Truman “Pinky” Tomlin, singer, composer, bandleader, film star
Everyone reading JAZZ LIVES could, with not much effort, compile a list of a dozen well-known and rewarding jazz recordings. Your list might be entirely different, but I feel that we would recognize the names of most, if not all, of the entries. But what continues to delight me is the wonderful music to be found on recordings that don’t get any attention, those beneath the surface of the collective attention.
One such record is a recent purchase from eBay, and it’s repaid its original price (perhaps $2.99?) a dozen times over, even though its star, Oklahoma-born “Pinky” Tomlin, would not be at the top of many people’s lists.
The record isn’t listed in Tom Lord’s or Brian Rust’s discography, although the records Pinky made with (among others) Joe Sullivan and Joe Haymes are. Make of this what you will, but two sides made at the same session — SMILES and THE OLD OAKEN BUCKET — are listed (and thus certified as Official Jazz Records) although they are less memorable: I bought that disc also from eBay.
The orchestra is directed by Harry Sosnik, and features Pinky with Mannie Klein, trumpet; Andy Secrest, cornet; Abe Lincoln, trombone; Jack Mayhew, clarinet; Claude Kennedy, piano; Perry Botkin, guitar; Slim Jim Taft, string bass; Spike Jones, drums. It was recorded in Los Angeles, April 23, 1938.
Those are illustrious names; some readers will notice that the band is close to the group that accompanied Mr. Crosby and Mr. Mercer on their version of the Gallagher-and-Shean vaudeville routine in July of that year: the evidence here. I suspect that more than a few worked in radio and were known as the best “studio” musicians on the West Coast. The one unknown in this band, pianist Kennedy, I found out through reading Pinky’s autobiography, THE OBJECT OF MY AFFECTION (his best-known composition) was a friend and musical colleague of Pinky’s from Oklahoma. (Just because you might be wondering, Truman Tomlin got his nickname early on because of his complexion.)
I wonder if this session was another of Jack Kapp’s crossover ideas, joining hot jazz, swing, and Western swing, to support Pinky, already well-known on radio and films. Had Kapp noticed the success of Maxine Sullivan’s LOCH LOMOND, a swing version of a traditional song, or Ella Logan’s efforts (in all those cases, no composers to pay)?
But enough words. Feast your ears (and, yes, there is authentic surface noise, because the original owner of this record played it often).
RED RIVER VALLEY:
These sides are fun, and that comes from their ease, the sweet balance between Pinky’s sincere Oklahoma voice, not trying to “get hot” except for the one upwards Bing-meets-Louis scat phrase on RED WING. He’s telling us stories, and he’s completely earnest but never stiff. Sosnik wasn’t always so swinging on other Deccas that bear his name, but the arranged passages are right on target, and it’s especially pleasant that the endings on both sides aren’t histrionic, but wind down gently. Secrest plays beautifully, but it’s the band that charms me — its unsung heroes being Perry Botkin and Spike Jones, who certainly swung.
“It’s not in the discography, so it can’t be jazz.” But it’s rewarding music.
I find myself charmed by Pinky: he seems guileless, someone who is being rather than acting. Two more examples: one, from a 1937 film, where he, like Bing, seems to say to a viewer, “I’m on the screen, singing, and putting clothing into a trunk. But you could do this, too.”:
Two decades later, Pinky faces Groucho, his essential sweetness intact:
A few words about THE OBJECT OF MY AFFECTION. I read in Pinky’s autobiography how the song was a spur-of-the-moment creation that grew from the casual phrase that was its title. But it has deep jazz credentials: Ella sang it early, and later in life, when she and Pinky were together at some public function, went out of her way to express her gratitude.
Three versions, each showing the song’s durability and emotional appeal. First, Carl Switzer:
Helvetia, Connie, and Martha:
Garnet Clark, Bill Coleman (“from brown to rosy red”), June Cole, George Johnson, Django:
May your happiness increase!