I think of a performance like this as brightly colored but full of shadings, a compendium of Fifty-Second Street camaraderie brought into our century. Or, more simply, five minutes of expert joy. Notice I write expert: it’s only in the movies where Jack Webb picks up a cornet and is — voila! — proficient. For these jovial fellows and their colleagues, swing is a life’s work.
They are, from left, Brian Holland, piano; Marc Caparone, cornet; Danny Coots, drums; Steve Pikal (whose birthday is today), string bass; Jacob Zimmerman, alto saxophone and clarinet. (Dear Jacob: my apologies for not swinging the camera around sufficiently to always capture you.)
And the song here is the Al Dubin – Harry Warren delight, LULU’S BACK IN TOWN.
This performance has its own extra added emotional kick. Not only is it musically wonderful, but it is a souvenir of the last time I saw this band in action, the last festival I attended. We live in hope for a swinging future, you know.
It’s fashionable to make fun of Dick Powell’s singing. As you will see, he did overact and flail his hands, and his occasional operatic forays into the tenor register have a penetrating intensity. But this clip from the 1935 musical film BROADWAY GONDOLIER is priceless.
In his singing, I hear Crosby dips and turns (although Bing was much more relaxed) and then — luckiest of men — Powell gets to sing with the Mills Brothers, who are in pearly form. Steadied and enhanced by their musical comraderie, Powell draws on Fats Waller, with his air of amusement-just-barely-contained, although he doesn’t pop his eyes or dramatize anything by lifting an eyebrow. (Did Powell remember his days as a dance-band guitar player who knew what hot was?) Cab Calloway is in Powell’s consciousness as well, and the enterprise has the approving presence of a certain Mr. Armstrong standing in back of it. The dialogue-in-contrasting-speeds between Powell and the Brothers at the end of the performance is wonderful, and for those of us who are snsitive to these things, note how beautifully the Brothers are attired. They aren’t smuggled into the shot as porters or shoe shine boys who happen to sing: they are radio stars! As they deserved and deserve to be . . . .
A deep and fervent “Yeah, man!” is the only appropriate tribute. And a deep bow to Harry Warren for his bouncing, riff-based melody (even though the opening of the verse derives from SWEET GEORGIA BROWN) and Al Dubin’s jovial, natty lyrics, which either take a poke at Cole Porter’s MISS OTIS REGRETS or nod to it — Miss Otis is going to be hanged; Lulu’s fellow is getting ready for the time of his life!