Perhaps because I am both nearsighted and fallible, “I MAY BE WRONG (But I think You’re Wonderful)” is a favorite song of mine — written by Henry Sullivan (music) and Harry Riskin (lyrics) no matter what the cover states. The lyrics only make sense if one realizes that the singer is seriously myopic. Here’s the verse:
A delightful November 929 recording (the song was a duet in the original presentation) thanks to the splendidly musical Peter Mintun:
and here is my favorite instrumental version, with decades of playing this track on the “Swingville All-Stars” session on the Prestige-Swingville label. (Coleman Hawkins, Joe Newman, J.C. Higginbotham, Jimmy Hamilton, and Claude Hopkins were on another session, which is why Hawk is credited here.)
The band is a gathering of gentle idiosyncratic deities, each singing his own song: Joe Thomas, trumpet; Vic Dickenson, trombone; Pee Wee Russell, clarinet; Al Sears, Buddy Tate, tenor saxophone; Cliff Jackson, piano; Danny Barker, guitar; Joe Benjamin, string bass; J.C. Heard. drums. New York, May 19, 1961:
I think these performances are wonderful, and in this I don’t think I’m wrong.
My gratitude to Peter Mintun and to Michael Burgevin, who introduced me to Joe Thomas.
A new old tune — thanks to the diligent Janette Walker — that has everything one could want in a memorably silly ditty.
And the first page (courtesy, like the cover, of eBay):
A wonderful version — love those saxophones! — thanks to Nick Dellow. Legend has it that Jackson held and recorded jam session parties. Anyone got those discs in paper sleeves in the attic?
Another contemporaneous version, positively lilting. Speculation about the trombonist will be welcomed:
And a treat from this century: Peter Mintun, 2010. JAZZ LIVES has made many pleasurable experiences possible for me, but one of the nicer ones is that I met Peter a few years back when he visited New York City (at an uptown corner pub called the Tryon) where there was good music: he knew my work and I certainly admire his:
Remember to first clear all requests with the proper authorities, no matter what Grandma says . . . unless she has a legal staff and can pay your bail. You’ve been warned.
I wrote recently about a new scene for hot jazz— the late-Wednesday sessions led by Jim Fryer at the Tryon Public House, 4740 Broadway, a few blocks from the Dyckman Street station on the A line. The sessions run from 11 PM to 1 AM.*
Last Wednesday, intrepid and intent, I took the A all the way uptown and found the place — cheerful, run by nice people, full of friends: Michelle DeCastro, Ana Quintana, Stephanie Robinson, Peter Mintun, Bliss Blood, Charlie Levenson, Sarah Spencer . . . and the Hot Jazz Rabble: Jim, trombone, vocal; Mike Davis, trumpet, vocal; Glenn Crytzer, banjo; Jennifer Vincent, string bass (arco and pizzicato). Later, Sarah sat in for two fine numbers; then (after I left to go home to suburbia) Bliss, Jay Lepley, and Jordan Hirsch sat in.
The food looked good; the beer looked better; I was told there was parking on Broadway. No cover, no minimum, a yearning tip jar.
Musically, I had the time of my life.
Three glorious samples from the first set:
I FOUND A NEW BABY (hotter than the devil’s kitchen, even when someone trips over my tripod — and then apologizes, bless him — at about 3:40):
A great Tim Laughlin original with a delightful title, SUBURBAN STREET PARADE:
Mike Davis’ BLUE TURNING GREY OVER YOU, where he sounds nicely like the Master to Jim’s Mister Tea:
I’ll have two more visceral ones to post featuring Sarah Spencer, too.
This scene is really worth being a little sleepy on Thursday morning.
*And incidentally, if you have old-fashioned notions of “uptown” being “a bad neighborhood,” Broadway up there was brightly lit, populated by a charming mix of people — nothing to be afeared of.
Let’s begin with a gently ravishing performance of this song by Peter Mintun:
Peter, who is a fine scholar as well as a wooing performer, notes that the song comes from the Paramount film MURDER AT THE VANITIES, where it is sung during a huge production number with ostrich feathers forming the waves of the ocean. The 1934 film stars Carl Brisson, Victor McLaglen, Kitty Carlisle, Jack Oakie, Gertrude Michael, Dorothy Stickney, Gail Patrick, Duke Ellington & His Orchestra, and Jessie Ralph.
I find the melody irresistible, and the lyrics are especially charming, deftly avoiding certain hackneyed phrases and rhymes that a lesser writer would have seized on. And to me, carpe diem for lovers is always an attractive idea.
Here’s a contemporaneous version of LIVE AND LOVE TONIGHT, leisurely and convincing. Don’t let the surface noise get in the way of romance:
Now, the more famous 1934 version (at least to the jazz cognoscenti), which was my introduction to the song:
How beautiful that is! I feel wrapped up in that orchestral sound, the soaring invitation of Johnny Hodges’ soprano, the timbres of the different soloists who write their own personal variations on the melody. (It’s a recording I could listen to a number of times in a row and each time hear something rewarding.)
Five years later, in a small cramped Chicago studio:
That recording is also a series of delights — Walter Page’s energetic bass lines behind Basie’s homage to his mentor Fats, the sound of the rhythm section, the creations of Buck Clayton and the ever-surprising Lester Young.
I have always wondered how LIVE AND LOVE TONIGHT came in to that session. One ready hypothesis is the hand of John Hammond, who had favorite songs from the Twenties and early Thirties that he urged musicians to record (something that angered Billie Holiday greatly), so I can see him bringing the sheet music to the session. And I believe, based on the recorded evidence, that Basie and his musicians didn’t feel a great need to expand their repertoire — that Basie would have gone on playing the blues, I GOT RHYTHM, and perhaps I AIN’T GOT NOBODY happily for decades.
But I also wonder how powerfully LIVE AND LOVE TONIGHT made an impression on jazz musicians, because who of them would not have seen a movie with Duke in it? It’s a mystery, but the results are gorgeous.
Ten or twenty years ago, I would have heard these recordings (leaving Peter aside for a moment) and seen a clear line of “improvement,” of musical progress. To my younger ears, Harman’s version would have been sticky-sweet, and I would have endured the record hoping for a hot eight-bar solo on the final bridge, in the fashion of 1931 hot dance records. I would have been in love with the Ellington recording — which in its own delicious way, is also “dance music,” but to me the apex of all things gratifying in music would have been the Basie recording. I still find the final recording thrilling, but I no longer want to construct stairways of progress, where everything ascends to a Hero or Heroine, and all that has come before is somehow inferior.
Good music is satisfying on its own terms, or at least it should be.
And love — not just for tonight or today — will keep us alive for sure.
The world knew her as Ramona and her Grand Piano when she appeared and recorded with Paul Whiteman and small groups of his sidemen. She had an intriguingly deep voice and a precise although loose piano style. Her 1932-35 recordings are treasures (I think the ones under her own name were all contained on one TOM CD) but she isn’t as well as known as she should be.
But here she is on film, announced as THE PRINCESS OF JAZZ, singing STRAIGHT FROM THE SHOULDER (RIGHT FROM THE HEART), lifting her eyes to heaven in the most winsome manner; Con Conrad’s carpe diem, WHY NOT? (“Not to love is no existence”) after having been introduced by Robert Benchley; in the third clip, from Dick Powell’s 1935 THANKS A MILLION, we see the entire Whiteman Orchestra, with Roy Bargy at the second piano and the King’s Men, leading to her performance of BELLE OF NEW ORLEANS.
Here she is with the Whiteman Orchestra in 1934, singing both choruses of I GUESS I’LL HAVE TO CHANGE MY PLAN:
and the 1932 LET’S PUT OUT THE LIGHTS AND GO TO SLEEP:
LOVE THY NEIGHBOR (apparently from a 1934 broadcast):
The cautionary tale, ANNIE DOESN’T LIVE HERE ANYMORE (hear her lilt at the start of the second chorus):
The 1935 EV’RY NOW AND THEN (with Jack and Charlie Teagarden, Benny Bonacio, Dick McDonough):
And IF THE MOON TURNS GREEN, from the same year:
Distinctive, worldly, and sweet, no?
For an extraordinary biographical essay on Ramona — written by musician and scholar Peter Mintun — click here — one of the best pieces of enjoyable musicology ever.