Tag Archives: Leo Robin

ROMANTICALLY YOURS, THOMAS “FATS” WALLER

The legend that’s continued after Fats Waller’s untimely death is that he was marvelously creative but also an outlandish clown, especially when given poor material to record, undermining it with mocking asides and jokes.  But I treasure those times when he respected the song and showed us what a tender singer he was.  The performances below aren’t comic or anarchic; there are no uptempo stride extravaganzas.  But gentle feeling shines through every note.

FAIR AND SQUARE is a song I came to love through performances by Lueder Ohlwein of the Sunset Music Company, a whole rhythm section and glorious singer on his own.  The composer credits are usually given to Andy Razaf and Leo Robin, although one HMV record label assigns the song to Harry Woods, I think in error:

I first heard this very sweet song because of Melissa Collard’s 2004 memorable recording.  But Fats did it first:

This performance sounds as if Fats is going to launch into hilarious mockery, but he doesn’t.  The songwriters Charlie Tobias and Sammy Fain knew how to transform cliches.  Wait for the lovely piano coda:

Here, also, Fats trembles on the edge of amusement, but chooses to focus on the song’s essential sadness:

Lovely music and lovely sentiments from Thomas Waller.

May your happiness increase!

SONGS ON SPRING: The EarRegulars: JON-ERIK KELLSO, JENS “JESSE” LINDGREN, EDDY DAVIS, JAY RATTMAN at THE EAR INN (Dec. 27, 2015)

ear-inn-5The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, Soho or Hudson Square in the West Village of New York City) has been a mecca for heartfelt hot music on Sunday nights since the summer of 2008, thanks to the flexible quartet led by Jon-Erik Kellso, the EarRegulars.

Last Sunday night, December 27, 2015, the EarRegulars were Jon, trumpet; Eddy Davis, banjo and vocal; Jay Rattman, bass sax; Jens “Jesse” Lindgren from Sweden, trombone and vocal.  Here are two of the night’s delightful performances.

W.C. Handy’s adaptation of a folk melody or a hymn, HESITATING BLUES, with an earnest vocal by Eddy and a vocalized solo by Jon through his glass mute:

And here’s Jesse’s version of the lovely song PLEASE (Leo Robin – Ralph Rainger) forever associated with Bing Crosby:

In case your Swedish is as poor as mine is, here are the original lyrics sung by Bing with help from Eddie Lang:

And let Handy’s lyrics be your guide.  Don’t hesitate about visiting The Ear Inn on a Sunday evening, from about eight to about eleven . . . to hear and see The EarRegulars for yourself.

Hesitating Blues

(S)he who hesitates misses the good stuff.

May your happiness increase!

MASTERS OF LIGHTNESS: MISTER CARTER, MISTER WILSON, MISTER JONES (and MISTER CROSBY) 1954, 1934

Benny-Carter-3-4-5

I remember being astonished by this session when it came out — not that many years ago — on CD.  Presumably Norman Granz had some reason for not issuing it at the time (it is hard to see why) or someone was less than pleased with the results.  But it is a trio session: Benny Carter, alto saxophone; Teddy Wilson, piano; Jo Jones, drums, recorded in New York City, September 20, 1954.  Did the bassist not make the session or was this an updated version of the Goodman Trio?  Whatever the reason, this is beautifully deep but translucent music.  Here Benny, Teddy, and Jo take the usually sad Rodgers and Hart LITTLE GIRL BLUE and swing it in true mid-Thirties fashion:

and here’s a tender rendition of JUNE IN JANUARY, by Ralph Rainger and Leo Robin, irrevocably associated with Bing in 1934*:

How to play the melody, how to improvise with great delicacy and precision without ever seeming cold — the lessons of these Masters.

*I couldn’t leave Bing out, so here is the precious, witty, and romantic sequence devoted to JUNE IN JANUARY in the 1934 film HERE IS MY HEART:

May your happiness increase!

TODD LONDAGIN’S EXTRAORDINARY RANGE: “LOOK OUT FOR LOVE”

I met and admired the trombonist and singer Todd Londagin several times in 2005 and onwards; he was one of the crew of cheerful individualists who played gleeful or dark music with the drummer Kevin Dorn.  A fine trombonist (with a seamless reach from New Orleans to this century) and an engaging singer, Todd is someone I have faith in musically.  But when I received his second CD, LOOK OUT FOR LOVE, I hardly expected it to be as remarkable as it is.

TODD LONDAGIN cover

On it, Todd sings and plays (occasionally doing both simultaneously, through an Avakian-like graceful use of multi-tracking . . . even sounding like Jay and Kai here and there), with a splendid small band: Pete Smith, guitar; Matt Ray, piano, Jennifer Vincent, string bass; David Berger, drums.  Singer Toby Williams joins in on BRAZIL.  The presentation is neither self-consciously sparse or overproduced. With all due respect to Todd, the foursome of Pete, Matt, Jennifer, and David could easily sustain their own CD or gig. I had only met Matt (unpredictable) and Jennifer (a swing heartbeat) in person, but this “rhythm section” is a wonderful — and quirky — democratic conversation of singular voices, each one of them a powerful yet gracious rhythm orchestra.

But I keep returning to Todd.  And his “extraordinary range” doesn’t refer to the notes he can hit on trombone or sing.  It’s really a matter of a deep emotional intelligence, and I can’t think of anyone who can equal him here. (That’s no stage joke.)

Consider these songs: LOOK OUT FOR LOVE / BYE BYE BABY / SOME OF THESE DAYS / BRAZIL / I CONCENTRATE ON YOU / LONG AGO AND FAR AWAY / PENNIES FROM HEAVEN / YOU GO TO MY HEAD / I CAN’T HELP IT / BUST YOUR WINDOWS.  The first two songs show off Todd’s sly, ingratiating self — witty and wily on the first (with a neo-Basie rock) and endearing on the second. Those who have to think of Echoes might hear Chet Baker, Harry Connick, Jr., a young Bob Dorough, or Dave Frishberg. I thought on the first playing and continue to think that if there were aesthetic justice in the world, the first two songs would be coming out of every car radio for miles.  (Todd would also be starring on every enlightened late-night television show, or do I dream?)

The pop classics that follow are always served with a twist — a slightly different tempo, a different rhythmic angle, a beautiful seriousness (I’ve never heard CONCENTRATE interpreted so well).

Maybe Todd is understandably afraid of being pigeonholed as Another Interpreter of The Great American Songbook — with all the attendant reverence and dismissal that comes with that assessment — so the closing songs are “more modern.”  I think he does Stevie Wonder’s I CAN’T HELP IT justice in his own light-hearted, sincere, swinging way.

I am not attuned to contemporary pop culture, except to cringe when I hear loud music coming from the car next to mine, so I had no historical awareness with which to approach BUST YOUR WINDOWS.

In fact, I thought the title would herald some exuberant love song, “My love for you is so strong, it’s going to bust your windows,” or something equally cheerful.

Thus I was horrified to hear Todd sing, “I had to bust the windows out your car,” and all my literate-snobbish-overeducated revulsion came to the surface, as I called upon the shades of Leo Robin and Yip Harburg to watch over me.

But then I calmed down and reminded myself just how much fun the preceding nine tracks had been, and that I would be very surprised if Todd — bowing to whatever notion of modernity — had gone entirely off the rails. And I listened to BUST YOUR WINDOWS again. And again. For those who don’t know the song, it was an immense hit for one Jazmine Sullivan in 2008, and there’s a YouTube video of her doing it. The premise is that the singer finds her lover has been untrue with another (not a new idea) but (s)he then takes a crowbar to her lover’s car so that her lover will know what faithlessness does to others. Tough love, indeed.  I researched Sullivan’s music video — where she is threatening to unzip herself to a tango / rhythm and blues beat — and disliked it.

But I had no patience for her rendition of her own song because I had been struck so powerfully by Todd’s — almost a stifled scream of brokenhearted passion worthy of a great opera’s finish before the grieving one, betrayed, commits suicide. Todd’s performance has no tango beat, no intrusive orchestration: he merely presents the lyrics and melody as if he is showing us his bleeding heart . . . as if he has used the crowbar on himself.  It is a performance both bone-dry and powerful, understated and unforgettable. I can’t forget it, just as I keep on wanting to replay LOOK OUT FOR LOVE.

You can find out more about Todd here, and after you’ve heard the three samples, I hope you will chase down a copy of this CD. It is wildly rewarding and beautifully-textured music, and it will stay with you when other CDs by more “famous” players and singers have grown tedious. I don’t like “best” or “favorite,” but this CD is magnificently musical in so many ways that it will astonish.

May your happiness increase!

A NEW SONG FOR THE COMMUTE, THANKS TO LEO, RALPH, and RICH

RUSH HOUR

Last night, coming home from The Ear Inn, I tuned in to everyone’s Sunday-night pleasure, THE BIG BROADCAST, that delicious periscope into the first forty or so years of the last century, watched over by the generous and unpredictable Rich Conaty.  (Quick translation: It’s a radio show.  Fordham University Radio, New York, WFUV-FM and streaming: 8 PM to midnight, our time.)  Details  here.

I heard this song — new to me but immediately captivating — IN A ONE-ROOM FLAT.  It isn’t ALL THE THINGS YOU ARE or THANKS FOR THE MEMORY, but it sticks whimsically in the brain.  The 1933 recording is by Freddie Martin and his Orchestra; I believe the singer is Terry Shand, who had deep jazz connections.  And it comes from a Maurice Chevalier musical film called THE WAY TO LOVE (with Ann Dvorak, Edward Everett Horton, and Douglas Dumbrille).

And the song — perhaps one of their trifles? — is by Leo Robin (lyrics) and Ralph Rainger (music), two of my secular saints.

It raises the larger question: what do you need to make you happy?  Worth pondering.  For now, listen a few times and I can almost guarantee that you will be humming it later in the day.

May your happiness increase.

REBECCA and HARRY ARE COMING TO NEW YORK (March 6-10, 2013)

Becky_Kilgore

This is indeed good news.  Ms. Kilgore is not seen on the East Coast as often as we would prefer, and she will be appearing — and singing — with some favored musical friends: Harry Allen, tenor saxophone; Ehud Asherie, piano; Joel Forbes, string bass; Kevin Kanner, drums . . . in a show at New York City’s Metropolitan Room.  Click I LIKE MEN for details.

I have been sworn to secrecy about the song list — to give it here would be like telling what happens during Season Four of Downton Abbey — but I can offer these hints.  Songs associated with James Bond, Peggy Lee, and Billie Holiday will be part of the bill of fare.  Harold Arlen, Leo Robin, Truman Capote, Eubie Blake, Frank Loesser, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Hoagy Carmichael, and the Gershwin brothers will drop by.

Familiar songs (the ones where the audience goes “Aaaaaaahhhhh,” as Rebecca slides from verse to chorus) and delightfully obscure ones will be treated appropriately.  And those of us wise and fortunate enough to have experienced a Kilgore-Allen evening know that it unfolds beautifully with its own shape — a small fulfilling concert rather than a bunch of songs that everyone likes at the moment.

March 6-7-8-9-10 at 9:30 PM.  The Metropolitan Room is at 34 West 22nd Street, New York 10010 (MetropolitanRoom or 212.206.0440 for reservations.  Tickets $30.)  Don’t miss it: you don’t want to be thinking about THE EVENING THAT GOT AWAY on March 11.

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.

“FROM NOTES TO WORDS”: JON-ERIK KELLSO, MATT MUNISTERI, SCOTT ROBINSON, PAT O’LEARY, SEAN SINGER, ANN ROWER: THE THIRD ANNUAL JAZZ AND POETRY FESTIVAL (School of Visual Arts, New York City, March 22, 2012)

Does music speak louder than words?  At the Jazz and Poetry Festival hosted by the School of Visual Arts a few weeks ago in New York City, there was no such competition — just a series of amiable statements with both sides having their say.  The musicians were the Jon-Erik Kellso Quartet (otherwise known as the EarRegulars when found on Sunday nights at The Ear Inn, 326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City): Jon-Erik on trumpet; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Scott Robinson, tenor saxophone, alto and bass taragota; Pat O’Leary, string bass).  The writers were Sean Singer and Ann Rower.   As you’ll see and hear.

The Quartet offers SOME OF THESE DAYS (with a brief foray into SHINE ON HARVEST MOON); WABASH BLUES; ‘WAY DOWN YONDER IN NEW ORLEANS (for Bix Beiderbecke):

Here’s the conclusion of ‘WAY DOWN YONDER IN NEW ORLEANS and I GOTTA RIGHT TO SING THE BLUES:

After an introduction by Robert Lobe, Sean Singer takes the microphone to read selections from his 2002 poetry collection DISCOGRAPHY — poems touching on John Coltrane, Ellington, Albert Ayler, Scott Joplin, Max Roach, Elvin Jones, and others:

Maryhelen Hendricks introduced the writer Ann Rower, who read a series of excerpts from her untitled novel in the form of a journal — which moved from sharply-realized anecdotes to memories of her uncle, the lyricist Leo Robin:

And the program concluded with a return to musical improvisations, as the Quartet continued the tribute to Leo Robin with THANKS FOR THE MEMORY (music by Ralph Rainger); a romping SOMEBODY STOLE MY GAL; a wistful Scott Robinson feature on another Robin-Rainger song, WITH EVERY BREATH I TAKE; YOU’RE DRIVING ME CRAZY:

And YOU’RE DRIVING ME CRAZY, concluded:

Thanks to all the musicians and writers, to Robert Lobe and Maryhelen Hendricks — and special thanks to the Jonnybogue Video Rescue Service (“No job too small.  Baked while you sleep”).  Make a note of that.

May your happiness increase.

OH, “PLEASE”!

In honor of Ralph Rainger, Leo Robin, Bing Crosby, Adam Keller, John Gill, and Jon-Erik Kellso — here is the sheet music for PLEASE.  It’s my dream to hear world-class jazz musicians, deep in Swing Romanticism, make this song their own.  Unfortunately, the folio doesn’t have the lyrics — but perhaps that enabled the Famous Music Corporation to publish eleven songs and photographs from Bing’s then-current films: THE BIG BROADCAST, COLLEGE HUMOR, and TOO MUCH HARMONY — for fifty cents.

I’d also like more people to know about Ralph Rainger and Leo Robin, who wrote the music and lyrics for PLEASE and many other irreplaceable songs.  Rainger, especially, deserves his place in the collective memory alongside the more familiar names.  Here’s a photograph of Rainger from the Crosby folio:

And here’s the team at work:

If you play an instrument, sing, or even hum, why not try PLEASE?  And if you don’t, well, you could find a way to work the title into everyday conversation.  I believe it has a soothing effect . . .

WHAT’S THE MAGIC WORD?

Before recordings and sound film changed the world, music didn’t travel well.  Myth says that you could hear Buddy Bolden’s horn miles away, but trumpet players know that is unlikely.  You certainly couldn’t have the complete Jelly Roll Morton Library of Congress recordings on a little box in your shirt pocket. 

Recordings, then sound film, made it possible for music to be portable, reproduced, and represented far away in time and space from its origins.  Preservation is an extraordinary gift, letting us visit the dead and cherish them whenever we want.  When the Ellington band played RING DEM BELLS on a Victor record or in a 1930 film, thousands who would never see that band live could experience it. 

But “representation” is never flawless, because all individual perspectives are necessarily subjective.  A recording engineer or cameraman captures one version of what listeners experience.  Most recordings and films seem, at best, to compress the exuberance of the artists.  Jazz anecdotal history is full of the names of great performers who, we are told, never “came though whole” in the recording studio.  And films  — even contemporary performance films — have their own, sometimes intrusive, conventions that must be obeyed.     

Our texts for today are two representations of Bing Crosby singing PLEASE.  The music is by the sadly short-lived Ralph Rainger, the lyrics by Leo Robin, and Bing first performed in the 1932 film THE BIG BROADCAST, one of Paramount’s efforts to get all the musical stars it could assemble into one film, to lure people away from their radios and back into the movie theatres.  The plot of this film is exceedingly foolish, but it’s only an excuse for a now irreplaceable variety show.     Bing Please 2

And here’s the performance itself — all too brief:

I love the flimsy fictions that this clip requires a viewer to accept.  I think, just before it begins, Bing says to his pal, guitarist Eddie Lang, “Well, let’s run it through again,” suggesting that they are rehearsing a new number.  He holds the sheet music, but casually.  And Lang is not paying much attention to the music on top of the piano.  (He was a wonderfully subtle player, never equalled.)  Do you hear a piano?  Who’s playing it?  The invisible but entirely sympathetic pianist is Lennie Hayton, which suggests that Bing and Eddie were adeptly (and not in close-up) miming to an already-recorded track, which was common practice.

Because it is a rehearsal in someone’s home (is it Eddie’s?), Bing has his vest, suit jacket, and hat off.  Our eyes are drawn to his natty two-tone shoes as he keeps the beat.  Then, after the first sixteen bars, a delightfully fictive moment occurs when Bing grins like a boy who has gotten away with three cookies instead of two and tells Eddie, “Well, I think I know it.”  (The record of PLEASE was released to coincide with the movie’s premiere, so Bing’s fans in the audience might have already had the Brunswick record while onscreen their hero was pretending he was learning the song.  But in the darkness of the movie theatre, such facts might be brushed aside.) 

Confident now, Bing launches into his own version of romantic scat singing, flicking his eyes to the ceiling, and begins getting dressed.  

Frank Tuttle, the director of THE BIG BROADCAST, wrote in an unpublished memoir (which I found in Gary Giddins’s wonderful Crosby biography), “Bing didn’t seem to know what to do with his hands. . . . [he] was extremely cooperative and his sense of comedy was first-rate from the opening shot.  His approach was casual and he liked to move around.  We worked out interesting pieces of business so that he wouldn’t have to just stand there and deliver a number.” 

Thus, the striptease in reverse — bolstering the illusion that Bing was only a regular fellow who just happens to burst into song with such art.  We know this isn’t true, but watching Bing sing while getting dressed is rather like watching him sing while changing a flat tire — a splendid feat.  I don’t know if it was intentional, for comedy, or not, but Bing has some small difficulty getting his other arm into his vest, and he goes through a good deal of straightening and smoothing — while singing — before beginning to button it.  Once the vest is on, he is clearly loosening up the rhythm, and gently swinging PLEASE, confidently and cheerfully, wooing the imaginary girl right out of her reluctance, and perhaps out of her vest.  What man ever buttoned his vest with such swing, using each button as a visual accent?  Bing emphasizes the beat, bobbing his head.  It’s comic but understated.  It’s jazz made visual.  

Next comes the jacket — and Bing has more trouble finding the armhole while he makes the dramatic musical transition from “a gloomy Romeo” to “Oh, please . . . ” most endearing.  In fact, his fumbling with his right arm behind his back seems to go on and on, although he is whistling prettily, unfazed by the burden of getting dressed.  Then, there’s no need to pretend that this has been a “rehearsal,” as Bing and Eddie perform the closing phrase together, and Bing, hat cocked jauntily, tells Eddie, “Well, I’ll see you tonight,” and Eddie answers, “OK.”  Hardly Lubitsch, but entrancing in its pretend-casualness. 

And he sings so beautifully to Lang’s fetching accompaniment, their work mixing romanticism and swing, the effect both earnest and funny.  I found myself listening to the clip for the music — both casual and deliciously light, then watching the two men act (Lang, serious, plays the musical sidekick, never taking the spotlight away from Bing).

Bing Please

Bing’s performance of the song in the film and on the hit record spurred Paramount to make a short film (rather like the Mack Sennett shorts Bing had starred in).  I found a copy of the poster on eBay, and a wonderful piece of Art Deco foolishness it is, with a pretty blonde’s disembodied head grinning from the C in CROSBY; Bing playing the guitar (which he couldn’t) wearing something like a bathrobe, the lower half of his body swallowed up by the background.

PLEASE stars Bing, Mary Kornman (who was “Mary” in OUR GANG silents and worked with Bing in other movies), with Vernon Dent (who worked with Sennett, Harry Langdon, and in numberless two-reel films with The Three Stooges) as her huffy, pudgy suitor.  Giddins writes that it was presumed lost until the 1990s and unearthed by film preservationist Bob DeFlores.

The plot is paper-thin: my summary comes from the Mary Kornman website (www.marykornman.com) which proves that everything is indeed online:

This movie, filmed on location at Yosemite National Park, was not discovered until 1960.  In it, Mary plays a voice teacher, Beth Sawyer, on whom Bing has set his affections.  Playing himself, Bing hides his identity as to finagle lessons out of Beth in order to get close to her. Mary then enters him in a singing contest only to find out Bing’s true identity.  Humiliated by this, Mary rejects Bing but is soon won over as he croons a chorus of “Please” through her parlor window.

Fictions abound here as well.  As the sequence begins, a beautifully dressed “Beth,” with matching hat, turns on her radio — and out comes the sound of a dance orchestra playing the song for which the movie is named.  Coincidentally, Bing, wearing a pristine straw boater and neat dark suit, lurks outside her house, dramatizing his exasperation by some gesturing with a small object he discards.  The camera cuts to a momentary shot of a huge man in soiled white painter’s overalls, momentarily transfixed by the music, who takes off his hat and puts it back on again.  Director Gillstrom had trained in silent films, for you can see the idea balloon form above Bing’s head, “Hey!  That’s my song!  I could sing it to her!  Through this open window!  Wow!  What an idea!  Gee!” 

“Beth” at first doesn’t even register that a man is nearly climbing through her open window, singing along with the radio (something that would make many women call 911).  It’s as if Mary Kornman has forgotten her cue, although she does remember to sulk while Bing sings.  He sings beautifully, but without Tuttle to remind him how to understate, his gestures are at war with the song’s wooing intimacy.  Using a clenched fist to signify “I could hold you tight in my arms” is unromantic, even though it is perhaps the only gesture possible for a man still holding his hat).  And Mary Kornman may have been a delectable little girl in silent comedies, but her acting is petulantly limited.  Bing emotes and “Beth” pouts, until his repetition of “Please!” win her over.  The lovers kiss, after a fashion; her dog turns its head away, and we are left hoping that they are going to be happy forevermore, even if she has to climb out of the window to be with Bing. 

But all this overacting doesn’t obscure the beauty of Bing’s voice, his phrasing, although I prefer the sound of the more casual version with Eddie Lang.     

Back to the song itself, one I’ve loved since adolescence.  When Bing was most popular as a romantic crooner, jazzmen, inspired by his recordings, took his repertoire for their own.  Think of I SURRENDER, DEAR and WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS!  Louis, Billie, and Hawkins (who memorably recorded I’VE GOT TO SING A TORCH SONG, WITH EVERY BREATH I TAKE, and JUST ONE MORE CHANCE).  Later on, Ruby Braff continued the tradition, including PLEASE and a whole album devoted to Bing.  But no one except John Gill has taken up the song, a pity.  I asked my Expert, Jon-Erik Kellso, about it, and he told me the melody line wasn’t easy for musicians who didn’t know the song to pick up on the spot.  If any musicians are reading this blog, would you please consider playing this song?  I’ll put more money in the tip jar when I hear it, I promise.

However, while researching this post, I also found a bouncy version of the song by Ambrose and his Orchestra.  This performance, however, deflates my theory about the song’s qualities.  Did it need Bing, John Gill, and Ruby to let its light shine through?  What you’ll hear is a fine 1932 dance record, but the yearning quality so essential to PLEASE is obliterated at this tempo.         

These clips remind me of truths that should be self-evident.  The young Crosby wasn’t an infallible actor; he needed a fine director to make sure that naturalness or “naturalness” prevailed.  But how he could sing!  And how splendidly Eddie Lang could play!  And they live in these filmed moments.   

So if someone asks you, reprovingly, “WHAT’S the magic word?” (if anyone uses that phrase today), you must respond, “It’s Bing Crosby singing PLEASE, of course.” (Thanks to Peter Karl for that witticism, again.)

CORNED BEEF AND CABBAGE

corned beefIt’s tempting for those who love an older art form — such as swinging jazz — to romanticize the past.  “Oh,” we think, “they wrote such wonderful songs back in those days!  If I could turn on my radio (or: if I had a time machine) in the Thirties, I would hear marvelous creative music all the time!”  Perhaps.  I have been doing research into the songs of Ralph Rainger and Leo Robin — who wrote many of Bing Crosby’s hits as well as IF I SHOULD LOSE YOU, YOU STARTED SOMETHING, PLEASE, and THANKS FOR THE MEMORY — and this unknown gem surfaced.  I’m sure that someone out there has a recording of it, even that the performance is on YouTube.  But I’m afraid to look.  Here are the lyrics.  They’ll do for me. 

CORNED BEEF AND CABBAGE

From the film “Kiss And Make Up” (1934)

(Music: Ralph Rainger / Lyrics: Leo Robin)

Helen Mack & Edward Everett Horton (Film Soundtrack) – 1934

 

“I’m simply wild about you

I couldn’t do without you

Corned beef and cabbage, I love you

You always set me raving

You satisfy that craving

Corned beef and cabbage, I love you

If I could have you every day

My life would have more spice

And even if I’d have to pay

I’d gladly pay the price

I see you and surrender

Oh, won’t you please be tender

Corned beef and cabbage, I love you!

I’m always happy when you

Are featured on the menu

Corned beef and cabbage, I love you

Although you’re so plebeian

You’re fit for any queen

Corned beef and cabbage, I love you

You fill me with a strange desire

That haunts me all night through

You seem to set my heart on fire

You give me heartburn, too

Why don’t you try a load

O’ bicarbonate of soda

Corned beef and cabbage, I love you!”

Can you see Edward Everett Horton warbling this?  In Hollywood, anything was and is possible.