Tag Archives: washboard

“COULD WE HEAR IT AGAIN?”: TEN YEARS WITH BING (1932-42)

Early in his career, Bing Crosby was a very erotic figure.  And the film industry recognized his power.  It wasn’t his naked torso.  It was his voice — warm, entreating, rich, sensitive, full of yearning.

Before he became more “fatherly” in his films; before he became grandfatherly on television (the man with a narrow tie and a hairpiece, singing Christmas songs alongside David Bowie and Michael Buble), he was a genuine all-purpose wooer.

A chick magnet, to put it plainly.

In many of his early films, the setup is simple: a lovely blonde, splendidly dressed (often in white) is reserved, cool, or even sullen.  Bing aims that voice at her, in a yearning love ballad, and she melts in a series of reaction shots.  Once the song is over, she has fallen for him.    One can imagine tuxedo and gown being shed . . .

In some of the later films, Bing is moved from the more formal environment to more working-class environments: once a pianist / singer or a college professor teaching crooning, he is a sailor dangling from a rope, a man building a shelter for the castaways, a cowboy.  Yes, he’s in blackface for ABRAHAM and pretends to play the clarinet for THE BIRTH OF THE BLUES.

I don’t think I have to make a case for Bing’s easy rhythmic suppleness, that his “boo-boo-boo” runs parallel to scat singing, that he is one of the influences on a segregated America that made Caucasians receptive to African-American jazz, even when Louis was not in the picture.  He swings, even at ballad tempo.

And for those theoretically-minded, Bing is deep in meta-consciousness of a post-modern sort, singing songs about his own singing.  But enough of that.

These thoughts were provoked by an accidental YouTube discovery —  thanks to 1926VictorCredenza  — his generous offering of a nearly two-hour videocassette of Bing’s musical moments from his 1932-42 films.  The Sennett shorts aren’t here, nor is PENNIES FROM HEAVEN, but I saw performances new to me.  You’ll also see Martha Raye, Carole Lombard, Louis Prima, Jack Teagarden, Harry Barris, Mary Martin, Eddie Lang.  And for Ralf Reynolds: Bing plays a washboard in that last film.  Watch for it!

And those songs!  

I offer this as a prelude to Valentine’s Day.  Learn to croon — if you want to win your heart’s desire!  (And she’ll take off her shoes.)

BIG BROADCAST 1932:  Dinah / Here Lies Love / Please (Eddie Lang) /

COLLEGE HUMOR 1933:  Just An Echo In The Valley / Learn To Croon / Please / I Surrender Dear / Just One More Chance / Moonstruck / Learn To Croon (reprise)

TOO MUCH HARMONY 1933:  Boo Boo Boo / The Day You Came Along / Thanks

WE’RE NOT DRESSING 1934:  May I? / Love Thy Neighbor / May I (reprise)

SHE LOVES ME NOT 1934:  Straight From The Shoulder / I’m Hummin’, I’m Whistlin’, I’m Singin’

TWO FOR TONIGHT 1935:  From The Top Of Your Head / Without A Word Of Warning / I Wish I Were Aladdin

ANYTHING GOES 1936:  Sailor Beware / Moonburn /

RHYTHM ON THE RANGE 1936: I Can’t Escape From You / Mr. Paganini / I’m An Old Cowhand

WAIKIKI WEDDING 1937:  Blue Hawaii / Sweet Leilani / Sweet Is The Word For You

DOUBLE OR NOTHING 1937:  Smarty / All You Want To Do Is Dance / It’s The Natural Thing To Do / The Moon Got In My Eyes

EAST SIDE OF HEAVEN 1939:  Hang Your Heart On A Hickory Limb / East Side Of Heaven

HOLIDAY INN 1942:  Abraham / Song Of Freedom

BIRTH OF THE BLUES 1941: Goin’ to the Jailhouse / The Waiter, The Porter, and The Upstairs Maid / Wait ‘Til The Sun Shines Nellie / St. Louis Blues / Birth Of The Blues.

May your happiness increase.

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HOT ETYMOLOGY at WHITLEY BAY: The WINTELER-PERSSON-NICHOLS-WARD WASHBOARD WIZARDS (Oct. 26, 2012)

The song is called FORTY AND TIGHT — at the time, this expression was the highest expression of slang praise . . . an in-group encomium for absolute perfection.  What did it refer to?  Even today, a cohesive band refers to itself as “tight,” but what scale had forty at the very top?  One can privately construe all sorts of potentially lewd meanings — but JAZZ LIVES requires the services of some hot etymologist with solid Chicagoan credentials.

While we’re waiting, here are the Whitley Bay Washboard Wizards — Thomas Winteler, clarinet; Bent Persson, cornet; Keith Nichols, piano; Nick Ward, washboard.  They evoke the Johnny Dodds Washboard Stompers (recording for Victor) and Jimmy Bertrand’s Washboard Wizards.

“Forty and tight,” indeed.  (Incidentally, the neatly coiffed woman sitting to the right told me that she was Tommy Rockwell’s great-niece, but this hasn’t been verified yet.)

May your happiness increase.

REQUIRED RIFFING: THE REYNOLDS BROTHERS and CLINT BAKER at the 2012 SACRAMENTO MUSIC FESTIVAL (May 26, 2012)

It is a truth universally acknowledged that the Reynolds Brothers are a superb hot band, subtle and forceful, offering vivid solos and lovely intertwining ensemble lines.  And they offer us songs, both sweet and spicy, that deserve to be played.  I’ve been a convert for several years now.  But you don’t have to take my word for it: see for yourself.

They’re required reading in my lifetime course on Swing.  And regular field trips are part of the curriculum.

Here they are — with guest Clint Baker — at the 2012 Sacramento Music Festival.  That’s Marc Caparone, cornet; Katie Cavera, string bass; John Reynolds, guitar, whistling; Ralf Reynolds, washboard; Clint Baker, clarinet, trombone — with assorted and sundry vocalizing from the members of the crew.  Here they are on a paddlewheel steamer — heating it up in front of a very receptive audience — on May 26, 2012.

One of the more popular songs about how nice it was to go back home down South (perhaps a safe theme from Stephen Foster up to the Swing Era) ALABAMMY BOUND:

A high-class love song with caffeine, always the way to go — WHEN I TAKE MY SUGAR TO TEA.  I am not being hyperbolic when I write that John Reynolds improves the world by his presence — singing, playing, scatting, whistling:

A prescription for happiness, care of the early Cab Calloway ensemble, THE SCAT SONG.  Fine riffin’ this evening!:

You shiftless person!  Get up off the ground and swing.  Marc shows us how, vocally and with the necessary hardware, on LAZY BONES:

FUTURISTIC JUNGLEISM needs no exegesis, and might baffle anyone attempting to offer one:

WHEN FRANCIS DANCES WIH ME is a 1921 song recorded by Billy Murray and Ada Jones, then by the Andrews Sisters.  I’m only sorry that our Katie left out these deathless lyrics from the second chorus — a natural segue into the Reynolds Brothers’ rendition of FAT AND GREASY, referring to the stylish Francis: “His hair shines like diamonds, he combs it with fat / He wears a Palm Beach and a brown derby hat / Now you know a guy can’t look better than that“:

A delightful Thirties pickup song (earlier than REMEMBER ME) on the immortal theme of “Hey, cutie!  Look over here!  Pay attention to me!” — PARDON ME, PRETTY BABY:

Ralf teaches us Official History with the assistance of Professors Berry and Razaf . . . and listen to how the brass leaps in after the vocal on CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS:

A plunger-muted SOME OF THESE DAYS featuring the multi-talented Mister Baker on clarinet, trombone, and vocal.  Ralf could no longer endure the fact that washboards are not equipped with plunger mutes — look closely at around the five-minute mark:

With this Fats Waller song, the question is moot.  Or perhaps rhetorical.  AIN’T ‘CHA GLAD?  I know I am:

“I keep cheerful on an earful / Of music sweet.”  HAPPY FEET:

How to spend a Saturday night — deep in riffs!  And I’ll next hear the Brothers (and Friends) at the San Diego Thanksgiving Dixieland Jazz Festival . . . this November.  Look-a-here, as Fats would say — SAN DIEGO!

May your happiness increase.

FIVE BY FIVE (Part Two): THE REYNOLDS BROTHERS and CLINT BAKER at the SACRAMENTO MUSIC FESTIVAL (May 2012)

My heroes, and that’s no stage joke.

Ralf Reynolds, washboard, vocal; John Reynolds, guitar, vocal, whistling; Marc Caparone, cornet, vocal; Katie Cavera, string bass, vocal; Clint Baker, trombone, clarinet, vocal — live at the Sacramento Music Festival, May 25, 2012.

Irving Berlin’s I’LL SEE YOU IN C-U-B-A wasn’t a stab at capitalism, but a very witty response to Prohibition.  Katie Cavera, whom I nominate for Best Swing Actress in a Motion Picture, handles the deft lyrics nimbly:

You could deconstruct THE OLD MAN OF THE MOUNTAIN as a lie in swingtime fed to the hungry and desolate unemployed (“Hey, fellas and gals, an empty stomach is what God meant you to have!” or as a sweet-natured rebuke to materialism, asking in 4 /4, “How much land does a man need?”  Either way, John sings it wonderfully:

If he struts like a king, HE’S A SON OF THE SOUTH.  He’s their delight.  He’s so polite.  One of my favorite songs, letting Louis shine through Marc Caparone:

Pretty!  DREAM A LITTLE DREAM OF ME:

Our caravan is red-hot in HINDUSTAN:

I will bet you thirteen dollars of my money (as Lester Young used to say to his JATP colleagues) that the Reynolds Brothers would go over gangbusters at a swing dance . . . or in a club . . . at a European jazz party . . . at an East Coast venue.  At present they are delighting people right and left at Disney California Adventure (as “the Ellis Island Boys”) but I want other people to have this experience.  I’m willing to share them with the world, you know.

May your happiness increase.

FIVE BY FIVE (Part One): THE REYNOLDS BROTHERS and CLINT BAKER at the SACRAMENTO MUSIC FESTIVAL (May 25, 2012)

In an early set of jubilant performances at the 2012 Sacramento Music Festival, John Reynolds (vocal, whistling, guitar); Marc Caparone (cornet, vocal); Ralf Reynolds (washboard, vocal); Katie Cavera (string bass, vocal), and Clint Baker (trombone, vocal) created enthusiastic elation in every song — the proven antidote for gloom or what passes for “news” of “current events.”

For Bix, Bing, and Red Allen, OL’ MAN RIVER:

I’LL NEVER BE THE SAME:

In my note to this Clarence Williams tune CANDY LIPS (the subtitle is I’M STUCK ON YOU) I wrote one word, “scorching”; see if you don’t agree:

One of those lucky Thirties songs recorded by both Billie and Fats, SPREADIN’ RHYTHM AROUND:

Did you know the Boswell Sisters had a connection with the song BLACK-EYED SUSAN BROWN?  Here we have the Reynolds Brothers:

More to come.  Oh, my, yes!

May your happiness increase.

MAKING MERRY at MONTEREY 2012: A REYNOLDS BROTHERS JAM SESSION with JOHN SHERIDAN, ALLAN VACHE, JOHN COCUZZI, DAWN LAMBETH, and SUE KRONINGER (March 4, 2012)

Some jazz parties and festivals visibly deflate in their final hours.  Not the 2012 Jazz Bash by the Bay — also known as Dixieland Monterey.  This was, for me, the final set of the three-day blowout, and it was a delight.

Once again, the sly truth came out: the Reynolds Brothers don’t have the international reputation their music deserves, and on some festival bills they aren’t the band whose name appears in the largest font.

But they exude jazz pheronomes — or, to put it more simply, the best musicians on the bill always make it a point to sit in with John Reynolds, Ralf Reynolds, Katie Cavera, and Marc Caparone.  It’s the jazz equivalent of a civilian finding the restaurant where the chefs eat on their night off.  The noble sitters-in were John Sheridan, piano; Allan Vache, clarinet; John Cocuzzi, unamplified vibraphone.  “Three Johns, no waiting,” says Mr. John Reynolds at the start.

The set started right off with an enthusiastic affirmation — saying YES to life is a good thing! — I WOULD DO ANYTHING FOR YOU:

Another affirmation, even when it’s couched as a question by way of Fats Waller, AIN’T ‘CHA GLAD?:

One of Ralf’s many secrets is that he did graduate work in European history . . . who better to instruct the crowd in historical geography with CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS . . . making Merry, of course.  Merry says hello:

From raillery to romance with the help of Dawn Lambeth, the living embodiment of what Louis called “tonation and phrasing,” her subtly textured voice and her speaking rubatos beautifully on display in SUGAR (with majestically quiet help from John Sheridan):

What might seem odd, an instrumental version of a song associated with Bing Crosby, works perfectly, with Marc leading the way into YOUNG AND HEALTHY:

A friend of the music and one of the gracious shapers of the Jazz Bash by the Bay, Sue Kroninger — also a dynamic singer — joined in with WHAT A LITTLE MOONLIGHT CAN DO, giving Allan a chance to show off his version of early Benny to great advantage with Hamp Cocuzzi and Teddy Sheridan in hot pursuit.  1936, anyone?:

The tempo had to slow down — so here’s a tender I’VE GOT A FEELIN’ I’M FALLING.  Beneath that serious exterior, John Sheridan is a deep romantic — and his playing of the verse is just another glorious piece of evidence.  And it’s not just the verse!  Listening to this one again, I think it might have been one of the highlights of the whole weekend:

John’s choice of THE OLD MAN OF THE MOUNTAIN is always a wise one — not only is it a romping song, but its political / ethical sentiments continue to strike chords today — Thoreau in swingtime:

And — to close — CRAZY RHYTHM — a rendition that truly lives up to its name with a cutting contest or a conversation between Ralf on washboard and John on vibraphone — or at least parts of his vibraphone — that has to be seen to be believed.  Or something like that.  Crazy, man, crazy! (With very strong echoes of a Hampton Victor circa 1937, too.):

Thank you, Reynolds Brothers.  Thank you, friends.  Thank you, Merry.  Thank you, Jazz Bash by the Bay.  I’m ready to make my room reservations for March 2013.  Just let me know the dates!  Dixieland Monterey / Jazz Bash by the Bay is a proven source of joy.

May your happiness increase.

“SWING, BROTHERS, SWING!”: MORE FROM THE REYNOLDS BROTHERS, ED POLCER and FRIENDS at the 2011 SWEET AND HOT MUSIC FESTIVAL

When I was happily whirling around the 2011 Sweet and Hot Music Festival, over the long Labor Day weekend, I circled every Reynolds Brothers set on the schedule.  Happily for us, there were nine . . . and I was only sorry the schedule didn’t break out into double-digit territory.

If you’ve been following my entirely understandable devotion to this sublimely hot band, you don’t need an explanation.  If you’re new to the Reynolds Brothers, latch on, as Fats Waller would say.  They are Ralf on washboard, refereeing, and exhortations; John on guitar, vocals, whistling, and commentary; Marc Caparone on incendiary cornet; Katie Cavera on string bass and sweet-hot singing; Larry Wright on alto saxophone, ocarina, and interpolations.

For this set, the Brothers were joined by their friend and ours, Ed Polcer, who turned up the flame right away for this September 3 set.  He wasn’t the only surprise guest, as you will see.  The Brothers began with something logical: the evergreen and always-delightful LADY BE GOOD:

The next selection suggests that the lady in question is very, very good — WHEN I TAKE MY SUGAR TO TEA:

The swinging pianist David Boeddinghaus, who loves to sit in with the Brothers, did just that on ALL GOD’S CHILDREN GOT RHYTHM, proving the song’s title true:

The sweet singer Molly Ryan, who (legend has it) sat in with the Brothers when she was very young, joined the throng for MY HONEY’S LOVIN’ ARMS:

And Dawn Lambeth, having settled young James Arden down for a moment in congenial hands, came aboard to sing one of her classic numbers, BLUE ROOM.  The fellow on clarinet to Ed’s left?  Allan Vache, of course:

And the set closed off with a too-brief but also accurately-titled I GOT RHYTHM, with Marc taking over the string bass and Katie picking up her National steel guitar:

“Deep rhythm capitivates me,” whenever the Brothers take the stand.  Don’t you agree?