Tag Archives: radio

NEW OLD TREASURES!

Here are the very exciting results of our trip to an antique store in Vallejo and a community thrift store in Benicia — both less famous towns in California.

I know this isn’t a terribly rare piece of sheet music: it was a hit in 1920 and people still request it today.  But I love the Art Deco cover, and I had never heard anyone sing the verse.  That verse intrigues me because of its indirection.  The singer doesn’t say, “I’ve got a girl named Margie, and she’s great,” etc.  No, there’s a little story:

One: You can talk about your love affairs,

Here’s one I must tell to you;

All night long they sit on the stairs,

He holds her close and starts to coo:

Two: You can picture me most ev’ry night,

I can’t wait until they start;

Ev’ry thing he says just seems all right,

I want to learn that stuff by heart:

Thus the setup for the chorus is coming from an eager but less-sophisticated young man who wants to take Lessons in Love.  Who would have guessed it?

Not jazz by any means, but captivating.

I hadn’t known that Russ Columbo was RADIO’S REVELATION.  Having bought the sheet music for YOU CALL IT MADNESS, BUT I CALL IT LOVE, I’ve learned something both new and essential.

I had never heard or heard of this 1929 song (lyrics by Charles Tobias and Sidney Clare, music by Peter DeRose).  By no means is it an unknown classic, but here are the lyrics to the bridge: “He plays most everything the masters wrote / He plays them heavenly and doesn’t read a note.”  Hot enough for me.

This one is a treasure for obvious reasons and more.  I knew this lovely song from Bing’s 1931 recording, but had no idea that it has been associated with Miss Connie Boswell.  And it has a personal meaning for me.  My father was born in 1915, and the songs of his childhood became the songs of mine, even though I didn’t exactly know the titles or the complete versions.  He is dead almost thirty years, and I can still hear him singing, “Leaves come tumbling down / ‘Round my head / Some of them are brown / Some are red,” although I don’t think he ever got as far as the bridge.  I think he also sang it to his granddaughters, several of whom might remember the tune.

Since I mentioned Harry Lillis Crosby, I shall bring forward one of the real gems of my paddling through cardboard boxes of shredding sheet music (invariably on my hands and knees).  I have only the cover of this song, but I think it’s a worthwhile find:

Handsome young fellow, isn’t he?  (Even with that hairpiece.)  I think he has a real future, than Bing.  With or without the other Two Rhythm Boys.  (Incidentally, if you haven’t heard John Gill’s Bing tribute — with his Sentimental Serenaders — recorded for Stomp Off — you’re denying yourself pleasure.)

And since nothing beats an unusual 78 rpm record in mint condition, let me share this one with you.  It looks anything but interesting, but I have hopes:

Now, John Conte was not a pseudonym for Red McKenzie or Boyce Brown, and the other side looks just as far away from hot jazz as the first.  But the TEEN TIMER label stopped me from going on to the next record.  Perhaps twenty-five years ago, the musician and scholar Loren Schoenberg (who now heads the Jazz Museum in Harlem) had a weekly radio program on Columbia University’s WKCR-FM, and one of his august guests was the tenor saxophonist Jerry Jerome.  Jerry brought along a number of rarities, and one of them sprang from a radio program (circa 1944) for which he led the house band.  The TEEN TIMERS orchestra was an astonishing collection of the best New York City studio players / hot soloists.  I remember Chris Griffin and Will Bradley, Hymie Schertzer, Johnny Guarneri, Eddie Safranski, and Dave Tough were in the band — identifiable not only by their sound, but because that day the program might have run short, so the players were allowed to stretch out on a ONE O’CLOCK JUMP where they were identified by name.  (I learned online that it was a Saturday morning show on NBC; the singing star was Eileen Barton — later to have a big hit with IF I KNEW YOU WERE COMING, I’D A BAKED A CAKE) and the announcer was Art Ford — late 1944, early 1945.  So TEEN TIMERS — perhaps a hopeful effort by Apollo Records (for whom Jerry did some producing of sessions) to attract the bobby-soxers — has the possibility of a hot obbligato or a lovely ballad interlude on this disc.  Or perhaps a Dave Tough cymbal accent.  We live in hope.

Are there any JAZZ LIVES readers who recall this radio program?

Finally, you might be able to intuit how pleased I am with my finds.  They didn’t cost much; they don’t weigh a great deal; they are filled with sentiment.  But perhaps I should let Stuff Smith indicate the state of my emotions?

P.S.  A note on what some folks call “provenance”: most of the music above (and some I didn’t photograph — a Frank Crumit comedy song called I MARRIED THE BOOTLEGGER’S DAUGHTER) came from the collection of one musical young woman.  I could trace some parts of her life: in one phase, she was Stella Carberry (in block capitals); in another, she signed in lovely cursive Stella Maria Pisani.  The copy of MARGIE belonged to Stella’s sister or even sister-in law (I am assuming) Tessie M. Pisani.  Objects have their own lives and they reflect the people who once owned and loved them.

THE BOYS IN THE BAND: FROM THE McCONVILLE ARCHIVES (Part Five)

Identify all the gentlemen of the ensemble and win a prize  — either a can of Chase and Sanborn coffee or ten gallons of Texaco gasoline. 

A radio show sponsored by Chase and Sanborn began in 1929; violinist David Rubinoff led the orchestra on the Chase and Sanborn Hour from 1931. 

See Jerry Haendiges Vintage Radio Logs ( http://www.otrsite.com/logs/loge1005.htm#chase) for dates of some of the early shows. 

And an aside: Rubinoff was so famous as a “long-haired” violinist, but metaphorically and literally, that when I worked a part-time job as an undergraduate, my boss — who wanted all his employees clean-shaven and short-haired, would upbraid me when he thought I should get a haircut, “Who do you think you are, Rubinoff?”  I must have asked him — or my father — to explain the reference, but this was forty years after the photograph shown above.

 Here’s another famous radio orchestra with an immediately recognizable star:

Ed Wynn, of course, for Texaco, sometime between 1931 and 1935.  I love the gas pumps on stage and the fact that the people in the front row, men and women, are for the most part wearing Fire Chief helmets.  Take me back to that time and place!  Don Voorhees led the orchestra, and Graham MacNamee was the announcer who bantered with Ed. 

Here’s a site where you can hear and download fifteen episodes of this program for free: http://www.archive.org/details/TheFireChieftheEdWynnShow.  And — even more exciting — here’s a radio program with musical interludes including I GOT RHYTHM and LADY BE GOOD: http://oldradioshows.org/02/19/ed-wynn-signed-on-radio-as-first-vaudeville-talent/

I know my readers will leap to the challenge, even if they aren’t fighting over the coffee or the gasoline.  And heartfelt thanks to Leo McConville Jr. for providing these evocative glimpses into our past.  And thanks to Leo McConville Sr. — of course!

P.S.  My friend Enrico Borsetti, who is both gracious and generous, wrote me to say that he identified Joe Tarto on tuba in the Rubinoff shot and in the Texaco one he sees Scrappy Lambert, Tarto, Tony Parenti,  and Miff Mole, among others.  Grazie, Enrico!

FRIENDS OF LEO: FROM THE McCONVILLE ARCHIVES (Part Four)

Because trumpeter Leo McConville was a valued member of top radio orchestras, he had friends who came from that world as well as jazz musicians.  Here are four examples — and for those who might suffer momentary hot-music withdrawal pangs, two band pictures and one familiar face at the end of this post. 

Here are three child stars who appeared on the same program — hosted by Milton Cross, and called COAST-TO-COAST ON A BUS, THE CHILDREN’S HOUR, and THE WHITE RABBIT LINE (which “jumps anywhere, anytime!”).  Singer Audrey Egan is the least known of the three, and I don’t know whether she continued in show business as an adult:

Jackie Kelk (1923-2002) appeared with Audrey on the same radio program, but he is much more famous because he played “Jimmy Olsen” for seven years on the radio version of SUPERMAN before moving into television:

I had a vague recognition of Kelk, but a clearer awareness of “Walter C. Tetley,” also known without the C.  He is the most famous of the three, playing “Leroy” on the radio series THE GREAT GILDERSLEEVE — someone who retained his childlike voice into adulthood (he can be heard on recordings by Stan Freberg):

The attractive Olga “Gypsy” Markoff (born 1917) revealed herself after a few minutes of online searching — as an accordionist who played the classics for FDR and other heads of state:

For the sake of comparison, here is the Getty Images photograph of the same woman:

Finally (as promised) here are two bands.  I know nothing of the first, except that the drummer’s set has initials — his or the leader’s? — and that the set itself is a beauty:

And Leo himself is visible in the second photograph, although I don’t recognize his colleagues:

And a familiar face and colleague:

Three child stars, one lovely accordionist, two bands, one hot cornetist — the Archives continue to surprise!

LISTEN TO THIS!

From Mike Schwimmer, one of JAZZ LIVES’ readers:

You asked if any of your readers have a radio show. I do. It’s called The Yesterday Shop and it’s a 3-hour program airing the 2nd and 4th Sundays each month on WOMR-FM, Provincetown, Massachusetts. Better yet, it’s streamed on the Web and you can listen on your computer at WOMR.org. I was on yesterday and will be back on April 10th.

I play trad, early jazz-oriented big bands (pre-WW II) and dixieland. Yesterday, I devoted the program to current or recent jazz groups playing OKOM (our kind of music). I am a percussionist, specializing in washboard. I have a long history as a Midwest musician out of Chicago and founded and led the Red Rose Ragtime Band for many years until moving away from that city.

I would very much like to feature more current bands, groups and musicians and would be grateful for any material you could send my way.

Mike Schwimmer, Brewster MA

lordpeter@comcast.net

LOOKING FOR LOUIS, THEN AND NOW

But which one?  The sound on the records, the iconic image on the television screen, or the actual person?

In the spring of 1967, I was fourteen — someone who had been secretly listening to Louis Armstrong records for a few years.  And I was fortunate enough to be alive when Louis was popular — HELLO, DOLLY! was still vivid in his repertoire and in people’s memories so that he appeared on the Hollywood Palace, with Danny Kaye, alongside Herb Alpert and the Tiajuana Brass, on Ed Sullivan, Mike Douglas, and Johnny Carson.

I don’t recall how I learned that Louis and the All-Stars would be playing a concert at the Island Gardens in Hempstead, New York, only a few miles from where we lived.  But the Gardens were terribly far off for me: I had been to New York City but never on my own, and Hempstead had a bad reputation at night.

I begged my father to let me go to the concert, promising that I would not inconvenience anyone but would take a bus there and back.  I think I was a particularly awkward child, myopic and naive, and I am sure that my father shuddered at the thought of me making my way in the bus station.  Both he and my mother enjoyed a wide range of music, although not jazz, and they tolerated the loud rhythmic sounds that came through the floor of my upstairs bedroom.  At least if I was upstairs playing Louis and the Dukes of Dixieland, they knew where I was.  Other children were far more rebellious.

As a result of whatever behind-the-scenes negotiations I can’t imagine now, my father told me that he would take me to the concert, attend it, and take me home.  I was delighted — and the memory of his generous impulse pleases me now.  I wonder only why my mother didn’t want to join us.  Perhaps it was frugality; perhaps there was something she wanted to watch on television that night; she might have welcomed a night to herself.

I was bad at waiting, but as the days ticked down to the concert, it ballooned in my thoughts.  Although I had a pocket Instamatic camera (capable of poor pictures under most circumstances) I never thought of bringing it along. Perhaps I feared that my father would suggest to Louis that he pose with me (or the reverse) and I didn’t take much pleasure at seeing myself in pictures then.  I hadn’t yet been introduced to the cassette recorder, so that was a number of years in the future.  But I could and did spend a good deal of time obsessing over getting Mr. Armstrong’s autograph.

The problem was — in what format?  I had a few of his records, but found reasons to undermine the idea.  The soundtrack of THE FIVE PENNIES somehow didn’t seem appropriate, nor did SATCHMO’S GOLDEN FAVORITES or HELLO, DOLLY!  I could have brought along my precious 10″ LOUIS ARMSTRONG AND GORDON JENKINS, or TOWN HALL CONCERT PLUS, or even my more recent acquisition, LOUIS ARMSTRONG AND HIS HOT FIVE, a Columbia record produced by George Avakian.  I may have had a half-dozen more, but the idea got more and more complicated.  I didn’t know how deeply Louis loved his own recordings, and I might have thought, “What if he says, ‘I don’t like this record,’ and that ruins the whole encounter?”

I had spent countless hours next to the phonograph’s speaker drinking in the 1927 STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE and its triumphant outchorus, the sweet ruckus of the 1947 AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’, the glorious melding of Louis and Gordon Jenkins.  But one by one I dismissed them all.  What would I do with an autographed record album?  How would I display it?  Would it evoke the proper response in Mr. Armstrong, in the one chance I had to approach him?

I’ve read of studies in how much choice people are comfortable with, the extreme end being placing a child at a breakfast table with ten or twelve boxes of cereal . . . and the result is a child in tears.  I didn’t begin to cry at any point in my autograph-considerations, but ultimately I swept all the possibilities away and thought of the simplest situation: a plain unadorned piece of paper for Mr. Armstrong to sign.  True, the 3 x 5 index card I chose lacked character, but it could cause no offense.

I don’t remember going to the concert, although I would guess now that I gave my indulgent father a journey-long informal talk on why Louis Armstrong was important.  And I don’t remember him asking me to be quiet: he understood hero-worship even if he would have chosen a different object for it.

The Island Gardens, which may no longer exist, was a large hall with a semi-circular roof — rather like an elongated Quonset hut — and many rows of pale-grey metal folding chairs.  I am sure we were there early, seated in the front row, and my father bought me the official concert program.  (I may still have it.  As a jazz irrelevancy, I remember that it listed Buster Bailey as the clarinetist, although he had died not long before.)

Then, with no fanfare, no massed bands at the airport, Louis and his musicians entered through a doorway to the right.  I don’t remember what anyone was wearing, but they came in casually, with no one seeming to notice.  They were chatting to themselves.  Probably the bus was parked right outside the door, or had Louis been driven from Corona, perhaps a half-hour away?  I am sure I said in a near-hysterical whisper to my father, “There he is!” and my father would have said, “All right, then, go up and get his autograph.”

Timidly, I got out of my seat, clutching my program and my blank index card.  I remember approaching Louis, with Tyree Glenn standing nearby.  I would not have made any particular impression on any of the musicians: I didn’t have a trumpet case; I wasn’t an attractive young woman.  But this was going to be one of the great moments of my life up to that point: I was going to stand on the same ground as my hero and speak with him, and he would see me.

And (in retrospect) I wanted him to recognize the intensity of my devotion: “Mr. Armstrong, I might say, while everyone around me has been listening to the Beatles and Gary Lewis and the Playboys, I have been in love with your music.  I know every note on this record, and this one, and this one.  I have tape-recorded all your television appearances . . . I ask for your records for birthday presents!”

But when I got close to my hero, the unspoken telepathic communication didn’t happen.  And I was not able to put my impassioned inner monologue into words.  So I simply approached — noticing that he was smaller than I would have expected, having seen him only on record covers and television — and waited.

I hope I waited until he saw me, but I may have put my blank card in front of him and said, nervously, “Mr. Armstrong, would you sign this?”  He barely registered that I was there.  He signed his name and handed the card back, then continued the conversation I probably had interrupted.  For forty years before, he had been signing his name on pieces of paper: what was an extraordinary experience for a little boy hovering in front of the great man was something the great man did every day of his life.

At fourteen I was anything but audacious, so I didn’t even think of saying, “Hey, Mr. Armstrong, what about me?  I love your music!”

All I could do was to turn to Tyree Glenn and ask him for his autograph, which he neatly signed in the space Louis had left.

Disappointed, I went back to my seat and showed my father, who asked me, “Did he say anything to you?”  “No, ” I said — not whimpering, but probably close to it.  I didn’t embellish on that, as I recall, but I might have been thinking, “Here’s the man who seems to be continually having a good time, his features animated by a wonderful grin.  He didn’t look at me.  He didn’t look happy.  Did I do the wrong thing?”

I don’t remember much about the All-Stars show that followed.  Louis, I am sure, gave his all.  He got the audience clapping along on HELLO, DOLLY!  Tyree and he clowned around; Marty Napoleon rippled up and down the keyboard; Buddy Catlett and Danny Barcelona did their features; Jewel Brown (the performer who most intrigued my patient father) sang.  I don’t remember the clarinetist at all, although Ricky Riccardi, my guide in such things, tells me it was probably Johnny Mince.  And Louis?  What I remember most is watching him sit, at the rear of the bandstand, sipping from a paper cup of water, while his All-Stars played.  He seemed drained.  I remember noticing this, but I was wrapped up in my own disappointment.  My ears and eyes may have been so full of the iconic Louis that I was unable to take in the human man in front of me.

I thanked my father when it was all over and we went home.  I had my program and my card (the latter of which I still have — an emotionally-charged piece of paper) and I never got to see Louis again.

The closest I came was being in New York City in early 1971 and seeing posters (two stapled together) around lampposts advertising his appearance at the Waldorf-Astoria, a place that was even more beyond my reach than the Island Gardens had been.  Then he died.

I went on collecting his records, making myself even more of a worshipful Louis-acolyte, and musically he has rarely let me down: in fact, as I have grown older, I have come to hear more in his playing and singing, which both can bring me to tears.

But I have also harbored a small kernel of disappointment, even resentment — both of which are of course unreasonable, but hurt feelings are often not grounded in fact.  How could I have expected Louis to see me, a nearly speechless child, and recognize, “This boy loves my music!  This kid has been listening to my records for years!  He loves me!” if I was unable to say so?

And Louis may simply have been exhausted.  Ricky tells me that Louis’s health was none too good in early 1967, so perhaps he was gathering his strength for a night of exertion.

It has taken me a long time, as much as I revere Louis’s music, to forgive the man for looking right through me.  But it is the adult’s responsibility to do so.

Certainly we expect far more than we should of artists: not only do we demand that they perform up to and beyond our expectations, night after night, but we also crowd around the stage door, asking to be seen, to be acknowledged, when all they may want is to unwind in peace.

Because of the larger-than-life persona Louis created through his music, I expected him to be more than human — to transcend his mortal self.  And when he proved to be — to my eyes — ordinary, life-sized, I was disappointed.  And I remained so, in a small corner of my self, for years.  There is that child-self that is prone to such disillusionments, whether they come from our heroes or our families.  With luck, we never quite leave it behind but it comes to govern us less.

I can imagine an alternate universe where I have stature, where I have brought my Hot Five recording, where the sight of it makes Louis beam — not only recalling the music, but beaming upon the child who has brought him such tribute, obviously a child who understands . . .  But such incidents perfected after the fact are mere indulgences, and I must acknowledge that Louis is dead, 1967 is a long way gone, and I can only have what actually happened, not what should have.

But ultimately Louis was there that night in 1967.  And he remains with us.

WHAT’S THE MAGIC WORD?

Before recordings and sound film changed the world, music didn’t travel well.  Myth says that you could hear Buddy Bolden’s horn miles away, but trumpet players know that is unlikely.  You certainly couldn’t have the complete Jelly Roll Morton Library of Congress recordings on a little box in your shirt pocket. 

Recordings, then sound film, made it possible for music to be portable, reproduced, and represented far away in time and space from its origins.  Preservation is an extraordinary gift, letting us visit the dead and cherish them whenever we want.  When the Ellington band played RING DEM BELLS on a Victor record or in a 1930 film, thousands who would never see that band live could experience it. 

But “representation” is never flawless, because all individual perspectives are necessarily subjective.  A recording engineer or cameraman captures one version of what listeners experience.  Most recordings and films seem, at best, to compress the exuberance of the artists.  Jazz anecdotal history is full of the names of great performers who, we are told, never “came though whole” in the recording studio.  And films  — even contemporary performance films — have their own, sometimes intrusive, conventions that must be obeyed.     

Our texts for today are two representations of Bing Crosby singing PLEASE.  The music is by the sadly short-lived Ralph Rainger, the lyrics by Leo Robin, and Bing first performed in the 1932 film THE BIG BROADCAST, one of Paramount’s efforts to get all the musical stars it could assemble into one film, to lure people away from their radios and back into the movie theatres.  The plot of this film is exceedingly foolish, but it’s only an excuse for a now irreplaceable variety show.     Bing Please 2

And here’s the performance itself — all too brief:

I love the flimsy fictions that this clip requires a viewer to accept.  I think, just before it begins, Bing says to his pal, guitarist Eddie Lang, “Well, let’s run it through again,” suggesting that they are rehearsing a new number.  He holds the sheet music, but casually.  And Lang is not paying much attention to the music on top of the piano.  (He was a wonderfully subtle player, never equalled.)  Do you hear a piano?  Who’s playing it?  The invisible but entirely sympathetic pianist is Lennie Hayton, which suggests that Bing and Eddie were adeptly (and not in close-up) miming to an already-recorded track, which was common practice.

Because it is a rehearsal in someone’s home (is it Eddie’s?), Bing has his vest, suit jacket, and hat off.  Our eyes are drawn to his natty two-tone shoes as he keeps the beat.  Then, after the first sixteen bars, a delightfully fictive moment occurs when Bing grins like a boy who has gotten away with three cookies instead of two and tells Eddie, “Well, I think I know it.”  (The record of PLEASE was released to coincide with the movie’s premiere, so Bing’s fans in the audience might have already had the Brunswick record while onscreen their hero was pretending he was learning the song.  But in the darkness of the movie theatre, such facts might be brushed aside.) 

Confident now, Bing launches into his own version of romantic scat singing, flicking his eyes to the ceiling, and begins getting dressed.  

Frank Tuttle, the director of THE BIG BROADCAST, wrote in an unpublished memoir (which I found in Gary Giddins’s wonderful Crosby biography), “Bing didn’t seem to know what to do with his hands. . . . [he] was extremely cooperative and his sense of comedy was first-rate from the opening shot.  His approach was casual and he liked to move around.  We worked out interesting pieces of business so that he wouldn’t have to just stand there and deliver a number.” 

Thus, the striptease in reverse — bolstering the illusion that Bing was only a regular fellow who just happens to burst into song with such art.  We know this isn’t true, but watching Bing sing while getting dressed is rather like watching him sing while changing a flat tire — a splendid feat.  I don’t know if it was intentional, for comedy, or not, but Bing has some small difficulty getting his other arm into his vest, and he goes through a good deal of straightening and smoothing — while singing — before beginning to button it.  Once the vest is on, he is clearly loosening up the rhythm, and gently swinging PLEASE, confidently and cheerfully, wooing the imaginary girl right out of her reluctance, and perhaps out of her vest.  What man ever buttoned his vest with such swing, using each button as a visual accent?  Bing emphasizes the beat, bobbing his head.  It’s comic but understated.  It’s jazz made visual.  

Next comes the jacket — and Bing has more trouble finding the armhole while he makes the dramatic musical transition from “a gloomy Romeo” to “Oh, please . . . ” most endearing.  In fact, his fumbling with his right arm behind his back seems to go on and on, although he is whistling prettily, unfazed by the burden of getting dressed.  Then, there’s no need to pretend that this has been a “rehearsal,” as Bing and Eddie perform the closing phrase together, and Bing, hat cocked jauntily, tells Eddie, “Well, I’ll see you tonight,” and Eddie answers, “OK.”  Hardly Lubitsch, but entrancing in its pretend-casualness. 

And he sings so beautifully to Lang’s fetching accompaniment, their work mixing romanticism and swing, the effect both earnest and funny.  I found myself listening to the clip for the music — both casual and deliciously light, then watching the two men act (Lang, serious, plays the musical sidekick, never taking the spotlight away from Bing).

Bing Please

Bing’s performance of the song in the film and on the hit record spurred Paramount to make a short film (rather like the Mack Sennett shorts Bing had starred in).  I found a copy of the poster on eBay, and a wonderful piece of Art Deco foolishness it is, with a pretty blonde’s disembodied head grinning from the C in CROSBY; Bing playing the guitar (which he couldn’t) wearing something like a bathrobe, the lower half of his body swallowed up by the background.

PLEASE stars Bing, Mary Kornman (who was “Mary” in OUR GANG silents and worked with Bing in other movies), with Vernon Dent (who worked with Sennett, Harry Langdon, and in numberless two-reel films with The Three Stooges) as her huffy, pudgy suitor.  Giddins writes that it was presumed lost until the 1990s and unearthed by film preservationist Bob DeFlores.

The plot is paper-thin: my summary comes from the Mary Kornman website (www.marykornman.com) which proves that everything is indeed online:

This movie, filmed on location at Yosemite National Park, was not discovered until 1960.  In it, Mary plays a voice teacher, Beth Sawyer, on whom Bing has set his affections.  Playing himself, Bing hides his identity as to finagle lessons out of Beth in order to get close to her. Mary then enters him in a singing contest only to find out Bing’s true identity.  Humiliated by this, Mary rejects Bing but is soon won over as he croons a chorus of “Please” through her parlor window.

Fictions abound here as well.  As the sequence begins, a beautifully dressed “Beth,” with matching hat, turns on her radio — and out comes the sound of a dance orchestra playing the song for which the movie is named.  Coincidentally, Bing, wearing a pristine straw boater and neat dark suit, lurks outside her house, dramatizing his exasperation by some gesturing with a small object he discards.  The camera cuts to a momentary shot of a huge man in soiled white painter’s overalls, momentarily transfixed by the music, who takes off his hat and puts it back on again.  Director Gillstrom had trained in silent films, for you can see the idea balloon form above Bing’s head, “Hey!  That’s my song!  I could sing it to her!  Through this open window!  Wow!  What an idea!  Gee!” 

“Beth” at first doesn’t even register that a man is nearly climbing through her open window, singing along with the radio (something that would make many women call 911).  It’s as if Mary Kornman has forgotten her cue, although she does remember to sulk while Bing sings.  He sings beautifully, but without Tuttle to remind him how to understate, his gestures are at war with the song’s wooing intimacy.  Using a clenched fist to signify “I could hold you tight in my arms” is unromantic, even though it is perhaps the only gesture possible for a man still holding his hat).  And Mary Kornman may have been a delectable little girl in silent comedies, but her acting is petulantly limited.  Bing emotes and “Beth” pouts, until his repetition of “Please!” win her over.  The lovers kiss, after a fashion; her dog turns its head away, and we are left hoping that they are going to be happy forevermore, even if she has to climb out of the window to be with Bing. 

But all this overacting doesn’t obscure the beauty of Bing’s voice, his phrasing, although I prefer the sound of the more casual version with Eddie Lang.     

Back to the song itself, one I’ve loved since adolescence.  When Bing was most popular as a romantic crooner, jazzmen, inspired by his recordings, took his repertoire for their own.  Think of I SURRENDER, DEAR and WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS!  Louis, Billie, and Hawkins (who memorably recorded I’VE GOT TO SING A TORCH SONG, WITH EVERY BREATH I TAKE, and JUST ONE MORE CHANCE).  Later on, Ruby Braff continued the tradition, including PLEASE and a whole album devoted to Bing.  But no one except John Gill has taken up the song, a pity.  I asked my Expert, Jon-Erik Kellso, about it, and he told me the melody line wasn’t easy for musicians who didn’t know the song to pick up on the spot.  If any musicians are reading this blog, would you please consider playing this song?  I’ll put more money in the tip jar when I hear it, I promise.

However, while researching this post, I also found a bouncy version of the song by Ambrose and his Orchestra.  This performance, however, deflates my theory about the song’s qualities.  Did it need Bing, John Gill, and Ruby to let its light shine through?  What you’ll hear is a fine 1932 dance record, but the yearning quality so essential to PLEASE is obliterated at this tempo.         

These clips remind me of truths that should be self-evident.  The young Crosby wasn’t an infallible actor; he needed a fine director to make sure that naturalness or “naturalness” prevailed.  But how he could sing!  And how splendidly Eddie Lang could play!  And they live in these filmed moments.   

So if someone asks you, reprovingly, “WHAT’S the magic word?” (if anyone uses that phrase today), you must respond, “It’s Bing Crosby singing PLEASE, of course.” (Thanks to Peter Karl for that witticism, again.)

OH, PLAY THAT RADIO!

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I tried to tell Betty Sue that she didn’t need to place herself so firmly in front of her radio — it’s only Wednesday — but she said indignantly, “Don’t you know that Jon-Erik is going to be on WBGO-FM this Sunday at 11 PM?  I’m just getting ready.  I need to get a good seat, you know.”

Perhaps I should explain.  If you’ve been reading this blog and are saying “Jon-Erik who?” then you have failed the Reading Comprehension section of the examination.

That’s Jon-Erik Kellso, the Michigander Prince of Growl, who regularly leads the troops with intelligence, wit, and passion whenever he unpacks his Puje trumpet.

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(I captured this moment at The Ear Inn:  Jon-Erik, Mark Shane, Mark Lopeman, and Matt Munisteri.  Heady stuff!)

Jon-Erik will be both co-host and subject of the venerable and wonderful program JAZZ FROM THE ARCHIVES from 11 PM to midnight this coming Sunday, February 1, on WBGO-FM (88.3 on your dial).  For those of you beyond the reach of the radio signal, I understand that the program can be heard — in real time — through the station’s website:   http://www.wbgo.org/

Jon-Erik is someone much loved by listeners and his colleagues, but he hasn’t made the cover of TIME just yet, and he missed out on having Gjon Mili take his picture with Lips, Mezz, Dizzy, and Duke, alas.  So I urge all of you to listen.  He’ll be seated next to Dan Morgenstern (someone who needs no introduction if you love this music) and they will talk and play some of Jon-Erik’s own recordings and some that have pleased and inspired him.

Honoring jazz musicians on the radio is not an everyday affair, and honoring a living jazz musician is even more pleasantly unusual.  So do remember to tune in!  They tell me that there’s something going on earlier in the day that calls for beverages and snacks: a group of men do something with a ball, but that remains a mystery.  Save your energies for 11 PM.

And you might want to stake out a comfortable chair near the speaker for yourself.  It really is getting crowded in here.  Who are these people?  Did I invite any of them?

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