Tag Archives: Jeepers Creepers

“FESTINA LENTE”: RAY SKJELBRED, CLINT BAKER, RILEY BAKER at BIRD and BECKETT (July 11, 2019)

σπεῦδε βραδέως.  “Make haste slowly.” 

Yes, this post begins with classical Greek and a photograph of Louis Armstrong singing to a horse — all relevant to the performances below, recorded just ten days ago at the remarkable cultural shrine of San Francisco, Bird and Beckett Books and Records (653 Chenery Street).  Thanks, as always, to the faithful Rae Ann Berry for documenting this facet of Ray Skjelbred’s California tour.

As bands play familiar repertoire over the decades, tempos speed up.  Perhaps it’s to stimulate the audience; perhaps it’s a yearning to show off virtuosity . . . there are certainly other reasons, conscious as well as unexamined, that are part of this phenomenon.  But Medium Tempo remains a lush meadow for musicians to stroll in, and it’s always pleasing to me when they count off a familiar song at a groovy slower-than-expected tempo.  I present two particularly gratifying examples, created by Ray Skjelbred, piano; Clint Baker, trumpet; Riley Baker, drums.  Here, JEEPERS CREEPERS is taken at the Vic Dickenson Showcase tempo, or near to it, reminding us that it’s a love song, even if sung to a horse:

and a nice slow drag for AFTER YOU’VE GONE, in keeping with the lyrics:

I don’t know how many people have seen the film clip below from the 1938 Bing Crosby film GOING PLACES, where Louis Armstrong introduced the Harry Warren – Johnny Mercer song JEEPERS CREEPERS.  (There is a brief interruption in the video: the music will resume.)

For the full story of Louis, the horse (a mean one), and the movie, you’ll have to wait for Ricky Riccardi’s splendid book on Louis’s “middle years,” 1929-47, HEART FULL OF RHYTHM.  For now, who knows the uncredited rhythm section on this clip?. I imagine it to be Joe Sullivan and Bobby Sherwood, but that may be a fantasy, one I happily indulge myself in.

And what Eric Whittington makes happen at Bird and Beckett Books is no fantasy: he deserves our heartfelt thanks, whether in classical Greek or the San Francisco demotic of 2019.

May your happiness increase!

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JEEPERS CREEPERS (1938)

jeepers-creepersHere’s two minutes of Louis Armstrong in shining form, in the 1938 film “Going Places.”  I will brush aside the obvious objections, that Louis, dressed as a groom, sings and plays to a horse; his music is interrupted and nearly obscured by foolish dialogue and shots of that same horse whinnying; the synchronization of music and image is faulty at times.

Louis loved JEEPERS CREEPERS and performed it until the end of his life, always buoyantly, and this version allows him a full instrumental chorus with no accompaniment, then, when he starts to sing, the studio orchestra’s backing is both simple and sympathetic — piano, bass, and guitar, reminiscent of Joe Sullivan and Bobby Sherwood on Bing Crosby’s MOONBURN.  Catch the wonderful rubato turn as Louis slows down the end of the verse, eyes aglow, before joyously entering the chorus.  Lucky horse, lucky us.

(A postscript: when I had finished writing this post, I did as many bloggers do — went to Google Images to find some visual representation of the Harry Warren – Johnny Mercer song whose goofy lyrics Louis renders so cheerfully.  The first seventeen pages of Google Images for “Jeepers Creepers,” top left, are devoted to stills from a horror movie of the same name.  We live in interesting times to be sure.)

HAVING THE TIME OF HIS LIFE

Who else could it be?  Louis, obviously delighting in the rocking propulsion of saxophonist Max Greger’s big band, enjoying himself on German television.  Although the routines Louis created with the All-Stars made him extremely comfortable, he outdid himself when fronting a first-class big band.

I saw it happen on American television — perhaps the Merv Griffin Show, circa 1970, when he did “What A Wonderful World” before the commercial break, and came back to perform a truly exultant “Jeepers Creepers” afterward — in front of a studio band full of jazz players (Jimmy Cleveland and Bill Berry among them).  I hope someone finds that clip, which begins with the band warming up after the break, Louis telling them, “That’s the scales! The fish will come later!”