Sunday, June 04, 2006
Album of the Week
On an internet listserve I belong to that is devoted to jazz (and jazz-oriented) singers, there's been a bit of back-and-forth the past few days about singer Ronnie Deauville. On a pre-blog era web site that I once maintained, I published several postings about Deauville. I've just now discovered, however, that most of those writings, plus several others from the site have now been de-Googled, i.e. they no longer show up even if you employ the right search words. So here we go again. In the near future, I'll be re-posting some of those that still seem to be of some relevance, tolerably well-written, etc. Here's the one about Deauville:
"One of the more preposterous record jackets of the 1950s---a decade with no shortage of such items---is Smoke Dreams (Era 20002) a sepia-toned concoction of a scantily-clad woman, with a cigarette holder, reclining on a couch. From the holder, the smoke curls into the air to spell out the album title. Above her, out of the swirl, with arms outstretched, is the tuxedo-clad figure of the singer, Ronnie Deauville, whose album this is. The jacket is reproduced with great frequency as a prime example of 1950s lounge camp. Even Deauville's name is kinda campy [I have since learned that Deauville was his real last name, but the first was a stage moniker.] But Deauville was no joke; instead, he was a Sinatra School singer on a par with the best of the lot (Bob Manning, Julius LaRosa, et al), and is heard to especially good advantage on this 1956 album. With it's spare orchestration and American Popular Song repertoire, the LP is obviously an attempt to translate the Julie London "Cry Me a River" "sound" into male terms.
Not long ago on the internet site Ebay a 1958 Imperial Deauville LP was auctioned, the heading for which was "paraplegic singer." Clearly I could no longer put off doing a bit of long-delayed research on this obscure and elusive singer. My first stop was Will Friedwald's book Jazz Singing. To the writer's credit, he at least makes passing reference to Deauville as "a talented Sinatra clone. . .whose career, though not life, was ended by an automobile smash [sic]." Friedwald errs, though, on the impact the accident had on the singer's career, for I later learned that Deauville's career-defining health crisis was, in fact, a bout with polio that he contracted while he was recovering from the accident.
A little more research and I uncovered a handful of commercially-oriented singles, on several different labels; all post-accident. As well a number of sides, circa late 40's and early 50's, with the bands of Ray Anthony and Tex Beneke, most harkening back to "sound" of the big band era. There were even some cuts on one (or more?) of those 18 hits for 2.98 packages that were popular in the 1950s, a fascinating, woebegone, sub-sub genre of the era. The kind offering up "Top Hits of the Day Played and Sung by Popular Radio and Television Artists." Leading one to wonder, if they are so popular WHY, then, do they mostly remain unidentified? hits Hits HOORAY!, indeed.
It was in the liner notes of '58 Imperial Deauville LP, sought out as part of my E-bay-driven research, where I learned that, after his accident the singer had been the subject of an episode of the popular TV series, This is Your Life. The maudlin show tended almost weekly to focus on tales of comeback from adversity. Deauville lived for nearly forty years after his appearance on the show (he died in 1990), but with the exception of his second LP, which appears to have come about as a direct result of This is Your Life, and even contains a song by that title, not a lot was heard from this vastly underrated singer after that. Deauville is in fine voice on his Imperial album, but the songs are, with a couple of exceptions, commercial dogs, the arrangements hokey, and the production too busy. But as for Smoke Dreams, has there ever been an album where the singer is more tightly mic-ed? Vocal production for vocal production's sake (volume etc.) doesn't really seem to be much of a consideration here. So easy, so simple, the sort of thing that could have been tossed off in an afternoon. No killer lounge act vocal pyrotechnics. Just very quiet, very low key singing degree zero of the most refined order.
In early 2004 I went to a memorial for Billy May. I didn't know May, but inasmuch as I personally deem him a "genius" (all you have to do is listen to Jeri Southern's "Don't Look at Me That Way" if you have any doubt), I felt I was justified in attending. While there, I got into a conversation with bandleader Ray Anthony, one of Ronnie Deauville's early employers. After I told Ray about my affection for Deauville, he talked a bit about him, including the following:
"Let me tell you a funny thing about Ronnie," said Anthony. One day we were making a record of a song called 'Gloria.' He didn't want to cut it because he had a very bad cold. But I insisted, and it turned out to be a hit, much to his surprise. So after that, he would only record when it was cold and raining. He would run around the block outside the studio to try and approximate the sound of having a cold."
You might recall that is the exact premise of a famed Sid Caesar sketch, "Aggravation Boulevard," about a silent film star (a la John Gilbert) attempting to make his voice acceptable for talkies.
(pt. 2 tomorrow)
Posted by Bill Reed at 1:54 PM