Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Seventeen "Choice" Singers You've Probably Never Heard Before. . . #1

Before Frank Sinatra scored his early Capitol Records hit in 1955 with “Learnin’ The Blues,” a Philadelphia singer, Joe Valino (1929-1996), recorded the song in late '54 on a small local label, Gold Star. At the time, Sinatra was experiencing a degree of difficulty selling singles ("All the Way," etc notwithstanding), and when he heard Valino's recording, within three days he commissioned an arrangement by Nelson Riddle, recorded it, and the rest is essential FS history. And quicker than you can say Sam Giancana, the recording leapt to the top of the Billboard chart, thus finally solidifying Sinatra's sure-fire success with the label.

According to urban legend, Sinatra's people then delegated a bunch of the boys to travel to Philly and make an offer to Valino that he, ummm, couldn't refuse in order to lay off any further promotion of "Learnin' the Blues." It now "belonged" to Sinatra. All of which doesn't really compute. There is simply no way that this somewhat poorly-engineered "side" by a regionally-known singer on a small obscure label could compete with the power of Sinatra.

Another version of the "Learnin'" saga, one that sounds a bit more plausible, is that in early 1955, Valino himself took his single---not much more than a demo really--- to music publishers in New York with hopes of kick-starting his pop vocal career. One of the executives he met with loved the song but thought Valino sounded too much like Frank Sinatra. (Debateable). After Valino departed (and faster than you could say Carlo Gambino), the sheet music of the song was winging westward. That sounds far more plausible than the dead-horse's-head-in-crooner's-bed version. (The writer of the song was a Philadelphia housewife, Dolores Silvers, who never published another song.)

Several years before the "Learnin' the Blues" episode, Valino had already established himself as a highly regarded regional singer. The level of his musicianship can be ascertained by the level of musians he recorded and performed with, most especially the (soon-to-be going places) jazz tenor sax player, Richie Kamuca. They made several fine singles together, including "All the Things You Are" b/w "The Song is You" for the small Philadelphia label, Crosley. A few years later Kamuca would write the notes for Sinner or Saint, the lone Valino album released in the singer's lifetime: "Joe Valino is more than a singer. Joe is a musician's singer.” The sax man then proceeded to reel off several industry giants who had lavished praise on Valino, including Sarah Vaughan, Merv Griffin and Tony Bennett. He closed with the prediction that his friend was “definitely on his way to make his place and leave his indelible mark in the music world.”

Alas, Kamuca's predicition of big things for Valino never really happened. Joe did go on to record, perhaps, as many as a score of single releases, but only one, 1957's “Garden of Eden,” made a visible dent on the national records sales charts.

In 1997, the year after Joe's death, his family cobbled together a CD entitled Timeless. Some of the tracks are ones that appeared originally on Sinner or Saint, but---in some instances---with nice brass and strings overdubs. Interestingly, the version of "Learnin' the Blues" that appears there (source unknown) is taken at a faster tempo than the Gold Star version. It is also a much more solid and professionally-sounding "take" on the song. So much better, in fact, that had it been released at the the same time as Sinatra's---small label or no---it might have actually given the latter a run for his money! Who knows?

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

It's about time!

Now available on download sites: CDBaby, Amazon and ITunes, Sue Raney singing two legendary Baseball songs by (let's just say THE GREAT and let it go at that) Dave Frishberg: "Dodger Blue" and "Van Lingle Mungo."

Links: Amazon DB , VLM ; Itunes DB , VLM ; CDBaby DB , VLM

Friday, May 17, 2013

Monday, May 06, 2013

Japan to the rescue

Nothing in the entire cultural/theatrical history of the West is even remotely equivalent to the Japanese theatrical troupe Takarazuka. Founded ninety-nine years ago in the small Japanese city bearing the troupe's name, the (eventually) five companies of the outfit specialize in mammoth-scaled, elaborately costumed productions---with all roles played by females---of mostly Broadway musicals such as Guys and Dolls and Kiss Me Kate, revues, and musicalizations of fiction of the West, i.e. East of Eden andWuthering Heights, etc.

Every production features a cast of as many as eighty performers (singers, dancers, actors) plus a large orchestra. One could describe the operation as the Ziegfeld Follies x three and not really come close. Even today, one's first visit to a Takarazuka production operates as a kind of rite of passage for Japanese youth. The following link to
Wikipedia only begins to scratch the surface of all there is to know and learn about the subject of Takarazuka. And this youtube clip can give you only a sense of the magnitude of their productions.

Takarazuka also produces shows based not only on pre-existant musicals or fiction, but on biographical material. For example, this coming June 2013's Forever Gershwin, has to do with---of all things---the ten-year-long extra-marital affair between George Gershwin and Broadway songwriter-classical composer Kay Swift (“Fine and Dandy”, “Can't We Be Friends”),who was married to banker James Warburg. After Gershwin's death in 1937, his brother Ira Gershwin collaborated with Swift to complete and arrange some of his unpublished works. And she continued to hold the George Gershwin flame aloft until her death at age 95 in 1993.

This forthcoming outing will take place from 6/7 - 6/17 at Takarazuka's Bow Hall in Takarazuka City where the theatrical organization was founded in 1914. Obviously, the production will feature a healthy number of George and Ira songs. Here is a
link to one of the few web sites (published in Japan) that has ANY English language information about this singularly recherche and profoundly American subject matter of George Gershwin and Company as interpreted by Takarazuka. (And just look at that cast of characters! Mr. & Mrs. Jascha Heifetz, "Tin Pan Alley Salesperson," Walter Winchell, Al Jolson, Fred and Adele Astaire, Paul Whiteman, Irving Berlin, Gertrude Lawrence, et al!)

Is it any wonder that musician Van Dyke ("Polymath") Parks refers to the Japanese as "Cultural custodians to the West"? No question about it. If Japan doesn't do it. . .no one else (most especially the U.S.) will. Just wayyyyyy too hip for OUR "house."

Friday, May 03, 2013

Faded youth/the Diva Detective wants to know

Anyone have any idea what the occasion was that resulted in the above photo of June Christy and Page Cavanaugh? Neither of their discographies list their ever having "worked" together.

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Nat-ering. . .

A friend phoned me this a.m. and recommended that I read a jazz article in today's Wall Street Journal. It was about jazz musician Houston Person. I asked my buddy who wrote it. "Nat Hentoff," he said. To which I replied, "I would never read a single solitary word written by that idiot. Nor," I added "would I even piss in his ear if his brains were on fire." I then referred my pal to a passage in my year 2000 memoir, Early Plastic.
"In 1995 I saw a labor of love of mine, a history of African-American show business, scheduled for publication by Temple University Press, canceled at the last minute. I learned soon afterward from a 'deep throat' academic reader, UCLA's Dr. Beverly Robinson, what had happened: The press' overwhelmingly white editorial staff had assumed I was black; then, by accident almost at the moment the book scheduled to be printed, they learned otherwise. I neither masqueraded as black, nor hid that I was white in numerous phone conversations with them. They reneged on publication out of fear of reprisal from The Black Athena set at the school. Afrocentrism! And even worse, some cryptofacist nonsense that Afro-centrists have made up, called melaninism, under which lies the sub-theory of essentialism. The basic premise of which is that only blacks are bio-psycho-sociologically equipped to write about The Black Experience. Not since the heyday of phrenology in the 19th century has such a large body of seemingly intelligent individuals fallen for hogwash like this. Thanks to the politics of black payback, I was the victim of white-on-white racism! Only in America! At once, I contacted longtime First Amendment columnist, Nat Hentoff, about the possibility of his writing publicly about my situation. But he was already in enough hot water with gays without taking on the Afrocentric set; he didn't even answer my letter (nor a second one). The Machiavellian Mr. Hentoff and the lovely Margo (Mrs. H) choose their civic crusades wisely and well. What a pair! Since then, they've taken up the causes of Kenneth Starr and and anti-abortion."
If my problem wasn't a first amendment, freedom-of-speech issue, I don't know what is. I guess Hentoff and his wife were still too busy trying to ban the wearing of caftans by gays on Fire Island (true).