Tag Archives: J. Russel Robinson

“WHAT ARE THIS BLISS?”

The music you will hear below is is my new favorite experience.  Because of it, I want to go back to 1932 and (respectfully) hug Marion Harris (so stylish, above) or at least invite her to dine, although my implausible devotion keeps on being interrupted by laughter.  Please put down what you are doing and join me for three minutes and thirteen seconds:

I don’t know if I love this performance more because of its deadpan wackiness — which is to say, Ms. Harris’ complete sweet sincerity, making the verbal jokes more perilously hilarious — or is it because I taught college English for more than forty years to young men and women who blithely could say “Him and me”?  Or is it the combination of those two elements?  I also feel that Ms. Harris’ seriousness is truly adult: this is not baby-talk in a child’s voice (think of Dot Dare and Helen Kane and others of the time).  I believe her completely, down to her sigh after the word “kiss,” even though, were she a student, I would have commended the sincerity of her ideas while walking her through the doors of the Writing Center for an extended stay.

Another wonderful aspect of this recording is its thoughtful, delicate tempo: other recordings I’ve heard, thanks to YouTube, take this song as a fairly quick one-step, emphasizing its comedy.  The one film version, where ingenue Pat Paterson sings it in a 1934 Spencer Tracy Film, BOTTOMS UP, also presents it as a comic turn.  Ms. Harris’s slower tempo permits the song to exist simultaneously as a love ballad where the singer is discovering these new emotions and as a verbal tour-de-force.

What I do know about this recording is, as we say, not much.  Ms. Harris recorded the then-current pop song (music by J. Russel Robinson, lyrics by Mercer Cook) in May 1932 in England.  No reference work on my shelves says anything about this dear recording — it’s not “jazz” enough for the chroniclers — so I know nothing about Ms. Harris’ accompanists, except my ears tell me that the unidentified guitarist has learned his Eddie Lang deeply and well.

But this just in!  Informed evidence from the masterful guitarist Martin Wheatley:

As to the guitarist, I would say the most likely candidate is Len Fillis. Albert Harris and Ivor Mairants would have been contenders had the record been made a few years later. Even so Fillis would be favourite. In addition, the pianist sounds to me rather like Sid Bright, Fillis’ regular partner-in-crime. And in addition to that I found that Fillis recorded with Marton Harris in London on 2nd June that same year – Spring Is Here Again. It all points in one direction ! 

And, not incidentally, I think these lyrics would be fiendishly difficult to memorize and to perform without a piece of paper to glance at: the reasonably-literate singer would want to supply grammatically correct alternatives: think of Jo Stafford singing off-key and out-of-time as “Darlene Edwards.”

I would give a great deal to have been present at the collaboration of Robinson and Cook.  Did either of them suggest, “Am I In Love? I Am,” and then find out how little relevant rhymes with “am,” and propose this comic alternative?

As for I, I is smitten.

So I will listen again.  And if someone thinks, “Michael made this all up,” here’s empirical proof.  Another sheet music cover has Ethel Shutta prominently featured, and more than a half-dozen other recordings by American and British bands and vocalists are on YouTube.  But none so nice:

And that often overlooked but invaluable resource, the Internet Archive, presents 29 recordings by Ms. Harris — her complete electrical recordings from 1925-1934, with a less filtered copy of IS I IN LOVE? — here.  Treasures.

May your happiness increase!

MOLLY RYAN: “SWING FOR YOUR SUPPER”

When I first heard Molly Ryan sing, I thought, “That girl has such a beautiful voice!”  But she has more that that — innate connections to the music, to feeling, and to swing.  She knows what the records sound like, but she doesn’t imitate them: the music comes out of her essential self.

All of these lovely tendencies, fully realized, reverberate through her new CD, SWING FOR YOUR SUPPER! (with its very apropos exclamation point).

MOLLY RYAN

But first.  Something lovely for the ears: SAY IT WITH A KISS, sung so prettily by Molly, accompanied by husband Dan Levinson, clarinet; Mark Shane, piano; Connie Jones, cornet — recorded Sept. 4, 2011, at the Sweet and Hot Music Festival:

The good news about SWING FOR YOUR SUPPER! is that it is a new Molly Ryan – and Friends of the First Rank – CD.  That should be enough for anyone.

The even better news is that it is carefully thought out in every possible way, from the cheerful photos that adorn it, to the exuberant liner notes by Will Friedwald, to the varied and rewarding song choices, to the hot band and the Lady Friends who join in.

If there’s a way it could have been improved, it is beyond me to imagine it.

And all the careful planning hasn’t constricted the result — some CDs are so precise, so cautious, that they are audibly lifeless: morgue-music.  SWING FOR YOUR SUPPER! is beautifully planned but all the planning gives the musicians room to swing out, to do what they do so beautifully, to be their own precious selves as individuals and as a supportive community of swing pals.

The pals are — from the top — husband Dan Levinson, reeds, arrangements, and a vocal; Dan Barrett, trombone, arrangements; Randy Reinhart, cornet; Chris Flory and Bucky Pizzarelli, guitar; Mark Shane, piano; Vince Giordano, bass; Kevin Dorn, drums.  And Molly is joined by vocal swing stars Banu Gibson and Maude Maggart for one third of the eighteen tracks, more than once forming a divinely varied and subtle vocal trio.

And where some well-meant CDs bog down in a narrow or restrictive repertoire (seventy-five minutes of the same thing can get tiring quickly) this one bounces from surprise to surprise, evidence of Molly’s deep knowledge of and enthusiasm for the best music from all kinds of corners.  Here are a few of the composers: Harry Warren, Richard Whiting, Cole Porter, J. Russel Robinson, Ben Oakland, Richard Rodgers, Bronislaw Kaper, Eubie Blake, B.G. DeSylva, Jerome Kern, Victor Young — and HUSHABYE MOUNTAIN from the Sherman brothers’ 1968 film CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG, no less.

You can purchase SWING FOR YOUR SUPPER here, or (better yet) you can find Molly at a live gig and ask her to sign one for you, which she will do gladly. To keep up with her musical adventures, click here.

She’s the real thing.  But you knew that already.

May your happiness increase!