Tag Archives: twelve-bar-blues

LOVE AND THE BLUES, TWICE

Even though they have the most expressive faces imaginable, so many inspiring jazz players and singers were passed over by film producers because they weren’t conventionally “attractive.”  Think of how wonderful it would be to see Mildred Bailey sing.  Alas.

But here are two clips of jazz / blues singers that we are lucky to have.  And, coincidentally or not, the blues they are singing talk about Love, from very different perspectives.

First, the under-acknowledged Ida Cox, “Miss Ida” to even the most illustrious musicians, captured here with her husband, pianist Jesse Crump, some time in the Forties.  I can’t find the source of this clip — which seems to be two versions of “‘Fore Day Creep” from different camera angles, spliced together.  “‘Fore Day” is almost always incorrectly written and conceived as “Four Day Creep,” which suggests that the Wandering Man will be away Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.  Nay nay, to quote Louis.  It’s “‘fore day,” as in “before sunrise,” but logic is elusive for some people.

Miss Ida looks healthy, assured, sure of herself and her advice.  I love the Twenties hand gestures as well as the nimble, rippling piano accompaniment — a mixture of tidy minimalist stride and slowed-down boogie woogie figures.  And her commentary?  It might strike some as pre-feminist, but it comes from the same tributary as the song DON’T ADVERTISE YOUR MAN.  Obviously, it’s a pre-internet conception of what can be kept private!

Here’s another bit of enticing memorabilia: an autographed Ida Cox publicity picture.

ida-cox-autograph

The second clip comes from a May 1965 BBC television program called JAZZ 625, which featured Humphrey Lyttelton and some of jazz’s finest players and singers: here, Big Joe Turner, Buck Clayton, and Vic Dickenson — here with Tony Coe, tenor sax; Joe Temperley, baritone sax, Eddie Harvey, piano; Dave Green, bass; Johnny Butts, drums.  The song is CHAINS OF LOVE, much sadder and more uncertain — although Big Joe looks so powerful and assured here that the pleading questions he is asking of His Woman must be purely rhetorical.  This clip also gives us Vic Dickenson up close, a beret over the bell of his horn, playing the blues ever so masterfully.  Vic sang on his horn better than most singers.

Perhaps these two performances speak to our age much more that Petrarch spoke to his.

SANTA’S ALCHEMICAL SECRET

As is her habit, the Beloved is listening to Jonathan Schwartz’s Christmas show on WNYC-FM, where his guests include Mandy Patinkin, Charles Osgood, Jay Leonhart, Steve LaSpina, Harry Allen, John Pizzarelli, Tony Monte, and Gene Bertoncini.  When the chatter comes to a graceful halt, Jonathan offers high-quality seasonal music, including tenor saxophonist Harry’s romp through “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town.” 

The Beloved, quite properly, was delighted with Harry’s performance.  But she asked me, “Do jazz musicians really enjoy playing such silly songs?” 

“Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” is well-established in the American cultural landscape, ubiquitous, even.  I used to roll my eyes whenever it was played.  However, when I found out that it had been composed by J. Fred Coots, composer of “You Go To My Head” and “For All We Know,” I was able to feel more kindly towards the song.  Somehow it appealed to me that Coots should have made a fortune on this musical shred — enabling him to live comfortably and write far better songs.   

I answered the Beloved’s question by invoking the Sage of Corsicana, Texas, Hot Lips Page, who, when asked a similar question, reputedly said, “The material is immaterial.”  And Django Reinhardt, who surely knew something about improvisation, asked for the simplest theme from “Tiger Rag” as material to improvise on at a jam session. 

Like alchemists, jazz musicians inhabit a miraculous universe, turning junk into gold, often enjoying the vapidity of a piece of music because its three-chord structure allows them to improvise freely while the F, G7, and C are endlessly returning.  Think of the twelve-bar blues as the perfect example.  The freedom to create as one wishes — what a blessing!

But back to seasonal matters.  Between now and Christmas, I am always tempted to equip myself with a pair of earplugs when I go out in public.  I would be thrilled to hear Bing’s “White Christmas” once a day, but “The Little Drummer Boy” performed with funk underpinnings raises my blood pressure alarmingly.  So I propose two aesthetic alternatives for the season.

mark-shane-santaOne is the best, most jubilant jazz Christmas CD I have ever heard: Mark Shane (and his X-mas All-Stars, including Jon-Erik Kellso) on the Nagel-Heyer label, WHAT WOULD SANTA SAY?  It’s a CD I enjoy all through the year.    

The other piece of music is accessible online, as I found to my delight.  It’s a 1944 record made for the Savoy label, featuring the delightfully accomplished pianist Johnny Guarneri and the irreplaceable bassist Slam Stewart.  A truly irrepressible pair! 

The song — apparently improvised impromptu in the studio — is called SANTA’S SECRET, a jolly evocation of Fats Waller, who had died less than a year before.  It answers the pressing question, “What makes Santa so jolly?”  Whether Johnny and Slam were Tall when they recorded this I leave to scholars more erudite than myself. 

If you visit http://www.musicalfruitcake.com (which bills itself as offering the worst Christmas songs ever recorded — a position I don’t hold) and search for “Guarneri,” all should be revealed.  The link is genuinely troublesome, but it is alive and worth pursuing.      

In this holiday season and beyond, I hope that you are as happy as Johnny and Slam seem to be on that record.  And that you get to display your very own alchemical wizardries, even if you don’t play an instrument.