Tag Archives: L.Wolfe Gilbert

TAKE ONE, TAKE TWO (Chicago, January 24, 1929)

I don’t remember in which antique store I found a shiny copy of the record above, except that my boredom (prowling through aisles of overpriced odd fragments of human history) stopped instantly.  It’s a famous recording, because more than twenty years ago, an unidentified trumpet solo that sounded rather Bixian was seized upon as being a true Bix improvisation.  I assure you that the dramatic discussions that went on — read here if you like — are not my subject.

Before I delve into why, here’s some data: the personnel as stated by Tom Lord: Ray Miller And His Orchestra : Muggsy Spanier (cnt) Max Connett, Lloyd Wallen (tp) Jules Fasthoff (tb) Jim Cannon (cl,as) Maurice Morse (as) Lyle Smith (ts) Paul Lyman (vln) Art Gronwall (p,arr) Leon Kaplan (bj,g) Jules Cassard (tu,b) Bill Paley (d) Bob Nolan, Mary Williams (vcl) Ray Miller (dir).

Why should I post the two takes of CRADLE OF LOVE?  For one thing, I have been putting my 78s in order and I saw the record, decided to play it, liked it, played it several times over.  And I continue to do so: it has become something I love.

The song itself — by the team that had a hit with RAMONA — is delightful in its limited scope.  You might know the story that Ray Henderson, Bud De Sylva, and Lew Brown — responsible for many hits — decided to write the worst song they could, with every tear-jerking cliche, and the result was SONNY BOY, which — with Al Jolson’s fervent performance (and his adding his name to the credits) was a million-seller.

I don’t know if the SONNY BOY story is true, but there’s something about CRADLE OF LOVE that hints at its composers asking themselves what they could do to assure themselves a hit.

First, pick a very optimistic premise: the young couple, so in love, in their tiny rural paradise which will be paid off in a year; they have chickens; their neighbors love them; they will have a baby soon.  Fecundity, domesticity, domestic bliss, prosperity — pleasing dreams, especially in January 1929 with no hint of the Crash to come. Home, young love, sex, and chickens!  And yes, the song is very close to MY BLUE HEAVEN, which made a great deal of money not too long before.

Second, invent a melody with an irresistible hook that sounds much like MAKIN’ WHOOPEE (a song with a clearly divergent view of domestic bliss, curdled) and put the two together.  The one touch of realism in this dream-world is that the neighbors “smile / most of the while” (my emphasis).  Why there are these noticeable lapses in grinning is never explained, especially since “all” would have worked just as well in the line.  Perhaps Wayne and Gilbert had some scruples.

CRADLE OF LOVE should have been memorable, but didn’t become so.  However, there’s so much that pleases me in these recordings (there are rumors of a third non-vocal version, made for the German market, but I don’t know anyone who has heard it).  The Miller band just sounds good, and they balance their instrumental work and the “hot” solos so beautifully.  (Yes, the question has been asked, “Why two trumpet / cornet improvisations on the same — white — dance band record?” to which I have no answer.)  It means a great deal to me that the statement of the verse is a wonderful early Muggsy Spanier episode, as well.  I don’t feel the need to mock Bob Nolan, either.  And Eddy Davis was telling me, a few weeks ago, about working with pianist Art Gronwall — to which I could only say, “Wow!”  The rhythm section has a nice bounce, and the trombone interlude reminds me cheerfully of Miff Mole.

So I invite you to listen, to put aside preconceptions, and simply enjoy.

Take One:

Take Two:

and, just because YouTube makes it possible for me to share it with you, here is the Paul Whiteman version recorded fourteen days earlier, an entirely different orchestral rendition, with a lovely Trumbauer bridge near the end:

Slightly more than ten months after the Miller recording, the stock market crash changed everyone’s lives.  I hope the young couple had paid off every stick and stone before then, and could make a living selling eggs.  How the toad plays into this I can’t imagine, but I hope (s)he and others prospered.  Otherwise it’s too dire to contemplate.

Note: readers who feel a pressing need to extend the Bix-or-not-Bix discussion will not find their comments printed here.  Enough idolatry, thanks.  I don’t think it’s Bix — but it’s my blog and I have some privileges therein.

May your happiness increase!

O KATHARINA!

After reading Hal Smith’s insightful piece on just how Sid Catlett plays on the 1943 record of O KATHARINA, I found myself wondering about this song that Eddie Condon had remembered as a special favorite of Bix Beiderbecke’s.

Or, to put it another way, who was KATHARINA and why did she make someone go OH?  Or “O”?

Online I found the song’s lyrics (courtesy of the Duke University Libraries).  Music by Richard Fall, lyrics by L. Wolfe Gilbert.  Gilbert is known for WAITING FOR THE ROBERT E. LEE and RAMONA. 

Readers of tender sensibilities will find that the cheerful anti-feminist and “weightist” stereotypes of the time offensive, but right now I am trying to sing along . . . with only limited success.  I believe, incidentally, that the song has three parts — a “patter” section before the verse and chorus.  

 

O KATHARINA

Again we have the Chauve Souris

They come to us from ‘cross the sea

With something new they always do

For me and you

A new contagious melody

The rage of London and Paree

They brought along

And now this song is going strong

For Balieff instructs them all

He makes you sing it with him

Before you go you’re bound to know

The melody and rhythm

And then next day while on your way

You hum and sing and long to play

 

Oh Heinie sailed from Rotterdam

He stopped off first at Amsterdam

To meet his bride then side by side

They took the ride across the sea

To Yankee land

He furnished up a flat so grand

And there she sat

So big and fat

Down at their flat

One night he took his wiffie out

They went to see the Follies

He thought that she was such a queen

Until he saw those Dollies

When they got home

He shook his head

Then to his wife he turned and said

 

Chorus:

 

O Katharina, O Katharina

O Katharina, O Katharina, to keep my love you must be leaner

There’s so much of you and 

Two could love you

Learn to swim, join a gym, eat farina

O Katharina, unless you’re leaner I’ll have to build a big arena

You’re such a crowd, my Katharine

I got a lot when I got you.

(In the second chorus, a summary tells me, Katharina loses weight and gets so appealing that all Heinie can say, admiringly, is “O KATHARINA!”  In the spirit of fairness, we never find out how much he weighs.  The patriarchy set to music and all that, of course.)

Delving deeper into these matters, I asked Lorna Sass — jazz photographer by night, Grain Goddess and Queen of Pressure Cooking by day — for her opinion of farina.  She told me that perhaps Gilbert needed an easy rhyme for the heroine’s name.  “Farina isn’t a diet food,” she said, “but maybe it was healthier than what Katharina usually ate.  But farina isn’t a whole grain — too much is removed in the processing to make it shelf-stable forever.”  (That’s Lorna’s award-winning WHOLE GRAINS EVERY DAY, EVERY WAY.)

I’m surprised and amused that “join a gym” was a common phrase as far back as 1924. 

The sheet music advertises O KATHARINA as an all-purpose song: “Walk-Around One-Step Song or Shimmy Fox-Trot,” which covers all the possibilities.  And since it was part of the CHAUVE-SOURIS (“The Bat”) touring revue supervised by Balieff, this song is an early example of a piece of art referring to itself, very modernistic for the time.     

I can hear Bix and the Wolverines taking this one on, and perhaps Joe Oliver had his own version — Jess Stacy remembered Papa Joe playing UKULELE LADY, so he was not averse to pop songs of the day.  Hal Smith thinks of Doc Cook and Freddie Keppard: the bands must have had a good time with this one.  (There’s a Sam Wooding recording of the tune made in Berlin in 1925, available on the Red Hot Jazz website.)

P.S.  Hooray for “finding-out-new-things,” a gratifying activity that doesn’t stop when you graduate . . . !