Tag Archives: Richard Whiting

A GENEROUS TRIO: DAWN LAMBETH, MARC CAPARONE, CONAL FOWKES (San Diego Jazz Fest, Nov. 25, 2017)

Dawn Lambeth

These three wonderful musicians offer a groovy synergy: more than three selves in inspired combinations.  I refer to the singer Dawn Lambeth, brassman Marc Caparone, pianist Conal Fowkes — who performed as the Dawn Lambeth Trio at the 2017 San Diego Jazz Fest.

Conal Fowkes

Here are two delicious performances.

Marc Caparone and Ricky Riccardi, considering important matters related to one Louis.

The first features Dawn singing RIDE, TENDERFOOT, RIDE (Richard Whiting and Johnny Mercer) — she has secret Western leanings, as anyone who’s heard her sing DON’T FENCE ME IN knows. This one’s fun, lyrical, and swinging, with no saddle sores:

Dawn makes no secret of her delight in hearing the Fellows play duets, so Marc and Conal explore the Ink Spots’ I DON’T WANT TO SET THE WORLD ON FIRE — with passion and ease:

I recorded a good deal by this trio, and also a duet recital by Dawn and Conal.  You’ll hear and see more: to me this is the very peak of casual hot / sweet improvisation.

May your happiness increase!

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THE CONDON-GABLER MUSICAL EFFECT, 1947

Musicians’ relations to their material — whether they choose it or someone else does — are complex.

For some, “the material is immaterial,” which means “I will have a good time playing or singing whatever song is placed in front of me, and I will make it my own.”  In this category, I think of Louis, Lips Page, Fats Waller, Mildred Bailey, Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young, Jimmy Rushing, and many others.  Other musicians like the comfort of the familiar: I think of Jack Teagarden, whose many versions of BASIN STREET BLUES are often full of small delightful surprises.  Yet the familiar can be a trap, encouraging some musicians to “phone it in” or “go through the motions.”

The Blessed Eddie Condon exists by himself in those categories.  Because so much of his musical life was  spent outside of the recording studio, on bandstands and in concert halls, there might appear to be a sameness in his discography, with multiple versions of IMPROMPTU ENSEMBLE — but that “song” was simply a beautiful structure within which his brilliant strolling players could express themselves to the utmost.  Eddie cared very deeply for and about good songs, material that hadn’t been done to death.  That is why (without looking at the discography) you will find few versions of INDIANA, SAINT JAMES INFIRMARY, and none of the SAINTS.  And when he was working with the Blessed Milton Gabler — either for Commodore or Decca or World Transcriptions — the two men shared a love of melodic material.  I don’t know who led the way, but I suspect that Eddie, who remembered songs, might have suggested to Milt a particular favorite of his childhood or the early Twenties: thus, DANCING FOOL; DON’T LEAVE ME, DADDY; IDA; OH, KATHARINA, and this lovely oddity:

TULIP TIME IN HOLLAND

How did this song come to be?  It’s not explicitly a war song — the premise is simply that a pretty Dutch girl is waiting for the singer, and implicitly in the premise is that the singer will be kissed seriously when he shows up.  Were the fellows in the Brill Building making jokes about “two lips” when someone said, “Hey, let’s write a Dutch song!”  Was the “beside me / Zuider Zee” rhyme irresistible?  But it has a forward-looking melody for 1915, thanks to Whiting (I can hear the Wolverines playing this, in my mind) and the lyrics are of their time but not ponderously so.

Here is a contemporary version — not the most famous one by Henry Burr, but a good recording, one I would happily play for a listener insistent that music began with electrical recording or even later:

When Eddie and Milt decided to record this song for Decca, thirty-two years later, it was not a spur-of-the-moment decision.  It wasn’t LADY BE  GOOD or RIVERBOAT SHUFFLE, and one hears an arrangement that (I think) was done by Bobby Hackett, and done prior to the date.  Who could go wrong with Jack Teagarden singing?

The personnel for this August 5, 1947 session is Bobby Hackett, cornet, probably arrangements; Max Kaminsky, trumpet; Jack Teagarden, trombone, vocal; Peanuts Hucko, clarinet, tenor saxophone; Ernie Caceres, alto and baritone saxophone; Joe Bushkin, piano; Eddie Condon, guitar; Jack Lesberg, string bass; George Wettling, drums:

Although that is a very short recording, it is full of pleasures: Jack’s trombone lazily ornamenting the melody over the four-horn statement of the theme; Bushkin, immediately identifiable, modulating for Jack’s vocal, with a Wettling accent to encourage everyone; Jack’s gorgeous voice — slightly nasal, Bing meets Louis in Texas, perhaps, streamlined but deeply earnest (with a different horn background — scored obbligati for four horns with Bushkin brightly commenting — beneath him); a Hucko half-chorus, sounding sweetly as if Bud were in the studio; Jack taking the last sixteen bars, vocally, with a scored phrase to finish it all out.  The only thing “wrong” with that record is that it could have had one more chorus and still been a perfectly respectable 10″ 78.

What impresses me at this distance of nearly fifty years is how musical it all is. It doesn’t need to parade its “improvisatory” credentials: “We’re hot jazzmen and singers, you know.”  The Condon-Gabler world didn’t always want to read from scores, but the musicians were perfectly capable of doing so, and the scored passages are expertly played.  I also imagine someone tuning in the radio — AM, of course, in 1947 — hearing this new Decca waxing, a new platter, and thinking, “That’s a great record!”  Which it was and is.

Why am I suddenly delving in to such obscurities?  Well, no record that has Eddie Condon on it is unworthy; the same goes for the rest of the personnel, especially Mister Teagarden . . . and I have been listening to these overlooked Decca sessions — in glowing sound, with many unissued alternates — from the new Mosaic Eddie Condon / Bud Freeman set, which I reviewed here. Ecstatically.

CONDON MOSAIC

I know this Mosaic set might get overshadowed by the latest glorious gift, the Lester Young effusion, and the Condon / Freeman one is already OLD, having come out in mid-2015, but when it’s sold out, don’t ring my buzzer and ask me to burn you copies of discs seven and eight.  You’ve been warned.

May your happiness increase!

BRAVE, PATIENT BEAUTY: SAM TAYLOR, “MY FUTURE JUST PASSED”

Possibly you haven’t yet heard of the tenor saxophonist Sam Taylor.  But I guarantee you will.  He has a rare gift.

When I was opening the plastic wrapping enclosing Sam’s debut CD, I confess I was expecting more-of-the-same: in this century, many young musicians are technically gifted in ways that would astonish the Ancestors.  There isn’t anything they can’t play.  Complex harmonies at top speed, chorus after chorus, are their basic vocabulary.  They often make Bird sound like Honore Dutrey. They have spent their youth practicing, and it shows.  And that in itself is a wonderful accomplishment — if technique is your primary goal.  But often it is cold — music that doesn’t ring in the listeners’ hearts.

I come back to what I think of as the basic ideal of instrumental music: to communicate something, without words, that makes us feel and reflect.  To “tell a story.”  To “sing on your horn.”

I knew Sam Taylor had a good chance of being different — of reaching our hearts — when I saw the song he had chosen as the title of his CD, a beautiful obscure 1930 song.  Not an original, although full of original sentiment.

SAM TAYLOR cover 700

Here are two versions of MY FUTURE JUST PASSED.  The first, by Annette Hanshaw, is hopeful rather than morose:

I know that the lyrics of the verse (George Marion, Jr.) suggest a certain light-heartedness (rhyming “not less” and “spotless” but the melody is haunting, especially the bridge — thanks to Richard Whiting.

Here is the 1963 version by Shirley Horn (gorgeous arrangements by Jimmy Jones) at a heartfelt tempo:

Beautiful — and I admire her willingness to take her time, to let the song unfold.

Now, listen to this — and understand why I think so highly of Sam Taylor:

If your first reaction is, “Oh, he’s only playing the melody,” I offer two options. The more polite one is, “Please listen again,” and the less is, “Please go away.”

I think of a comment (reported by Nat Hentoff, I believe) of Bobby Hackett listening to Louis Armstrong, “Do you know how hard it is to make melody come that alive?”

In Sam’s playing I hear the great melodists — Louis of course, but also Bing and Sinatra, Ben, Hawk, and Pres — but he sounds like himself as he patiently and lovingly devotes himself to the song.  No self-referential playing (those quotes that show us “ingenuity” and no ostentatious “virtuosities”) — nothing but rapt attention to the song, to melody, to the way a great artist can make us feel.  I admire his ease but also his patience, as if he is saying to us through his horn, “I have something to tell you, but it is at once both very simple and too deep for words.  It is a story of hope, but hope tinged with melancholy and risks that might not come off.  Please sit down, shut off your phone, join with me in the great ritual of music-making and truth-exploring.”

You can find out more about Sam Taylor here, and you can also download the CD.   Of course you should search out Sam at a gig and buy a copy directly, but it can also be ordered from CellarLive.comIt will soon be available on Amazon as well.

I like my CDs physically tangible, especially in this case where Sam has written the notes himself — simple, full of feeling.  Here are his opening lines:

Sometimes, a song enters our life at the perfect moment.  It gives clarity and meaning to seemingly random events.  It speaks and gives voice to our feelings of love, heartache, joy and jubilation.  It taps into our memories, both personal and collective, taking root in our hearts, stirring our imagination.

And the music on this CD exemplifies this philosophy, both simple and deep. Sam is wonderfully assisted by bassist Aidan O’Donnell and drummer Taro Okamoto — who do not fade into the background nor do they overpower.  This trio has the balanced lightness and weight of the trio sessions Lucky Thompson did with Oscar Pettiford and Skeeter Best, yet it sounds entirely fresh, not a “recreation.”

The songs reflect Sam’s love for lasting melodies: LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME / MY FUTURE JUST PASSED / DO SOMETHING (based on a Cole Porter melody) / SHE’S FUNNY THAT WAY / WHY DON’T I / MEAN TO ME / ERONEL / YOU ARE TOO BEAUTIFUL / T.O.’S BLUES.

I am certain you will welcome him as someone not afraid to create beauty.

May your happiness increase!

MOLLY RYAN: “SWING FOR YOUR SUPPER”

When I first heard Molly Ryan sing, I thought, “That girl has such a beautiful voice!”  But she has more that that — innate connections to the music, to feeling, and to swing.  She knows what the records sound like, but she doesn’t imitate them: the music comes out of her essential self.

All of these lovely tendencies, fully realized, reverberate through her new CD, SWING FOR YOUR SUPPER! (with its very apropos exclamation point).

MOLLY RYAN

But first.  Something lovely for the ears: SAY IT WITH A KISS, sung so prettily by Molly, accompanied by husband Dan Levinson, clarinet; Mark Shane, piano; Connie Jones, cornet — recorded Sept. 4, 2011, at the Sweet and Hot Music Festival:

The good news about SWING FOR YOUR SUPPER! is that it is a new Molly Ryan – and Friends of the First Rank – CD.  That should be enough for anyone.

The even better news is that it is carefully thought out in every possible way, from the cheerful photos that adorn it, to the exuberant liner notes by Will Friedwald, to the varied and rewarding song choices, to the hot band and the Lady Friends who join in.

If there’s a way it could have been improved, it is beyond me to imagine it.

And all the careful planning hasn’t constricted the result — some CDs are so precise, so cautious, that they are audibly lifeless: morgue-music.  SWING FOR YOUR SUPPER! is beautifully planned but all the planning gives the musicians room to swing out, to do what they do so beautifully, to be their own precious selves as individuals and as a supportive community of swing pals.

The pals are — from the top — husband Dan Levinson, reeds, arrangements, and a vocal; Dan Barrett, trombone, arrangements; Randy Reinhart, cornet; Chris Flory and Bucky Pizzarelli, guitar; Mark Shane, piano; Vince Giordano, bass; Kevin Dorn, drums.  And Molly is joined by vocal swing stars Banu Gibson and Maude Maggart for one third of the eighteen tracks, more than once forming a divinely varied and subtle vocal trio.

And where some well-meant CDs bog down in a narrow or restrictive repertoire (seventy-five minutes of the same thing can get tiring quickly) this one bounces from surprise to surprise, evidence of Molly’s deep knowledge of and enthusiasm for the best music from all kinds of corners.  Here are a few of the composers: Harry Warren, Richard Whiting, Cole Porter, J. Russel Robinson, Ben Oakland, Richard Rodgers, Bronislaw Kaper, Eubie Blake, B.G. DeSylva, Jerome Kern, Victor Young — and HUSHABYE MOUNTAIN from the Sherman brothers’ 1968 film CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG, no less.

You can purchase SWING FOR YOUR SUPPER here, or (better yet) you can find Molly at a live gig and ask her to sign one for you, which she will do gladly. To keep up with her musical adventures, click here.

She’s the real thing.  But you knew that already.

May your happiness increase!

SWINGING “POP SONGS” in SEATTLE (Sept. 6, 2012)

The subject today is The Illusion of Musical Purity in Jazz.

I think it began in the Twenties, when jazzmen themselves made divisions between “commercial” and “hot” music.  The former was what you were paid to play — often trivial, unswinging, unimaginative — reading stock arrangements while someone in a tuxedo waved a baton.  The latter — the ideal — was what you played at 4 AM with enough gin or muggles or spaghetti (or all three) to make sure that everyone was mellow.  Later on, when the fans started to anatomize the music in ways the musicians had never cared to, the fans and journalists built walls stronger than the Berlin version.  “Commercial” music was “Swing,” where good guys played insipid pop tunes and took eight-bar solos once a night; “the real thing” was an ideal, rarely achieved.

Think of the posthumous scorn heaped on Paul Whiteman because his Orchestra wasn’t Bix and his Gang; think of those serious jazz fans who traced The Decline of Louis Armstrong to I CAN’T GIVE YOU ANYTHING BUT LOVE taking the place of MAHOGANY HALL STOMP.

But the musicians themselves — while preferring looseness, open-mindedness, swing, and an escape from the paper — never much cared what songs they were playing.  Was PISTOL PACKIN’ MAMA unworthy of Bunk Johnson?  He didn’t think so.  Did John Coltrane disdain MY FAVORITE THINGS, or Charlie Parker A SLOW BOAT TO CHINA?

I have remembered, more than once, Wild Bill Davison’s comment to an interviewer that he never learned or knew THAT’S A PLENTY until he came to New York: in Chicago, he and his friends played swinging improvisations on current and classic pop tunes.  As did Eddie Condon, Ellington, Teddy Wilson, Mildred Bailey.

These thoughts were especially prominent in my mind when I found the latest videos from the estimable First Thursday Band — led by pianist Ray Skjelbred — at the New Orleans Creole Restaurant in Seattle, Washington . . . on September 6, 2012.  The other members of the FTB are drummer Mike Daughterty, skilled at roll play; bassist Dave Brown, whose beat can’t be beat; multi-instrumentalist Steve Wright.  Some of the tunes you will see and hear below — by virtue of jazz instrumentalists playing them memorably — have become “jazz classics.”  But they were all popular tunes, premiered in vaudeville, Broadway musicals, the movies, around the parlor piano.

The ambiance here is so reminiscent of an otherwise unknown Chicago club, circa 1934, with the good guys having the time of their life playing requests and songs they like.  Close your eyes and you’ll hear not only Wright, Brown, Daugherty, and Skjelbred, but Frank Melrose, Earl Hines, Alex Hill, Zinky Cohn; Guy Kelly, Jimmie Noone, Frank Teschmacher, Wellman Braud, Milt Hinton, Zutty Singleton, Sidney Catlett — the list of happily approving ghosts is very long.

I begin this history / music theory lesson with Wayne King’s theme song — in the wrong hands, as soggy as uncooked French toast, but here snappy and sweet:

THE WALTZ YOU SAVED FOR ME :

Richard Whiting’s SHE’S FUNNY THAT WAY, which had a life long before John Hammond handed it to Billie Holiday:

A zippy Harry Barris song from the film extravaganza THE KING OF JAZZ — in our century, adopted as music for penguins — HAPPY FEET (with the verse — and then Skjelbred leaps in like a man possessed):

Isham Jones’ pretty, mournful WHAT’S THE USE? (with a rhythm section that won’t quit):

And from 1919, one of those songs suggesting that happiness could be conveyed by facial expressions, in fact, by loving SMILES:

Purists, begone!  Visit here to see more.

May your happiness increase.

PLAYING THE FOOL OUT OF “UKULELE LADY”

I read Whitney Balliet’s New Yorker Profile of King Oliver, “For the Comfort of the People,” perhaps twenty-five years ago, and this passage stuck in my head: Jess Stacy describing the first time he heard Oliver play, around 1926, in Chicago:

The first time I ever went to hear Oliver he was playing “Ukulele Lady,” and he was playing the fool out of it, and he took five or six choruses in a row.  He played sitting down, and he didn’t play loud.  He knew his instrument.  He wasn’t spearing for high notes; he stayed right in the middle register.  His chord changes were pretty and his vibrato just right — none of the Italian belly vibrato.

When, last year, I became interested in the ukulele,  I wondered what that pop tune — supposedly inspired by May Singhi Breen — sounded like, but that question faded into the disorganized repository of unanswered questions I carry around with me.  Last summer, though, when the Beloved and I visited Maine, I found stacks and piles of sheet music*.  And one of the songs I found was UKULELE LADY.  So the pieces of the puzzle began to come together.  It was a simple, bouncy song — and if I tried quite hard, I could imagine a Joe Oliver solo on its melody.  But how to convey this to my readers?

Nothing simpler.  Sheet music cover and lyrics, presto change-o!

Ukulele Lady cover

UKULELE LADY© 1925

Lyrics & Music: Lyrics: Gus Kahn, Music: Richard A. Whiting

Verse: I saw the splendor of the moonlight

On Honolulu bay

There’s something tender in the moonlight

On Honolulu

And all the beaches

Are full of peaches

Who bring their ukes along

And in the glimmer of the moonlight

They like to sing this song

Chorus: If you like ukulele lady

Ukulele lady like-a you

If you like to linger where it’s shady

Ukulele lady linger too

If you kiss ukulele lady

And you promise ever to be true

And she finds another ukulele

Lady fooling ’round with you

Maybe she’ll sigh (and maybe not)

Maybe she’ll cry

Maybe she’ll find somebody else

By and by

To sing to where it’s cool and shady

Where the tricky wicki wacki woo

If you like ukulele lady

Ukulele lady like-a you

She used to sing to me by moonlight

On Honolulu Bay

Fond memories cling to me by moonlight

Although I’m far away

Someday I’m going

Where eyes are glowing

And lips are made to kiss

To meet somebody in the moonlight

To hear that song I miss

But how to provide the music — short of bringing Bent Persson into a studio to become Papa Joe Oliver?  This isn’t an adequate substitute, but it made me laugh hysterically this morning, so I hope it will do the same for you — a musical extravaganza by the Fred and Ginger of hand puppets . . . . Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy.*  Now everyone can hear what the song sounds like, including the verse:

*Go ahead.  Find another blog that has Jess Stacy and the Muppets in the same posting.  I dare you.  I am also so fond of the phrase “playing the fool out of ______,” perhaps a polite Midwestern euphemism, that I keep trying to find a context in which it fits, which isn’t easy.

**Subject for another blog: the near ubiquity of music for painfully forgettable songs in certain regions — CHONG, HE CAME FROM HONG KONG must have been a huge hit in Maine in 1930.