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.