Tag Archives: Thomas Hardy

“SHE YELLED WITH DELIGHT”: DAVE STUCKEY and the HOT HOUSE GANG at FRESNO: DAVE STUCKEY, MARC CAPARONE, NATE KETNER, RILEY BAKER, DAVID AUS, SAM ROCHA, GARETH PRICE (February 9, 2019)

The Twenties marked an explosion of female freedom that would blossom in our time, with political empowerment and social power running parallel: the right to vote and the right to choose what you would wear.  I am sure that somewhere in that decade a singer was whimpering through SHE’S ONLY A BIRD IN A GILDED CAGE, and NOBODY’S SWEETHEART appears to — note I write “appears” — say that a young woman could lose her virtue in the big city, with a wink at the listener as if to say that scandal is more fun than conformity. But the songs below, which resurface as hot jazz classics in their own decade, say that the rewards of freedom and pleasure and hugely gratifying.  (I amused myself a few years ago here by writing about several of those songs — with a guest appearance by Thomas Hardy.)

By coincidence, the songs I am considering were given splendid performances by Dave Stuckey and the Hot House Gang at the 2019 “Sounds of Mardi Gras” in Fresno, California — on February 9.  The HHG was Dave, guitar and vocal; Gareth Price, drums; Sam Rocha, string bass; David Aus (subbing for Carl Sonny Leyland), piano; Nate Ketner, reeds; Marc Caparone, cornet — on LIZZIE, the delightful trombonist Riley Baker joins in the fun.

Let’s begin with Bessie, from 1929 — not Smith, but a young woman with no last name who is completely enjoying herself.  I’ve always wondered if Bessie’s yelling with delight celebrates the female orgasm.  And although the lyrics suggest a faux-pity about Bessie, who “couldn’t help it,” as if she could be an entry in Krafft-Ebing, we are meant to cheer her on:

Then there’s Lizzie, who is dancing all over town with such wild abandon that she shakes the pots and pans in what we must assume is a more sedate lady’s kitchen.  Ah, flaming youth!  (Or, as Dave exhorts the band, “Come on, cats!”).  I also note the repeated reference to what I know as “Oh, they don’t wear pants / in the southern part of France,” which suggests that Lizzie’s dance is close to the hootchy-kootchy:

These songs have wonderful jazz pedigrees, should you want to listen to other versions: Louis and Hoagy and Marty Grosz for BESSIE; “Irving Mills” and then Eddie Condon for LIZZIE.

Hot jazz, social emancipation, wild dancing, orgasms.  Fine with me.  And I write with untrammeled pride that I think this is the only jazz blog where Krafft-Ebing and Louis have equal time.

May your happiness increase!

Advertisements

MORAL CENSURE in 4/4, WITH A STOP-AND-GO (at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST): MARC CAPARONE, RAY SKJELBRED, BEAU SAMPLE, HAL SMITH (Nov. 28, 2014)

I’m very fond of NOBODY’S SWEETHEART NOW — both the music and the sadly censorious lyrics that wag a stern moral finger at the pretty girl who has left her home town to live a fast life in the Big Bad City.  Here is my leisurely explication-with-music of several songs that do the neat trick of delineating vice while saying how naughty it is and what sad consequences ensue.  (What other blog offers you fallen women all the way back to Thomas Hardy?  I ask you.)

But here, without its lyrics, is a 2014 Chicagoan version of that Sweetheart’s fall from grace — as performed at the San Diego Jazz Fest by four swing poets: Ray Skjelbred, piano; Marc Caparone, cornet; Beau Sample, string bass; Hal Smith, drums.  Watch out for the stop-and-go that begins its gradual ascent at about 5:20 — you’ll understand how it got its name.  And enjoy the hot lyricism:

Swing out, all you Ruined Maids!  And the rest of you, too.

May your happiness increase!

PRETTY LIVELY: EXILED SWEETHEARTS, CAGED BIRDS, SAD DOLLS, RUINED MAIDS

GLAD RAG DOLL 1929Members of repressive societies are forbidden to write about the forbidden; censorship blossoms in the name of morality.  But ingenious writers and artists make their way around prohibitions. Even in the most conservative environment, sin can be explored in popular culture if the writer is lamenting the horrid effects of such behavior.  Lost virginity and illicit drugs could be the titillating subjects of early films — if they were deplored rather than celebrated.

We could go back to 1900 for A BIRD IN A GILDED CAGE, by Arthur J. Lamb (lyrics) and Harry Von Tilzer (music), a huge popular hit that depicted a young woman in a loveless marriage who has chosen money over affection. The story goes that Lamb approached Von Tilzer with the lyrics, which Von Tilzer liked — but he wanted Lamb’s lyrics to make it clear that the young woman was not someone’s mistress.  The famous refrain is: “She’s only a bird in a gilded cage, / A beautiful sight to see, / You may think she’s happy and free from care, / She’s not, though she seems to be, / ‘Tis sad when you think of her wasted life, / For youth cannot mate with age, / And her beauty was sold, / For an old man’s gold, / She’s a bird in a gilded cage.”

Girls, don’t sell your beauty and be sure not to mate with age!

Here’s a 1904 version, sung by Harry Anthony:

Forward to two late-Twenties songs, music that motivated my meditations on bad girls who wear cosmetics.

The 1928 GLAD RAG DOLL (music by Milton Ager / Dan Dougherty; lyrics by Jack Yellen) assertively states that money and flashy clothing and jewelry bring only the most shallow happiness, even asking us where and how that finery was acquired.   The verse is almost accusatory: Hester Prynne has just gotten off the train in a small town, and everyone notices the way she’s dressed: “Little painted lady with your lovely clothes / Where are you bound for may I ask? / What your diamonds cost you everybody knows / All the world can see behind your mask.”

Here is Ruth Etting’s wistful version:

“Glad rags” become “sad rags” in a day; the brightly dressed young woman will never find a proper husband “to grow old and grey with,” and her many admirers will desert her — although she can always “amend” her flashy ways.  Presumably the speaker is sedately dressed and long married — neither a boy who “plays” nor a “pretty little toy the boys like to play with” any longer.  Respectable for sure, not aimed for disgrace or disappointment, but the painted woman seems to be having more fun, even if it is transitory.

I couldn’t leave GLAD RAG DOLL without offering Earl Hines’ wordless solo — rollicking without caring for the morals expressed in the stern lyrics:

nosweet1b

Another song in the same moral mode is NOBODY’S SWEETHEART, which most of us know as a Chicago hot number.  But its initial versions had the same warning coloration: the young woman, in this case, has left all her loyal small-town admirers behind for a shady life of glamor in the big city. Music by Billy Meyers and Elmer Schoebel, lyrics by Gus Kahn and Ernie Erdman.

Here’s the sad verse: “You were ev’rybody’s sweetheart / Not so long ago / And in our home town, each boy around / Longed to be your beau / But things are diff’rent today / I’m mighty sorry to say.” Urban fashion seems to require a loss of purity, in a dichotomy. Either small-town sweetheart or Painted Woman Wearing A Bird of Paradise.

Hat with bird of paradise feathers circa 1900

Hat with bird of paradise feathers circa 1900

“You’re nobody’s sweetheart now, / There’s no place for you somehow, / With your fancy clothes, silken gowns, / You’ll be out of place in the middle of your own hometown, / When you walk down the avenue, / All the folks just can’t believe that it’s you. / With painted lips and painted eyes, / Wearing a bird of paradise, / It all seems wrong somehow, / You’re nobody’s sweetheart now!”  

It echoes Frank Norris and Theodore Dreiser: the young woman who leaves her home for the big city will be changed irrevocably — exiled, outcast.  Neither GLAD RAG DOLL nor NOBODY’S SWEETHEART suggests that the young woman has earned her clothing and jewelry through prostitution, but there seems no moral way for a single woman to earn her keep without a husband, so the worst suspicions are never contradicted.  But she is beautifully and glamorously dressed.  Vice doesn’t endure but it certainly looks good in the short run.

Nobody's Sweetheart 1924

Here is Marion Harris’ sympathetic version from 1929:

A few years earlier, Billy Murray and a tough-talking Aileen Stanley deflated the song’s moral stance from the start:

And for those who might not have seen this 1929 short film, it contains a very swinging vocal by a young man from the heartland who would later say that his singing had always been an error.  He sounds pretty good here!

(Incidentally, there were popular hits depicting small-town women, loyal and true, who would never think of wearing jewelry or painting their faces — MY GAL SAL is just one example.  And thousands of songs, it seems, that celebrate impending matrimony — “when we two are one and someday there’ll be three”.)

Thinking about all those songs that both deplore and secretly celebrate young women who have wandered from the orthodox path of marriage, prudence, and dependence, I remembered a poem (from 1901) by Thomas Hardy, called THE RUINED MAID: 

“O ‘Melia, my dear, this does everything crown!

Who could have supposed I should meet you in Town?

And whence such fair garments, such prosperi-ty?” —

“O didn’t you know I’d been ruined?” said she.

 

“You left us in tatters, without shoes or socks,

Tired of digging potatoes, and spudding up docks;

And now you’ve gay bracelets and bright feathers three!”

“Yes: that’s how we dress when we’re ruined,” said she.

 

“At home in the barton you said thee’ and thou,’

And thik oon,’ and theäs oon,’ and t’other’; but now

Your talking quite fits ‘ee for high compa-ny!” —

“Some polish is gained with one’s ruin,” said she.

 

“Your hands were like paws then, your face blue and bleak

But now I’m bewitched by your delicate cheek,

And your little gloves fit as on any la-dy!” —

“We never do work when we’re ruined,” said she.

 

“You used to call home-life a hag-ridden dream,

And you’d sigh, and you’d sock; but at present you seem

To know not of megrims or melancho-ly!” —

“True. One’s pretty lively when ruined,” said she.

 

“I wish I had feathers, a fine sweeping gown,

And a delicate face, and could strut about Town!” —

“My dear — a raw country girl, such as you be,

Cannot quite expect that. You ain’t ruined,” said she.

In theory, Hardy was writing about the hard life of the country maiden, but it seems difficult to take that as the message of THE RUINED MAID, which makes being ruined a delightful version of upward social mobility.  A Moral?  Live fast, paint your face, leave home for the city, and you’ll be the subject of popular art.

And just in case this socio-literary survey has left you melancholy, here’s a modern version of NOBODY’S SWEETHEART NOW by Hal Smith’s International Sextet at Sacramento in 2011.  You can sing along with Kim Cusack by now:

That’s Hal Smith, drums; Clint Baker, string bass; Katie Cavera, guitar; Carl Sonny Leyland, piano; Anita Thomas, clarinet; Kim Cusack, clarinet and vocal. Uncredited appearance of a Recalcitrant Microphone Stand courtesy of the local Musicians’ Union.

May your happiness increase!

DOWN-HOME DELIGHTS WITH DUKE HEITGER, RANDY REINHART, DAN LEVINSON, BOB HAVENS, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, FRANK TATE, ARNIE KINSELLA (JAZZ AT CHAUTAUQUA, Sept. 17, 2011)

The wonderful Czech writer Josef Skvorecky, who writes both hilariously and sensitively of living between Nazism and Socialism in the Forties, would call this music “Bob Crosby Dixieland.”  That would be a high compliment.  You might describe it as “New Orleans, “Condon-style,” or “Dixieland,” but the labels are too small for the superb music created by Duke Heitger, trumpet; Randy Reinhart, cornet; Dan Levinson, reeds; Bob Havens, trombone; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Frank Tate, bass; Arnie Kinsella, drums.

Here are four sterling “good old good ones,” and if their pedigrees are slightly scattered — from Memphis to Twenties pop, from a song created in the Forties for Louis and Billie, to a hit record for the ODJB (a piece of hot zoology that Jelly Roll Morton said he created) — it all swings marvelously.  And there’s the great bonus of a touching vocal from Duke on DO YOU KNOW WHAT IT MEANS — he looks terribly embarrassed when someone points it out, but he’s a great singer.

From Memphis with love!  BEALE STREET BLUES:

Thomas Hardy’s “The Ruined Maid,” taken uptown or to Clark and Randolph Streets, NOBODY’S SWEETHEART NOW:

What a terrible movie NEW ORLEANS was!  But it gave us this paean to the Crescent City, DO YOU KNOW WHAT IT MEANS TO MISS NEW ORLEANS?

Finally — call the Animal Rescue people: that tiger’s on the loose in the Hotel Athenaeum ballroom.  Hide the children!  TIGER RAG (with bravura work from Rossano):

Wow!

CHICAGO CLARINETS: HAL SMITH’S INTERNATIONAL SEXTET (Sacramento Jazz Jubilee 2011)

This little map celebrates the intersection of 35th Street and Calumet Avenue in Chicago, a place Jess Stacy called “the center of the universe.”  Cosmologically he may have been inexact, but in jazz terms in the Twenties and early Thirties, he was precisely correct — especially when it came to clarinet players.  How about Johnny Dodds, Jimmie Noone, Leon Roppolo, Volly de Faut, Rod Cless, Benny Goodman, Omer Simeon, Pee Wee Russell, and two dozen more?

At the 2011 Sacramento Jazz Jubilee, drummer Hal Smith took the stage with his International Sextet to commemorate this reedy legacy.  And he had swinging, creative players around him — reed wizards Kim Cusack and Anita Thomas, pianist Carl Sonny Leyland, guitarist / banjoist Katie Cavera, and bassist / tubaist Clint Baker.  Here’s the vivid, rocking jazz history they offered at the Sheraton ballroom, miles away from Chicago on the map but right there in spirit.

Nothing says “Chicago hot” more than I FOUND A NEW BABY:

BLUE CLARINET STOMP doesn’t stomp in the formal sense of the word — a fast tempo — but Anita’s evocation of Johnny Dodds (or “Dotts,” as he and friends pronounced it) is full-blooded and blue:

For Jimmie Noone and Joe Poston, that hymn to simultaneous enlightenment, I KNOW THAT YOU KNOW:

An extra-groovy slow-drag version of the New Orleans Rhythm Kings’ classic, FAREWELL BLUES:

“She’d be out of place in her own home town,” the twenties version of Thomas Hardy’s “The Ruined Maid,” but she was having a really good time — NOBODY’S SWEETHEART NOW:

One of my favorite naughty-but-nice songs, about a Chicago Clark Kent who turns into Harry Reams when the time is right — HE’S THE LAST WORD — sung most engagingly by the winsome but well-informed Katie Cavera:

In honor of a great and less-heralded session in 1935, featuring Omer Simeon, Paul Mares, Santo Pecora, Jess Stacy, Marvin Saxbe, Pat Pattison, and George Wettling (have I got that right?), NAGASAKI:

And when “Chicago style” moved to New York City, it was caught hot and fresh on Commodore Records in 1938, with Pee Wee Russell’s marvelous star turn on LOVE IS JUST AROUND THE CORNER:

As Art Hodes sadi so often, “Man, I remember Chicago!”

NORMAN FIELD’S NOVELTY RECORDING ORCHESTRA at WHITLEY BAY (July 11, 2010)

Norman Field is a man of many talents. 

He’s a wildly versatile reed player — capable of becoming hot in the best Teschmacher manner or serene a la Trumbauer — while always retaining his own identity.  And he’s a wonderfully erudite jazz scholar, ready to discourse on esoterica — alternate takes and label colors — at the drop of an acetate. 

Norman’s also an engaging raconteur and enthusiastic singer: the session has new energy when he’s onstage! 

His website is http://www.normanfield.com/cds.htm

But that’s only one small sliver of what interests our Mr. Field: see http://www.normanfield.com/hobby.htm for a larger sample, including investigations of obscure recording artists, Norman’s beautiful wildlife photographs, disquisitions on an againg tumble dryer, and more. 

But what we’re concerned with at the moment is a delightful set Norman and friends created at the 2010 Whitley Bay International Jazz Festival — an ad hoc group named by festival director “Norman Field’s Novelty Recording Orchestra.”  I was recording it, and although many of the songs were familiar jazz classics, every performance had its own novelty.

The group — a compact assemblage of individualists — included the eminent Nick Ward on percussion, Frans Sjostrom on bass saxophone, Jacob Ullberger on banjo and guitar, Paul Munnery on trombone, and Andy Woon on cornet.  Here they are!

For those without a calendar or an iPhone, here’s OUR MONDAY DATE, created by Earl Hines in 1928 when he, Louis Armstrong, and Zutty Singleton were Chicago pals:

Another good old good one, ON THE SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET, honors Dorothy Fields, Jimmy McHugh, Louis, Johnny Hodges, and many other creators:

SHIM-ME-SHA-WABBLE, another hot Chicago song, was named for the dance (or was it the reverse?).  I think of Red Nichols and Eddie Condon as well as Frank Chace when I hear this multi-themed composition:

What could be more wholesome than a nice BLUES (IN G)?

Then, there’s the Claude Hopkins – Alex Hill declaration of romantic devotion made tangible, I WOULD DO ANYTHING FOR YOU, with a bouncing vocal from Norman — being a solid romantic citizen, notice that he eschews the MOST sometimes found in the title:

Time for something soft and slow — Paul Munnery’s feature on BODY AND SOUL:

Back to dear old Chicago in the Twenties, evoking Bix and his Gang with a fervent JAZZ ME BLUES:

And it’s always a pleasure to watch and hear Nick Ward swing out on his very own percussion ensemble, as he does on SWEET SUE:

The barroom favorite, MY MELANCHOLY BABY, is still a good song to play at almost any tempo:

And a closing romp on NOBODY’S SWEETHEART NOW made us all elated, notwithstanding the lyric.  Has anyone considered that the unnamed young woman of the song is really one of Thomas Hardy’s “ruined women,” who’s much happier having lost her innocence and gained her independence?

Thanks for the cheer, O Norman Field and Novelty Recording Orchestra!