Tag Archives: Harry Barris

DESIRE (SUPPRESSED) and PASSION (SECRET), THEN and NOW

Does popular art follow high art, or the reverse, or are the coincidences simply coincidental?  In 1915, Susan Glaspell and George Cram Cook premiered a play, SUPPRESSED DESIRES; 1924, Eugene O’Neill’s DESIRE UNDER THE ELMS; 1929, Dali’s THE ACCOMODATIONS OF DESIRE.  PASSION had always been part of the cultural vocabulary, so no need to search out appearances in the Twenties.  A graduate student in early modernist popular culture would probably trace some of this to Havelock Ellis, Theodoor Hendrik Van de Velde, and others writing for a curious public.  I don’t doubt that Dr. Freud is behind all this in some way, also.

I know that the stereotypical idea of pop songwriters is cigar-smoking fellows looking to make money off the latest craze, but it is possible that some of those brilliant tunesmiths read something in the paper besides the sports pages.  Make what you will of the synchronicity or the coincidence, these two songs, HE’S MY SECRET PASSION and MY SUPPRESSED DESIRE enjoyed some fame in that year, the second creation even featured in a film where I would think little was suppressed.

I’ve known MY SUPPRESSED DESIRE for years through the Bing Crosby – Harry Barris – Al Rinker recording, a series of small hot comedic playlets unfolding one after another:

Bing’s “Tell it!” at 1:35 is a favorite moment, and I like the way the recording morphs through moods and tempos — a whole stage show in miniature, with the introduction coming around as the conclusion, and the rocking intensity of Bing’s last bridge.

Here’s a very pleasing Goldkette-styled version by Abe Lyman’s California Orchestra:

There are several excellent contemporary dance band versions of this song — by Coon-Sanders Nighthawks, Verne Buck, and Lud Gluskin — which I leave to you to find on YouTube, because for me the Rhythm Boys’ version blots all the others out.

Now (thanks to Jonathan David Holmes) I have a new recording of HE’S MY SECRET PASSION by The Four Bright Sparks, my favorite new band name, to share with you.  I find the instrumental combination of clarinet, xylophone, guitar, drums, and piano entrancing, and Queenie Leonard’s slightly emphatic singing is also charming.  Discographer Tom Lord sniffs, “The above was a studio group but they played straight dance music and nearly never featured hot solo work,” a classic example of jazz-snobbery:

And here is Marion Harris’ impossibly tender reading of PASSION:

Showing that passion has living validity in this century also, Barbara Rosene and friends (among others, Conal Fowkes, Michael Hashim, Pete Martinez, Brian Nalepka, and Craig Ventresco) in 2007:

Barbara, Conal Fowkes, and Danny Tobias will be performing at Mezzrow on West Tenth Street in New York City on June 13.  Her shows are always delightful, and, yes, attendance will be taken.

Attentive textual explicators will note that these are not the same song at all: the singer of PASSION is wistful and hopeful that an introduction can be arranged and great things will result, where the singer of SUPPRESSED notes accurately that the Object of Desire belongs to someone else, which is an entirely different situation.  But these recordings and the songs are atypically cheerful — no one is lamenting that the opportunity has passed forever.  For listeners, we hope for the best: gratified passion, reciprocated desire.

May your happiness increase!

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FEBRUARY 14: A LOVE SONG BY JIMMY ROWLES and RED MITCHELL

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A few minutes of love in jazz or vice versa: a sweet ancient Harry Barris / Gordon Clifford / Gus Arnheim song, IT MUST BE TRUE, here performed by Jimmy Rowles and Red Mitchell, piano / voice, and string bass, respectively: July 1978 in Paris.

Rowles was the most subtly surprising pianist and devilishly intuitive accompanist, but he is not celebrated enough as a singer: what he and Red Mitchell get up to here would warm the most chilly heart.  (The song was first popularized by a young fellow named Crosby, but this version makes its own tender impression.)

May your happiness increase!

“I GIVE UP!” TIMES TEN

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Is surrender capitulating to an enemy, saying “I give up.  You are stronger.” or is it an enlightened act, a realization that there are powers we can’t conquer and that the idea of conquering anything is futile?

I SURRENDER DEAR

I’ve always found I SURRENDER, DEAR — so powerfully connected to Bing Crosby — both touching and mysterious.  As Gordon Clifford’s lyrics tell us, the singer is saying, in effect, “Take me back. Here is my heart.  I give up all pretense of being distant.  I need you,” which is deeply moving, a surrender of all ego-barriers and pretense.  But I’ve never been able to figure out whether “Here, take my heart,” is  greeted with “I’d love to welcome you back,” or “No thanks, I’m full.”  Other songs hold out the possibility of reconciliation (consider IN A LITTLE SECOND-HAND STORE or WE JUST COULDN’T SAY GOODBYE) but this one ends unresolved.  It’s also one of those songs that lends itself to a variety of interpretations: both Bing and Louis in the same year, then a proliferation of tenor saxophonists, and pianists from Monk to Garner to Teddy. And (before the music starts) probably thanks to Roy Eldridge, there’s also an honored tradition of slipping into double-time.

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Here, however, are ten versions that move me.

January 1931: Bing Crosby with the Gus Arnheim Orchestra.  Note the orchestral flourishes:

Later that same year: Victor Young and the Brunswick Concert Orchestra, featuring Frank Munn, not enough of the Boswell Sisters (acting as their own concert orchestra) and a few seconds of Tommy Dorsey.  I think this was an effort to show that Paul Whiteman didn’t have a monopoly on musical extravagance, and I’ve never seen a label credit “Paraphrased by . . . “.  I also note the vocal bridge turns to 3/4, and Munn sings “are doing” rather than “were doing,” but we wait patiently for the Sisters to appear, and they do:

Imagine anyone better than Ben Webster?  Here, in 1944, with our hero Hot Lips Page:

Forward several decades: Joe Venuti, Zoot Sims, John Bunch, Milt Hinton, Bobby Rosengarden 1975:

1978 — a duet of Earl Hines and Harry Edison:

Raymond Burke, Butch Thompson, Cie Frazier in New Orleans, 1979:

and something I was privileged to witness and record, flapping fan blades and all, from February 2010 (Tamar Korn, Gordon Au, Dennis Lichtman, Marcus Milius, Debbie Kennedy):

Ray Skjelbred, Marc Caparone, Jim Buchmann, Katie Cavera, Beau Sample, Hal Smith, at the San Diego Jazz Fest in November 2014:

Nobody follows Louis.  1931:

and the majestic version from 1956:

A little tale of the powers of Surrender.  In years past, I would drive into Manhattan, my car full of perishables, and search for a parking spot.  Of course there were none.  I could feel the gelato melting; I could feel my blood pressure rising contrapuntally.  Frustrated beyond belief, I would roll down my window and ask the Parking Goddess for her help.  “I do not ask for your assistance that often, and I admit that I cannot do this on my own.  I am powerless without your help.  Will you be merciful to me?”  And I would then circle the block again and a spot would have opened up.  My theory is that such supplication works only if one is willing to surrender the ego, the facade of one’s own power.  Of course it has also been known to work for other goals, but that is an essay beyond the scope of JAZZ LIVES.

For now, surrender whole-heartedly and see what happens.

May your happiness increase!

WHEN SURRENDER IS TRIUMPH (BENT PERSSON and DUKE HEITGER, 2015)

I SURRENDER, DEAR, is truly a forlorn love song.  Not “You left me: where did you go?” but “Without you I can’t make my way,” which is a more abject surrender to love unfulfilled.

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And here’s Bing, both in 1931 and 1939 — so you can hear the intense yearning in the words and music:

A very mature version (with John Scott Trotter):

(There are several more Bing-versions of this song, for those willing to immerse themselves in YouTube, including a 1971 performance on the Flip Wilson Show where one line of the lyrics is . . . altered.)

But now to Mister Strong.

On November 6, 2015, this glorious group of musicians — Bent Persson, Rico Tomasso, Menno Daams, Kristoffer Kompen, Lars Frank, Robert Fowler, Michael McQuaid, Morten Gunnar Larsen, Malcolm Sked, Nick Ball, Spats Langham did the holy work of evoking Louis Armstrong at the 2015 Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party.  Here’s my video of this wonderful song — sung and played by the heroic Bent Persson:

Here, for the cinematographers in the viewing audience, is Flemming Thorbye’s video of the same performance — which is much better than mine!

And about two months earlier, Duke Heitger, trumpet; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Nicki Parrott, string bass; Ricky Malichi, drums, gave this beautiful song a treatment that reminds me a little of Benny Carter and Teddy Wilson, not bad antecedents at all:

We associate surrender with defeat, with failure.  If love requires the surrender of the armored ego, that’s a triumph.  And the creation of beauty out of painful yearning, another triumph.  Incidentally, the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party takes place in September; the Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party in November.  So no reason for conflict.

May your happiness increase!

“FUZZY KNIGHT AND HIS LITTLE PIANO” (1928)

I’d never heard of John Forrest “Fuzzy” Knight (1901-1976), perhaps because I’d rarely watched Westerns, in theatres or on television. (He had a long career playing the hero’s friend.)

But when Jeff Hamilton nudged me towards this short film on YouTube, from 1928, I was immediately captivated by Fuzzy (so nicknamed because of his soft voice). He is s delightfully absurdist comedian, someone who swings from first to last, whose scat singing is hilariously unfettered (I think of both Harry Barris and Leo Watson) . . . and whose habit of singing into the piano is making me laugh as I write these words.

I can’t suggest even a hint of FUZZY KNIGHT AND HIS LITTLE PIANO by writing about it. You’d better try it for yourselves:

If you are wondering, “Ordinarily I comprehend Michael’s taste, or some of it.  Why is FUZZY KNIGHT AND HIS LITTLE PIANO appearing on JAZZ LIVES?  Are we going to be told that the Dorsey Brothers are hidden in the backing orchestra?”

Maybe they are, but that’s not the point.

This short subject is evidence to me of the cross-fertilization of hot music with more sedate forms of art by 1928. Whether Fuzzy was influenced by scat choruses on hot recordings — the Rhythm Boys or Louis Armstrong — I can’t say.  (But in your mind, put Fuzzy near to Eddie Condon in the 1929 Red Nichols short, and you’ll see the resemblance — not influence, but something more tenuous.)

He seems to be operating on his own energetic impulses, while pretending to be a full band when the mood strikes, and his unaccompanied interludes swing as well as any hot soloist.

To me, the film also says that the people who divide music into “art” (serious) and “showmanship” (low and banal) might be in error. Fuzzy Knight didn’t make Fats Waller possible, but some of the same riotous feeling is there, however transmuted.

Ultimately, the film delights me. May it please you, too.

I find it sad that John Forrest Knight is buried in an unmarked grave. But no one this lively and memorably himself as Fuzzy Knight, with or without his Little Piano, is ever dead.

May your happiness increase!

ESCAPING THE BOX

William Carlos Williams: “Forcing twentieth-century America into a sonnet—gosh, how I hate sonnets—is like putting a crab into a square box. You’ve got to cut his legs off to make him fit. When you get through, you don’t have a crab any more.”

Robert Frost: “Writing free verse is like playing tennis with the net down.”

Younger, I would have sided with Frost: too much freedom leads to chaos. But I celebrate Williams’ position (even though his metaphor makes me wince) more as I age, feel, and listen.  Tidiness is a wonderful thing in the kitchen cabinets, but it might lead to the slow death of creative improvising.

In that spirit, I present the latest works of saxophonist / composer / historian / scholar / seeker Allen Lowe, a four-CD set of original compositions with one exception, a spoken-word piece by the novelist Rick Moody.

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JAZZ LIVES readers will be familiar with many of the names on that cover; others will provide engaging and sometimes quizzical surprises in listening and emotion.

Lowe’s works don’t seek to present snapshots of particular eras; they don’t offer “styles or schools.” Rather, his imaginations are intense, deep, yet unfettered. FIELD RECORDINGS, Lowe says in his liner notes, grew out of an argument he had with Wnton Marsalis — during Lowe’s attempt to interview Marsalis.  Disagreeing about “minstrelsy,” Marsalis characterized Lowe — in Lowe’s words — as “merely another in a long line of deluded white academics.”

Lowe spent the next six years immersing himself in “early entertainments of every racial persuasion,” which led him to compositions — song forms — that reflected what he had heard and experienced.  He also plays and improvises on many of these performances heard in this CD set.  More details here.

Lowe writes, “There is a tradition in certain kinds of writing in which the writer takes past works and puts them to his own use for very specific philosophical and artistic reasons. Brecht called this copien, as in the use of older texts as a means to something new and different, as a method from which to challenge prior ideas and forms. This project was done in exactly this spirit, as a way of altering certain received ideas of popular and jazz song. It is also a challenge to certain formal and intellectual assumptions.”

I haven’t heard more than one quarter of the set, but found the music so inspiring that I wanted to spread the word about it.   The performances weren’t always easy to listen to — Lowe, as composer and player, doesn’t shy away from improvisation’s rough edges, but he doesn’t run into harshness for its own sake.

What I appreciate most about the music — I was listening both with and without the benefit of Lowe’s commentaries — was its depth of feeling and innate ability to surprise.  The surprises weren’t ones I could predict (I know that sounds like an illogical paradox, but listening to many of the great musicians, I feel I know “where (s)he might be going” in the next chorus).

Rather, I felt the ground shifting under me in the best sense of the metaphor. Over and over, I felt beautifully startled, gently lifted out of my expectations and planted somewhere else, experiencing the sounds from a different perspective.  Each voyage was a fascinating series of what Emerson calls “zig-zag tacks.”  I heard echoes of New Orleans polyphony and street parade, dark unrequited blues, ensemble questing that echoed Mingus and freer improvsations, with searching, winding melodic lines, unpredictable harmonies that felt good as soon as they found my ears.

Language has a hard time describing music in the best of circumstances, and words are particularly inadequate here. One must be a creative listener to feel Lowe’s many musics, but they are well worth the investigation.  He is honest, inquiring, and sly — as is his work on these four CDs.  But beware!  This set is not ear-cushioning, to be listened to in conjunction with household chores, nor is it meant to be heard as one hears some discs: seventy-five minutes of supple protection from the world.  I predict that the listener wise and brave enough to purchase the FIELD RECORDINGS will approach the music as one does a new book of poems: a poem or two at a time, rather than as an artistic devouring of it all.

As a measure of the breadth and often witty depths of Lowe’s imagination, I would list some of the names he calls in his notes and compositions: Bunk Johnson, Tony Jackson, Roswell Rudd, Ernest Hogan, Mantan Moreland, Willie “the Lion” Smith, Lennie Tristano, James Reese Europe, Wilbur Sweatman, Thelonious Monk, Zora Neale Hurston, Jelly Roll Morton, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Varese, Dave Schildkraut, Bud Powell, W.E.B. DuBois, Frank Melrose, Paul Whiteman, Bill Challis, Harry Barris, George Bacquet, Harriet Beecher Stowe, James P. Johnson, Albert Ayler, Ran Blake, Henry Mancini, Sun Ra, Mezz Mezzrow, Pete Daily, Allen Tate, Robert Lowell, Bill Triglia, George Gershwin, Frank Teschemacher, Jess Stacy, Bix Beiderbecke, Arizona Dranes, Bert Williams, George Wheeler, Barbara Payne, Clyde Bernhardt, Ma Rainey, Anthony Braxton, Joe Jordan, Jaki Byard, Fess Manetta, Lester Young, Duke Ellington . . . and more.

The curious — and I hope there are many — will listen to samples here and then plunge in — this set costs less than two CDs and is wonderfully lively. You can also learn more at Allen’s website and blog (called EVERYTHING ELSE IS POST MODERNISM) — where Frankie “Half-Pint” Jaxon and Norman Mailer, compelled to share a subway seat, eye each other with suspicion.

I admire Allen Lowe’s courage, range, and audacities. The music is often, on first hearing, “weird,” but that’s a compliment. A little weirdness is like good seasoning: so much missed in the music we are sold, so richly enhancing in the right proportions.

And to return to the austere Robert Frost.  My letter to him, unsent and unread, is as follows:Dear Mr. Frost. If you removed the net, you might not have tennis, but you certainly would have an engaging dance.”

May your happiness increase!

“IN A SLEEPY LITTLE VILLAGE”: NORVO, MOLL, BAILEY 1932

I thought I knew a good deal about Mildred Bailey and Red Norvo — the records and sheet music (copies of IT’S SO PEACEFUL IN THE COUNTRY, ‘LEVEN POUNDS OF HEAVEN, WHEN IT’S SLEEPY TIME DOWN SOUTH, and — less frequently — ROCKIN’ CHAIR).  But this one, from 1932, is new to me.  And that the sheet music heralds it as MILDRED BAILEY’S THEME SONG is even more of a surprise, especially since I thought that Mildred had adopted Hoagy Carmichael’s ROCKIN’ CHAIR as hers before 1932.  Was there a brief Bailey – Carmichael rift?

MILDRED == IN A SLEEPY LITTLE VILLAGE 1932

Billy Moll is almost forgotten today, but he was part of three remarkable compositions: ICE CREAM, WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS, and I WANT A LITTLE GIRL.  Mildred was Al Rinker’s sister; Rinker, Barris, and a fellow named Crosby were friends and musical partners in the Rhythm Boys — thus the trail might lead back to a Rinker – Bailey – Crosby connection by way of WRAP YOUR TROUBLES.

And here’s what I could find online — from the index to the sheet music collection of the Indiana State University Library.  The first line of the verse is: “Shadows creep to end a lonely day, and soon the stars appear above. . . .and the chorus begins, “In a sleepy little village, let me lay me down to sleep again.”

But somehow I think this song wasn’t a huge hit.  Did anyone else record it?  Or did Mildred say, “Hey, hands off!  This is my [possibly soporific] theme song!  Get your own sleepy little village!”?

May your happiness increase.