Tag Archives: Miss Otis Regrets


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!


miss-otis-regretsThose of you who follow this blog closely (earning my gratitude) will recall my January 20 posting about Symphony Space.  The Space is hosting a monthlong program on the art and culture of a pivotal year in American culture, 1939.  I found it inexplicable that there seemed to be no live jazz on the program, and called my post NO JAM TODAY (AT SYMPHONY SPACE).

Some time passed and I found it slightly odd that no one from the Space had responded to this post, but explained this silence by reminding myself that there are still some people beyond the reach of this blog.  Astonishing but true.  Last Friday, Stephen Holden wrote an admiring news piece about “1939” in the Arts section of the New York Times, naming the co-ordinator of the project, Laura Kaminsky.

After reading Holden’s piece, I sent Ms. Kaminsky a brief, well-behaved email, inviting her to read the post, and offering to post her response here if she wished.  Here’s her reply:

“Thank you for writing.  We would have liked to have included a big band segment, but, alas, were unable to secure the funding necessary.  We are having an evening of community swing/jitterbug dance hosted by Mercedes Ellington, and while it won’t be live, it will be the best of the big band music on recordings.

There is, however, a live jazz component – 12 nights of jazz vocalists in unWINEd wine bar and lounge – all the wed-thur-fri evenings at 9 pm throughout the month, as well as an evening with Miles Griffith and Kirk Nurock in the Thalia.  I hope to see you there.

All best, Laura Kaminsky”

I appreciate Ms. Kaminsky’s candor and promptness.  Of course it is rather too late to revise the program and to depose some guests in favor of what I might think of as more appropriate choices.  However, I still don’t think that having a “platter party” makes up for the absence of real live 1939-related jazz.  An evening devoted to the Kansas City Seven and Benny Goodman’s Sextet would have required seven musicians, but perhaps that idea was too arcane for acceptance.  The artists she mentioned (named and unnamed) are no doubt commendable, and I mean them no slight, but I would be surprised if any of them delved deeply into the music that so epitomized 1939.

In future, I hope that Ms. Kaminsky or anyone else planning such a program might take some suggestions from someone knowledgeable about the intersections between jazz and other art forms: I would have been more than happy to provide them for free.