Tag Archives: Mel Powell

“CAN YOU GET BACK IN?”

“When did you leave heaven?” may not be in anyone’s list of the worst pick-up lines (which, in 2019, are far more salacious) but I doubt that it would effectively start a conversation with an attractive stranger — I mean a conversation where the response was more promising than “Get away from me.”  But the impulse to call someone we’re attracted to divine is venerable and strong.

A Mexican image of the divine feminine, from my favorite folk art gallery, eBay.

There are many songs where the loved one is described as an angel, but here’s a tender and witty one, music by Richard Whiting, lyrics by Walter Bullock, from the 1936 film featuring Alice Faye, SING, BABY, SING (a song revitalized by the cheerful Bill Crow).  Follow me into adoration territory in swingtime.

Henry “Red” Allen in all his glory, playing and singing, 1936:

and a more famous version from 1942 with a famous clarinetist under wraps for two minutes, a session led by Mel Powell, and featuring colleagues from that clarinetist’s orchestra except for Al Morgan and Kansas Fields.

Thank goodness for the first forty-five seconds devoted to that hero, Lou McGarity, before it becomes Mel’s own Bobcats:

Mel Powell, Jimmy Buffington, Bobby Donaldson, a dozen years later, and one of my favorite recordings — a Goodman Trio without the King:

Something you wouldn’t expect, Big Bill Broonzy, 1956:

and the intensely passionate reading Jimmy Scott gave the song in 2000 (with our hero Michael Kanan in duet):

and the Master.  Consider that stately melody exposition, how simple and how moving, and Louis’ gentle yet serious reading of the lyrics is beyond compare.  Complaints about the surrounding voices will be ignored; they’re the heavenly choir:

Love has the power to make the Dear Person seem so much better than merely human, and this song celebrates it.  As we do.

May your happiness increase!

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“MARGARET, CAN YOU RECALL THE DAYS OF OUR YOUTH?” “YES, DARLING, THEY WERE WONDERFUL”: MARC CAPARONE and CONAL FOWKES (San Diego, Nov. 24, 2018)

Conal Fowkes, piano; Marc Caparone, cornet, at the 2017 San Diego Jazz Fest.

This venerable song — WHEN YOU AND I WERE YOUNG, MAGGIE — is a sweet reminiscence of love that lasts.  It has become an ineradicable part of our popular culture: Exhibit A is a Big Top peanut butter glass (first a jar full of BTPB) devoted to the song:

and

I learned it first, decades ago, when I was young, from Vic Dickenson’s Vanguard version, which I can still play in the mental-emotional jukebox of the mind. But I am grateful that Marc Caparone and Conal Fowkes keep it fresh and green in this century, as they did at the 2018 San Diego Jazz Fest:

Here’s another treasure, created on the spot.  There are thousands of versions of George and Ira Gershwin’s vernacular yelp of delight, ‘S’WONDERFUL, but the one this reminds me of is an early-Fifties session for Vanguard, led by Mel Powell, supervised by John Hammond, featuring Mel, Buck Clayton, Henderson Chambers, Ed Hall, Steve Jordan, Walter Page, and Jimmy Crawford.  (That’s me applauding: if you have to ask why, you need to go back to Remedial Swing.)

Marc and Conal — what a pair of glorious musical artists, creating worlds of sound, rollicking and tender, for our pleasure.

May your happiness increase!

NEARLY EIGHTY YEARS LATER, MEL POWELL’S IMPROVISATIONS ON “MISSION TO MOSCOW” CONTINUE TO DAZZLE

Magnificent gifts from Mel Powell and his daughter Kati.

If you find surface noise on ancient discs offensive, please find another post, because here “bad sound” is mixed in with ethereal music.  Home recording discs were never supposed to last seventy-five years, so it’s a miracle that these did, but there is a good deal of surface damage to these unrestored artifacts.

I had possession of these holy relics for a short time, before passing them on, so what you hear below is one pass each — so not to erode the fragile surfaces even more.  The discs are now part of the “Mel Powell WW2 Collection” currently curated by my good friend, the splendid musical detective David Fletcher, part of a larger group of ephemera that’s being processed for its final destination. I have every expectation that the discs will, in time, be tenderly and expertly restored.

These document the brilliant pianist / composer / arranger Mel Powell experimenting with his composition MISSION TO MOSCOW, first recorded by Benny Goodman with the composer at the piano in mid-1942, then Mel took it with him when he joined Glenn Miller and the Army Air Force Band.

What a thrilling pianist he is!

Sensitive listeners might want to start listening to this video around halfway through: there was serious damage to this disc and I played it from the start:

Another version, with a damaged start that is less obtrusive:

a more leisurely exploration, almost a pastoral walk:

and two separate explorations:

Blessings on Melvin Epstein, “Melvie,” Mel Powell and of course Kati Powell.

May your happiness increase!

MEL POWELL SENDS HIS LOVE, WITH A FLOURISH

Mel Powell is one of the most brilliant pianists (and later, composers) that most people haven’t heard of, which is a pity.  I never met him, but I knew his music very early in my jazz-listening years through his work with Goodman and Glenn Miller, then his recordings for the Vanguard label in the Fifties.  In this century, I had the immense good fortune to meet his daughter Kati, who now has her home in a Southern town where we hope happiness will find her every day. Here is a 2017 post that combines music and history.

But this post, like some others, is motivated by objects that I delight in sharing.  One crossed my monitor just this afternoon — yes, eBay again — and an autographed photograph of Mel serving his country overseas:

The link is here, should you wish to get in on the fun.  My team of financial advisers held a conference and said, “No,” so the field is clear to bidders.

Kati very generously allowed me to borrow a number of Mel’s home-recorded discs, which I transferred in the least sophisticated way possible, knowing how delicate they are, how they would not stand up well to washing and repeated playings.  Some are difficult to listen to, but all are marvelous.  I’ve chosen two for this posting, because, after all, a photograph without a soundtrack is just a silent picture.

Incidentally, please don’t write to lecture me about the care of fragile discs.  I’m doing the best I can: Ristic is gone, and the Audiofixer is understandably overwhelmed.

Here is Mel’s meditation on I’M IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE, which starts in mid-performance because the outer portion of the disc was damaged:

And something I am calling A FLOURISH — Mel practicing the end of a song, although I have not yet figured out what the song is.

There might be more rare Mel Powell music in future.  But savor this now.

May your happiness increase!

NOTES FROM MEL, NOTES BY MEL

Kati Powell, August 2013, Menlo Park, California.

I’m honored to know Kathleen Powell — who goes by Kati — whom I met through the kindness of Hank O’Neal.  Kati is a wonderful person on her own: generous in spirit as well as in fact, and her connections to the music are deep. Her mother was Martha Scott, the renowned actress who was the first Emily in Wilder’s OUR TOWN.  Her father began life as Melvin Epstein, but we know him better as Mel Powell, pianist, composer, arranger, and explorer.

In 2013, I had the great privilege of meeting and talking with Kati at her West Coast home (she now lives in New York) about Mel, and our interview can be found here.  And there’s priceless evidence of Kati’s generosity here.  Words and music.

When Kati and I met recently in New York, she had another present for me, and by extension, for you as well.  Yes, the music on the 78 that follows is familiar, or should be, but this disc belonged to Mel, and it is, for that reason, even more special.  I like to imagine the young pianist bending over the speaker in the Thirties, drinking in the sounds, absorbing the magic, making these impulses part of his genetic makeup.

Caveat: YouTube says that this video may be blocked in certain countries because of copyright restrictions.  The music is the 1928 duet of Louis Armstrong and Earl Hines, WEATHER BIRD:

and the beautiful reverse, the 1930 duet of Louis and Buck Washington, DEAR OLD SOUTHLAND:

and some notes by Mel — two sides [one a sparkly original, the other DON’T BLAME ME) recorded in Belgium, c. 1945:

and a little of his elegantly deep voice:

We’ll never have all we need of Mel Powell, though.

May your happiness increase!

ONCE RARE, NOW HERE: LOU McGARITY and FRIENDS, 1955

 LOU McGARITY ArgoTrombonist and very occasional violinist and singer Lou McGarity, who died in 1971, was both reliable and inspiring.  I think I first heard him on recordings with Eddie Condon, with Lawson-Haggart, and with a wild 1941 Goodman band that included Mel Powell, Billy Butterfield, and Sidney Catlett, who gave McGarity the most extravagant backing.  Lou was a delightful presence, someone who could electrify a performance with a shouting yet controlled eight bars.  I also gather from his discography that he was an expert section player and reader, for many of his sessions have him surrounded by other trombonists.  But Lou very rarely got to lead a session on his own aside from two late-Fifties ones.
He traveled in very fast company, though, as in this gathering at the Ertegun party, held at the Turkish Embassy in 1940.  (Photo by William P. Gottlieb):
LOU McGARITY Turkish Embassy 1940
Let us have a long pause to imagine what that band sounded like, and to lament that it wasn’t recorded.
But onwards to 1955.  I imagine that someone at M-G-M, not the most jazzy of labels, decided that it would be a good idea to have some “Dixieland” to compete with the product that other labels were making money on.  I don’t know who arranged this session (Leroy Holmes? Hal Mooney?) but McGarity was an unusual choice: a thorough professional with fifteen years’ experience, however with no name recognition as a leader.  Was he chosen as nominal leader because he wasn’t under contract to any other label or leader?  And, to make the session more interesting, the four titles are all “originals,” suggesting that M-G-M wanted to publish the compositions themselves or, at the very least, pay no royalties for (let us say) MUSKRAT RAMBLE.  I’d guess that the compositions and arrangements were by the very talented Bill Stegmeyer.
LOU McGARITY EP
Most of the personnel here is connected, on one hand, to Eddie Condon sessions of the Fifties, on the other to the Lawson-Haggart Jazz Band. There’s Lou, Yank Lawson, both Peanuts Hucko and Bill Stegmeyer on reeds, Gene Schroeder, Jack Lesberg, and Cliff Leeman.  And here’s the music.  I say gently that it is more professional than explosive, but I delight in hearing it, and hope you will too.
MOBILE MAMA:

NEW ORLEANS NIGHTMARE:

BANDANNA:

BIRMINGHAM SHUFFLE (not SUFFLE as labeled here):

A mystery solved, with pleasing results.

May your happiness increase!

RUBY BRAFF and MARIAN McPARTLAND PLAY, TALK, and LAUGH (1991)

RUBY portrait

Thanks to National Public Radio, here is a rebroadcast of Marian McPartland’s PIANO JAZZ featuring the one, the only Ruby Braff, in a mellow mood, here.

MARIAN McPARTLAND

There’s delicious music — both players in exquisite form — THOU SWELL, THESE FOOLISH THINGS, THIS YEAR’S KISSES (with Ruby at the piano), THIS IS ALL I ASK, BLUE AND SENTIMENTAL (a piano duet), SINGIN’ THE BLUES (Marian, solo), BY MYSELF, AS TIME GOES BY, LOVE IS JUST AROUND THE CORNER, and an extra bit of holiday laginappe, WHITE CHRISTMAS, as well as commentary on Vic Dickenson and Buster Bailey, the “Laws of Comping,” Mel Powell, Count Basie, Frank Sinatra, the Boston jazz scene in the Fifties, George Barnes, Frank Tate, Dave McKenna, a CD that never emerged, the Braff-Hyman GIRL CRAZY, Tony Bennett, the value of caring and having standards, Benny Goodman, Herschel Evans, picking songs and making records, Maurice Chevalier, Bix Beiderbecke, and more.

The authority on all things Braff, Tom Hustad, thinks that the program was recorded in fall 1991 — as he notes in his invaluable book, BORN TO PLAY: THE RUBY BRAFF DISCOGRAPHY AND DIRECTORY OF PERFORMANCES.  Hear the music; buy the book; remember Ruby and Marian and the music they made always.

May your happiness increase!