Tag Archives: Joseph Meyer

REVENGE SET TO MUSIC, 1934, 2015

The text for today is the early Frank Loesser – Joseph Meyer threat in 4 / 4, JUNK MAN.  Here is the memorable vocal version by Mildred Bailey, so we can hear Loesser’s lyrics:

It is an updating of FRANKIE AND JOHNNIE, but with a shift.  The older song is told by someone narrating the sad tale, where Johnnie has been making love to Nellie Bly, and is shot dead by his betrayed lover Frankie.  “He was her man / But he done her wrong.” We see the hearse go to the graveyard and Frankie will either be hanged or in jail forever.  Sophocles or Shakespeare, depending on the director of this murder ballad, all corpses, misery, retribution.  Betrayal does not pay, but crime pays even more poorly.  (There are many variant versions of this song for American vernacular musicologists to investigate.)

JUNK MAN has a much different edge.  The singer is a sophisticated woman who is aware of the betraying lover, plans to get her revenge, and apparently goes unpunished and unremorseful to the conclusion.  And that conclusion?  The unfaithful man is rubbish for the junkman to sweep up and take away.  Its only ambivalence is that I find it difficult to tell whether the betrayal(s) have already taken place or if this is an elaborate scenario: “If you betray me / continue to betray me, this is what I guarantee will happen.”

But the woman telling the story is in control, with no hesitation: empowered, as we say now.  I see Barbara Stanwyck, calmly lighting a cigarette in her narrative. Imagine any pre-Code young woman taking her revenge and not spending a minute in jail and you have the tenor of this tough song.  (“Be faithful or beware!”)

Oh, the sound of Mildred’s voice — sweet, salty, every syllable ringing clear — and that band:  Mannie Klein, Charlie Margulis, trumpet; Sonny Lee, trombone; Benny Goodman, clarinet; Coleman Hawkins, tenor saxophone; Arthur Schutt, piano, arranger; Dick McDonough, guitar; Artie Bernstein, bass; Gene Krupa, drums; Mildred Bailey, vocal.  New York, February 2, 1934.  It’s a recording chock-full of delights: the way Mannie Klein slides in and out of the synagogue on the first chorus; the gorgeous sound of Dick McDonough and Artie Bernstein. Note that Bernstein switches between arco and pizzicato throughout, which I don’t think was usual in 1934, at least not in bands edging towards “hot.”

Yes, and that is Coleman Hawkins, thanks to John Hammond  — the hidden “Negro” on the date who was also the pre-eminent tenor saxophonist — intense in his obbligati behind Mildred.  (I wonder how many hip listeners of any color there were in 1934 who said, “Damn.  That sounds like that fellow on those Henderson recordings.  But it can’t be, can it?”  He plays the introduction, which is remarkable but one doesn’t take notice of it on the first listening.)

This YouTube video is an odd pleasure: recordings did not run for 4:08 at that time.  This song was recorded in two takes, and the first half of this recording is one of the two takes and Mildred’s vocal chorus is heard twice — the two takes joined together fairly seamlessly.  I don’t mind the extended play.  Who would?

Forward into the recent present.  Here is the gorgeous instrumental version by James Dapogny (piano / arranger) and friends at last year’s Allegheny Jazz Party:

The band is, as well as Professor Dapogny, Pete Siers, drums; Jon Burr, string bass; Marty Grosz, guitar; Bill Allred, trombone; Randy Reinhart, cornet; Scott Robinson, tenor saxophone; Dan Block, clarinet.  This Dapogny arrangement allows us to hear Meyer’s melody as if presented for chamber ensemble of piano and horns, where the soloists ebb and flow, but the song takes the center stage. Dapogny’s piano is a barrelhouse lyrical dream, but his arrangement is a multilayered lovely edifice, and it’s worth listening to this track with a notepad to catch the scenery gloriously moving by.  And this sort of thing will happen soon, again, at the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party.  Trust me on this.

Or, “Don’t forget our Cleveland date!”

May your happiness increase!

I WISH I WERE TWINS: AN OPEN LETTER TO PAUL DASPIT of the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST (November 26-30, 2014)

First, these musical introductions.

Coleman Hawkins, 1935, in Holland:

Henry “Red” Allen, Buster Bailey, Hilton Jefferson, 1934:

Art Tatum, 1937:

Dear Paul,

I know you as the witty, beautifully-dressed, generous organizer of that jazz banquet called the San Diego Jazz Fest. I’ve been fortunate enough to attend this Thanksgiving banquet of sounds every year since 2010, and I’ve found it more rewarding than any turkey dinner.  And I like turkey.

This year, as you well know, the Fest will start on Wednesday, November 26, and go rollicking straight on through Sunday afternoon / early evening, November 30.

I gather that you created the schedule — the reason you are receiving this letter.

On any day or night during that the 26th through the 30th, multiple opportunities for pleasure are bursting all around the listener or viewer.

I’m picking examples at random: at 4:00 on Friday, there’s a solo piano concert. At 3:30, three other bands are playing in separate rooms.  At 4:15, the same thing.

Now, a good number of “favorite bands and musicians” are performing at the SDJF.  I’ve been coming back to the schedule since it was created, always with a nearly-queasy feeling.

I can’t speak for anyone else, but I must ask you in all seriousness, “Paul, are you trying to do us in through a surfeit of pleasure?”

I once read about an experiment conducted by researchers trying to analyze how people dealt with making choices. They assembled children around a table, empty cereal bowls in front of each.  The researchers offered the children two boxes of cereal from which they could choose.  They added another, different box of cereal.  And another.  And kept on increasing the number.  When there were a dozen boxes on the table, the children were sobbing.

I don’t need a tissue yet, but I understand this.

It’s not only the problem of choice-making.  (“If I go to see the Wildroot Sliders then I have to miss the Shearling Fleecers as well as not hearing Petite Priscilla and her Clawfoot Tub Band!”).

For me it’s also the added problem of trying to video-record everything I and others pine for so that I can share it on JAZZ LIVES.

True, I do now have two cameras and could bring two tripods, but where is the Second Assistant Cameraperson for this blog?  No fame, no health benefits, perhaps only a free breakfast. References and prior experience a must.

Paul, I thought we were friends.

What have you got to say for yourself?  Look closely here.  Is that fair?

Yours,

Michael

May your happiness increase!