Tag Archives: Johnny Burke

HER TENDER MAGIC: BECKY KILGORE and FRIENDS (Jazz at Chautauqua, Sept. 21-22, 2012)

Archaeologists always exult over their discoveries — a bone-handled spoon, a bird-skeleton.  Wonderful, I guess.  But when I go back into my YouTube archives, I come up with Rebecca Kilgore and friends touching our hearts.  I’ll trade that for any noseless bust or porcelain ornament.

So very touching: featuring one of the greatest singers I know in a September 21st late-night set with Duke Heitger’s Swing Band at Jazz at Chautauqua: the other members of the Band are Dan Barrett, trombone; Dan Block, alto saxophone; Scott Robinson, tenor saxophone; Mike Greensill, piano; Howard Alden, guitar; Kerry Lewis, string bass; Bill Ransom, drums:

And the next night, Becky sent the Fellows off so that she and Keith Ingham could perform IT’S ALWAYS YOU, a 1941 Jimmy Van Heusen – Johnny Burke song from THE ROAD TO ZANZIBAR, song — of course — by Mr. Crosby to Ms. Lamour:

Such lovely sounds — beyond compare for knowing sweetness.

May your happiness increase!

EVERYONE’S LOOKING OUT FOR YOU, SAY MESSRS. BURKE and SPINA

Imagine a community where people are concerned about your happiness in the most affectionate ways.  Today, with smartphone-induced isolation the norm, that world full of solicitous people seems like a dream.  I don’t know if it was truly possible in the middle Thirties, although I think of Wilder’s OUR TOWN, but a charming pop song came out of that vision: one of those simple but memorable melodies with witty sweet lyrics (“who prints / blueprints” is very clever).  As you see below, music by Harold Spina and words by Johnny Burke.

I would have liked to hear Miss Etting sing this.  But we have, instead, a sweet version with the verse (as sung by Kay Weber, Ray Eberle, and the Dorsey Trio — backed by the Dorsey Brothers Orchestra, the emphatically swinging Ray McKinley — echoing Stan King’s accents — moving it all along):

And here’s the masterful version I heard some decades ago and still love.  This song obviously appealed to Fats, who keeps referring to the bridal march, and the last sixteen bars are a model of great delicate swing:

Here is the only “modern” version that — to me — can follow Fats (Rebecca Kilgore, Chris Dawson, Hal Smith, and Bobby Gordon):

Some readers may wish to point out more recent versions by McCartney and Clapton.  Thanks, but no thanks.  But if you want to muse on the vagaries of pop music, listen — if you can — to the versions by Johnny Angel and Joy and Dave, found on YouTube.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you.  And thank the milkman if you’re up early.

May your happiness increase!

GETTING SENTIMENTAL WITH JANICE DAY (November 8, 2015)

JANICE DAY

One of the real pleasures of the 2014 and 2015 Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party is getting to hear the delightful song stylist Janice Day at length.  She has her own style, and that’s a very good thing: a kind of delicate intensity that harks back to the girlish singers of the Twenties without being a copy of their most recognizable gestures.  She’s instantly appealing — without trying too hard.

Here’s a sweet vignette from this year’s Party — with Janice in front of a small band: solos by Matthias Seuffert and Duke Heitger, over a rhythm section of Keith Nichols, Henry Lemaire, Richard Pite, and Nicholas Ball.  The song is a 1938 pop hit by Johnny Burke and James V. Monaco, who wrote consistently for Bing Crosby’s films, ON THE SENTIMENTAL SIDE:

ON THE SENTIMENTAL SIDE

I think that Billie Holiday’s version has made the deepest impression, but for a song to have been recorded by Bing, Billie, and Louis (his version at a much brisker tempo) in the same year says something about its tender qualities. Here’s Janice’s sweet exploration — under three minutes, but she gets her sentimental message across with ease and clarity.  Beneath the glamour, there’s a deeply engaging artist:

I will be sharing more of Janice’s music in the weeks to come — but you can also visit her Facebook page and the website devoted to her collaborations with the wonderful pianist Martin Litton, here.  On that site, you can see a number of charming videos of Janice and Martin in performance — several of which I was fortunate enough to record.  More to come!

May your happiness increase!

DAWN LAMBETH: MOONBEAMS AT MONTEREY

Polka

POLKA DOTS AND MOONBEAMS, by Johnny Burke and Jimmy Van Heusen, was Frank Sinatra’s first big hit record.

Although the lyrics take odd turns — initially one stumbles over the idea of a “pug-nosed dream” as the brand-new Love Object, it remains an endearing song.  Lester Young, Clifford Brown, Paul Desmond, Glenn Miller, and Wes Montgomery recorded it, among others.

The song seemed especially endearing this past March when Dawn Lambeth sang it during a Van Heusen tribute set at Dixieland Monterey / Jazz Bash by the Bay, accompanied by Yve Evans and friends.

One of my favorite singers, Dawn is a sophisticated artist who manages to make the dream-castles she creates seem real, withour straining.  Easy and casual; she summons up deep emotions without feeling the need to act them out.  A performance by Dawn lingers in the memory with sweet swing.  Her song winds its way into our hearts.

Incidentally, the song has a verse that no one sings — a very brief prelude to introduce the story of love found in a garden:

Would you care to hear the strangest story? / At least it may seem strange to you. / If you saw it in a moving picture / You would say it couldn’t be true.  

But Dawn makes it perfectly true.

May your happiness increase! 

SERENE EARTHLY MUSIC: REBECCA KILGORE and KEITH INGHAM at JAZZ at CHAUTAUQUA (Sept. 22, 2012)

For me, this was one of the high points of the long jubilant weekend that was the 2012 Jazz at Chautauqua — the duet of Rebecca Kilgore and Keith Ingham on the Jimmy Van Heusen – Johnny Burke song, IT’S ALWAYS YOU.

Keith’s sweet harmonies, his rhythmic steadiness, his intuitive sense of the right notes — he is a brilliant accompanist — go so well alongside Rebecca’s convincing underacting, her gentle sincerity, her creamy tone and delicate rubatos.

And, like all great art, it looks easier than it really is.

Thank you, Keith and Rebecca.  This gracious fervent music touches the heart.

May your happiness increase.

WARM YET COOL: BOB REITMEIER and KEITH INGHAM at JAZZ AT CHAUTAUQUA (September 21, 2012)

I had never seen these two singular musicians in duet before, but this set at the 2012 Jazz at Chautauqua was a highlight: clarinetist Bob Reitmeier bringing his own cool clear-toned lyricism alongside Keith Ingham’s more impassioned orchestral creations, rocking or pensive.

Berlin’s PUTTIN’ ON THE RITZ, which summons up Fred Astaire:

The Carmichael-Mercer SAY IT WITH A KISS, evoking Maxine, Billie, Teddy, and Bobby Hackett:

Bing and Bob, anyone?  Here’s the Burke-Van Heusen THE ROAD TO MOROCCO:

The Carmichael-Loesser HEART AND SOUL (explored fully this time):

Memories of Louis, Dizzy, and a Benny Goodman Camel Caravan before Charlie Christian burst on the scene — UMBRELLA MAN:

The Gershwins’ STRIKE UP THE BAND:

There’s a good deal of summer’s-not-over frolic here, but with an awareness that the leaves are starting to turn.  And I can look out my window and see the trees weighed down by a November mini-blizzard; I suggest we turn away from the Weather Channel and find our comfort and elation in the beautiful music.

May your happiness increase.

MORE CONVERSATIONS: HARRY ALLEN and ROSSANO SPORTIELLO at SMALLS (April 12, 2012)

It was a CD release party — and the CD, a series of duets devoted to the songs for which Johnny Burke wrote the lyrics, is called CONVERSATIONS:

But the conversations weren’t going on among the audience — they were appropriately reverent — nor were they restricted to the round piece of plastic in the sleeve above.  No, tenorist Harry and pianist Rossano were exchanging ideas, sweet and swinging, at the highest artistic and emotional level.

Here’s the second set:

The Rodgers and Hart THIS CAN’T BE LOVE, not too fast:

A wondrous reading of BUT BEAUTIFUL:

In praise of couplehood!  JUST YOU, JUST ME:

A high point of the evening for me — one of those performances that stays in the heart — SOME OTHER SPRING, both melancholy and serene:

A BLUES that summoned up Basie and Dave McKenna, Ben, Zoot, and Al:

And — to close — a positively exuberant RUNNIN’ WILD:

About that CD.

The best way (as I write this) to purchase a copy of the CD is to encounter Harry or Rossano on a gig — pleasure redoubled.  But it’s now also available at iTunes and CD Baby — click here — or, contact Harry here or Rossano there and either gentleman will find a way to get a copy to you.  It is worth it, I assure you.

P.S.  Starting on Friday, April 20, 2012, I will be watching and hearing Harry and Rossano and two dozen other jazz masters play and sing at the Atlanta Jazz Party . . . hope to meet some of my readers there!

May your happiness increase.

CONVERSATIONS: HARRY ALLEN and ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, PART ONE (Smalls, April 12, 2012)

Great conversationalists have something memorable to tell us; they know how to be still; they listen deeply; they encourage everyone around them.

Musically, Harry Allen (tenor sax) and Rossano Sportiello (piano) are exemplary models of this art, and they proved it beautifully on April 12, 2012, in two sets at Smalls Jazz Club (183 West Tenth Street, Greenwich Village, New York City).

The occasion was a CD release party in honor of the Allen-Sportiello duo — a tribute to lyricist Johnny Burke, a great friend of Harry’s father, and the man who contributed so much to American popular song.  Think of PENNIES FROM HEAVEN, IT COULD HAPPEN TO YOU, SWINGIN’ ON A STAR, MOONLIGHT BECOMES YOU, OH YOU CRAZY MOON, LIKE SOMEONE IN LOVE, WHAT’S NEW, and IMAGINATION among others . . . ask anyone about those songs, and the person will not only hum the melody but start to sing Burke’s words.  (And if you need more evidence, two fellows named Crosby and Sinatra made Burke’s words their own.)

More about the CD — which is called CONVERSATIONS — at the end of this posting.  For now, here is the first set — music so sweetly intimate, so wonderfully realized, that we could only watch and marvel at these two artists with so much to say and such grace in expressing it.

PENNIES FROM HEAVEN:

DID YOU CALL HER TODAY? — a Ben Webster line on the chord changes of IN A MELLOTONE, which was based on ROSE ROOM . . . but it’s all Harry and Rossano here:

And the yearning question, WHAT’S NEW?:

LIKE SOMEONE IN LOVE:

A romping DIAMONDS ARE A GIRL’S BEST FRIEND (with hilarious lyrics by Leo Robin):

A poetic IMAGINATION:

IT COULD HAPPEN TO YOU:

That was the first set.  More to come!

The duo CD is called CONVERSATIONS.  It’s beautifully recorded and the program is varied — with two “new” songs, both memorable: I WISH YOU NEEDED ME and IF LOVE AIN’T THERE — as well as very touching liner notes by Mister Allen himself.

The best way (as I write this) to purchase a copy of the CD is to encounter Harry or Rossano on a gig — pleasure redoubled.  But it’s now also available at iTunes and CD Baby — click here — or, contact Harry here or Rossano there and either gentleman will find a way to get a copy to you.  It is worth it, I assure you.

P.S.  Starting on Friday, April 20, 2012, I will be watching and hearing Harry and Rossano and two dozen other jazz masters play and sing at the Atlanta Jazz Party . . . hope to meet some of my readers there!

May your happiness increase.

HARRY ALLEN’S JOYOUS FIRST MONDAYS at FEINSTEIN’S

The good music that the Beloved and I heard and saw on the first Monday in December, 2011, still rings in our ears.  And there’s more to come.

The first Monday night of every month has taken on new significance since Harry Allen and his world-class musical friends (courtesy of Arbors Records) have been appearing at Feinstein’s at Loews Regency in New York City (540 Park Avenue (at 61st Street, 212-339-4095).

The December show was Harry’s Christmas extravaganza — with notable musicians to keep hackneyed tunes at a safe distance.  For those who dread “New York night clubs” because of imagined high prices, the cover charge for Harry’s Monday nights is twenty dollars a person, and it’s a very warm, unstuffy place — comfortable and friendly.  An excellent value: three hours of totally acoustic jazz.

The first set was devoted to Harry’s quartet, with Rossano Sportiello, piano; Joel Forbes, string bass; Chuck Riggs, drums.  Everyone was in superb form, and the program floated from a trotting PEOPLE WILL SAY WE’RE IN LOVE to a deeply yearning OVER THE RAINBOW with Harry’s astonishingly yearning Judy Garland coda.  Then came a faster-than-light WHIRLY BIRD, distinguished by Rossano’s playing,mixing Bud Powell and super-stride.  THE TOUCH OF YOUR LIPS went from romantic to raunchy in only a few minutes, with honors going to Joel Forbes, exploring the mysterious depths of the harmonies, and the set ended with an exuberant tribute to Johnny Burke and Jimmy Van Heusen in IT COULD HAPPEN TO YOU, capped with a Riggs snare-drum solo.  This is a working band, and they were having a fine time.

After a brief break, Harry called some friendly luminaries to the stand for a delightful concert in miniature, adding James Chirillo on acoustic guitar to the original rhythm trio.  Chirillo’s sound (to borrow Whitney Balliett’s words for Freddie Green, “bells and flowers”) was a sweet highlight.  Bob Wilber, in New York for a visit, led off with a medium-tempo OLD-FASHIONED LOVE, beginning with an a cappella reading of the verse, then offered LOVE FOR SALE.  Wilber showed that his incredible tone — on his curved soprano — is still glossy: he didn’t miss a step.

Two brothers-in-swing, Jon-Erik Kellso and Randy Sandke, took Wilber’s place to roam through WINTER WONDERLAND, exchanging epigrams and commentaries in the most affectionate, swinging ways.  A tenor trio of Harry, Dan Block, and Scott Robinson had a delightful romp through BLUES UP AND DOWN, each player displaying his singular approach to the blues, with John Sheridan taking Rossano’s place at the piano.  Trombonists John Allred and Tom Artin thought about holiday travel on LET’S GET AWAY FROM IT ALL, with Allred quoting AIN’T CHA GLAD early in his solo.  Harry gathered the troops for an eight-horn PERDIDO that brought back the Buck Clayton Jam Sessions right in front of us.

The closing set, led by John Sheridan, drew on his most recent Dream Band project — also available on an Arbors Records CD, HOORAY FOR CHRISTMAS — that depicted the many moods of the holiday — adding Becky Kilgore to the top of the tree.  She began with three less-heard celebrations: Don Sebesky’s HOORAY FOR CHRISTMAS, Carroll Coates’ A SONG FOR CHRISTMAS (done as a bossa nova), and a swinging version of Kay Thompson’s THE HOLIDAY SEASON.  Sheridan’s own CHRISTMAS WILL BE A LITTLE LONELY THIS YEAR was a melancholy triumph — the room was hushed and silent, a great tribute.

Becky then called on the masters of holiday music, Irving Berlin and Bing Crosby, for a song originally meant for Thanksgiving but apt all year round, I’VE GOT PLENTY TO BE THANKFUL FOR (her singing so graceful that Scott Robinson stood there, his arms akimbo, admiring every nuance); Scott brought his bass clarinet for a pretty Harry Warren ballad, I KNOW WHY (AND SO DO YOU), which led into an exuberant dismissal, LITTLE JACK FROST GET LOST, and a moody THE DIFFICULT SEASON (an instrumental with touches of the Alec Wilder Octet), and a closing jaunt through SANTA CLAUS IS COMING TO TOWN.

If you weren’t there, there are a few tangible ways to capture part of the delicious music.  One is John Sheridan’s Arbors compact disc HOORAY FOR CHRISTMAS.  Another is a new du0 of Harry Allen and Rossano Sportiello devoted to the music of Johnny Burke, a friend of Harry’s father.  Burke was the lyricist — but he collaborated on some of the finest songs of the twentieth century, including PENNIES FROM HEAVEN, MOONLIGHT BECOMES YOU, and OH, YOU CRAZY MOON (the last two given heartbreaking depth on this disc).  The disc is called CONVERSATIONS, and so far it’s available only at live performances, which is a good thing — an inducement to search out Harry and Rossano in person.

You’ll have twelve more chances at Feinstein’s in 2012, because the series will run throughout the year.  The January program will showcase Harry’s “Four Others,” a saxophone quartet inspired by Woody Herman’s “Four Brothers.”  Harry’s original band features three other swinging modernists, Eric Alexander, Grant Stewart, Gary Smulyan, plus his original rhythm trio of Rossano, Joel, and Chuck.  The February gala will bring Scott Hamilton to Harry’s side.  Great value and great jazz!