullivan — MOONBURN.  Listen, too, to Chris Dawson — Southern California’s answer to Teddy Wilson and Jess Stacy.  And hear Dawn’s sweet ornamentation — what she does in her second chorus with “glowing stars,” and “my heart” — the little reinventions, so appealing, that mark an artist who truly knows her way:

A sprightly performance of CHEEK TO CHEEK — ebullient but full of subtleties from Dawn and Chris:

Here’s the full band on A SLOW BOAT TO CHINA — sounds like Basie, doesn’t it, with Dawn floating over that irresistible rhythm?:

To purchase your very own copy: check in here.  Sixty-two minutes of fine music.  And should you be in the Central Coast area of California, Dawn and friends have three end-of-September shows coming up — find out more             here.

May your happiness increase.

OUR IDEAL: THE EARREGULARS at THE EAR INN (January 29, 2012)

Very simple, no flourishes, nothing fancy: just four of the best musicians you’ll ever hear honoring the melodies, improvising at lightning speed, making a wonderfully cohesive little band right there in the corner at The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City) last Sunday night from 8-11 PM.  By the summer of 2012 the EarRegulars will have pulled off such secular miracles for five years, which stands as an amazing record for creative consistency.

Last Sunday’s Peerless Quartet was Matt Munisteri, guitar; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Alex Hoffman, tenor saxophone; Neal Miner, string bass.  Here are five varied and luminous performances from that evening:

The Claude Hopkins-Alex Hill declaration of gracious acquiescence, I WOULD DO [MOST] ANYTHING FOR YOU, which also became the Hopkins theme song.  I always wonder whether it reflects the leader’s mood if the MOST is included or left out.  Scholarly research, anyone?

Then a leisurely exposition of the 1922 Youmans SOMETIMES I’M HAPPY, at a tempo that recalls Lester Young and his gorgeous Keynote session:

So many “traditional” and “Dixieland” bands have claimed THE SHEIK OF ARABY for their own that one is in danger of forgetting what an effective swing tune it is.  Here, Matt and Jon-Erik launch into the appropriately Middle-Eastern verse in a manner that recalls the eternally memorable Hot Lips Page session for V-Disc:

A lovely tune, not often played by jazz improvisers, is the Irving Berlin CHANGE PARTNERS — of course associated with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers:

And a sweet, musing version of Walter Donaldson’s MY IDEAL, recalling both Coleman Hawkins and Billie Holiday:

I was thrilled to be there . . . and I had very good company — new young friends, Travis and Jillian, who were digging the music in the most heartfelt way.  Shazam, you cats!

The EarRegulars will be taking Sunday, February 5, 2012, off, because of the Super Bowl — but they will be back on the 12th with Matt, Jon-Erik, Mark Lopeman, and Nicki Parrott — prepare to swing!