Tag Archives: Harry Woods

ROMANTICALLY YOURS, THOMAS “FATS” WALLER

The legend that’s continued after Fats Waller’s untimely death is that he was marvelously creative but also an outlandish clown, especially when given poor material to record, undermining it with mocking asides and jokes.  But I treasure those times when he respected the song and showed us what a tender singer he was.  The performances below aren’t comic or anarchic; there are no uptempo stride extravaganzas.  But gentle feeling shines through every note.

FAIR AND SQUARE is a song I came to love through performances by Lueder Ohlwein of the Sunset Music Company, a whole rhythm section and glorious singer on his own.  The composer credits are usually given to Andy Razaf and Leo Robin, although one HMV record label assigns the song to Harry Woods, I think in error:

I first heard this very sweet song because of Melissa Collard’s 2004 memorable recording.  But Fats did it first:

This performance sounds as if Fats is going to launch into hilarious mockery, but he doesn’t.  The songwriters Charlie Tobias and Sammy Fain knew how to transform cliches.  Wait for the lovely piano coda:

Here, also, Fats trembles on the edge of amusement, but chooses to focus on the song’s essential sadness:

Lovely music and lovely sentiments from Thomas Waller.

May your happiness increase!

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TWO NEGATIVE STATEMENTS, TAKEN TOGETHER, MAKE A POSITIVE ONE (November 27, 2016)

ill-never-say-never-again-again

Two negative statements can make a positive one.  Oh, how very positive.  The song here is the nearly-impossible to sing I’LL NEVER SAY “NEVER AGAIN” AGAIN, by the one and only Harry Woods, and for most of us immortalized by Henry “Red” Allen or Connee Boswell when the song was new.  (Benny Goodman featured it in the Sixties, and in our time there’s a delectable version by Rebecca Kilgore.)

The narrative premise of the song (no doubt arising from the wordplay of the title) is that a couple has had some disagreement — what people used to call “a spat” or “a fight,” and the singer is now repentant, swearing endless high fidelity, which is always a nice concept.

But what we have here isn’t a matter for couples counseling or an exploration into the archives of recorded sound. Rather, it is a sweetly frolicsome duet — I think of Earl and Louis in the wings, grinning — between two of the masters, Ray Skjelbred at the piano and Marc Caparone on cornet — at the San Diego Jazz Fest on November 27, 2016:

This performance is dedicated to all those wise enough to kiss and make up.

May your happiness increase!

LOUIS’ VICTORIAN ERA

No, not the steely Queen or Julia Cameron’s photographs.  This man.

LOUIS and ALPHA and dog

Some people celebrated yesterday (August 4) as Louis Armstrong’s “real” birthday.  I disagree, but choose to stay away from such disputes.  To me, every day we can think about or hear or see Louis is a collective cosmic birthday.

People who are drawn to Louis — magnetically, but his spiritual warmth — often gravitate to particular periods: the Hot Fives and Sevens, the later period — whether you define that as JACK-ARMSTRONG BLUES, WHEN YOU WISH UPON A STAR, or WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD.  Thanks to Gosta Hagglof, Ricky Riccardi, Dan Morgenstern, and Mosaic Records, we’ve had the opportunity to rediscover the Decca classics of the Thirties and the All-Star gems.

But there’s a particularly rewarding period of Louis’ recordings that has been almost overlooked — the Victors of 1932-33.  Those who live to find fault have found plenty with the backing band — although they are at worst uneven, with beautiful solo episodes from Keg Johnson, Teddy Wilson, Budd Johnson, and the earliest recorded evidence of Louis and Sidney Catlett working together in deep harmony.  If one drops one’s prejudices, the material is also excellent — songs by Fats Waller, Tony Jackson, and the immortal Harry Woods.

And Louis is in spectacular form, playing the melody with all his heart, singing earnestly (and often with delightful floating levity), and improvising so very memorably.  Listen to what he does on the middle-eight / bridges / channels, as if he had decided earthly boundaries didn’t matter, and he could just lie back in the upper atmosphere no matter how fast the band was playing.  Some contemporary brass players — I think of Rex Stewart — took it as a stylistic point of honor to play more notes per bar as the tempo increased; Louis lazed over the pounding rhythms, as if he were a giant cat awaking from a splendid nap.

Spousal commitment of the highest order:

Friends don’t pass you by:

Revenge, served hot yet sweet:

May your happiness increase!

MS. KORN EXCLAIMS! (MICHAEL COLEMAN, ROB ADKINS: Casa Mezcal, December 14, 2014)

It’s nice to see someone get all excited about something positive, to have vivid energy flow through . . . directly to us.

I’ve never seen Tamar Korn give a dull or routine performance: she allies herself with the song, and if the material is jubilant, she rides the emotions as energetically as she can.

This was the closing song of a long and delightful afternoon gig at Casa Mezcal on Orchard Street in New York City, where jazz flourishes on Sundays from 1-4. Tamar’s colleagues were pianist Michael Coleman and string bassist Rob Adkins, and they played marvelously throughout the afternoon.  But for this closing number, I decided to take a chance and zero in on the most emotive Ms. Korn.  I believe that Michael and Rob will forgive me for being left out of the shot — you can still hear them splendidly.

I also think you will agree that her rendition of WHAT A LITTLE MOONLIGHT CAN DO — that 1935 Harry Woods number lit from within by Billie Holiday — is a superb expression of their enthusiastic joy:

There will be more videos from that gig . . . and I hope to visit Casa Mezcal often when I return to New York.  You should visit it now . . . And if you would like to know about Tamar’s upcoming gigs, I suggest you click the-first-kind-of-music/ and thank David S. Isenberg.  You’ll understand why.

May your happiness increase!

FOR AL and ZOOT — by HARRY and DAN (at CHAUTAUQUA 2010)

I saw Al Cohn and Zoot Sims play only twice.  Once was at Town Hall in 1969, where they were part of a stellar bill arranged by the late Dick Gibson.  The other occasion was at the last “Eddie Condon’s” on a Sunday night in 1976, and was of course tremendously impressed by their neat and joyous intertwinings, but I was most impressed when they slowed down enough to play Gary McFarland’s BLUE HODGE.  (And, yes, somewhere I still have my cassette tape of that hour-plus of music at Condon’s!)

When modern tenor players honor the late Messrs. Sims and Cohn, they often opt for the romps — THE RED DOOR, MOTORING ALONG, and others.  Harry Allen and Dan Block, appearing at Chautauqua this last September 19, did play YOU ‘N’ ME (the Cohn-Sims line on TEA FOR TWO) but they also luxuriated in two ballads — which were a high point.  Dan led off with TRY A LITTLE TENDERNESS (created by the sometimes-untender Harry Woods) and Harry followed with CRY ME A RIVER:

And then they tumbled over each other like kittens in YOU ‘ N’ ME:

Sterling platying, as well, by Mike Greensill, piano; Gene Bertoncini, guitar; Frank Tate, bass; Pete Siers, drums.

“TINKLE TIME,” EXPLAINED

tinkelsong1009Readers may recall my post about this Harry Woods song — the sheet music a recent eBay purchase whose cover has Bobby Hackett looking solemn.  The music itself came today (the melody is truly dumb) and I now understand Hackett’s expression, the face of a man wishing to be far from this song. 

Maestro!  Let’s all sing!  

(Verse)

Look at me, look at you, Here we are, feeling fine, There’s no rhyme or reason to be this way.  There’s a place that I know, Where all happy people go, Wait’ll you hear them singing, You’ll laugh when you hear them say,

(Chorus)

All night long the glasses tinkle, While outside the raindrops sprinkle,

Do you think a little drink’ll do us any harm?

I love you and you love me, The world is flat and so are we,

So do you think a little drink’ll do us any harm?

In a corner just for two, a sparkling glass before us,

With a spoon we’ll play a tune then all join in the chorus,

All night long the glasses tinkle, While outside the raindrops sprinkle,

Do you think a little drink’ll do us any harm?

Now . . . rhyming “tinkle” and “drink’ll” isn’t Larry Hart.  I can find “The world is flat and so are we,” funny, but it takes effort. 

Here’s the COMPOSER’S NOTE, which takes up the inside front cover.  Crucial!

To get the most out of this song, it is important to obtain the “Tinkle” effect while performing or playing this number.  It will not only brighten the distinctiveness of the song but will also prove to be highly entertaining.  Place two glasses (or liquid receptacles) on the table a few inches apart.  Tap with a glass mixer (kinfe, fork, spoon or muddler) keeping time from one to the other — one tap for each note — keeping time with the music.  This gives the “Tinkle” effect.

Did the Hackett band take up their liquid receptacles and tinkle away?  The mind reels.  This goofy song makes an ounce more sense when you realize that it dates from 1931 — intended for people drunk on bootleg liquor.  But “Poor Bobby!” is what I think.

BOBBY HACKETT, 1939

I paid a visit to eBay not long ago to search for my usual favorites, among them Bobby Hackett.  The expected records and compact discs were all there, but this was new:

tinkelsong1009

Stops you cold, doesn’t it?

Reader, I bid on it.  And now it’s MINE!  (Awaiting delivery, mind you, but I am a patient fellow.)  I could ruminate here about the practice of musicians, singers, and vaudevillians paying to have their portraits put on the covers of sheet music, and wonder if Feist paid Hackett or Hackett actually agreed to have his big band play THE TINKLE SONG in hopes that it would be a hit.  Harry Woods (of TRY A LITTLE TENDERNESS and many others) had been successful, although THE TINKLE SONG seems to have perished without so much as a . . . trace.  On that subject, Paul Riseman, seller-extraordinaire of sheet music, has offered a copy of STAIRWAY TO THE STARS, presumably the same vintage, with the same youthful Hackett photograph, and I once saw a sheet of the song LITTLE SKIPPER with the same photo. Aside from STAIRWAY, the other two songs offer sad evidence of just how low the Hackett band was in the eyes of song-pluggers, don’t they? 

I will report on the lyrical-musical content of the song when I get the sheet music and peruse the lyrics.