Tag Archives: Spike Jones

“AND APPRECIATE THE RHYTHM THAT YOU HEAR”: A 1938 PRIMER IN SWING

Mister Crosby on the air

and his fellow perpetrator:

Mister Mercer, likewise

Late in the previous century, I had my fascination with the recordings of Bing Crosby intensified by the opportunity to listen to two decades of his records in chronological order.  And although some see his career as an inevitable descent into “popular music,” I could always hear the glowing beauty of his voice, his wonderful phrasing, his direct appeal to the listener.  He never seemed detached when he sang, even if the song was at first an odd choice for those who, like myself, grew up on his recordings of YOU TOOK ADVANTAGE OF ME, DANCING IN THE DARK, PLEASE, and dozens of other masterpieces.  I think of Michael Brooks reminding us of the splendor of Crosby’s HOME ON THE RANGE, for one glorious example.

Although Johnny Mercer deserves his fame as songwriter and lyricist, I also encountered him early as a charmingly eccentric singer — the SIZZLING ONE-STEP MEDLEY with Trumbauer, THE BATHTUB RAN OVER AGAIN, and LORD, I GIVE YOU MY CHILDREN.  Later Mercer vocals — for instance, MOON RIVER — have the sadness of a mature artist, but the ones I came to love first had a delicious impish puckishness to them, as if he was about to burst into helpless laughter at any point — which he didn’t, being an expert jester in complete control.

This 1938 recording, pairing the two, is an absolute favorite of mine: it exists at the crossroads of Swing, Vaudeville, and Jive: Bing and Johnny playing around with an ancient (even then) musical-vaudeville routine, MISTER GALLAGHER AND MISTER SHEAN, updated to be satirically hip, with new lyrics by Mercer.

Although everything here is scripted (unless perhaps a few of the ad-libs were invented in rehearsal) the whole performance has a goofy splendor, with Mercer’s lyrics both hilarious and intentionally vaudevillian; the splendid expertise of this hot band, evident even when they don’t have as much to do as jazz fans would have wished: Sullivan’s written phrase at the start, Secrest’s quiet obbligati; Spike’s rollicking old-time drumming; Lincoln’s slides.  And the obvious joy Bing and Johnny exude, the sheer fun they are having.
I could close my eyes and see them nattily attired in updated 1922 vaudeville garb (straw boaters and striped jackets) pretending to teach us all about Swing — notice, it’s a lesson that “Johnny” doesn’t want at all, which is perhaps the best joke of all, for 1938-and-onwards listeners expecting this to be the triumph of “Modern” over “Old-Time,” which turns on itself when “Sorta Lombardo, Mister C!” is delivered in a completely authentic bluesy drawl.  Those who suggest that Bing never broke out of old-timey rhythmic patterns, never got in the groove in true (let us say Basie) fashion should listen closely: yes, he and Johnny imitate New Orleans rhythmic patterns in their asides, but everyone is swinging.  Oh, there are levels and levels of art here, even though Jack Kapp would have imagined this as one of this all-star productions, sure to win a mass audience, sure to sell well.  It continues to delight me, and I hope it does the same for you.
Bing and Johnny are perfectly accompanied by Victor Young’s Small Fryers : Andy Secrest, cornet; Abe Lincoln, trombone; Jack Mayhew, clarinet; John Cascales, tenor saxophone;  Joe Sullivan, piano; Perry Botkin, guitar; Jim “Slim” Taft, string bass; Spike Jones, drums.  Los Angeles, July 1, 1938.

THE AU BROTHERS “TAKE OFF!”

Readers of JAZZ LIVES know Gordon Au (youthful brass Maestro / composer / arranger / occasional vocalist) but may be less familiar with his gifted younger siblings — Justin (trumpet) and Brandon (trombone).  They’ve played jazz festivals as the Au Brothers Jazz Band, keeping family ties strong with the addition of Howard (Uncle How) Miyata on tuba.  Friends who round out the band are guitarist / banjoist / vocalist Katie Cavera and swing percussionist Danny Coots.  On paper, especially for those used to the “traditional” line-up, this combination might look unorthodox, but it works beautifully.  I can prove it!

They’ve just released their debut CD, aptly called THE AU BROTHERS TAKE OFF! (with witty art by Molly Reeves of the Red Skunk Gipzee band, and characteristically literate liner notes by Gordon).

AU!

The CD features a few chestnuts given new life — JELLY ROLL (with a vocal by Uncle How that is reminiscent of a good bakery) and LIMEHOUSE BLUES, several songs from a century ago — WHEN FRANCIS DANCES WITH ME (vocal by the choreographic Katie) and CENTRAL, GIVE ME BACK MY DIME (a song new to me but one that gives Brandon an opportunity to rail at the limitations of the “new” technology when it’s involved in romance) — and originals by Gordon which show his range from wooing to hilarious, from swing to comedic grotesquerie: PISMO BEACH PARADE, STINKY FEET BLUES (not what you might expect), CAPITAL-BOUND, HOW COULD I SAY THAT I LOVE YOU, TANGO OF LOST LOVES, BROOKLYNBURG RAG — and a wonderful collage of themes from jazz classics, BIG CHIEF DADA’S AXE OF PLENTY STRAIN.  The interplay between the horns is marvelous; the rhythm section rocks, and the whole enterprises sits comfortably somewhere between the Hot Five, Gil Evans, Tom Lehrer, and Spike Jones, the balance shifting from song to song.

You can find out more about the band (their schedule of future appearances) and the CD here, and the Brothers have generously posted many videos of the band on this site.

I will take this opportunity to add to the Brothers’ video hoard — for current watchers and future generations as well as life forms on other planets who might be vibrating to the gigabytes in interstellar space — with some engaging evidence of the ABJB in action at the 2013 Jazz Fest by the Bay in Monterey, California. Gordon’s casual wardrobe was especially arranged by American Airlines’ baggage handlers.

PISMO BEACH PARADE:

PENNIES FROM HEAVEN:

BROOKLYNBURG RAG:

HOW CAN I SAY THAT I LOVE YOU?:

TANGO OF LOST LOVES:

WHEN FRANCIS DANCES WITH ME:

CAPITAL-BOUND:

In the words of the 1933 LAUGHIN’ LOUIE, “Take off, Gate!”

May your happiness increase!

TWO’S COMPANY: KATIE CAVERA and CLINT BAKER: “Who’s Foolin’ Who?”

Katie Cavera is a woman of many talents: she can play anything with strings (a variety of banjos, guitars, and string basses).  Her ideal is Freddie Green, which should tell you something about her taste and swing.

She is also a sweetly unaffected but convincing singer, able to create delightful variations.  (She played trombone in high school and is currently picking up the trumpet to fill in for a scarcity of trumpet players in her area: very little holds Katie back!)

Katie is also a nifty creator of short films that are both funny and sweet, some starring Tofu, the naughty Sock Monkey, who goes everywhere and breaks the rules wherever he goes.  More about that in a minute.

Clint Baker can do it all: he can lead a band gently but effectively.  He can write arrangements or create head-arrangements on the spot; he’s a good down-home singer, a hot cornetist, drummer, trombonist, reedman, guitarist, banjoist, bassist, tubaist, washboardist.

Katie and Clint made a CD.  It’s a doozy, a honey, a wow, the cat’s whiskers / pajamas / meow.  (Translation: I won’t be parted from my copy.)

Before we move on to the details, here’s a sample (courtesy of my pal Rae Ann Berry) of Katie and Clint — with Ray Templin at the piano — romping through TOO BUSY in 2009.  (Katie likes the approach and repertoire of Lillie Delk Christian, and this performance is a particular favorite.)

The CD Katie and Clint collaborated on is called WHO’S FOOLIN’ WHO? — but the title doesn’t mean that you will be taken in if you purchase it.  Oh, no — quite the contrary.  Aside from a guest appearance by Monte Reyes on tenor banjo (on one track) and a piano feature for Robert Young on a rag Katie composed — which combines Satie, Joseph Lamb, and Spike Jones — the CD is entirely given over to Katie and Clint.  “Uh oh.  Banjo and cornet, maybe, for an hour?” I hear some of you muttering.

No.  Through the magic of beautifully-done overdubbing, it’s a full hot band.  Katie sings and plays five instruments; Clint plays ten.  I know that overdubbing doesn’t always work.  Sidney Bechet’s One-Man-Band worked because it was Bechet (a matter of sheer passion); George Avakian’s cut-and-paste experiments with Louis Armstrong were miraculous because they allowed us to hear Louis accompany Louis.  (Is there anything finer?)

But the Katie-Clint endeavor works so well because the recording was done by Monte Reyes, who knows how jazz should sound, and because Katie and Clint are on the same wavelength.  So the result swings most enchantingly — a nice mix of standards and a few originals.

I must report that one of the originals, YOU’VE BEEN A NAUGHTY BOY — somewhere between Annette Hanshaw and Mae West — so captivated me that I played it over and over in the car, grinning as I drove.

I have little patience for Christmas songs — especially at the end of March — but this Christmas song promises something sweetly, tenderly romantic as a present, and it rolls along irresistibly.  But you don’t have to take my word for it.

Fortunately for us, Katie used her song — in this version– as the soundtrack for one of her “silent” films, where she reveals yet another talent . . . as subtly funny philosopher.  The film features Katie’s husband, magician Woody Pittman, in a starring role:

To find out more about the CD (such as the important question: How can I buy several?) visit http://www.katiecavera.com/disc.html and find out all the answers.

And — just in a musing way — I think the moral of the film, tenderly enacted, is that our life’s pleasures are often under our noses, so much so that we take them for granted.  (You may begin to hum BACK IN YOUR OWN BACKYARD at this point.)  I feel this way about Katie and Clint’s CD: once you have a copy, you will wonder how you got along without it to listen to.

“CHLOE (Song of the Swamp)”: THEME AND VARIATIONS

Written in 1927 by Gus Kahn and “Neil Moret,” the pseudonym of Charles N. Daniels, this song is both lovely and durable.  The sheet music says it is to be played or sung “in a tragic manner,” but liberties are always allowed here.  

Duke Ellington: thanks to Tricky Sam Nanton, Barney Bigard, Jimmie Blanton, Sonny Greer, Juan Tizol, Wallce Jones, Ben Webster — that astonishing Victor Orchestra of 1940:

The Blessed Henry “Red” Allen, 1936:

The magnificient Louis Armstrong with Gordon Jenkins, circa 1952 (don’t let the swooshing strings and crooning voices put you off):

And Miss Chloe Lang (photographed by Lorna Sass).

The inevitable postscript is this recording of CHLOE, one I also knew in my childhood — cheerfully undermined by Spike Jones and his City Slickers:

Ancient vaudeville, with pokes at Ted Lewis, of all people, but still memorable fun.

Everybody sing!

Chloe! Chloe!

Someone’s calling, no reply
Nightshade’s falling, hear him sigh

Chloe! Chloe!

Empty spaces in his eyes
Empty arms outstretched, he’s crying

Through the black of night
I’ve got to go where you are
If it’s dark or bright
I’ve got to go where you are

I’ll go through the dismal swampland
Searching for you
For if you are lost there
Let me be there, too

Through the smoke and flame
I’ve got to go where you are
For no place can be too far
Where you are

Ain’ no chains can bind you
If you live, I’ll find you
Love is calling me
I’ve got to go where you are.

LOVE IS CALLING US: ALL MONEY GOES TO THE MUSICIANS!

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