Tuesday, November 30, 2010

On the 25th Day of Christmas. . .

. . .my true love gave to me. . .the Hippest Christmas Single Ever?
"Christmas is Here" by Joe Valino (more) and. . . jazz's Richie Kamuca on ts.
Is there a case for this being the hippest Christmas single ever ? i.e., the quite fine (but mostly unknown) Valino and the great Kamuca paired up on a not-at-all-bad Christmas side on an early 1950s, totally recherche Philly record label.

On the 26th Day of Christmas. . .

. . . my true love gave to me a link to Don Charles' Singing Dogs. (Who the hell WAS Don Charles anyway?)

video by A. Warhol
click twice on image for full screen

Monday, November 29, 2010

Ohhhhhh. . .Kay?

Singer Kay Penton, is by far the most difficult whatever-happened-to? personage that I’ve ever tried to trace. (They don’t call me the “Diva Detective” in Japan for nothin.‘ ) You wouldn’t think that this would be the case at all. Penton immediately followed my good friend Jane Harvey into the Benny Goodman band as the “girl singer“ in 1945, but Jane knew absolutely zip about her. Just the name. And Penton made a fair number of recordings with the memorable jazz arranger and composer Tadd (“If You Could See Me Now”) Dameron, but the musician’s biographer Ian McDonald wrote to me that every attempt on his part to unearth even the slightest bit of biographical information about the singer found him coming up empty-handed. Searching through various old newspaper archives and the show biz publication, Billboard, I came across a number of reviews of Penton, starting in the early 1940s, but the only truly substantial item I uncovered was one that appeared in Dorothy Kilgallen’s column in 1953 to the effect that Penton was keeping company with none other than (gasp) Dominican Republic dictator Rafael Trujillo, i.e. El Jefe, aka The Boss, whose three-decade reign (1930-1961) in that nation is recalled as being one of the bloodiest of the 20th Century. Shortly after that, Penton disappears from sight. Dunh-dunh-dunnnnn!

As far as Kay's recording career is concerned, aside from her stint with Goodman, the musical associations of Penton, a Caucasian, were nearly all African-American, including, besides Dameron, Teddy Wilson, Fats Navarro and Miles Davis. To say that this was highly unusual for those especially racially troubled times (circa 1945 - 1955) is an understatement of the first degree. It simply was not done! There might have been some other exceptions with other white, female singers, but certainly not to this extent. It is also curious that Penton was among the very first pactees Capitol Records signed when it was founded in 1942, and slated to originally be known as Victory Records. But if she ever recorded for the label, I have not been able unearth any sides. (The singer did eventually make some sides with a Tadd Dameron and Miles Davis for the label in 1949.)

Nothing about Penton, under her stage moniker, shows up in the SSI death index, nor does any obit appear in any U.S. newspaper under that name. Nor are there any photos of her on the internet. If Penton is still alive, she would probably be in her late eighties. I gotta confess, this one really has me stumped.

To the best of my knowledge, here is is Penton’s complete discography. Consisting of 19 recorded sides and two film Soundies.
There's No Ceiling on Love w/ Guy Lombardo duet w/ Billy Leach Decca
People Will Say We're in Love w/ Guy Lombarda duet w/ Billy Leach
Hip Hip Hooray w/ Henry Nemo, Soundie (1943)
What Good is Love Soundie (1943)
June is Bustin’ Out All Over w/ Benny Goodman, Columbia (1945)
Ain’t Misbehavin’ w/ Benny Goodman, Columbia (1945)
Yesterdays V Disc 720A (1947)
That Someone Must Be You, w/ Fats Navarro Savoy (1947)
Gone with the Wind w/ Fats Navarro, Savoy (1947)
I Think I'll Go Away Kay, w/ Tadd Dameron, V-Disc 794 (1947)
Don't Mention Love to Me w/ Tadd Dameron, V-Disc 794 (1947)
As Time Goes By w/ Teddy Wilson Musicraft 580 1947
Isn't it Romantic / Teddy Wilson, Musicraft (1947)
These Foolish Things w/ Teddy Wilson, Musicraft 1947
Something I Dreamed Last Night w/ Teddy Wilson, Musicraft   (1947)
That Someone Must Be You w/ Fats Navarro, Savoy (1947)
Gone With the Wind w/ Fats Navarro, Savoy (1947)
What's New - w/ Tadd Dameron, Miles Davis, 4/21/49
Heaven's Doors are Open Wide w/ Tadd Dameron, Capitol (1949)
Plaything b/w Why (not Penton) Dana 100 (1950)
A New Town is a Blue Town - Mercury 70379 (1954)
I Was Meant for You - Mercury 70379 (1954)
Why Don’t You Be Good - Mercury 70418 (1954)
That’s You My Love - Mercury 70418 (1954)
Every Man Needs a Gal in His Corner / Hot Rod Heaven - Samson 888 (1955)

Was she any good? I think so. Very! But why don't you be the judge?

Update 11/29: Here's a  link to Penton's Isn't it Romantic w/Teddy Wilson (Thanks, Daniel)
Any other links out there?


Have unearthed a bit more info about Penton.

She was born in New Orleans in 1924 and began singing publicly at the age of five. There are a couple of articles in the New Orleans Times Picayune (4/15/40 & 3/4/42). I have not been able to access the articles, but only references to them in an archive index). Her first gig as a band singer was with Guy Lombardo (Louis Armstrong's favorite big band. . .seriously) in 1943, and by 1944 she already had her own Friday night radio show on CBS. One article about her at this time deemed her the "prettiest girl in radio" (radio. . .did it really matter?) and stated that three movie studios were courting her for a screen test. There is, however, no info on the net that these ever came to pass. In 1947, in Miami, FL, she married "textile magnate" Lou Bolton; the marriage, though, was annulled less than a month later. Somewhere along the way, she also dated John Hertz, the ex-spouse of Myrna Loy. Yes! John Hertz of the Rent-a-Car operation. Factor in her relationship with Dominican Republic dictator Rafael Trujillo (see above) along with this romantic factoid and you have to admit the gal really got around. 

Has anyone who was so high profile for so many years ever fallen so far below radar? Thirty years old. . .over and out. There's still not even a single photo of her on the internet. I now know that if she were alive today, she'd be 87.

Leslie Nielsen R.I.P.

For the S.F. Examiner, in 1988 I interviewed Nielsen on the occasion of the big screen release of Naked Gun. As highly respected a prankster as he was a comic actor, without thinking of the possible consequences, I asked him some question or other that included the word farceur. And without missing so much as a beat, he feigned cutting the cheese with the omni-present whoopee cushion he always carried with him. Blaaaaat. Now that's fast!

This was the same press junket where I was instructed by the film's publicist that under no circumstances was I to ask Priscilla Presley any questions whatsover about either the pre-carb or post- carb Elvi. This was Priscilla's film debut and so there was not much of an ouevre to chat about. But I had a last minute inspiration almost as quick-minded as Nielsen's (above). "Ms. Presley," I said, "I realize I'm not supposed to ask you questions about your former husband. But if I COULD, what question wouldn't you mind answering?" That broke the ice. She gave out with a charming laugh and then proceded to talk almost exclusively about Elvis, when she wasn't otherwise engaged plugging Naked Gun. All the while, the publicist fuming immediately to my right.

Upon his passing, U.K. actor/comedian Russell Brand remarked yesterday "Shirley, he will be missed" (as in "Don't call me Shirley."

I wonder if Nielsen will be buried with his beloved whoopee cushion?

On the 27th Day of Christmas. . .

. . . my true love gave to me this long out-of-print Charles Brown LP featuring his upteenth remake of his classic "Merry Christmas Baby."

Coming Home to Mama for Christmas
Peace at Christmas
What a Christmas for Me
No Friend This Christmas
I'll Be Home for Christmas
You Make Christmas Merry for Me
Merry Christmas Baby
Santa Claus Remember Me
Going Home for Christmas

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Jane Harvey in the WSJ

Wall Street Journal

Nov. 19, 2010
Stephen Sondheim 80th Birthday Celebration
Carnegie Hall
by Will Friedwald

It's a minority opinion, but I'll stand by it: The music of Stephen Sondheim is possibly even more noteworthy than his justly celebrated lyrics. This concert, featuring the New York Pops, promises to be the rare event that puts the spotlight on the melodies rather than the texts; while there will be three vocal soloists (Kate Baldwin, Aaron Lazar and Christiane Noll) and a choir, the real attraction will be to hear Mr. Sondheim's amazing music feted by a full symphony-sized orchestra. For those who prefer a more intimate, but nonetheless different, side of Sondheim, the jazz-oriented "Jane Harvey Sings Sondheim" has just been reissued. More than any other singer, Ms. Harvey shows that his songs can not only stand on their own without the shows they were written for, but that even such wordy musical monologues as "I'm Still Here" and "Could I Leave You" can actually swing.

Available at amazon.com at a typically hefty price for Japanese imports, but worth every penny of it.

Friday, November 26, 2010

On the 29th Day of Christmas. . .

. . .my true love gave to me this funky $800.00 collectible LP. 

On the 30th Day of Christmas. . .

. .  .my true love gave to me A Kuklapolitan Christmas.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

On the 31st Day of Christmas. . .

. . .my true love sent to me part one of Stan Freberg's Chrismas Dragnet

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

On the 32nd Day of Christmas. . .

. . .my true love gave to me, part 2 of a Dragnet Christmas (see below for pt. 1)

On the 33rd Day of Christmas. . .

. . .my true love gave to me this old RCA ep. (Part one.)

Sunday, November 21, 2010

On the 34th Day of Chritmas. . .

. . .my true love sent to me a link to this charming rendition of Japan's most popular holiday song, Tatsuro Yamashita's Christmas Eve. Here, it is sung by Youtube uke star, Keonepax

Click on image twice for full screen

Saturday, November 20, 2010

My "think piece" for the year. . .

. . .written on the occasion of a new Quincy Jones CD: yet another tiresome pairing of elements from much "better" music combined with the inchoate, indistinct brayings of so-called rap artistes such as---I refuse to call them anything other than---Calvin Broadus and Christopher Brian Bridges. (Sorry, ahem, but the title of the damn album seems to've escaped me for the nonce.)

The 30 year crusade of "Q" (as those near and dear to Jones---all ten thousand of 'em) to lend a patina of respectability to c(rap) and other forms of music Kultural Kriminalism has done more harm to the cause of actual "good" pop and jazz music than the actions of any other professional in the history of the art form. Plus, ferkrisakes, he founded Vibe ragazine, a periodical solely devoted to promoting the cause of musical brain rot, i.e. rap and  "hop (ain't) hip" (vide John Wood).

The truth is, most of Jones' "better" jazz charts from the before time were done by uncredited others. Think Billy Byers, Oliver Nelson et al. However, to give credit where it's due, I really do like Jones' arrangements for Leslie Gore (It's My Party, Judy's Turn to Cry, etc.). .  .if he actually did write them. Good, fun disposible musical brain candy. And, really, some of the Michael Jackson stuff that Jones produced isn't all that bad.

It's not that Jones is necessarily a BAD jazz arranger, but allegedly (no names puh-leese) he works so slowly that he really isn't all that cost effective. On the other hand, Jones' ghost arrangers could do this stuff in their sleep. Much more important to those who use Jones' services is that he is "branded" to the max. And that's mostly what his buyers are paying (if I might end this sentence with a preposition) for.

To reiterate, Jones' IT'S ALLLLLL GOODDDD musical aesthetic has had an incalcuably deleterious impact on American non-classical music. After, some years back, he began to deem hip-hop and rap capital "A" capital "R"capital "T," it's been downhill all the way. Even disco is slightly more bearable than the junque that mid-to-late career Jones has trafficked in. I'll even take the likes of Donna Summer over Curtis James Jackson III any day.

I never let an opportunity go by if I can find an excuse to quote the late, great drummer Max Roach (and IMHO a far greater musician than Quincy Jones) on the subject of rap, and this seems just like one of those times: to wit, "Those who voted for defunding of music education programs in public schools are getting what they paid for."

I could go on and on and on. . ..

Break out the champagne. . .

. . .or booze. Today would've been the 85th birthday of June Chiristy. Here's an entry on her from my book, A Fine Romance: My Lifelong Affair with Jazz Singing and Singers.

I know this is going to sound heretical, but I even like June Christy's deeply-flawed last album, Impromptu (1977) better than Something Broadway, Something Latin (1965), her last contractual effort for the House That (Johnny) Mercer built. There are several very ricky-tick tracks on the latter, and the very best cuts on it are by far the most pop-ish things she ever recorded. The first time I heard SBSL, I sensed that the word had come down from on high to either sell out or get out. This was the clearly the result of the label's all-out push to switch over to the new British Invasion and surf music that was selling in "units" never dreamed of just a few years earlier in the heyday of June and her debut best-seller, 1955’s Something Cool, which by 1956 had sold a whopping 93,000 copies (amazing or the times). In other words, SBSL is for diehard completists only. What a wonderful label Capitol had been up to this point in time: exemplified by a very crisp, commercial style of jazz recording. Intelligent compromise of the highest order, if you will. "Compromise" in the sense that, for example, Capitol jazz artists were not noted for "stretching out." Much of their material was in and out in three minutes flat. Also, not a label to turn to for the experimental in music. Perhaps, for these reasons and others,that's why so much of the mid-fifties-to-mid-sixties output of Capitol still sounds so good today: Peggy Lee, Nat Cole, Dakota Staton, Frank Sinatra, George Shearing, Louis and Keely, Ann Richards, Nancy Wilson, June Christy, Stan Kenton, The Four Freshmen et al. all under contract at the same time. (Not to mention master parodist Stan Freberg!) The mind reels!

Beginning Sunday, The 35 Days of Christmas

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Ask and ye shall. . .

Here's commentary on the above Jeri Sullavan Soundie from the WeirdWildRealm website:

"Though copyrighted in 1945, this Jeri Sullavan soundie Memphis Blues was filmed in 1942. Jeri was a big band singer of merit, & in A Song is Born (1947) when you see actress Virginia Mayo singing, that's actually Jeri Sullavan's voice; & in Love that Brute (1950) you're hearing Jeri while Jean Peters appears to be singing.

For Memphis Blues she proves herself a good basic swing vocalist, praiseworthy even if not unique. The setting for this soundie is a run-down little club.

A clarinet player is seated nearby. A cigarette hangs from the pianist's lips. The camera pans across the small audience at tables & finds Jeri singing from the opposite side of the small club, away from the musicians, leaning on the bar much as did Bessie Smith in St. Louis Blues (1929), which was in fact directed by this little soundie's director!

The number commemorates W. C. Handy's blues compositions, but Jeri's not singing one of Handy's songs. With little dubious romanticisms, the lyric runs in part:

"I never will forget the tune that Handy called the Memphis Blues/ That melancholy strain/ That ever haunting refrain/ Is like a darky moaning a song..." It's just a mite too precious to praise more than a little.

This soundie was included in the one-reel home-movie Sophisticated Gals (1947) together with Grace Barrie singing Nobody Makes a Pass at Me (1942) & Jeni Freeland singing I'm a Big Girl Now (1946)."

In fact, that IS Handy's lyric. One of his most famous ones at that. Not bad for such an allegedly "precious" piece of songsmithery.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Happy Birthday, Honey. . .I Mean Jeri

Click on image twice for full screen

There is no "Honey Swanson." What you have here is the moving image of Virginia Mayo; the ghostesSING of the terrific but nonetheless obscure Jeri Sullavan, backed by the Page Cavanaugh trio from a certain movie of the late 1940s (you do the "math"). The song is "Daddy-O" by the wonderful team of Don Raye and Gene De Paul. But Sullivan's real claim to fame is that she co-wrote Andrews Sisters anthem Rum and Coca-Cola. If she were still alive today on her birthday, she'd be collecting royalties on the song at the grand old age of 86.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

It's K.T's Natal Occasion

I'll celebrate by wearing my Think Pink socks and by visiting here: http://kaythompsonwebsite.com/
Yours truly,
Bill, the Shill

Denzal Sinclaire

Click image twice for full screen

Yet another great, young Canadian jazz singer. Must be something in the water.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Close Harmony

I came across this still-timely article while perusing an old desk drawer full of Des Moines Registers this morning (I'm lying. I googled it on the net). It's from 2008.

by Tom Longden

Before Andy Williams sang solo, he performed with his three older brothers. The Williams Brothers quartet delighted audiences wherever it went.

The boys with the remarkable harmony were born in Wall Lake, then settled in Des Moines before moving to Chicago, Cincinnati and Los Angeles on their journey to fame.

They were the sons of Jay and Florence Williams, and they got their start by singing in a choir at the Presbyterian Church in Wall Lake. When Bob was 14 and Don was 11, they could already envision themselves as a quartet, just as soon as smaller brothers Dick, 8, and Andy, 6, were older.

Why not?" said their dad, a railroad mail clerk. "It's up to you boys. Whatever you want to do, start now, build yourselves up and don't quit until you succeed."

Moving to Des Moines about a year later, the family lived at 3015 Kingman Blvd.

Singing on Des Moines radio, Don Williams recalls today, "We worked so hard. We had a show every morning at 8 a.m. on WHO, and on Saturday we were on the 'Barn Dance.' Sometimes we even had a Sunday show, and we practiced five hours daily."

He adds: "Our voices were quite similar, but Andy sang the top, with Bob below him, then me, singing bass to tenor, and Dick."

The singing parts tended to change as the boys matured into young men.

It was mid-July 1940 when the family packed up its belongings for the move to Chicago and "the break of a lifetime" - a year's contract with radio station WLS. The boys were told they would sing as a quartet but also have the chance to perform solos and duets on the air.

From Chicago, the singing act and their parents moved to Cincinnati. The boys performed on radio station WLW before they set off for Hollywood for a chance at the movies.

In Los Angeles, the boys made their first professional recording, singing with Bing Crosby on the award-winning hit "Swinging on a Star" (1944).

The Williams Brothers had been signed by MGM, but the studio loaned the group out for specialty numbers in movies produced at Warners, RKO and Republic studios. They included "Janie" and "Kansas City Kitty," both in 1944, and "Ladies' Man" in 1947, the same year the quartet appeared with singing star Deanna Durbin in "Something in the Wind." In that movie they first join Donald O'Connor in "The Turntable Song" and slide into the romantic title song with Durbin.

It was at MGM where the Williams boys met one-of-a-kind singer-actress- comedienne Kay Thompson, who told them, "Let's do an act," Don Williams says today. Thompson was then a vocal coach/vocal arranger at MGM.

Don Williams says the act was so packed with entertainment that it was exhausting.

"We rehearsed eight hours a day for three months just to get one hour's worth of material," he says. "We didn't just stand and sing."

In addition to singing ("I Love a Violin," "Clap Your Hands," "Jubilee Time" and "Hello, Hello," among others) the brothers danced and did vignettes with Thompson, who did all the musical arrangements. Top-ranked Bob Alton of MGM did the choreography.

"It was a very popular act," Don Williams says, and drew crowds wherever it played across the nation and overseas. In New York City, legendary columnist Walter Winchell "loved us," Williams says. "He was very taken with the act. He wrote about it every day, or at least it seemed he did."

When the act ended its successful run in 1953, the brothers went their own ways to develop their own solo acts.

Don Williams returned to Los Angeles, where he says he found work on TV, "formed a couple of acts, sang on the Eddie Fisher and Nat King Cole television shows, sang commercials of all kinds" and later opened the then-brand-new Tropicana Hotel in Las Vegas, performing there for two years.

He subsequently became an agent and manager, retiring 20 years ago.

Dick Williams landed on Broadway, says Don, but today lives in Los Angeles, and is still singing as well as writing and conducting.

Andy launched his own spectacular career in New York and is still going strong - at 81 as of Dec. 3 - by performing at his Moon River Theater in Branson, Mo.

Brother Bob, Don says, "got out of the business," joining the boys' father in real estate ventures. Bob is now deceased, as is sister Jane.

Don Williams, 86, and his wife, Jeanne, live in Branson, close to Andy. The brothers also have homes in Palm Springs, where they spend winters.

When Andy Williams had his popular network television show, all of the brothers continued to perform with him on his yearly Christmas specials. "We did about 10 of those," Don says.

Andy, with Don, Dick and sister Jane, visited Wall Lake in 1998 for the dedication of the Williams family home as a historic site and tourist attraction.

 Late 1940s w/ Thompson

Dick Williams w/ Kay Thompson author Sam Irvin, last Wednesday night
photo by Stephen Myers

Irvin's book is a wonder. The product of more than ten years of research and writing, and it shows (in a good way). One of the very best show biz books I've ever read, and believe you me, I read more than my share, including (!) Jimmy Savo's Little World, Hello. (Top that!) Kay Thompson is unquestionably the greatest American artist (extracategorically) whom almost no one seems to know. For starters, there probably wouldn't have been a Four Freshmen and the Hi-Lo's were it not for Thompson. Nor a Liza Minnelli. (Welllll.....) Despite all the many years of contributions to various fields of artistry, Kay somehow failed to become "branded." Even most of the soigne, louche  sorts I tend to hang out with don't seem to know who she is. "You know, Eloise." "Duh, oh yeah." Let's hope Irvin's book changes all that.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

A Fine Romance

My collection of previously published liner notes, magazine and newspaper articles, etc. related to practitioners of American Popular Song, entitled A Fine Romance: My Lifelong Affair with Jazz Singing and Singers, was to have  hit the stalls this fall. But the tentative publisher was moving at such a slow pace that I've decided---what the hell---to e-book it. There are only a handful of books out there related to the subject, most notably two very fine collections by Will Friedwald. But there really should be more. Many more. This is my modest gesture to help address that scarcity.


PS: There's at least another book's worth of material stashed away where this one came from.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Mister First Nighter and His Nano

Click on image twice for full screen

Great fun Wednesday night at L.A.'s Book Soup with Sam Irvin reading from his new bio of "Kay Thompson." Ran out of memory on my IPod Nano at just the juncture where he introduces Evelyn Rudie in the audience. (If you don't know who Rudie is, then you probably shouldn't even bother to be viewing this in the first place.) Other notables in attendance included Dick Williams (of the Wms Bros), great singer Bea Wain (aka Mrs. Andre Baruch) and "The Other" Ray Charles. Don't bother to phone me today. I'll have my nose stuck in Irvin's book.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Doc's Poetry Corner; or A Manifesto

                   STRAIGHT TONES
                       by Sue Raney
Whatever happened to straight tones?
The kind that end in Good Pitch
Sometimes with a warm vibrato
Beautiful, Tuneful and Rich

Where the word brings a glow to the music
Not running around for the note
When the singer phrases the story
And sings what the songriter wrote

I can walk in the mall or the market
And hear the songs of today
There's hardly a time or a moment
I don't wish I could just run away

It screams in my ears with a vengeance
Like some cat caught high on a fence
And the notes in between and the endings
Falter around with no sense

Was it Rap, "the Hood" or old Woodstock
That evolved the song to this place
Where the singers sing every note
Like they're on some search or a chase

My grapes are not sour---they've always been sweet
But I can't understand what went wrong
The straight tone is suddenly so obsolete
And that's how they all sing a song

But one day this trend will be over
And some new superstars will arrive
And bring back the true art of singing
                To keep
Beautiful Music alive

Kurt Reichenbach is one busy, busy guy

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