Tag Archives: pop culture

TODD LONDAGIN’S EXTRAORDINARY RANGE: “LOOK OUT FOR LOVE”

I met and admired the trombonist and singer Todd Londagin several times in 2005 and onwards; he was one of the crew of cheerful individualists who played gleeful or dark music with the drummer Kevin Dorn.  A fine trombonist (with a seamless reach from New Orleans to this century) and an engaging singer, Todd is someone I have faith in musically.  But when I received his second CD, LOOK OUT FOR LOVE, I hardly expected it to be as remarkable as it is.

TODD LONDAGIN cover

On it, Todd sings and plays (occasionally doing both simultaneously, through an Avakian-like graceful use of multi-tracking . . . even sounding like Jay and Kai here and there), with a splendid small band: Pete Smith, guitar; Matt Ray, piano, Jennifer Vincent, string bass; David Berger, drums.  Singer Toby Williams joins in on BRAZIL.  The presentation is neither self-consciously sparse or overproduced. With all due respect to Todd, the foursome of Pete, Matt, Jennifer, and David could easily sustain their own CD or gig. I had only met Matt (unpredictable) and Jennifer (a swing heartbeat) in person, but this “rhythm section” is a wonderful — and quirky — democratic conversation of singular voices, each one of them a powerful yet gracious rhythm orchestra.

But I keep returning to Todd.  And his “extraordinary range” doesn’t refer to the notes he can hit on trombone or sing.  It’s really a matter of a deep emotional intelligence, and I can’t think of anyone who can equal him here. (That’s no stage joke.)

Consider these songs: LOOK OUT FOR LOVE / BYE BYE BABY / SOME OF THESE DAYS / BRAZIL / I CONCENTRATE ON YOU / LONG AGO AND FAR AWAY / PENNIES FROM HEAVEN / YOU GO TO MY HEAD / I CAN’T HELP IT / BUST YOUR WINDOWS.  The first two songs show off Todd’s sly, ingratiating self — witty and wily on the first (with a neo-Basie rock) and endearing on the second. Those who have to think of Echoes might hear Chet Baker, Harry Connick, Jr., a young Bob Dorough, or Dave Frishberg. I thought on the first playing and continue to think that if there were aesthetic justice in the world, the first two songs would be coming out of every car radio for miles.  (Todd would also be starring on every enlightened late-night television show, or do I dream?)

The pop classics that follow are always served with a twist — a slightly different tempo, a different rhythmic angle, a beautiful seriousness (I’ve never heard CONCENTRATE interpreted so well).

Maybe Todd is understandably afraid of being pigeonholed as Another Interpreter of The Great American Songbook — with all the attendant reverence and dismissal that comes with that assessment — so the closing songs are “more modern.”  I think he does Stevie Wonder’s I CAN’T HELP IT justice in his own light-hearted, sincere, swinging way.

I am not attuned to contemporary pop culture, except to cringe when I hear loud music coming from the car next to mine, so I had no historical awareness with which to approach BUST YOUR WINDOWS.

In fact, I thought the title would herald some exuberant love song, “My love for you is so strong, it’s going to bust your windows,” or something equally cheerful.

Thus I was horrified to hear Todd sing, “I had to bust the windows out your car,” and all my literate-snobbish-overeducated revulsion came to the surface, as I called upon the shades of Leo Robin and Yip Harburg to watch over me.

But then I calmed down and reminded myself just how much fun the preceding nine tracks had been, and that I would be very surprised if Todd — bowing to whatever notion of modernity — had gone entirely off the rails. And I listened to BUST YOUR WINDOWS again. And again. For those who don’t know the song, it was an immense hit for one Jazmine Sullivan in 2008, and there’s a YouTube video of her doing it. The premise is that the singer finds her lover has been untrue with another (not a new idea) but (s)he then takes a crowbar to her lover’s car so that her lover will know what faithlessness does to others. Tough love, indeed.  I researched Sullivan’s music video — where she is threatening to unzip herself to a tango / rhythm and blues beat — and disliked it.

But I had no patience for her rendition of her own song because I had been struck so powerfully by Todd’s — almost a stifled scream of brokenhearted passion worthy of a great opera’s finish before the grieving one, betrayed, commits suicide. Todd’s performance has no tango beat, no intrusive orchestration: he merely presents the lyrics and melody as if he is showing us his bleeding heart . . . as if he has used the crowbar on himself.  It is a performance both bone-dry and powerful, understated and unforgettable. I can’t forget it, just as I keep on wanting to replay LOOK OUT FOR LOVE.

You can find out more about Todd here, and after you’ve heard the three samples, I hope you will chase down a copy of this CD. It is wildly rewarding and beautifully-textured music, and it will stay with you when other CDs by more “famous” players and singers have grown tedious. I don’t like “best” or “favorite,” but this CD is magnificently musical in so many ways that it will astonish.

May your happiness increase!

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“SAN” (Oriental Fox Trot) EXPLAINED

I asked in a post some months back whether anyone knew the lyrics or the story to SAN, that 1920 hit by Lindsay McPhail and Walter Michels.

Most of us, I think, know the song from Paul Whiteman’s 1927 recording featuring Bix Beiderbecke and Jimmy Dorsey, among others, or the Jimmie Noone recording . . . or versions by groups into this century.

John Cooper, pop culture sleuth, came up with the answers — to be found in the lyrics:

First Verse

King San of Senegal

Sat on the shore

At Bulamay,

Singing a sad refrain.

To his dear queen who’d gone away,

This was his lay.

Second Verse

One day the queen came home

Saw San in sadness on the shore,

Told him she’d no more roam.

Only her San would she adore,

Then came this lore.

Chorus

Oh, sweet heart Lona, my darling Lona,

Why have you gone away?

You said you loved me,

But if you loved me,

Why did you act this way?

If I had ever been untrue to you,

What you have done would be the thing to do;

But my heart aches, dear,

And it will break, dear,

If you don’t come back home again to San!

Chorus 2

Oh, sweet heart Lona, my darling Lona,

Have you come back to stay?

You said you loved me,

I knew you loved me,

I knew you’d come some day.

If I had ever been untrue to you,

What you have done would be the thing to do;

But now you’re mine, dear,

For all the time, dear,

And you’re forgiven by your loving San!

Now we know.  And even though “San” and “Lona” sound to me like a post-retirement couple — the kind who would run a small ice-cream stand or candy store at the beach — they are presumably Senegalese (West African) which, I guess, explains the camels on the cover.

And a postscript from a banjo-playing friend, Bob Sann: “There is a river in southeastern Poland called the San.  Perhaps Walter Michels, who wrote the music, had relatives there?  I did.”

May your happiness increase.

GET HAPPY?

Over breakfast, the Beloved and I were talking about worry.  Everyone knows in some logical way that worry is useless and destructive, but most people have a hard time asking our anxieties to take a nap.

You can read her moving ruminations on the subject here

As is my habit, my thoughts drifted to music . . . and I started telling her about the paradoxical phenomenon I associate with 1931-33: delightful songs where the singer cheerfully tells the audience that WE’RE OUT OF THE RED, WE’RE IN THE MONEY, HAPPY DAYS ARE HERE AGAIN, and so on.  The title of this post — with no question mark — is a Harold Arlen-Ted Koehler exhortation.

“Better times are coming . . . now and then,” said philosopher Josh Billings, musing over his suitcase and whiskbrooms.

Then, there’s WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS, whose lyrics still make a good deal of emotional sense (although the verse and the chorus seem to have come from two different songs):

and the more manic (or is it simply Ted Lewis’ delivery) DIP YOUR BRUSH IN THE SUNSHINE — where Benny Goodman and Muggsy Spanier embody optimism without speaking a word:

and the songs that silently say, “We have no place to go and no money, so let’s tell ourselves it’s fine and perhaps it will be,” such as LET’S SPEND AN EVENING AT HOME and the older SLEEPY TIME GAL, where the singer tells his partner that it would be so delightful to forgo “cabaretting” and staying out late in favor of domesticity.  KEEP SMILING AT TROUBLE — because, as the subtitle tells us, TROUBLE’S A BUBBLE.

Or the culinary versions of this sentiment: A CUP OF COFFEE, A SANDWICH, AND YOU, and LIFE IS JUST A BOWL OF CHERRIES.

My question — unanswerable although enticing — is whether these songs made a difference or they were lies manufactured by people in the Brill Building who knew that writing about imaginary prosperity could make them fifty dollars.  Were these songs the musical version of cheap gin, another effort to keep the peasants from overturning their apple carts and marching on the government with pitchforks and bricks?

From my vantage point in 2012 with breakfast consumed and the promise of a lunch, I can find these songs enchanting.  I can grin at RAISIN’ THE RENT and GET YOURSELF A NEW BROOM (AND SWEEP YOUR CARES AWAY) but I wonder how people who were hungry felt when they heard these Timely Tunes.  Did hearing BROTHER, CAN YOU SPARE A DIME? make anyone without coinage feel better?

May you all find that your troubles vanish when wrapped in dreams.

May your happiness increase.

“ON A COCONUT ISLAND” (March 26, 2011)

Here’s a delightful example of the multiculturalism that jazz embodies. 

What could be more expansive than a band of French musicians (with an American pianist sitting in) playing music created by a mixture of races and ethnicities in New Orleans? 

They’re playing a Hawaiian pop song (or at least its subject is Hawaii) recorded by an African-American trumpet player and singer — and my friend Melissa Collard, too.

And they’re playing it in Hungary. 

Call that narrow or insular at your own peril!

The facts:

The Night Owls, from Paris, play a leisurely ON A COCONUT ISLAND, at the 20th International Bohém Ragtime and Jazz Festival in Kecskemét, Hungary, March 26, 2011.  The Owls are Jerome Etcheberry, trumpet; Christophe Deret, trombone; Enzo Mucci, banjo; Sebastien Girardot, string bass; Guillaume Nouaux, drums.  And the meditative-looking fellow at the piano is none other than Butch Thompson!

The 2011 Bohém Festival DVD compilation can be obtained from order@bohemragtime.com.  See more at: www.bohemragtime.com.

WHEN JAZZ WAS FASHIONABLE

This grainy newspaper ad for Adam Hats shows the Benny Goodman Sextet of 1941, with Davey Tough nearly dwarfed by his hat, Charlie Christian looking somewhat startled by his.  I presume that is Johnny Guarneri in the back left corner, bassist Artie Bernstein next to Charlie, and who could mistake Cootie Williams — with or without a blazing necktie — and Georgie Auld for anyone else?  Benny looks comfortable with his hat: more power to him. 

I include this advertisement here because jazz musicians were usually trend-setters in fashion, and because it summons up a time when they were also iconic figures: WEAR THE HAT THAT DAVE TOUGH WEARS would be good enough for me, then or now.

The photo is taken from Leo Valdes’s encyclopedic Charlie Christian website, SOLO FLIGHT, http://home.elp.rr.com/valdes/index.html — hugely diverting and informative even if you don’t play the guitar or have no intention of wearing a fedora.