Tag Archives: Harold Arlen

DON’T GO WEST, YOUNG WOMAN

The bespectacled fellow was only a name in a discography to me until today.

Thanks to Tim Gracyk and his YouTube channel, I now have one more new-old-favorite-record, HOLLYWOOD, by Art Gillham, “The Whispering Pianist.”

According to the Discography of American Recordings entry here, this performance was recorded on November 25, 1929, in New York City.  The composers of this thin but irresistible song (with a rising chromatic motif and unadventurous lyrics) are Arnold Johnson (music) — who may have been the bandleader known to some for his associations with Jack Purvis and Harold Arlen — and Charles Newman (lyrics).  Newman is better known for the lyrics of SWEETHEARTS ON PARADE, I’LL NEVER HAVE TO DREAM AGAIN, WHAT’S THE USE, I WOULDN’T CHANGE YOU FOR THE WORLD, YOU’VE GOT ME CRYING AGAIN, I’M PAINTING THE TOWN RED, TAKE ANOTHER GUESS, WHY DON’T WE DO THIS MORE OFTEN? (a song I learned through the recording Melissa Collard and Eddie Erickson made of it) and the imperishable A HOT DOG, A BLANKET, AND YOU.  Apparently Newman took current conversational phrases and bent them into songs — songs more memorable for their performers.

Here’s the recording — moral message, free of charge:

The message first: another cautionary tale (think of GLAD RAG DOLL, NOBODY’S SWEETHEART, and a dozen others) about young women who go to the big city, get their hearts broken, their virtue damaged beyond repair.  “Mothers, tie your daughters to the sink so that nothing bad can happen to them!”  (Theodore Dreiser’s AN AMERICAN TRAGEDY, five years earlier, is a variation on this theme.)

A month and a day before this recording, the stock market had crashed: was that one of many reasons for this song?  The record of copyright notes that HOLLYWOOD is dated November 9 — slightly over two weeks after the crash, which may be even more significant.

Gillham is a pleasant singer, even with wobbly vibrato.  Radio audiences and song publishers must have loved him, because every word came through. But I am particularly interested in the little band: muted trumpet or cornet, bright and agile clarinet, sweet violin, Gillham’s own piano, perhaps someone at a drum set, although aside from one resonant thump at 1:25, it’s hard to tell. (Was it multi-tasking Eddie King or Justin Ring?)  I believe that “novelty” came from the presence of horns, rather than a more “legitimate” polite accompaniment by piano or piano and violin.

But this record has not been annotated or noticed by the official jazz scholars.  A selection from Gillham’s recordings makes its way into the discographies I have (Rust and Lord) — because those sessions feature Red Nichols, Miff Mole, Rube Bloom, Louis Hooper, Murray Kellner, Andy Sanella.  The three or four sides concluding either discography [thus defined as jazz recordings] have him accompanied by Alex Hill on piano, and Gillham performs Hill’s YOU WERE ONLY PASSING  TIME WITH ME.  The lack of documentation of HOLLYWOOD — which sounds like a certifiable “jazz record” — says much more about the “star system” in jazz than it does about the lightly swinging instrumental music heard here.  The players do not sound like those stars most featured and idolized: not Mannie Klein or Jack Purvis or Nichols, not Jimmy Dorsey or Tesch, Joe Venuti, or Stan King.  But the music is memorable, inventive and rhythmic, and I would rather have this record, offered as an anonymous effort, than a dozen others with more famous names that might have satisfied less.  Once again we encounter rewarding art that no one has designated as such.

May your happiness increase!

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REBECCA KILGORE’S WISTFUL HEART (Mezzrow, January 18, 2017)

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Great artists make the familiar magically alive. Many of us have seen the film THE WIZARD OF OZ, perhaps as children, so the score is well-known. But at the beginning of 2017, January 18, to be precise, Rebecca Kilgore (accompanied by the imaginative Ehud Asherie) imbued the Harold Arlen – Yip Harburg song IF I ONLY HAD A HEART with yearning depths of feeling I’d never experienced before.

Rebecca said that she was inspired by the performance of the late Susannah McCorkle, but this is no copy of Susannah: it is a wistful journey all its own.  And it shows, in case anyone needed reminding, that Ms. Kilgore’s heart is large and generous.  I think she is singing better than ever; judge for yourselves.

(A word about that intrusive microphone stand: I knew it was there but didn’t feel right whispering between songs, “Could you move that stand out of the way?”  My error.  Close your eyes and listen.)

The Kilgore magic — heartfelt in many moods — is also evident on her most recent CD for Arbors Records, a duet with the splendid pianist Bernd Lhotzky, THIS AND THAT.  Here ‘s the link to purchase a copy or several.  I’ve been listening to Rebecca for years, and I think that this CD captures her voice and spirit perhaps better than any other release.  And that is saying a great deal.

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I was honored to write a few words for this release.

You know those moments in conversation when communication truly works, so that simple words carry deeper meaning – when speaker and hearer get one another? This communion can happen when musicians who live their art deeply create a heartfelt kinship. This CD captures fifteen such lovely interludes created by a most empathic pair.

While we trot along in the nature preserve of song, Rebecca and Bernd point out rare flowers and wild asparagus we would otherwise have missed. Consider the song most familiar to you on this disc. Marvel at how fresh they make it. The opening phrases of SWEET AND LOVELY are a splendid example. Study Bernd’s solo interlude before the chorus of THE BEST THING FOR YOU, and Rebecca’s transformations of the repeated words in DO DO DO into something lively and elastic. Thanks to technology, you are free to play I’M SHOOTING HIGH twelve times in a row. It’s restorative, better than the reproachful Fitbit around your wrist. I remain entranced by the way these two turn the tick-tock-tick of the verse into the free and soaring chorus.

Listening and re-listening, I ask myself, “How do they know how to do that most exquisite wiggle right there?” One answer is that Bernd and Rebecca have spent their lives hard at work but also joyously at play in the music they love. So each song becomes a fully realized lyrical playlet, a three-minute world of feeling and swing. Some of the songs bubble with optimism and hope, an antidote to the day’s news. Others, somber and mournful, remind us that art transforms sorrow into something more. We feel the beauty of the lament, the sound of yearning.

I haven’t tried to explicate this music, since words can’t ever explain the sensations of the first bite of ripe fruit. But I am delighted and awed by what Rebecca and Bernd offer here. Who could want a sweeter surprise? Better yet, fifteen sweet surprises.

Rebecca knows the way into our hearts.  We welcome her in.

May your happiness increase!

IN THE MAIN STREAM: HOWARD ALDEN, EHUD ASHERIE, FRANK TATE, PETE SIERS, RANDY REINHART, DAN BLOCK, BILL ALLRED at CLEVELAND (September 10, 2015)

Long-playing high fidelity turned into song by Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler:

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and performed here at the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party (formerly known as the Allegheny Jazz Party) on September 10, 2015, by Howard Alden, guitar; Frank Tate, string bass; Ehud Asherie, piano; Pete Siers, drums; Dan Block, tenor saxophone; Bill Allred, trombone; Randy Reinhart, cornet.

“Mainstream” was the term invented by jazz critic Stanley Dance to describe this easy, uncluttered, floating kind of improvisation — a music that had carefully dismantled all the boundaries created by sectarian listeners and journalists to take a wide-ranging approach to jazz without ruling anything out if it drank deeply of melody, swing, and harmony.  Hank Mobley and Buster Bailey could talk about reeds; Tommy Benford and Art Blakey could discuss calfskin versus plastic.  You get the idea: a sweet world that no longer saw “Dixieland” and “bebop” as hostile antitheses.

Music of this free-breathing variety happens all the time in the places I frequent, but one of the most comfortable places for it is the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party, which will happen again this September 15-18, 2016.  Get in the Main Stream.

May your happiness increase!

THE GREAT AMERICAN JAZZBOOK: ROB ADKINS, EVAN ARNTZEN, DAN BLOCK, CHRIS FLORY at FRAUNCES TAVERN (May 7, 2016)

Fraunces TavernHere is the first part of a delightful Saturday afternoon of music performed at Fraunces Tavern by the Garden Party Quartet: this version being Rob Adkins, string bass; Chris Flory, guitar; Evan Arntzen, clarinet, alto saxophone, vocal; Dan Block, clarinet, tenor saxophone, on May 7, 2016.  Four more delicious performances follow below.

People who fear jazz — it makes them skittish — often say that they can’t recognize the melody.  For them (and for us) here are four standards, played and sung with loving swinging reverence by this melodic quartet.  You’ll hear the work of Hoagy Carmichael, Sidney Arodin; Alex Hill, Bob Williams, Claude Hopkins; Cole Porter; Harold Arlen, Ted Koehler.  And I daresay that the composers and lyricists would be pleased with the results.  You decide.

YOU DO SOMETHING TO ME:

LAZY RIVER:

I WOULD DO ANYTHING FOR YOU:

I’VE GOT THE WORLD ON A STRING:

Yes.  The real thing.  The good stuff.  Out there in public, too.

May your happiness increase!

ANOTHER HIGHLIGHT OF 2015: THE DAWN LAMBETH TRIO (The Second Set) at SAN DIEGO, NOVEMBER 28, 2015: RAY SKJELBRED, MARC CAPARONE

Delicious music, full of warm surprises.

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The infinite varieties of love in swingtime — the lover bemoaning aloneness; proclamations of the highest fidelity; celebrations of the lover’s sweetness; love couched as the wish for an extended life span . . . with gentle nods to Bix, to Lee Wiley, to Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler, to Louis, to Bing, to Jim Goodwin — all of these tenderly and heatedly embodied by Dawn, Ray Skjelbred, piano; Marc Caparone, cornet, on the morning of November 28, 2015, at the San Diego Jazz Fest.

REACHING FOR SOMEONE (Ray and Marc):

ANYTIME, ANYDAY, ANYWHERE (the Trio):

SUGAR (the Trio):

AS LONG AS I LIVE (the Trio):

CABIN IN THE PINES (Marc and Ray):

(Let’s have a Billy Hill set by this band at the 2016 San Diego Jazz Fest.)

Here — for those who vibrate to such beauty — is the trio’s first set, on the preceding day.

Thanks again to Hal Smith and Paul Daspit for making such beauty not only possible but visible and audible.  I can’t wait to see what happens at the 2016 San Diego Jazz Fest.  And, as I pointed out, the Trio is setting up its touring schedule for this coming year, and might have a few dates available.  If you have a festival or a concert series . . . I’ll help you get in touch with them.

May your happiness increase!

“THIS TIME THE DREAM’S ON ME”: BARBARA ROSENE / EHUD ASHERIE HONOR JOHNNY MERCER at MEZZROW (April 14, 2015)

THIS TIME THE DREAM’S ON ME was written by Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer for the 1941 film BLUES IN THE NIGHT.  It’s a haunting song — its melody like a wistful prayer, its lyrics mixing realistic sorrow and rueful imaginings.  For me, the sorrow in observing the present outweighs the hopefulness of “what might be,” but I hear the singer bravely traversing the landscape of sad fact and wisps of happier possibility.  Mercer’s lyrics stand as a modern poem, and I was surprised to learn that he was not pleased with them:

It’s one of Harold’s nicest tunes. It’s kind of a poor lyric, I think. Built on the thing about “the drink’s on me.” I think it’s too flip for that melody. I think it should be nicer. I was in a hurry I remember the director didn’t like it. I could have improved it, too. I really wish I had. But, you know, we had a lot of songs to get out in a short amount of time, and we had another picture to do. (The source is a BBC interview, excerpted in Gene Lees’ biography of Mercer, PORTRAIT OF JOHNNY, 142).

The unpredictably brilliant Alec Wilder doesn’t even mention the song in his book AMERICAN POPULAR SONG.

I think this song so beautifully, perhaps painfully encapsulates the simultaneous feelings: “We’ve had something deep.  It no longer exists, and it cannot.  But I would like to imagine a place in time where it could, even as I know that dream is tormenting by its elusiveness.”  So much is said yet so much is unsayable.

See if you don’t agree while considering this quietly rich performance by Barbara Rosene and Ehud Asherie — at Mezzrow on April 14, 2015:

I love the careful pacing — neither maudlin nor too optimistic — and the deep sincerity of Barbara’s voice, the sweet unerring support Ehud always gives. The difficult reality in one hand, the wisp of a dream that can’t come true in the other hand.  Such music can see anyone through, even as it delineates sadness and loss.

And here, because we all need to know that joyous love is possible, is another gem from that same evening.

May your happiness increase! 

“I HEAR THE MUSIC NOW”: REBECCA KILGORE and RANDY PORTER at the PIEDMONT PIANO COMPANY (Oakland, California: Jan. 31, 2014)

A few nights ago, Rebecca Kilgore and pianist Randy Porter gave a delightful duo-concert at the Piedmont Piano Company in Oakland, California.  Randy was performing on a brand-new Yamaha CPX piano, and Rebecca brought her own beautiful instruments: her creamy voice, her wise, light-hearted interpretations.  And although Becky is always heralded as “an interpreter of the Great American Songbook,” she has a very expansive repertoire, going back seventy-five years and forward to contemporary music by Nellie McKay.

Here are some highlights of that evening.

Sammy Fain’s I HEAR THE MUSIC NOW:

Nellie McKay’s I WANNA GET MARRIED:

The Rodgers and Hammerstein edgy declaration of thwarted love, THE GENTLEMAN IS A DOPE:

Dave Frishberg’s ZANZIBAR:

Johnny Mercer’s JAMBOREE JONES, with its roller-coaster tongue-twisting lyrics:

and the lovely hip lullaby, thanks to Mercer and Harold Arlen, HIT THE ROAD TO DREAMLAND:

My ears, as always, were focused on the Kilgore magic — gently gliding through the lyrics, making them even more meaningful, gently improvising, making the melodies shine . . . but our Mr. Porter is astonishing: his command of the piano, his touch, his harmonic depths and always-surprising but beautiful inventions.  And what a beautiful place Piedmont is . . . wonderful-sounding instruments everywhere.  And they have regular concert performances from a wide variety of artists: click here.

Don’t you wish your local piano emporium had a Kilgore recital on the calendar?

May your happiness increase!