Tag Archives: Ralph Rainger

“THE GIRL IN THE GROOVE”: JEN HODGE ALL STARS (JEN HODGE, JOSEPH ABBOTT, CHRIS DAVIS, BRAD SHIGETA, JOSH ROBERTS, MIKE DAUGHERTY, CLARA ROSE)

Jen Hodge is the real deal — as melodically propulsive ensemble player or soloist, singer, bandleader, or jazz-instigator / investigator.  (Now we can add “whistler” to the list of credits, by the way.)  So I’m not at all surprised that her new CD, THE GIRL IN THE GROOVE, is lively, varied, and flavorful.  Incidentally, the second link will lead you to Jen’s online CD release party via Facebook, on Friday, October 2, from 9-11, EDT.  Consider yourself invited.

And since Jen and friends often play for swing dancers, the music on this disc has a definite warm pulse, felt rather than being a matter of volume, that is consistently cheering.  That’s evident from the first notes of the aptly named HODGE PODGE (all right, it was named for Johnny Hodges) that keeps the bounce of late-Thirties Ellington without being a museum piece.  Brad Shigeta growls and snarls his way through the main strain of HERE LIES LOVE before involving the rest of the band in the swinging elegy.  Incidentally, any 2020 CD that has a little-played Ralph Rainger composition, made famous by Bing Crosby, has already curled up at the foot of my bed — even before Mike Daugherty’s stop-time chorus and the singular Chris Davis and Joseph Abbott.

What could be more overdone than I GOT RHYTHM, you ask?  Not in Jen’s version, which begins with her winsome singing of the verse, rubato, over Josh’s guitar tapestries . . . sliding into a rocking vocal chorus with the band taking turns around her — then taking things to a cheerfully higher level with vocal twists and turns.  Jen’s singing is sweetly unfussy and genuine, charming because she isn’t imitating anyone, just having a good time sharing the song with us.  SUMMERTIME, also teetering on the brink of extinction, sounds both fresh and ominous — March of the Aliens, and they are coming to your town in the next hour! — but it continues on its own singular path with Joseph Abbott’s lyrically clear improvisation on the melody, then Brad Shigeta’s affectionate snarl (he means no harm) and Abbott’s sky-blue tones as the band riffs somewhat menacingly underneath.  You’ll have to hear it to understand.

USE YOUR HEAD, an old-time-modern original by Jen, starts off at marvelously low volume — as if the band had decided to jam the insinuating composition in whispers.  Apparently the lyrics are a series of instructions to a prospective lover, auditioning for the gig.  I hope so.  More blessed to give, and all that.  When the performance was over, rocking itself to a kind of pleasurable summit, thanks to Clara Rose as well as the band, I was only disappointed that Jen didn’t come back to sing a half-dozen more choruses.  Yes, it’s 2020, but it’s a song that would have done nicely for Clara, Mamie, or Bessie in 1931.  Or Fats Waller, any decade.  I played it three times before moving on, and I expect to repeat the pleasurable experience tomorrow.  Come for the philosophy, stay for the swing.

I must halt matters here and praise Jen’s string bass playing.  As wonderful as the other musicians are on this CD — and they damned well are — my ears kept coming back in delight to the lines she was creating under and through the ensembles, and her concise swinging “speaking” solo work.  And her arco passage on DEAD MAN BLUES is so poignant, so focused.  And, just for the record, she plays with equal beauty and conviction in person: I have shared videos of Jen at Cafe Bohemia, where no one talked through a single solo, because every solo kept us rapt.

Then there are the arrangements, mostly group efforts by the band, three by Jen herself, and HODGE PODGE by the sterling Alan Matheson.  On Joseph Abbott’s THE EARTHQUAKE DRILL, I had to look at the band personnel again to remind myself that this was a compact, flexible, sauntering sextet — no piano — because so much was going on in this fast blues, and not only a SING SING SING interlude for clarinet and drums.  You could — and you will want to — listen to the whole disc several times, once focusing on the soloists, once on the charts, once . . . you will figure it out.  It sounds happy and natural: this band floats on the fun it creates.

Every jazz CD needs some side-glances at The End, to keep the hoodoo away: this one has not only HERE LIES LOVE, but a jaunty variation on the “New Orleans Function” theme, where FLEE AS A BIRD turns the corner into DEAD MAN BLUES — less Morton than Manone, I think, until the final choruses, reminiscent of MOURNFUL INTERLUDE, providing a splendid trot home from the imagined gravesite.  Be not afraid: nothing’s dead on this disc, even with some ancient repertoire, frisky and bold.

Speaking of frisky and bold, there’s Jen’s soulful rendition of UP ABOVE MY HEAD, which has the appropriate words, “I really do believe / there’s joy somewhere.”  How true for this disc.  And although the original composition reaches all the way back, Jen’s version hints both at a revival service and something Charles Mingus might have invented and played — spirituality with a deep (mildly whimsical) seismic motion.

And the CD ends with a lovely tribute — not only to generations of trumpet players who gently begin STARDUST with the verse — but to the much-missed swing matriarch and Sage, Dawn Hampton, who left us a YouTube video of her whistling that composition in the most heartfelt manner.  Jen’s whistling reminds me not only of the mysterious Maurice Hendricks (look him up, do), but also of someone whistling — earnestly and passionately — on her way home from school or a tennis match.  And, in ways that surprised me, of Louis: I felt the same chills up and down my spine.  I don’t write such praise lightly.

Here you can pre-order the digital CD (it will slide down the birth canal on October 2) and hear samples.  It’s a wow.

May your happiness increase!

SONGS ON SPRING: The EarRegulars: JON-ERIK KELLSO, JENS “JESSE” LINDGREN, EDDY DAVIS, JAY RATTMAN at THE EAR INN (Dec. 27, 2015)

ear-inn-5The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, Soho or Hudson Square in the West Village of New York City) has been a mecca for heartfelt hot music on Sunday nights since the summer of 2008, thanks to the flexible quartet led by Jon-Erik Kellso, the EarRegulars.

Last Sunday night, December 27, 2015, the EarRegulars were Jon, trumpet; Eddy Davis, banjo and vocal; Jay Rattman, bass sax; Jens “Jesse” Lindgren from Sweden, trombone and vocal.  Here are two of the night’s delightful performances.

W.C. Handy’s adaptation of a folk melody or a hymn, HESITATING BLUES, with an earnest vocal by Eddy and a vocalized solo by Jon through his glass mute:

And here’s Jesse’s version of the lovely song PLEASE (Leo Robin – Ralph Rainger) forever associated with Bing Crosby:

In case your Swedish is as poor as mine is, here are the original lyrics sung by Bing with help from Eddie Lang:

And let Handy’s lyrics be your guide.  Don’t hesitate about visiting The Ear Inn on a Sunday evening, from about eight to about eleven . . . to hear and see The EarRegulars for yourself.

Hesitating Blues

(S)he who hesitates misses the good stuff.

May your happiness increase!

“I LOOKED FOR EVERY LOVELINESS”: REBECCA KILGORE, HARRY ALLEN, HOWARD ALDEN, EHUD ASHERIE, JON BURR, HAL SMITH (Allegheny Jazz Party, September 10, 2015)

This lovely song is best known because of Billie Holiday’s performance, although it was originally sung beautifully by Bing Crosby.  I celebrate it as yet another triumph for the tragically short-lived composer Ralph Rainger, and the woman we do not think of as a lyricist, Dorothy Parker (her only other popular success was HOW AM I TO KNOW?).

I WISHED ON THE MOON sheet

It is now 2015, as you have noticed.  And although I revere Lady Day to the utmost, I know there is Life After Billie as well.  So I invite you to admire this performance of that song from the 2015 Allegheny Jazz Party (September 10) featuring Rebecca Kilgore with Harry Allen, Ehud Asherie, Howard Alden, Jon Burr, and Hal Smith — a masterpiece of dreamlike subtle floating:

Our Rebecca makes the song her own — her own tempo, her own improvisations shaping both the first and second choruses.  And her instrumentalists keep us aloft.  We don’t have to wish on the moon for every loveliness when they are so generously being granted us.

May your happiness increase!

MASTERS OF LIGHTNESS: MISTER CARTER, MISTER WILSON, MISTER JONES (and MISTER CROSBY) 1954, 1934

Benny-Carter-3-4-5

I remember being astonished by this session when it came out — not that many years ago — on CD.  Presumably Norman Granz had some reason for not issuing it at the time (it is hard to see why) or someone was less than pleased with the results.  But it is a trio session: Benny Carter, alto saxophone; Teddy Wilson, piano; Jo Jones, drums, recorded in New York City, September 20, 1954.  Did the bassist not make the session or was this an updated version of the Goodman Trio?  Whatever the reason, this is beautifully deep but translucent music.  Here Benny, Teddy, and Jo take the usually sad Rodgers and Hart LITTLE GIRL BLUE and swing it in true mid-Thirties fashion:

and here’s a tender rendition of JUNE IN JANUARY, by Ralph Rainger and Leo Robin, irrevocably associated with Bing in 1934*:

How to play the melody, how to improvise with great delicacy and precision without ever seeming cold — the lessons of these Masters.

*I couldn’t leave Bing out, so here is the precious, witty, and romantic sequence devoted to JUNE IN JANUARY in the 1934 film HERE IS MY HEART:

May your happiness increase!

SUMMER MIGHT BE OVER BUT JAZZ AT CHAUTAUQUA 2013 is READY!

For some, September means a new crop of apples, the end of summer, fall clothing, going back to school.  All of these perceptions are deeply rooted in our genes!  But for the last nine years, September has meant more than a new pencil box — it means Jazz at Chautauqua.

Athenaeum

This weekend jazz party is a highlight of any year.

I’ve been attending these splendid parties since 2004, and have made new friends, heard excellent music, and had my spirits lifted.

This year, the 16th Jazz at Chautauqua will take place from September 19 to the 22nd.  Details here.

For those who have never attended one of these weekends, it is marked by pleasures unique to that spot and that establishment. It’s held in a beautiful 1881 wooden hotel, the Athaeneum, efficiently run by Bruce Stanton and a very genial staff — the very opposite of an anonymous chain hotel.

Walking around the grounds (when you’re not observing the beauties of Lake Chautauqua — which might include Scott and Sharon Robinson, canoeing) you see immaculately kept houses and cottages, mounds of hydrangeas . . . picture-postcard territory. Inside, the guests enjoy substantial meals and an open bar, and music to dream about.

That music!  It starts on Thursday night with informal jamming in a cozy room, then moves to the parlor for Friday afternoon piano and guitar recitals, then a full weekend of jazz, hot and sweet, in a large ballroom — with all the amenities a ten-second walk away.

The best musicians, too.

The 2013 players and singers are (in neat alphabetical order for a change) Howard Alden, Harry Allen, Dan Barrett, Dan Block, Jon Burr, James Dapogny, the Faux Frenchmen, Mike Greensill, Marty Grosz, Bob Havens, Duke Heitger, Keith Ingham, Jon-Erik Kellso, Becky Kilgore, Dan Levinson, Kerry Lewis, Ricky Malichi, Randy Reinhart, Scott Robinson, Andy Schumm, John Sheridan, Pete Siers, Rossano Sportiello, Andy Stein, Frank Tate, John Von Ohlen, Wesla Whitfield.

Something for everyone. Good men and women, loyal, faithful, and true.

Nancy Griffith, the Swing Sheriff, makes sure that the jazz train runs on time, that everyone is happy in Dodge, that the little dogies are swinging.

What makes the Chautauqua party different is its wide ecumenical range.  It celebrates the great small group style of what many consider the first great period of improvised, swinging music — but as it is played, with great love and individuality, by the best living musicians.  Its creator, Joe Boughton, was fiercely devoted to this music and to the great songs — often neglected — that were once everyone’s common property.  So one of the great pleasures of a Chautauqua weekend is knowing that people will go home with a newly-discovered Harry Warren or Ralph Rainger song in a memorable performance — or something thrilling from Frank Melrose or Alex Hill.

If Jazz at Chautauqua is new to you, I propose that you type those magic words into the “Search” box of JAZZ LIVES — and you will see beautifully relaxed performances from the most recent five years . . . then go here and look into the details of tickets and prices and all that intriguing (but necessary) detail.

Here are two very delightful performances — to show you what happens there!

Rebecca Kilgore and John Sheridan, performing ‘TIS AUTUMN:

Harry Allen and Keith Ingham, playing MAYBE SEPTEMBER:

Try to move from MAYBE to CERTAINLY!

And a more somber postscript. I hesitate to turn JAZZ LIVES into the blog equivalent of public broadcasting or nonprofit media: “It’s our [insert season] fund drive!  If you don’t send your 401K or 403B right away, station ABCD will go off the air!”  

But the practical realities exist. The thrill of watching a video online is considerable.  But live music — being part of the audience in the room, in the moment, as the artists take beautiful daring risks — cannot be conveyed in front of a computer monitor.  And jazz festivals, parties, concerts, clubs require live audiences to survive.  The people who put on such pleasures can’t continue them if musicians play to half-empty rooms.  So, to paraphrase Eleanor Roosevelt (herself a big fan of the Luis Russell Orchestra), “Better to write a check than complain that your favorite jazz experience isn’t there anymore.”  So if you can join us, I urge you to.

May your happiness increase.

A NEW SONG FOR THE COMMUTE, THANKS TO LEO, RALPH, and RICH

RUSH HOUR

Last night, coming home from The Ear Inn, I tuned in to everyone’s Sunday-night pleasure, THE BIG BROADCAST, that delicious periscope into the first forty or so years of the last century, watched over by the generous and unpredictable Rich Conaty.  (Quick translation: It’s a radio show.  Fordham University Radio, New York, WFUV-FM and streaming: 8 PM to midnight, our time.)  Details  here.

I heard this song — new to me but immediately captivating — IN A ONE-ROOM FLAT.  It isn’t ALL THE THINGS YOU ARE or THANKS FOR THE MEMORY, but it sticks whimsically in the brain.  The 1933 recording is by Freddie Martin and his Orchestra; I believe the singer is Terry Shand, who had deep jazz connections.  And it comes from a Maurice Chevalier musical film called THE WAY TO LOVE (with Ann Dvorak, Edward Everett Horton, and Douglas Dumbrille).

And the song — perhaps one of their trifles? — is by Leo Robin (lyrics) and Ralph Rainger (music), two of my secular saints.

It raises the larger question: what do you need to make you happy?  Worth pondering.  For now, listen a few times and I can almost guarantee that you will be humming it later in the day.

May your happiness increase.

“FROM NOTES TO WORDS”: JON-ERIK KELLSO, MATT MUNISTERI, SCOTT ROBINSON, PAT O’LEARY, SEAN SINGER, ANN ROWER: THE THIRD ANNUAL JAZZ AND POETRY FESTIVAL (School of Visual Arts, New York City, March 22, 2012)

Does music speak louder than words?  At the Jazz and Poetry Festival hosted by the School of Visual Arts a few weeks ago in New York City, there was no such competition — just a series of amiable statements with both sides having their say.  The musicians were the Jon-Erik Kellso Quartet (otherwise known as the EarRegulars when found on Sunday nights at The Ear Inn, 326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City): Jon-Erik on trumpet; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Scott Robinson, tenor saxophone, alto and bass taragota; Pat O’Leary, string bass).  The writers were Sean Singer and Ann Rower.   As you’ll see and hear.

The Quartet offers SOME OF THESE DAYS (with a brief foray into SHINE ON HARVEST MOON); WABASH BLUES; ‘WAY DOWN YONDER IN NEW ORLEANS (for Bix Beiderbecke):

Here’s the conclusion of ‘WAY DOWN YONDER IN NEW ORLEANS and I GOTTA RIGHT TO SING THE BLUES:

After an introduction by Robert Lobe, Sean Singer takes the microphone to read selections from his 2002 poetry collection DISCOGRAPHY — poems touching on John Coltrane, Ellington, Albert Ayler, Scott Joplin, Max Roach, Elvin Jones, and others:

Maryhelen Hendricks introduced the writer Ann Rower, who read a series of excerpts from her untitled novel in the form of a journal — which moved from sharply-realized anecdotes to memories of her uncle, the lyricist Leo Robin:

And the program concluded with a return to musical improvisations, as the Quartet continued the tribute to Leo Robin with THANKS FOR THE MEMORY (music by Ralph Rainger); a romping SOMEBODY STOLE MY GAL; a wistful Scott Robinson feature on another Robin-Rainger song, WITH EVERY BREATH I TAKE; YOU’RE DRIVING ME CRAZY:

And YOU’RE DRIVING ME CRAZY, concluded:

Thanks to all the musicians and writers, to Robert Lobe and Maryhelen Hendricks — and special thanks to the Jonnybogue Video Rescue Service (“No job too small.  Baked while you sleep”).  Make a note of that.

May your happiness increase.

DEEP FEELING: GILL SINGS CROSBY (Nov. 28, 2009)

John Gill — hot guitarist, banjoist, trombonist, singer — has a deep love and understanding of Bing Crosby, as you can hear on his Stomp Off CD, LEARN TO CROON, where he and a wonderful New York band (his “Sentimental Serenaders”) pay heartfelt tribute to Bing.

I’m delighted that SFRaeAnn captured John and the Heliotrope Ragtime Orchestra just a few days ago (November 28, 2009) — at America’s Finest City Dixieland Jazz Festival in San Diego, California.  And I believe all of the charts you hear are John’s own arrangements and transcriptions, expertly done and played. 

I had to begin this post with John’s version of Ralph Rainger’s irreplaceable PLEASE:

Here’s JUST ONE MORE CHANCE, complete with a little bu-bu-bu-boo and those trademark dips and slides:

And a sweetly rocking dance-band version of IF I HAD YOU. with the unheard verse and appropriate playing from members of the HRO:

Seek and you shall find — the cheerfully romantic message of I FOUND A MILLION-DOLLAR BABY (In a Five-and-Ten Cent Store).  John makes the last sixteen bars shout:

And a rarity — an Irving Berlin song Bing sang in a cameo appearance in the 1931 REACHING FOR THE MOON, with a hugely elaborate title: WHEN THE FOLKS HIGH UP DO THE MEAN LOWDOWN.  All of that verbiage aside, please notice the smiles on the musicians’ faces:

Oh, so pretty — PENNIES FROM HEAVEN, with the lovely verse:

And here’s Bing’s theme, WHERE THE BLUE OF THE NIGHT (Meets The Gold Of The Day):

To quote John, “There you go!”  Thank you, John, for wearing your heart so beautifully on your sleeve, for all of us to feel so deeply.  And thanks (as always) to SFRaeAnn, for sharing these sentimental marvels.

“HOT” on SPRING STREET (Nov. 22, 2009)

Last Sunday at The Ear Inn, November 22, 2009, the compact, eloquent quartet — The Ear Regulars or the Earregulars, depending on what region you come from — performed two lovely Ralph Rainger ballads, PLEASE and WITH EVERY BREATH I TAKE.   (In case you are new to this scene, The Ear Inn is at 326 Spring Street in Manhattan and the Sunday music goes from 8-11 PM.)

That quartet?  Jon-Erik Kellso, Scott Robinson, Matt Munisteri, and Pat O’Leary.

But there was a good deal of exciting Hot being played that night as well.  “Hot,” as I don’t have to tell this audience, was the name of a certain kind of exciting improvisation when jazz was young.  It didn’t have to be fast or loud, but it did have to be focused, intense, rhythmic.  The Earregulars know how to GET HOT without raising their voices.   

After a brief discussion, Jon-Erik called “a good old New Orleans tune,” I’M SORRY I MADE YOU CRY — which I always remember in the version by the Capitol Jazzmen (1943) with Jack Teagarden, Jimmy Noone, Joe Sullivan, and even Billy May capably playing the jazz. 

This version was neither lachrymose nor apologetic: it was the musical equivalent of, “I’m really sorry.  I won’t do it again.   Have a Boddington?” 

Then, a wonderful pop / jazz tune (from Harry Warren and Johnny Mercer), TOO MARVELOUS FOR WORDS, which doesn’t get played enough, although both Lips Page and the elder Teagarden recorded it splendidly:

And, finally, a lengthy, driving SUNDAY — long enough to require two parts for YouTube, but attentive viewers will hear that Jon-Erik begins the second segment with a quotation from another song from the same era, MY MONDAY DATE.  Fun with calendars!

And the conclusion:

I’ve heard versions of this quartet before at The Ear, and have always come away deeply impressed.  The horns beautifully complement each other: Scott takes surprising, winding solos that balance Earl Bostic, Lester, and outer space, while Jon-Erik digs deep and always finds quietly impassioned things to say.  Matt shines in the darkness, whether he’s finding ringing single-note lines or rocking the band chordally, and Pat O’Leary keeps time so beautifully (no small feat) and plays eloquent, stirring lines.  At once, they sound like the entire history of swinging jazz AND like themselves — two simultaneous noble accomplishments.

OH, “PLEASE”!

In honor of Ralph Rainger, Leo Robin, Bing Crosby, Adam Keller, John Gill, and Jon-Erik Kellso — here is the sheet music for PLEASE.  It’s my dream to hear world-class jazz musicians, deep in Swing Romanticism, make this song their own.  Unfortunately, the folio doesn’t have the lyrics — but perhaps that enabled the Famous Music Corporation to publish eleven songs and photographs from Bing’s then-current films: THE BIG BROADCAST, COLLEGE HUMOR, and TOO MUCH HARMONY — for fifty cents.

I’d also like more people to know about Ralph Rainger and Leo Robin, who wrote the music and lyrics for PLEASE and many other irreplaceable songs.  Rainger, especially, deserves his place in the collective memory alongside the more familiar names.  Here’s a photograph of Rainger from the Crosby folio:

And here’s the team at work:

If you play an instrument, sing, or even hum, why not try PLEASE?  And if you don’t, well, you could find a way to work the title into everyday conversation.  I believe it has a soothing effect . . .

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.)

CORNED BEEF AND CABBAGE

corned beefIt’s tempting for those who love an older art form — such as swinging jazz — to romanticize the past.  “Oh,” we think, “they wrote such wonderful songs back in those days!  If I could turn on my radio (or: if I had a time machine) in the Thirties, I would hear marvelous creative music all the time!”  Perhaps.  I have been doing research into the songs of Ralph Rainger and Leo Robin — who wrote many of Bing Crosby’s hits as well as IF I SHOULD LOSE YOU, YOU STARTED SOMETHING, PLEASE, and THANKS FOR THE MEMORY — and this unknown gem surfaced.  I’m sure that someone out there has a recording of it, even that the performance is on YouTube.  But I’m afraid to look.  Here are the lyrics.  They’ll do for me. 

CORNED BEEF AND CABBAGE

From the film “Kiss And Make Up” (1934)

(Music: Ralph Rainger / Lyrics: Leo Robin)

Helen Mack & Edward Everett Horton (Film Soundtrack) – 1934

 

“I’m simply wild about you

I couldn’t do without you

Corned beef and cabbage, I love you

You always set me raving

You satisfy that craving

Corned beef and cabbage, I love you

If I could have you every day

My life would have more spice

And even if I’d have to pay

I’d gladly pay the price

I see you and surrender

Oh, won’t you please be tender

Corned beef and cabbage, I love you!

I’m always happy when you

Are featured on the menu

Corned beef and cabbage, I love you

Although you’re so plebeian

You’re fit for any queen

Corned beef and cabbage, I love you

You fill me with a strange desire

That haunts me all night through

You seem to set my heart on fire

You give me heartburn, too

Why don’t you try a load

O’ bicarbonate of soda

Corned beef and cabbage, I love you!”

Can you see Edward Everett Horton warbling this?  In Hollywood, anything was and is possible.