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!