Tag Archives: Gus Kahn

“JUST A BLUE-EYED BLONDE”!

As my friend Nick Rossi would say, I fell down the rabbit-hole — comfortable, not claustrophic.  And I’m grateful to Dustin Wittmann for pointing out where the entrance was located, by posting this anonymous-but-delightful dance band side on Facebook.

Forty years ago, I wouldn’t have paid much attention to this recording, disdaining the tune as nothing much — not Hart, Rodgers, Porter, Kern — and I would have been waiting for the hot solo and been disappointed that the side wasn’t full of episodes by known players.

Now, I think, “What lovely music!  How well-played! How charming this is!”  And the tune, with its descending chromatic hook, might not be the high point of twentieth-century composition, but it certainly lingers in the ear:

It must have been a staple of the 1931 dance-band repertoire, I assume in a stock arrangement.  And I am posting variant versions of it so that you can muse over how a variety of bands brought their own flavors to it — voicings, tempo, vocal, ensemble work, rhythmic approach, and solos.

Incidentally, it’s hard to clear my mind of the 1931 Tin Pan Alley scenario: Kahn and Fio Rito, in shirtsleeves but with ties and suspenders, perhaps with cigars.  “Awright.  BLONDE.  What the hell can we do with that?  POND?  FROND?  No, none of those tropical songs.  Hey!  FOND!” And they were off.

I think comparative study like this is so enlightening, but it’s also fun.  If there’s a blue-eyed blonde nearby, listening seriously but joyously, so much the better, but it’s the spirit that counts, not the genetics.

Debroy Somers and Dan Donovan, a very bright approach, a clarinet trio, and assertive cymbal work.  If you couldn’t move your body to this, something was wrong:

The Phillips version has a slightly more prominent banjo part and a wonderful alto saxophone explosion.  One of the things close listeners will also note is how the various sections sound on each recording, and the recording balance itself:

This American version has a slightly looser rhythmic feel, perhaps because the drummer is relying less on his cymbals.  The tempo seems a touch slower: a fox-trot more than a one-step?  I don’t know.  It just sounds good:

and back to the UK for no reason at all except the delight in hearing another approach as well as Sam Browne’s tidy, affectionate vocal.  The Blue Lyres were perhaps twelve musicians, but this recording shows off soloists throughout in obbligato as well as improvised passages, as if the leader or arranger had chosen to treat it as rich material for individual players as well as keeping the skeleton of the stock arrangement intact.  To me, this recording suggests most clearly how a free-spirited swing / hot dance orchestra might handle this material in 2018.  Any takers?:

and, finally, this delight (a Gene Gifford arrangement?) with a new introduction and a stylishly individualistic vocal by Pee Wee Hunt before an unusual transition into the final chorus, where Clarence Hutchenrider takes the bridge.  A recording beautifully anchored by tuba, and note the sweetly decelerating ending:

There are several subtexts here, but only one for the moment that deserves a few sentences.  It’s about what I’d call JAZZ POLITICS, or “What’s worthy?”  Tom Lord, whose work I rely on, lists only the final side in his massive jazz discography.  Does that mean the others aren’t jazz?  Does that mean they aren’t worth our attention?  They sound like beautiful elastic hot music to me.  But then again, I could be someone who’s grown out of his earliest rigid adolescent definitions of what’s rewarding to the ears and heart.  In this, as always, I owe much to the not-didactic guidance of my mentor, Sammut of Malta.

May your happiness increase!

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GLORIOUS LYRICISM: ROB ADKINS, EVAN ARNTZEN, EHUD ASHERIE at CASA MEZCAL (Feb. 7, 2016)

How do you honor the past?  By being yourself and letting the ancestral beauties and lessons flow through you.  Here are three young musicians who not only understand that deep truth but embody it: Rob Adkins, string bass; Evan Arntzen, tenor saxophone (and a surprise vocal on DREAMS); Ehud Asherie, piano.  I offer you two lovely performances recorded at Casa Mezcal on February 7, 2016.

WAS I TO BLAME

I knew this gorgeous song through Louis’ Decca recording, then through Ruby Braff and Scott Hamilton (separately) but it was a thrill to hear this trio explore it with such deep fwwling but such a light tread.  And its title — and unheard lyrics — ask the eternal question:

Then, a Swing Era anthem — beloved of James P. Johnson, Lester and Billie, and many more.  The sheet music below credits Benny Goodman and  Irving Mills along with Edgar Sampson, but I’d give the latter full credit.

IF DREAMS COME TRUE

Incidentally, I’ve left the Louis version of WAS I TO BLAME? and the James P. and Billie-Lester versions to those willing to embark on a few YouTube clicks. I revere those records and have done so for decades, but comparison is — not necessarily odious — to me, disrespectful.  We should honor the giants who walk and create among us, shouldn’t we?  And thank them, not posthumously, but now, for their gracious, eloquent playing and singing.

May your happiness increase!

ROMANTIC SWING: TIM LAUGHLIN, CONNIE JONES, DOUG FINKE, CHRIS DAWSON, KATIE CAVERA, MARTY EGGERS, HAL SMITH (San Diego Jazz Fest, Nov. 30, 2014)

Here is an endearing  favorite — and a rare song, a beautiful “rhythm ballad” in the best style, a superb band, echoing Louis . . . I don’t want anything more than this.

The song,to give it its full title, is WAS I TO BLAME FOR FALLING IN LOVE WITH YOU?  But — rather like WHAT CAN I SAY, DEAR, AFTER I SAY I’M SORRY — the title gets split in two.  When Louis recorded it in 1935, very early in his Decca contract, it was called FALLING IN LOVE WITH YOU — and the composers are Victor Young, Newman or Neuman, and Gus Kahn. An online source says the song goes back to 1932, and “M. Neuman” is really a pseudonym for Chester Conn.  I leave such matters to better researchers, and say only that I’ve never seen a copy of the sheet music.  But my hypothesis is that if Louis was handed a song with this title, written by Victor Young and Gus Kahn, he would have been interested in it.  Or perhaps he heard it on the radio and his deep romanticism was stirred.  We don’t know, but his performance is inspiring.  (You can search it out on YouTube at your leisure, as well as a a later homage by Ruby Braff.)

But my delight is to offer you this twenty-first century version by some Masters of Romantic Swing, recorded on November 30, 2014, at the San Diego Jazz Fest — Tim Laughlin, clarinet; Connie Jones, cornet; Doug Finke, trombone; Chris Dawson, piano; Katie Cavera, guitar; Marty Eggers, string bass; Hal Smith, drums:

I could write at length about the beauties of this performance, but I will point out only the deep love of melody, the subtle flow of the rhythm section, the individual sounds of each soloist, the use of space, the new melodies created. All delicate and purposeful at the same time.  Bless these artists.  They so generously bless us.

May your happiness increase!

BEAUTY IS ALWAYS HERE FOR US: REBECCA KILGORE, DUKE HEITGER, BRIA SKONBERG, DAN BLOCK, ALLAN VACHE, BOB HAVENS, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, PAUL KELLER, BUCKY PIZZARELLI, ED METZ (Atlanta Jazz Party: April 25, 2014)

May I offer a six-minute escape from the world that at times weighs so heavily upon us?  You know that world, defined by medical lab tests and inescapable bills, news of ungentle acts.  I could wear out your eyes and sink us all into gloom describing that world.

But there is another world, always alive if we can remind ourselves of it: the world of beauty and creativity, of joy and generosity.

This offering of Beauty was created on April 25, 2014, at the Atlanta Jazz Party, a musical cornucopia.  The exalted participants are Rebecca Kilgore, vocal; Duke Heitger, Bria Skonberg, trumpet; Bob Havens, trombone; Dan Block, tenor / clarinet; Allan Vache, clarinet; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Paul Keller, string bass; Bucky Pizzarelli, guitar; Ed Metz, drums.

THE ONE I LOVE

The song, ninety years old, is the Isham Jones / Gus Kahn THE ONE I LOVE (BELONGS TO SOMEBODY ELSE) — a simple melodic line built on a two-note pattern but one of those songs that takes up residence in your brain until it is chased away by external forces.  THE ONE I LOVE is also a sacred favorite of mine because it plays a part in one of the great meetings of the cosmos.  Earl Hines said that he was at the Chicago musicians’ union playing a new tune (yes, that one) and a cornet player introduced himself and started to play in duet with him.  Yes, that cornet player. How would the course of Western Civilization have been different if Hines had been practicing scales or was standing outdoors with his cigar?

Instead of a dim memory of 1924, the real thing in 2014:

I find everything about this performance endearing, from the cinema verite with which it begins (Becky offering everyone a lead sheet, facing an overexcited microphone, setting the tempo by singing the title). Maestro Sportiello enters and the rhythm section joins in: I find myself relaxing, all tension replaced by happiness, in forty-five seconds. “Safe in the arms of Joy,” I think.

Listen closely, please, whether you play an instrument, sing for your supper, or are simply a devoted fan — to the beautiful singularity of the individual voices here: Becky, Bob, Bucky, Duke / Dan, and Becky returning.  Each one is completely different but allied by a love for the melody and a respect for the rhythm.

And PHRASING — the way Ms. Kilgore fluidly offers lines of prose and individual syllables so that the meaning of the simple lyric is enhanced, not lost, but that the words aren’t rigidly tied to the beat.  Imagine the sheet music, which delineates a metronomic relationship between notes and words, and hear Becky’s intuitive elasticity, seconded by the horn soloists, elongatinf a phrase here, compressing another, emphasizing a few words and offering others with sweet conversational casualness.

And even though no one is “doing repertory,” the whole performance feels as if Basie and a few of the fellows just stopped by to play one.  That simple propulsive riff at the end — Basie, but reaching back to Louis.  Believable, natural, uplifting music.

This is high art — it takes lifetimes to know how to sing and play like this — offered without pretense.  I feel better already.

Visit here to find out more.

May your happiness increase!

“OUCH, MY TOOTSIES!”

We’ve all worn difficult clothing in an attempt to be considered suitable as a Love Object.

I don’t know how far back the songwriters’ conceit of “I’m getting dressed up for my date with someone I’m crazy about and I have to put on shoes that hurt my feet” goes — although “My new shoes hurt” is part of the Ted Shapiro – Gus Kahn WAITIN’ FOR KATIE — in the savory 1927 recording by the Ben Pollack band, solos by young men in scuffed shoes (Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, Jimmy McPartland, and Larry Binyon):

and the words show up at almost the same time in the 1928 “hot” recording of WAITIN’ FOR KATY by Guy Lombardo:

In 1935, another song developed this idea, most charmingly: the Sam Stept – Dave Franklin – Ned Washington BREAKIN’ IN A PAIR OF SHOES.  I offer three versions for your consideration.  The first is by the most lively and endearing Miss Cleo Brown with splendid rhythmic support from Vic Berton, Manny Stein, and Bobby Sherwood:

 

That recording I only discovered in the last year, however I knew the tune by heart because of this wonderful instrumental exploration by Teddy Wilson in his prime.  Where Cleo’s version is a sassy romp, Teddy’s is a sweetly logical exploration — mixing melodic embellishments and deeper improvisation all the way through, swinging gently but never racing, delicately balanced from first to last. . . not only a beautifully intricate solo piano performance but a delightful “dance record” in Thirties parlance:

And if your new shoes had the virtue of being flexible, you might want to dance some more — to the youthful Benny Goodman Orchestra:

No deep moral here, just an offering of good music. I hope you are surrounded by people who love you even if you wear unfashionable shoes.

May your happiness increase!

PRETTY LIVELY: EXILED SWEETHEARTS, CAGED BIRDS, SAD DOLLS, RUINED MAIDS

GLAD RAG DOLL 1929Members of repressive societies are forbidden to write about the forbidden; censorship blossoms in the name of morality.  But ingenious writers and artists make their way around prohibitions. Even in the most conservative environment, sin can be explored in popular culture if the writer is lamenting the horrid effects of such behavior.  Lost virginity and illicit drugs could be the titillating subjects of early films — if they were deplored rather than celebrated.

We could go back to 1900 for A BIRD IN A GILDED CAGE, by Arthur J. Lamb (lyrics) and Harry Von Tilzer (music), a huge popular hit that depicted a young woman in a loveless marriage who has chosen money over affection. The story goes that Lamb approached Von Tilzer with the lyrics, which Von Tilzer liked — but he wanted Lamb’s lyrics to make it clear that the young woman was not someone’s mistress.  The famous refrain is: “She’s only a bird in a gilded cage, / A beautiful sight to see, / You may think she’s happy and free from care, / She’s not, though she seems to be, / ‘Tis sad when you think of her wasted life, / For youth cannot mate with age, / And her beauty was sold, / For an old man’s gold, / She’s a bird in a gilded cage.”

Girls, don’t sell your beauty and be sure not to mate with age!

Here’s a 1904 version, sung by Harry Anthony:

Forward to two late-Twenties songs, music that motivated my meditations on bad girls who wear cosmetics.

The 1928 GLAD RAG DOLL (music by Milton Ager / Dan Dougherty; lyrics by Jack Yellen) assertively states that money and flashy clothing and jewelry bring only the most shallow happiness, even asking us where and how that finery was acquired.   The verse is almost accusatory: Hester Prynne has just gotten off the train in a small town, and everyone notices the way she’s dressed: “Little painted lady with your lovely clothes / Where are you bound for may I ask? / What your diamonds cost you everybody knows / All the world can see behind your mask.”

Here is Ruth Etting’s wistful version:

“Glad rags” become “sad rags” in a day; the brightly dressed young woman will never find a proper husband “to grow old and grey with,” and her many admirers will desert her — although she can always “amend” her flashy ways.  Presumably the speaker is sedately dressed and long married — neither a boy who “plays” nor a “pretty little toy the boys like to play with” any longer.  Respectable for sure, not aimed for disgrace or disappointment, but the painted woman seems to be having more fun, even if it is transitory.

I couldn’t leave GLAD RAG DOLL without offering Earl Hines’ wordless solo — rollicking without caring for the morals expressed in the stern lyrics:

nosweet1b

Another song in the same moral mode is NOBODY’S SWEETHEART, which most of us know as a Chicago hot number.  But its initial versions had the same warning coloration: the young woman, in this case, has left all her loyal small-town admirers behind for a shady life of glamor in the big city. Music by Billy Meyers and Elmer Schoebel, lyrics by Gus Kahn and Ernie Erdman.

Here’s the sad verse: “You were ev’rybody’s sweetheart / Not so long ago / And in our home town, each boy around / Longed to be your beau / But things are diff’rent today / I’m mighty sorry to say.” Urban fashion seems to require a loss of purity, in a dichotomy. Either small-town sweetheart or Painted Woman Wearing A Bird of Paradise.

Hat with bird of paradise feathers circa 1900

Hat with bird of paradise feathers circa 1900

“You’re nobody’s sweetheart now, / There’s no place for you somehow, / With your fancy clothes, silken gowns, / You’ll be out of place in the middle of your own hometown, / When you walk down the avenue, / All the folks just can’t believe that it’s you. / With painted lips and painted eyes, / Wearing a bird of paradise, / It all seems wrong somehow, / You’re nobody’s sweetheart now!”  

It echoes Frank Norris and Theodore Dreiser: the young woman who leaves her home for the big city will be changed irrevocably — exiled, outcast.  Neither GLAD RAG DOLL nor NOBODY’S SWEETHEART suggests that the young woman has earned her clothing and jewelry through prostitution, but there seems no moral way for a single woman to earn her keep without a husband, so the worst suspicions are never contradicted.  But she is beautifully and glamorously dressed.  Vice doesn’t endure but it certainly looks good in the short run.

Nobody's Sweetheart 1924

Here is Marion Harris’ sympathetic version from 1929:

A few years earlier, Billy Murray and a tough-talking Aileen Stanley deflated the song’s moral stance from the start:

And for those who might not have seen this 1929 short film, it contains a very swinging vocal by a young man from the heartland who would later say that his singing had always been an error.  He sounds pretty good here!

(Incidentally, there were popular hits depicting small-town women, loyal and true, who would never think of wearing jewelry or painting their faces — MY GAL SAL is just one example.  And thousands of songs, it seems, that celebrate impending matrimony — “when we two are one and someday there’ll be three”.)

Thinking about all those songs that both deplore and secretly celebrate young women who have wandered from the orthodox path of marriage, prudence, and dependence, I remembered a poem (from 1901) by Thomas Hardy, called THE RUINED MAID: 

“O ‘Melia, my dear, this does everything crown!

Who could have supposed I should meet you in Town?

And whence such fair garments, such prosperi-ty?” —

“O didn’t you know I’d been ruined?” said she.

 

“You left us in tatters, without shoes or socks,

Tired of digging potatoes, and spudding up docks;

And now you’ve gay bracelets and bright feathers three!”

“Yes: that’s how we dress when we’re ruined,” said she.

 

“At home in the barton you said thee’ and thou,’

And thik oon,’ and theäs oon,’ and t’other’; but now

Your talking quite fits ‘ee for high compa-ny!” —

“Some polish is gained with one’s ruin,” said she.

 

“Your hands were like paws then, your face blue and bleak

But now I’m bewitched by your delicate cheek,

And your little gloves fit as on any la-dy!” —

“We never do work when we’re ruined,” said she.

 

“You used to call home-life a hag-ridden dream,

And you’d sigh, and you’d sock; but at present you seem

To know not of megrims or melancho-ly!” —

“True. One’s pretty lively when ruined,” said she.

 

“I wish I had feathers, a fine sweeping gown,

And a delicate face, and could strut about Town!” —

“My dear — a raw country girl, such as you be,

Cannot quite expect that. You ain’t ruined,” said she.

In theory, Hardy was writing about the hard life of the country maiden, but it seems difficult to take that as the message of THE RUINED MAID, which makes being ruined a delightful version of upward social mobility.  A Moral?  Live fast, paint your face, leave home for the city, and you’ll be the subject of popular art.

And just in case this socio-literary survey has left you melancholy, here’s a modern version of NOBODY’S SWEETHEART NOW by Hal Smith’s International Sextet at Sacramento in 2011.  You can sing along with Kim Cusack by now:

That’s Hal Smith, drums; Clint Baker, string bass; Katie Cavera, guitar; Carl Sonny Leyland, piano; Anita Thomas, clarinet; Kim Cusack, clarinet and vocal. Uncredited appearance of a Recalcitrant Microphone Stand courtesy of the local Musicians’ Union.

May your happiness increase!

“CHLOE (Song of the Swamp)”: THEME AND VARIATIONS

Written in 1927 by Gus Kahn and “Neil Moret,” the pseudonym of Charles N. Daniels, this song is both lovely and durable.  The sheet music says it is to be played or sung “in a tragic manner,” but liberties are always allowed here.  

Duke Ellington: thanks to Tricky Sam Nanton, Barney Bigard, Jimmie Blanton, Sonny Greer, Juan Tizol, Wallce Jones, Ben Webster — that astonishing Victor Orchestra of 1940:

The Blessed Henry “Red” Allen, 1936:

The magnificient Louis Armstrong with Gordon Jenkins, circa 1952 (don’t let the swooshing strings and crooning voices put you off):

And Miss Chloe Lang (photographed by Lorna Sass).

The inevitable postscript is this recording of CHLOE, one I also knew in my childhood — cheerfully undermined by Spike Jones and his City Slickers:

Ancient vaudeville, with pokes at Ted Lewis, of all people, but still memorable fun.

Everybody sing!

Chloe! Chloe!

Someone’s calling, no reply
Nightshade’s falling, hear him sigh

Chloe! Chloe!

Empty spaces in his eyes
Empty arms outstretched, he’s crying

Through the black of night
I’ve got to go where you are
If it’s dark or bright
I’ve got to go where you are

I’ll go through the dismal swampland
Searching for you
For if you are lost there
Let me be there, too

Through the smoke and flame
I’ve got to go where you are
For no place can be too far
Where you are

Ain’ no chains can bind you
If you live, I’ll find you
Love is calling me
I’ve got to go where you are.

LOVE IS CALLING US: ALL MONEY GOES TO THE MUSICIANS!

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