Tag Archives: Thelma Todd

GUESS WHO’S IN TOWN? THE CHICAGO CELLAR BOYS at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST: ANDY SCHUMM, JOHN OTTO, PAUL ASARO, JOHNNY DONATOWICZ, DAVE BOCK (Nov. 24, 2018)

The Chicago Cellar Boys are a lovely band — not only the easy swing, the ringing solos, the choice of material, the consistent lyricism, the faith that melody, played with feeling, is essential — but they have an ensemble conception, so that something pleasing is always going on.  Five pieces make a wonderful portable orchestra, where sweet and hot balance and show each other off by contrast.  People unfamiliar with this group might think it landlocked — a quintet devoting itself to Twenties and very early-Thirties music — but they would be wrong, because this is one of the most versatile groups I know: tempo, approach, arrangements, instrument-switching, and more.  They give great value!

I suggest that any listener who is deeply involved in creative improvisation, not only solos but ensemble timbres, the possibilities of a small group that transcend soloist-plus-rhythm, and the beauty of imaginative arrangements could study any one of these performances with the attention normally given to a hallowed OKeh or Oriole disc and be both enthralled and enlightened.

I’ve posted other videos of them herehere, and (with Colin Hancock sitting in) here.

The individual heroes are Andy Schumm, cornet, tenor, clarinet, arrangements; John Otto, clarinet, alto; Paul Asaro, piano, vocal; Johnny Donatowicz, banjo, guitar; Dave Bock, tuba.  Here they are at the 29th San Diego Jazz Fest, in a set performed on November 24, 2018.  They began with one of the classic late-Twenties songs about the glory to be found below the Mason-Dixon line:

and from the Clarence Williams book, by Maceo Pinkard, PILE OF LOGS AND STONE, another song glorifying the joys of rustic home life:

Thanks to Irving Berlin, Bing, and Ethel Waters:

Bless Don Redman is what I say:

LET’S DO THINGS is one of those songs I’d never known before (typically, I go away from a CCB set with new discoveries).  I was unable to find the composers, but I did stumble into a 1931 Hal Roach comedy of the same name starring ZaSu Pitts and Thelma Todd, in which the then new song THEM THERE EYES figures happily and prominently.  Here is the link to the film.  Now, the ingenious song (is it a Schumm concoction? Youth wants to know):

Another song I associate with Clarence Williams, NOBODY BUT MY BABY (IS GETTING MY LOVE):

Finally, James P. Johnson’s GUESS WHO’S IN TOWN — beloved of Ethel Waters and Max Kaminsky on Commodore:

There are many CCB videos (about thirty — yes!) still for me to share with you: I think I missed at most one and one-half of their sets at this jazz weekend.  So watch this space for more good news.

May your happiness increase!

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THEME AND VARIATIONS: “EV’RYONE SAYS ‘I LOVE YOU'”: CAPARONE, SKJELBRED, MARX, KALMAR, RUBY, and TODD

EV'RYONE

This is not in the order you might expect, but all will be revealed.

THEME:

EV'RYONE cover alt

VARIATIONS:

Zeppo in a Russ Columbo mood, with time out for toast and jam delightfully consumed by Miss Todd, then the equestrian version with a modernized banana:

Groucho with a guitar and some Perelmanesque byplay that references Theodore Dreiser:

And more variations on this pretty theme, audio only:

with a return to the 2015 version, a triumph of passion and control:

I always thought this song had a simplistic melody — lines that one might have played with one finger on a piano keyboard in C, ascending and descending.  But the 2015 version presented here, by Marc Caparone, cornet, and Ray Skjelbred, piano, at the San Diego Jazz Fest, shows me that it’s not only the clever lyrics by Kalmar that make the song memorable.  However, those lyrics — sung sweetly by Zeppo, sung in his own faux-Italian vaudeville fashion by Chico, whistled by Harpo — stay in our minds.  When Groucho demolishes them in the canoe, world-wearily suggesting that love is resistible, “just inviting trouble for the poor [s]ucker who . . . ” the effect is powerful, even before we get to the duck, the oar, and more.  Incidentally, Groucho’s take on romance — sour as it is — is what we could expect from a motion picture whose title everyone would recognize as a polite version of HORSE SHIT?

But I digress.  Beautiful melodic improvisations don’t need sophisticated material.  It’s what you do with it that counts.

May your happiness increase!