Tag Archives: Roy Turk

GENTLY, THERE: TWO RHYTHM BALLADS BY MAX KEENLYSIDE (Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival, May 31-June 2, 2018)

I don’t know what you were doing in 1991, but the young man pictured above — Canadian pianist / composer Max Keenlyside — was busy being born, which makes his remarkable talent even more remarkable.  I had the good fortune and immense pleasure of meeting and hearing Max for the first time at the Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival in Sedalia, Missouri, just a few days ago, and you’ll hear why I am impressed.  Here you can learn more about Max.

What struck me immediately about Max was his gracious balance of technique and taste.  He can play with incredible dexterity and skill — as fast as you could want, never faltering — but he has something much rarer, which is the understanding that quiet music, sweet sounds usually reach far deeper into our souls than do pyrotechnics.  So I bring Max to you as a subtle wooer, a creator of inviting worlds of sound — specifically, his performances of two “rhythm ballads.” That’s an archaic term, and I don’t know who coined it, but it comes from the Thirties, where musicians played a tender song and made sure to send the emotions to the listeners, but kept a danceable pulse going all the time.

A few words about the music.  IT’S ONLY A PAPER MOON, by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg, is one of my favorite songs, and I wrote about it here.  I invite you to read that post — skip my prose if you’re in a hurry — but listen to Cliff Edwards and Dick McDonough, performing not only the chorus but the verse. But for now, Max, gently proceeding through the song, with a few nods to T. Waller, honoring the melody with delight and amusement:

I’LL FOLLOW YOU, by Roy Turk and Fred Ahlert, might be known to piano scholars and Commodore Records devotees through the 1939 recording by Willie “the Lion” Smith, but I first fell in love with the song through Bing Crosby’s version when it was a new pop hit.

Here’s Max. What could be nicer than the affectionate words about his mother?

The artist Aubrey Beardsley is supposed to have told the young W.B. Yeats, “Beauty is so very difficult,” and we must imagine all the possible tones of voice those words could have been said in — but young Max already knows a great deal about making beauty alive and accessible to anyone with ears and emotions.

May your happiness increase!

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FEBRUARY 14, AT AN ANGLE

This song was a hit in 1931-2.  YouTube offers many amiable dance-band recordings.  Here I present four, two modern and two classic.

George Probert, soprano; Chris Tyle, cornet, vocal; Mike Owen, trombone; John Royen, piano; Lars Edegran, guitar; Bernie Attridge, string bass; Hal Smith, drums.  1998.  (Thanks to Chris for singing and playing from the heart.  And Hal keeps everyone pointed in the right direction, heartbreak or no.)

Bobby Gordon, clarinet; Keith Ingham, celeste; Hal Smith, drums.  1996.

THE performances, when the song was new, including the verbally treacherous verse, with Bing at one of his many peaks.

Finally, Louis and the Chicago band — with that muted lead.  “Bring it out, saxophones!” And the final bridge, a history of jazz in itself:

If Valentine’s Day is to you just a celebration of commodified love, it will pass.  When the stores close for the night, the tired sales help is already putting 50% OFF stickers on the candy boxes, but it would be gauche to bring some chocolate to the Love Object on the 15th.

The music, however, rings on wonderfully without interruption.

May your happiness increase!

THE EARREGULARS ASK THE DEEP QUESTION: JON-ERIK KELLSO, ENGELBERT WROBEL, NICKI PARROTT, JAMES CHIRILLO (April 26, 2015)

“Please don’t do that.  That’s mean.”

As adults, we don’t always hear that particular reproach for unkind behavior, but I wish more people said it when needed, and more people heard it, because meanness — whether it comes at us without a disguise, or it is cloaked in “acerbic humor” — is painful.  And it sticks.

MEAN TO ME one

The great songs that also seem so casual sometimes address the deepest issues. Thus, MEAN TO ME (music by Fred Ahlert, lyrics by Roy Turk) asks this huge question, “Why must you be mean to me?”  Even though it is put forth in the context of romantic love, it is a deep inquiry.

Even when I hear a medium-tempo instrumental version — which will follow — I also hear Annette Hanshaw’s plaintive voice, or perhaps Billie Holiday’s, asking that question.  Why must you be mean to me?

When I most recently heard the song, at The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City) on a Sunday night function — one of those gloriously fulfilling get-togethers that make New York so rewarding — I didn’t hear the words, I confess, because the instrumental joy was so deep that it commanded, in the nicest way, my attention.  The wondrous players were Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Engelbert Wrobel, clarinet; Nicki Parrott, string bass; James Chirillo, guitar:

The music they made has no trace of meanness.  Such beauty could, for those who understand it, make us better, kinder, more loving people.  Thank you, James, Nicki, Angel, and Jon-Erik.  Making the cosmos lighter, one note at a time.

May your happiness increase!

MEAN.

Fats Waller said that one of his ambitions was to travel the country, preaching sermons with a big band in back of him. I feel the same tendency twice a year, so I encourage any reader who might find me even slightly didactic to turn the leaf and choose another page.

My travels in the land of jazz (and elsewhere) bring me face to face with men of my generation who affect a certain bluff, gruff heartiness as their mode of conversation with other men. It is meant to resemble comic friendliness, but it has bits of broken glass mixed in. This “being funny” has come to feel downright hurtful.  “Making a joke” isn’t amusing when it’s at someone’s expense.

I do not exempt myself from blame.  For a long time I was a small-time energetic Mocker, a Satirist, someone made fun of the failings of himself and his friends. I’ve tried to stop doing this.  It’s mean. It is the very opposite of welcoming and loving.

I guess that many men grew up believing that if you displayed your affection for another man, if you showed that you were delighted he was there, you were girlish — behavior to be avoided lest someone think you insufficiently manly.

But if “Joe, you old rascal. Tired of bothering the girls at Safeway and they let you out to come here?” really means, “Joe, I am always glad to see you and am happy you are here,” or even, “Joe, I love you,” why not say it and drop all the “funny” banter that is really nasty stuff?

I suspect that some of the “comedy” is because we feel Small in ourselves (“Will anyone notice how tiny I have gotten? Does anyone love me?”) and one way to feel Bigger is to make others feel Small.  If everyone is busy laughing at Joe, they will be too busy to laugh at Us.

But I believe that when we act lovingly, the questions of Who’s Bigger and Who’s Smaller quickly become inconsequential.  And laughter with an edge is like any sharp thing: you never know who’s bleeding once the ruckus stops.  (In this century, “edgy” has come to seem a term of modern praise. Think about it.)

Should any reader think I am being too hard on my fellow Males, I know that Women do this too — I think of Mildred and Bessie meeting on the street and one saying to the other, “I have this dress that’s too big for me.  Why don’t you take it?” which I used to think was hilarious. Now I wish they could just have given each other a hug and shut up. Love is more important than what the scale says.

I offer two kinds of music for meditations on Meanness, which you know used to mean a kind of ungenerous smallness.  Although these songs are based on the drama of the unresponsive or cold lover, let their melody and words (thank you, Roy Turk and Fred Ahlert) ring in your head before you — out of careless habit — say something Mean:

and almost a decade later:

If you show your heart to people, they show theirs back to you.

May your happiness increase!

“AS LONG AS I HAVE YOU”: JAZZ VALENTINES, CONTINUED

Readers of JAZZ LIVES will have noticed that it is that rare thing — a Romantic Jazz Blog.  This morning, while I was sitting alongside the Beloved, having breakfast, discussing a bit of mundane difficulty which was causing discomfort even though I knew it wouldn’t be permanent, I said to her, “Well, I’ll get by — as long as I have you.” Thank you, Roy Turk and Fred Ahlert, for giving us another way to express these sentiments — that the worst things in life are made more easy by the presence of a Beloved, that love helps us to endure. “Getting by” often seems like the minimum, “just getting by,” but this song gives it substance and dignity.

I'LL GET BY

I know that isn’t the original sheet music (which has only a floral design) and I think that the Beloved leaves Irene Dunne in the dust, although I am no Spencer Tracy . . . but the vision of a couple finding comfort in each other’s presence is a sustaining ideal.

As is the song itself.  There are many other versions, among them by Bing and Ruth Etting, but these two by Lady Day do it for me.  (She was often annoyed by John Hammond’s pushing “old songs” on her — this one from 1928 — but his instincts were fine here.) The first version begins with the much-belittled Buster Bailey (if he was so unimaginative, why did all the major bands fight for him?), then moves into a rapturous Johnny Hodges chorus, and then Miss Holiday, curling around the melody with the help of Buck Clayton and that rhythm section (Artie Bernstein, Allan Reuss, Cozy Cole):

Seven years later, with an even more emphatic Sidney Catlett driving things along, and Billie finding new curlicues with which to be soulfully expressive: 

1944: with Eddie Heywood, Doc Cheatham, Vic Dickenson, Lem Davis, Teddy Walters, John Simmons, Sidney Catlett.

I’ll get by.  You will, too.

May your happiness increase!