Monday, November 12, 2007

A Century in Jumps (Slight Return)


Nellie Lutcher, Hurry On Down.
Bill Johnson and His Musical Notes, Shorty's Got to Go.
T. Texas Tyler, Who's To Blame.
Fairfield Four, Don't Let Nobody Turn You Around.
Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Lennie Tristano, On the Sunny Side of the Street.
Andrew Tibbs, Bilbo Is Dead.
Doc Pomus, Pomus Blues.
Duke Ellington, The Clothed Woman.
Ástor Piazzolla, Quejas de Bandoneón.
Concha Piquer, Angelitos Negros.
Molly O'Day and the Cumberland Mountain Folks, The Tramp On the Street.
Chano Pozo, Ritmo Afro Cubano.
Anita O'Day, What Is This Thing Called Love?
Mary Ann McCall, On Time.
Bama and Dobie Red, Lies.
Jerry Murad and the Harmonicats, Peg O' My Heart.

Jeans and "T" Shirts seem to be the height of fashionableness among the men at T.C. [the Teacher's College]. It seems strange to me, because at Talladega, the men usually did not wear jeans. In the evenings at 'Dega, the men changed to suits and wore ties. Girls wearing slacks on week-days was taboo at 'Dega, too...Restrictions and regulations on types of dress are very much the norm for Negro colleges...I think those types of regulations were set up in the vain hope that ways of dressing could affect the majority so as to accept the minority group.

I spent the day in Iowa City. After the excitement of [homecoming] yesterday--all was quiet. We went to the Union to a tea dance. It was downstairs in the River Room. It was a lot of fun watching the kids dance. They dance so differently from us. Most of them hop about - while we glide. All colored people don't dance well, certainly, but they do dance differently...We finally figured out that the white kids danced on the off-beat & that was why they hopped...Another thing--they like a different kind of music. We didn't dance much because of the type of records they had. Dancing and record-likes & dislikes are one area where whites & Negroes differ. I wonder why. Yet, when whites are around Negroes, they learn to dance the same and vice-versa. More association would help, I think.

Undated 1947 diary entry of Martha Furgerson Nash, a student enrolled in the Teacher's College in Cedar Falls, Iowa.

Nellie Lutcher's home alone, finally, so she wants, no she needs, her guy to get there in a hurry--just take the alley so the neighbors won't see.

The charming, loopily sexy "Hurry On Down" is an essay in how fluid popular music styles had become by the mid-'40s. The track's essentially a hybrid of bebop and early R&B: there's a bop feel in the way Lutcher won't sit still in her vocal--she jumps and bounds all over the place, scats during her delirious piano solo, boils over towards the end--and the track's spiky enough to make dancing to it require some thought. But its primal concerns (basically, a woman looking for some action) are pure blues, in particular Bessie Smith.

Lutcher, who died earlier this year, was born in Lake Charles, Louisiana, in 1912, and was playing with Ma Rainey before Lutcher hit her teens. Though she had been on the road since the late '20s, it was only in 1947 when Lutcher caught a break. Performing in a March of Dimes talent show broadcast on the radio, she caught the ear of a Capitol Records scout, and soon she was in the studio cutting a string of R&B hits--along with "Hurry On Down," she made "He's a Real Gone Guy" and "Fine Brown Frame," among others. A decade later she retired from recording, and performed rarely thereafter; as critics have noted, Lutcher cleared the stage for Nina Simone, and then bowed out just as Simone got going.

Recorded 10 April 1947 and released as Capitol 40012 c/w "The Lady's In Love With You"; on Best Of.

"Shorty's Got To Go," written by Lucky Millinder, is one of several postwar songs to address the awkward, sometimes disastrous reunions of men and women who, in some cases, hadn't seen in each other in years. Records like "Look On Yonder Wall," in which a man checks the newspaper each morning to see when his lover's husband's battalion is returning, or "Shorty's Got to Go" touch on the general sense of unease and suspicion.

In "Shorty"'s case, though, the situation is played for laughs. The song begins with the singer, having been on the road (or maybe in the army), calling up his old girl, only to have "Shorty Joe" answer the phone. Turns out Shorty's been seeing his girl, wearing his clothes (including a "$10 tie" that's been worn out--as the rest of the band snaps: "dollar-ninety-eight!!"), sleeping in his bed.

Bill Johnson and His Musical Notes specialized in debuting songs other groups would make famous--as Marv Goldberg notes, the band cut "Don't You Think I Ought To Know” six years before the Orioles, “How Would You Know” four years before the Robins, and “Dream Of A Lifetime” seven years before the Flamingos. ("Shorty" also was a bigger hit for the Cats & The Fiddle). The band consisted of Johnson, a clarinet and alto sax player who had been in Erskine Hawkins' swing band, Egbert Victor (p), Clifton “Skeeter” Best (g), Jimmy Robinson (b) and Gus Gordon, who sang lead but who had been hired as a drummer.

Recorded 15 March 1947 and released as RCA Victor 20-2225 c/w "Don't You Think I Oughta Know"; on Dawn of Doo-Wop.

T. Texas Tyler sings "Who's To Blame" like a man drilling into bedrock--he snags on a phrase and just gouges into it. "Thiiiiiiiink of all you've said or done..." he moans.

Like "Hurry on Down," "Who's To Blame" is a hybrid, this time of the waning Western Swing and the emerging honky-tonk styles. There's still a jazzy feel to the song (especially in the guitar solo, likely by Stanley Walker), but Tyler's dominant vocal, a slower tempo and a more spare arrangement align the track more with the sound that was soon to come out of Nashville, rather than with the prewar styles.

Tyler, born in Mena, Arkansas, in 1916, was known as "The Man With a Million Friends" (or so his record labels claimed). After the war he had several huge hits, mainly sentimental ballads with softly-recited lyrics, including "Deck of Cards" and "Dad Gave My Dog Away" (a shameless, and successful, attempt to ape Red Foley's "Old Shep"). Tyler hosted a TV show in Los Angeles in the late '40s but his career foundered after he was busted for marijuana possession in the '50s. He eventually joined the ministry and died in 1972.

"Who's To Blame" was recorded sometime in 1947 and released as 4 Star 1597 c/w "Get Out of My Life." On T. Texas Tyler.

Pollock, Full Fathom Five.

I first heard the Fairfield Four's "Don't Let Nobody Turn You Around" on John Seroff's (now-hibernating) Tofu Hut, back in 2004, and John had this to say about it then (actually, on a collaboration he did with Soul Sides):

There's a gradual but constant acceleration of tempo in the song; a gentle evocation that the further we delve into faith, the more buoyant and unstoppable that holy joy becomes. The sustained notes on this track are glorious; they dip and bob on their ends like loops on a roller coaster. Every twist is a heartbeat deeper into awe...

While tenor Samuel McCrary ("a voice like an air-raid siren" (Jerry Zolten)) comes close to derailing the track every time he gets possessed and simply won't let the notes go, the heart of the track, for me, is the bass singer (I believe it was Rufus Carrethers), who sings as though he's unworthy of salvation, bearing his gifts with humility and quiet joy.

The Four was founded in 1921 in Nashville's Fairfield Baptist Church, when the Rev. J.R. Carrethers asked his two sons, Rufus and Harold, and a church member, John Battle, to sing for church socials. The group always had a rotating membership, and were known on the road for their strict morals (group members were fined $5 if caught drinking) as well as for bringing the house down (from Bill Friskics-Warren's 1998 article on the group: "At one performance in the Mount Nebo Baptist Church in Nashville...the congregation got so carried away during a performance that carpenters had to come in the next day to repair the damage.")

"Don't Let Nobody Turn You Around" was the Four's first single on the Dot label, c/w "Standing in the Safety Zone," released at some point in 1947; on Standing In the Safety Zone, a now out-of-print compilation by P-Vine.

In September 1947, the Mutual Broadcast System offered a jazz equivalent to Jonathan Swift's Battle of the Books, only the battle this time was between classic "Dixieland" players and the modernist beboppers.

The MBS' weekly "Bands for Bonds" radio broadcast matched a Dixieland ensemble (the show's house band) with a pick-up bebop group. Each group was to perform the same standards: "On the Sunny Side of the Street," "How Deep Is the Ocean," and "Tiger Rag." (On paper, the Dixieland band had the advantage, as the ancient "Tiger Rag" was unknown to most younger musicians). Listeners would vote on the winner, who would be asked to come back the next month.

So in one corner, you have the Dixieland group, Rudi Blesh's All Star Stompers: Jimmy Archey (tb), Ralph Sutton (p), Wild Bill Davison (cornet), Baby Dodds (d), Danny Barker (g), Pops Foster (b). And in the other, you have Barry Ulanov's All Star Modern Jazz Musicians, a group assembled by Ulanov, a producer and bebop advocate. This group consisted of Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Max Roach, Lenny Tristano (p), John LaPorta (cl), Ray Brown (b) and Billy Bauer (g).

It wasn't as lopsided a contest as one might think-- the likes of Wild Bill Davison , Jimmy Archey and Ralph Sutton, while not radicals and innovators like Bird, Dizzy and Tristano, were impressive enough in their own right and the legendary Baby Dodds may have outplayed the young Max Roach. But the future won, as it often does--the radio voters chose the beboppers, who came back in November '47.

So here are the "Barry Ulanov All Stars" taking on "Sunny Side of the Street"--the performance marked the first reunion of Bird and Dizzy in over a year, and the first time Bird played publicly with Tristano. Recorded 20 September 1947; on the marvelous Complete Recordings of Charlie Parker and Lennie Tristano.

Lawrence, War Series: Victory

U.S. Senator Theodore Bilbo, from Mississippi, in his 1946 re-election campaign said: "I'm calling on every red-blooded American who believes in the superiority and integrity of the white race to get out and see that no nigger votes--and the best time to do that is the night before." (The young Medgar Evers, who did try to vote, was chased off by a white mob.) Bilbo didn't just confine his hatred to blacks--he once called Walter Winchell a "notorious scandalizing kike radio commentator" and wrote a letter to an Italian woman in NYC that began "Dear Dago."

After winning re-election, Bilbo contracted throat cancer and died in August '47. Senator Allen Ellender, from Louisiana, eulogized Bilbo, saying "Senator Bilbo died a martyr to southern traditions and his name will long be remembered when those of his most bitter critics will be forgotten before they are cold in their graves."

Senator Bilbo is remembered today, if at all, because of an R&B song, one of the coldest pieces of satire in popular music, a track recorded literally days after Bilbo was in the ground.

Andrew Tibbs' "Bilbo Is Dead" is completely straight-faced--after a funereal piano intro, Tibbs begins his lament. He's been on the road, and when he gets to Mississippi he hears the woeful news: "My best friend was dead and gone," he cries. "It makes me feel like a fatherless child." The singer's mourning conveys the image of a grief-stricken black community--the neighborhood stores shuttered, people weeping in the streets.

Finally, in the last verse, Tibbs lets a smile peek through:

Well you've been livin' in the big city
broke and had to get along.
But you can hurry back to Mississippi
'cause Bilbo is dead and gone.

Tibbs was one of the most popular blues musicians on the newly-launched Aristocrat label (the precursor to Chess), but "Bilbo Is Dead" was banned in some of the South, and Muddy Waters, who was also recording on Aristocrat, claimed later the controversy wound up hobbling Tibbs' career.

"Bilbo" was written by Tibbs and Tom Archia in a cab on the way to the studio, the lyrics scrawled on a paper bag, and was recorded in Chicago with Dave Young's Orchestra in early September 1947; released on Aristocrat 1101 c/w "Union Man Blues," which Leonard Chess later claimed got him in trouble with the Teamsters; on Chess Blues.

Doc Pomus is best known as a songwriter (his works with Mort Shuman include "Save the Last Dance For Me," "This Magic Moment," "Teenager In Love" and "Viva Las Vegas"; he wrote "Lonely Avenue" for Ray Charles, "Young Blood" with Lieber and Stoller), but in his youth he was a blues shouter nearly as wild as his idol, Big Joe Turner. This live recording of a 22-year-old Pomus singing an improvised blues at a LA nightclub, the Pied Piper, is flat-out amazing--listen to the audience catch fire as Pomus gets nastier and nastier.

Pomus, a handicapped Jewish kid from Brooklyn, managed to win over audiences that, in his words, consisted of "pimps, hookers, maids, chauffeurs, good-time whites, factory workers, white collar workers, musicians, entertainers, bartenders, waiters - everybody hanging out together. A little money went a long way and there was no tomorrow.

Recorded either August or September 1947. On That Devilin' Tune Vol. 4 (where a number of tracks in this set can be found).

The late '40s found Duke Ellington at a commercial ebb and at his most experimental. "The Clothed Woman," one of Ellington's most brilliant, lesser-known compositions, finds Ellington playing with 20th Century classical music ideas--in particular Schoenberg and Webern's atonal piano works--toying with the concepts, abandoning them, restoring them, making them swing.

The piece begins with Ellington alone on piano. For the first thirty-two bars, it's basically pure atonality, then things begin to cohere--Duke pieces together a riff, and horns come in to keep it going. Suddenly, 1:15 in, Duke rips into a sort of modernist ragtime, his right hand dancing out while his left keeps a hypnotic rhythm (the latter sounds like the ancestor of the repeated piano figure at the end of the Velvet Underground's "Murder Mystery"). And then, just as suddenly, Duke veers back into atonality again.

Recorded 30 December 1947 with Johnny Hodges and Harry Carney on sax, Harold Baker (tp), Junior Raglin (b) and Sammy Greer (d), among others; on Masterpieces.

Clement Attlee and Aung San, six months before the latter's assassination

Ástor Pantaleón Piazzolla, Argentine tango revolutionary and bandoneón player, introduced jazz elements (such as the use of dissonance and an extended orchestral palette) into traditional tango; this was much to the consternation of purists, who believed the tango was one of the few things in the modern world that could not, or should not, change.

As one Argentine newspaper article in August 1947 had it, Piazzolla "never experienced the stimulating and inevitable Buenos Aires scene of kerosene street lamps, and organ grinders, and everything else. He grew up among the skyscrapers. It is his fate to reconcile opposites...which explains how he can offer us the most stubborn tango hits of the old days with chords that seem almost Stravinskian."

"Quejas de Bandoneón" is one of Piazzolla's earlier pieces, recorded in Buenos Aires on 21 August 1947, with Piazzolla's orchestra of the period. On Tangos Vol. 2.

If Piazzolla was a child of the skyscrapers, Concha Piquer was the voice of eternal Spain. A singer and actress, best known for her work in the copla, the Spanish folk song, Piquer had a long, astonishing life. Born in 1906, she starred in a number of American and Mexican films in the '20s and '30s, including Perojo's El Negro que Tenía el Alma Blanca [The Black Man With the White Soul]. She died at last in 1990--the Civil War and the Franco era having seemed to her, perhaps, as a bad dream that had finally lifted.

"Angelitos Negros" is on Antologia.

Molly O'Day, from Pike County, Kentucky, was born Lois LaVerne Williamson (changing her name first to "Mountain Fern" and then "Dixie Lee Williamson" before settling on her permanent stage name). While never achieving national popularity, O'Day's presence was formidable: she knew Hank Williams and recorded several of his early compositions; Loretta Lynn and Dolly Parton were both awed by her, and Earl Scruggs said she once had beaten him in a banjo-playing contest. In her later years, when O'Day had retired to dedicate her life to her husband's ministry, she would humbly deny she had had any influence on country music.

O'Day had heard Williams sing "The Tramp On the Street" (whose message can be summed up as "God takes sides, and God's loyalties lie with poor people," as Bill Friskics-Warren wrote in Heartaches By the Number) and recorded it herself soon afterward, in the song's definitive performance, anchored by O'Day's astonishing vocal, the fiddle of Cecil "Skeets" Williamson (O'Day's brother) and George "Speedy" Krise's dobro.

Recorded in Chicago on 16 December 1946 (but we'll bend the rules to get it in), with O'Day's husband Lynn Davis on guitar and Mac Wiseman on bass; released as Columbia 37559 c/w the creepily-titled "Put My Rubber Doll Away"; on Molly O'Day and the Cumberland Mountain Folks.

In the last two years of his life, Chano Pozo moved to New York, founded Latin jazz with Dizzy Gillespie, wore a white top hat and tuxedo, had his conga drums stolen on the road, and was killed in a Harlem bar after allegedly haggling with a drug dealer about the quality of the marijuana Pozo had just bought.

Pozo, born in Havana in 1915, began as a street drummer and performer, working for tourist dollars outside the Tropicana and El Presidente hotels. By the early '40s he had begun composing and recording his own music, and getting the attention of visiting jazz players from the U.S.

One of Pozo's first recording sessions after he arrived in New York in January 1947 was for Coda Records, which assembled an all-star Cuban musician lineup on congas--Pozo, Miguelito Valdés, Carlos Vidal, and the blind Arsenio Rodriguez (who, upon hearing there was a doctor in New York who could restore eyesight, raised $5,000, was examined and then told he would be blind until death, upon which he wrote "La Vida Es Un Sueño" ("Life Is But a Dream"). Jose Mangual, on bongos, rounded out the group.

Coda apparently wasn't aiming for any commercial records, as the tracks recorded in this session are hardcore Cuban sounds, the first authentic rumbas made in the United States--driving, hard, relentless music of the barrios from which all the musicians had come, and where, in Pozo's case, they would soon be buried.

Recorded 10 February 1947; on El Tambor de Cuba.

Ronald Reagan testifying at the House Un-American Activities Committee

Anita O'Day "just breathed swing" (Allen Lowe) and she may have been the most gifted jazz singer of her generation, even more adept than Sarah Vaughan or Ella Fitzgerald at clearing the hurdles bebop arrangements presented. As Lowe wrote, O'Day was fine on ballads, but it was the uptempo material where she took flight, where she should could play with the beat, challenge the players and dance on top of it all.

So her take on Cole Porter's "What Is This Thing Called Love," arranged by Sy Oliver, begins at a breakneck tempo, vaults into a bolero, indulges in some stop-time antics and stops on a dime. You could call it a master class in jazz singing, and she made dozens just like it.

Recorded in New York in September 1947 with Will Bradley and his Orchestra: Jimmy Maxwell, Chris Griffin, Red Solomon, Carl Poole (tp); Will Bradley, Phil Giardina, Billy Pritchard, Al Philburn (tb); Paul Ricci, Toots Mondello (as); Art Drellinger, Hank Ross (ts); Hank Freeman (bari sax); Stan Freeman (p); Danny Perri (g); Bob Haggart (b); Morey Feld (d).

Released as Signature 15162 c/w "Hi Ho Sailus Boot Whip"; on Bebop Spoken Here, or just buy the original 78 on Ebay.

Mary Ann McCall, a forgotten heroine of the late big band era, is responsible for "On Time," one of the hottest songs made in the '40s (or any era, really), with McCall casting herself as a shop foreman, demanding her employee get to work when she needs him, and with no complaints. Just listen to the lady:

The man I go for won't relax,
'Cause if he does he'll get the ax.
He's on the job
for I am wise
to the stay-away, wanna-play, skip-a-day guys.

"On Time" was recorded in Los Angeles on 19 June 1947, with Howard McGhee (tp), Willie Smith (as), Gordon (ts), Jimmy Rowles (p), Barney Kessel (g), Red Callender (b), and Jackie Mills (d). Released as Columbia 37590 c/w "Money Is Honey"; on You're Mine, You.

Let's end with a joke and a dream. "Lies" is a snaps contest between Bama and Dobie Red, recorded at Parchman Farm prison in 1947, in which Bama does most of the ribbing while Red just sits back, takes it in and offers the occasional acid comeback. On Prison Songs.

And I first featured Jerry Murad and the Harmonicats' "Peg O' My Heart" back in December 2004 (ah, remember those days, all three of you readers who were here then?), and I'll repeat what I wrote then:

Many songs seem fabricated--you can find the stitchwork on them; others seem as though they had been netted, entirely whole, from the air. "Peg O' My Heart" is the latter. It's a simple, shuffling melody that lingers in the mind: a melody that, upon first hearing, seems as though you have already heard it before, years ago, somewhere else.

Jerry Murad, an Armenian born in Constantinople, spurned his family's carpet business to form a harmonica trio in 1944 with Don Les and Al Fiore. Murad, recalling the sound effects of suspense radio shows, thought of using an echo chamber to enhance his group's sound, and engineer Bill Putnam, intrigued by the idea, miked the harmonica trio in the marble-tiled bathroom of the Chicago Opera House. In its quiet way, "Peg" is an early exercise in sonic distortion.

"Peg" seems permanently out of time--it was a remake of a 1913 composition that was recorded by everyone from Henry Burr to Bunny Berrigan; the Harmonicats recorded their version in February 1947, and when it was released a month later, it became a massive hit (a copycat version by Max Harris and His Novelty Trio was the theme to Dennis Potter's Singing Detective); released as the first single ever issued by the Vitacoustic label c/w a version of Chopin's "Fantasy Impromptu" ; on Chart Toppers of the Forties.

1 comment:

roybaintonwrites said...

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Roy Bainton