Tag Archives: The Mills Brothers

IMMENSELY RESTORATIVE, 1934

hot-water-and-lemon

This may be better than other restoratives, such as a brisk walk before breakfast.

The details?  Dick Powell and the Mills Brothers.  A song by Al Dubin and Harry Warren, from the 1934 film TWENTY MILLION SWEETHEARTS.  And I read that Powell insisted on this being recorded and filmed “live” rather than have the five of them — notice, no studio orchestra (which would have been entirely unnecessary) — lip-syncing, as was the custom.

This performance, just over two minutes, is totally entrancing: clearly rehearsed, because there are a million places where collisions would be possible, it becomes a sweet vocal ballet with very uplifting visual touches.  Historically-minded listeners may hear parallels between this and what Bing had done even before he and the Brothers made a record in 1932 (and a film appearance in THE BIG BROADCAST) and I hear a good deal of what the Spirits of Rhythm were so memorably creating.

But right now, I plan to watch and listen to this clip several more times.  I encourage you to take as needed as well.  Thanks to Steven Potteiger of Facebook for pointing me to Ron Evry’s video — without them, I would have been unrestored.

May your happiness increase!

BOB AND RUTH BYLER + CAMERA = HOURS OF GOOD MUSIC

Bob and Ruth Byler

Bob and Ruth Byler

I first became aware of Bob Byler — writer, photographer, videographer — when we both wrote for THE MISSISSIPPI RAG, but with the demise of that wonderful journalistic effusion (we still miss Leslie Johnson, I assure you) I had not kept track of him.  But he hasn’t gone away, and he is now providing jazz viewers with hours of pleasure.

“Spill, Brother Michael!” shouts a hoarse voice from the back of the room.

As you can see in the photograph above, Bob has always loved capturing the music — and, in this case, in still photographs.  But in 1984, he bought a video camera.  In fact, he bought several in varying media: eight-millimeter tape, VHS, and even mini-DVDs, and he took them to jazz concerts wherever he could. Now, when he shares the videos, edits them, revisits them, he says, “I’m so visual-oriented, it’s like being at a jazz festival again without the crowd.  It’s a lot of fun.”  Bob told me that he shot over two thousand hours of video and now has uploaded about four hundred hours to YouTube.

Here is his flickr.com site, full of memorable closeups of players and singers. AND the site begins with a neatly organized list of videos . . .

Bob and his late wife Ruth had gone to jazz festivals all over the world — and a few cruises — and he had taken a video camera with him long before I ever had the notion.  AND he has put some four hundred hours of jazz video on YouTube on the aptly named Bob and Ruth Byler Archival Jazz Videos channel. His filming perspective was sometimes far back from the stage (appropriate for large groups) so a video that’s thirty years old might take a moment to get used to. But Bob has provided us with one time capsule after another.  And unlike the ladies and gents of 2016, who record one-minute videos on their smartphones, Bob captured whole sets, entire concerts.  Most of his videos are nearly two hours long, and there are more than seventy of them now up — for our dining and dancing pleasure.  Many of the players are recognizable, but I haven’t yet sat down and gone through forty or a hundred hours of video, so that is part of the fun — recognizing old friends and heroes.  Because (and I say this sadly) many of the musicians on Bob’s videos have made the transition, which makes this video archive, generously offered, so precious.

Here is Bob’s own introduction to the collection, which tells more than I could:

Here are the “West Coast Stars,” performing at the Elkhart Jazz Party, July 1990:

an Art Hodes quartet, also from Elkhart, from 1988:

What might have been one of Zoot Sims’ last performances, in Toledo, in 1985:

a compilation of performances featuring Spiegle Willcox (with five different bands) from 1991-1997, a tribute  Bob is particularly proud of:

from the 1988 Elkhart, a video combining a Count Basie tribute (I recognize Bucky Pizzarelli, Milt Hinton, Joe Ascione, and Doc Cheatham!) and a set by the West End Jazz Band:

a Des Moines performance by Jim Beebe’s Chicago Jazz Band featuring Judi K, Connie Jones, and Spiegle:

and a particular favorite, two sets also from Elkhart, July 1988, a Condon memorial tribute featuring (collectively) Wild Bill Davison, Tommy Saunders, Chuck Hedges, George Masso, Dave McKenna, Marty Grosz, Milt Hinton, Rusty Jones, John Bany, Wayne Jones, in two sets:

Here are some other musicians you’ll see and hear: Bent Persson, Bob Barnard, Bob Havens, the Mighty Aphrodite group, the Cakewalkin’ Jazz Band, the Mills Brothers, Pete Fountain, Dick Hyman, Peter Appleyard, Don Goldie, Tomas Ornberg, Jim Cullum, Jim Galloway, Chuck Hedges, Dave McKenna, Max Collie, the Salty Dogs, Ken Peplowski, Randy Sandke, Howard Alden, Butch Thompson, Hal Smith, the Climax Jazz Band, Ernie Carson, Dan Barrett, Banu Gibson, Tommy Saunders, Jean Kittrell, Danny Barker, Duke Heitger, John Gill, Chris Tyle, Bob Wilber, Gene Mayl, Ed Polcer, Jacques Gauthe, Brooks Tegler, Rex Allen, Bill Dunham and the Grove Street Stompers, Jim Dapogny’s Chicago Jazz Band, the Harlem Jazz Camels, and so much more, more than I can type.

Many musicians look out into the audience and see people (like myself) with video cameras and sigh: their work is being recorded without reimbursement or without their ability to control what becomes public forever.  I understand this and it has made me a more polite videographer.  However, when such treasures like this collection surface, I am glad that people as devoted as Bob and Ruth Byler were there.  These videos — and more to come — testify to the music and to the love and generosity of two of its ardent supporters.

May your happiness increase!

“IN THE SHADE OF THE OLD APPLE TREE”: TORSTEIN KUBBAN, JACOB ULLBERGER, FRANS SJOSTROM at the MIKE DURHAM CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY (November 5, 2015)

in-the-shade-of-the-old-apple-tree-sheet-music-of-1910-song-by-harry-BRH6CH

You don’t need a large group of people to create something beautiful.  And you don’t need the most comfortable settings — even a large sign advertising GOURMET BURGERS and COMFORT SALADS is no distraction for heartfelt artists who know and embody lovely truths.

And so it was once again shown — gorgeously — on the first night of the 2015 Mike Durham Classic Jazz  Party (November 5) after the rehearsals had concluded and a small group of the devout gathered in the Victory Pub for fun and hot jazz.

Here, three masters of hot combined to produce music at the highest level: Torstein Kubban, cornet; Jacob Ullberger, banjo; Frans Sjostrom, bass saxophone.  Their text for this mellow sermon is the old song IN THE SHADE OF  THE OLD APPLE TREE — a song so well-known that I recall two parody versions (one ethnic-vaudeville, one lewd) and I am sure there are more . . . as well as Ellington’s and the sacred collaboration of Louis Armstrong and the Mills Brothers.

But rather than studying the past, I invite you to delight in the glories of the present — a performance where one can admire the individual voices and then marvel at what they combine to create:

Who knew that lovely fruit could grow in darkness?  These three artists did and do.  And more marvels like this will take place at the 2016 Party in November.

Thanks to the Library of Congress “National Jukebox,” here is Billy Murray’s 1905 parody version of the song, depicting death and violence in the orchard.  “Don’t try this at home!” rings especially true.

Apple Tree parody label 1905

May your happiness increase! 

“SHINE,” RECONSIDERED

It’s always fascinating to take old assumptions and hold them up to the light.  For years, I assumed along with most that the song called “SHINE,” or sometimes “S-H-I-N-E,” had disgracefully racist lyrics, and that having someone proud of his African-American heritage — such as Louis Armstrong — sing it was a deep insult.  “Poor Louis,” we thought, “forced to endure material unworthy of him, degrading to his race and self,” although he doesn’t seem abashed in what follows.

Here’s the version from RHAPSODY IN BLACK AND BLUE (with a nice close-up of drummer Tubby Hall):

And a decade or so later, a Soundie of SHINE from 1942 (with closeups of Sidney Catlett and dancer Nick Stewart):

“Those poor Mills Brothers — other singers saddled with demeaning material.”  That there seemed to be other lyrics — in Bing Crosby’s version — was puzzling, but I think many assumed that this was part of a clean-up campaign or some racist plot against people of color.

No, not at all.

The song — as “THAT’S WHY THEY CALL ME ‘SHINE,'” dates from 1910* and was composed by Ford Dabney (music) and, more importantly, Cecil Mack (born Richard C. McPherson), both African-Americans.  That in itself wouldn’t have prevented them from creating a song that later generations would have found demeaning.  But the lyrics of “THAT’S WHY THEY CALL ME ‘SHINE'” are anything but self-deprecating.

Verse 1:

When I was born they christened me plain Samuel Johnson Brown,

I hadn’t grown so very big ‘fore some folks in the town

Had changed it ’round to Sambo, I was Rastus to a few,

Then Choc’late Drop was added by some others that I knew,

And then to cap the climax I was strolling down the line

When someone shouted, “Fellers, hey, come on and pipe the Shine.”

But I don’t care a bit,

Here’s how I figure it.

Refrain:

‘Cause my hair is curly,

‘Cause my teeth are pearly,

Just because I always wear a smile,

Like to dress up in the latest style,

‘Cause I’m glad I’m living.

Take troubles smiling, never whine;

Just because my color’s shady,

Slightly diff’rent maybe,

That’s why they call me “Shine.”

Verse 2:

A rose, they say, by any other name would smell as sweet,

So if that’s right, why should a nickname take me off my feet?

Why, ev’rything that’s precious from a gold piece to a dime

And diamonds, pearls, and rubies ain’t no good unless they shine.

So when these clever people call me “shine” or “coon” or “smoke,”

I simply smile, and smile some more, and vote them all a joke.

I’m thinking just the same,

What is there in a name?

Repeat Refrain.

I think — having read these lyrics, especially the verse! — some of us might have to reconsider our perceptions of this song.  The lyrics, by the way, come from READING LYRICS, ed. Robert Gottlieb and Robert Kimball (Pantheon, 2000); they date the song as 1924.  Text courtesy of the Beloved’s bookcase.

NICK HORNBY, RECORD STORES, and “POP MUSIC”

I visit www.jazz.com. with some regularity, and I’ve even had my own blogposts featured on it.  A good deal of what is posted there is not my thing, but some of the content is fascinating. 

Today I encountered there an article published in the Guardian by the popular British novelist Nick Hornby on the death of record stores.  That isn’t a particularly original observation: everyone who’s bought even one record during the last half-century could write similar articles about the phenomenon. 

Hornby proposes that new pop-music blogs that offer MP3 downloads are the new local record stores, and that the internet has become a global music market.  I can’t say much about the first proposition, because I don’t find twenty-second musical snippets valid enticements to purchase, but the second is surely true.

But this casual pronouncement made me sit up straight:

After my local CD shop closed down, I was getting ready for a musical life that turned in on itself, before dying slowly from malnutrition.  Any piece of music becomes drained of meaning and excitement if you listen too much to it, but a three-minute pop song isn’t going to last you a lifetime.  Popular music needs to keep flowing. If the fresh supplies stop, it’s you that becomes stagnant.

I am enthralled by this terminally short attention span: “Any piece of music becomes drained of meaning and excitement if you listen too much to it.”  This hunger for new sensations clearly isn’t just Hornby’s artistic immaturity; it defines contemporary culture’s glorification of disposable ersatz-Art, novels that exhaust their ingenuity before the reader is well into chapter two; music that bores the listener on the first hearing.  (It all sounds dismayingly like a dystopian restaurant where the food is stale as soon as it leaves the kitchen.)       

I don’t know: I’ve been listening to Lester Young and the 1938 Kansas City Six, to Louis and the Mills Brothers, to Billie Holiday and Count Basie, to the Blue Note Jazzmen . . . for almost forty years now.  And if I were to hear one of their recordings now — even though I could hum along with it, knew the solos and the accents by heart — that music wouldn’t be “drained” for me.  The next time Hornby comes to the US for a book tour, I hope he’ll accept my offer of music that doesn’t grow old.  I’d be glad to share some Teddy Bunn and Bessie Smith records: they should restore him!

The full text of Hornby’s piece can be read at http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2009/sep/06/nick-hornby-mp3-record-shops

OFFENSIVE YET ENTHRALLING

Courtesy of Hans Koert’s “Keep Swinging” blog, here is a 1943 Merrie Melodies cartoon, “TIN PAN ALLEY CATS.”  It offers a buffet of demeaning racial stereotypes and is thus not available on American DVD collections.  It is shocking that such caricatures could be shown in public in America so late in our history, although not terribly surprising.

But after I got through being offended, I was amused — subversively tickled.  And I don’t know: does it denigrate or slyly celebrate Fats Waller, Louis Armstrong, Slam Stewart, Leo Watson, African-American night life and religious fervor, two sides of the same coin?  Add in sideswipes at Al Jolson, blackface, the Mills Brothers, the Ink Spots, and Fats’s own 1942 “By the Light of the Si;very Moon” for good measure.  Then there’s the idea that jazz leads straight to Hell.

This cartoon was surely Caucasian Middle America’s idea of Blackness — exuberant, uncontrolled, foolish, Godless.  But joyous, too.  And we note that so much of the cartoon’s seven-plus minutes are given over to a tut-tut and tsk-tsk depiction of Hot and Naughty . . . . with much less attention paid to old-time-religion.  I doubt that James Baldwin had ever seen this, but doesn’t it noisily depict the conflict between Sacred and Profane that emerges again in his story “Sonny’s Blues”?

As Kevin Dorn once pointed out to me, the Bad Night Life portrayed in the Fallen World segment of “It’s A Wonderful Life” still seems reasonably appealing, even when you consider the charms of Goodness, friends, family, and Donna Reed.

One never knows, DO ONE?