MEANWHILE, BACK AT THE ZILCH

Wanna know something? January 16 is NATIONAL NOTHING DAY. Since I can think of nothing I’d rather do today than filch some zilch, I’m going to take this day and make Nothing of it. Actually, Nothing couldn’t have come at a better time for this post, ’cause if there’s one thing I gotta lotta, it’s nada.

For you language purists out there, when I said I gotta lotta nada, whata oughta said was….

Now that you’ve had your fill of nothing and I’ve made the case that there’s nothing better than nothing, I have all the nothing that’s everything I need to amount to anything. Ain’t that something!

Watch out, piggy!

THEY CALLED HIM AL

When I was writing about lyricist DOROTHY FIELDS and composer BERNICE PETKERE in my previous post (TWO TO GO), I had no thought of using it as a segue to this post ….but that was before I discovered that tomorrow is the birthday of a music man who sang at least a half dozen of Fields’ 1930s songs, including ON THE SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET (sung in the previous post by Diana Krall), not to mention the Petkere song CLOSE YOUR EYES (sung in the same post by that very man). They called him Al.

That another-world-ago Al is this world’s forgotten man, except by a relative handful of Golden Age music devotees around the world (primarily in America and Great Britain). His name was ALBERT ALICK BOWLLY (Jan 7, 1899-Apr. 17, 1941), heard here in a recording of a Dorothy Fields/Jerome Kern song from the film JOY OF LIVING:

Did you notice from the above dates that Bowlly had his life taken from him at a relatively young age? This was the tragic result of a WW II German air raid (one of many) on London in the early 1940s. But while he lived, who was this troubadour they called Al?

Away from the bandstand he was a vagabond. He was a jazz mad musical nomad who traveled from his childhood home, South Africa, to London and all stops between in search of musical perfection with whatever band would have him. He plied his trade as a guitarist, a banjo, concertina and ukulele player, a pianist and occasional singer of songs. He took America by storm. The story of his musical meanderings, highs and lows, could only have happened in the thirties. –Roy Hudd, British author, comedian, actor, and expert on the history of music hall entertainment

Listening to Diana Krall in the previous post — as well as CLOSE YOUR EYES vocalist Al Bowlly — we are taken by their way with a song, their Joy of Living the songs they sang…. as further evidenced by this rendition of the Rodgers and Hart classic, BLUE MOON:

Here is one of his few appearances on film:

For those interested in learning more of the story of Bowlly’s nomadic life, there’s an excellent bio called THEY CALLED HIM AL, by Ray Pallett, with Forward by Roy Hudd. As for this go-around, we’ve come to the last dance — it’s time to call it a day. I bid you a reluctant Au Revoir.

 

 

TWO TO GO

As 2019 goes into the history books, we close out the year and our series of 1920s-30s female songwriters with two of the best: BERNICE PETKERE and DOROTHY FIELDS.

PETKERE, the longest lived (1901-2000) but perhaps least remembered of the women in this series, had her greatest success as a composer in the 1930s. This hit (with lyrics by Joe Young) was recorded in early 1932 by a rising star by the name of Bing Crosby:

Petkere, primarily a composer, also wrote the lyrics to a few of her songs, including….

Saving the class of the field for last, we turn to the most prolific lady lyricist of the era (and the first woman to be elected to the Songwriters Hall of Fame), DOROTHY FIELDS, “the only female songwriter of the golden age whose name has not sunk into oblivion with time.” –Deborah Grace Winer, author of ON THE SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET, subtitled THE LIFE AND TIMES OF DOROTHY FIELDS

Named after Dorothy of Wizard of Oz fame, she teamed with composer Jimmy McHugh in 1927 to write many hits over the next eight years, including this all-time standard in 1930:

Fields went on to write many songs with other composers until her death in 1974….but as much as I’d like to post links to more of Fields work, I’m going to resist temptation (you know what they say about too much of a good thing), Take It Easy*, and call it a Fields day

….except to say, Happy New Year!

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*the title, it so happens, of a Fields song I resisted linking to (recorded by Fats Waller)

 

ANN, THEN SOME….MORE FEMALE SONGWRITERS

Continuing with our female songwriters of the 1920s-30s, ANN RONELL is notable not only for her music (she wrote both music and lyrics), but for the oddity of having been both born and died on Christmas day (in 1905 and 1993). Here is my favorite of her songs, which she wrote in 1932 and dedicated to her friend, George Gershwin:

In the same Great Depression year, she kept the wolf from her door by writing lyrics to this song featured in the Walt Disney “Silly Symphonies” cartoon, THE THREE LITTLE PIGS:

Another December baby (Dec. 3 1909), DANA SUESSE composed many songs, including the instrumental Jazz Nocturne, which (with lyrics added by Edward Heyman in 1932) became this standard:

There’s more, but I will save the best one for last (in this series). Hint: the day I publish that post will be a Fields day.

WHAT VEE/TOT BEGOT, BE WHAT WE GOT (AND THEN SOME)

In a comment to my last post (on composer Kay Swift), a certain mister mused that more posts should follow devoted to women songwriters of the 1920s-30s, of whom there were too few. I’ve since found that two of those few got together to form what was the era’s only successful female songwriting partnership: VEE LAWNHURST (composer) and TOT SEYMOUR (lyricist). We shall proceed accordingly forthwith….or forthwith accordingly. Whatever.

Let’s start with their biggest hit, a #1 bestseller for 11 weeks in 1935, AND THEN SOME:

VEE LAWNHURST (1905-92), born in NYC, was a pianist, singer, teacher, and a pioneer in radio broadcasting. She worked with several lyricists before teaming with Tot to write a lot of hits in the mid to late 1930s, including the title song from the 1935 film ACCENT ON YOUTH, played here by the DUKE ELLINGTON Orchestra (Johnny Hodges on alto sax):

TOT SEYMOUR (1889-1966), also born in NYC, was a multi-talented writer, including special material for such stars of the day as Fannie Brice and Mae West, then turning to popular song writing in 1930, working with various composers until teaming with Vee Lawnhurst. Among their many fine songs is this 1937 Billie Holiday classic featuring such jazz greats as Jonah Jones, Ben Webster, Teddy Wilson and Cozy Cole:

Apparently Vee and Tot wrote no Christmas songs, which is just as well because you’ve probably already had more than your fill. So I’ll just close by wishing you a Happy Humbug….and then some.

 

SWIFT, UP AMONG THE CHIMNEY POTS

chimney pot, a pipe of earthenware or metal fitted on top of a chimney to increase the draft and carry off the smoke. –The World Book Dictionary

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Today I’d like to tell you about a classy dame by the name of KAY SWIFT, who was the first woman to write the complete score for an American musical (FINE AND DANDY, in 1930). To be honest, though, that wasn’t what prompted me to write this post — the real trigger was that, although I’ve long been a fan of her music, today I came across a song of hers I hadn’t heard before, and I liked it so much that I’d like to share it with you (along, while I’m at it, with two other Swift favorites).

The song I hadn’t heard before (with the curious title UP AMONG THE CHIMNEY POTS) is sung here by jazz vocalist Louise Carlyle, with the composer at the piano:

SWIFT was born in NYC in 1897. She trained as a classical musician and composer at what is now called the Julliard School, but was a great fan of popular songwriter Irving Berlin and, later, George Gershwin, with whom she became intimately involved (for more, go to this link, then click BIOGRAPHY (upper left below the word SWIFT):

http://www.kayswift.com/

Swift married her first husband, banker James Warburg, in 1918. A banker might be the last person you think of as a writer of lyrics to romantic songs, but’s that’s exactly what he was (under the name Paul James) to the music of his composer wife….until they divorced in 1934 — the same year he resigned as financial advisor to President Franklin Roosevelt.

I turn now to the first-written (1929) of my favorite Kay Swift/Paul James songs:

Let’s close with the title song from the aforementioned 1930 musical FINE AND DANDY:

HOLLYWOOD’S GOLDEN AGE: END OF THE TRAIL

Just as all good things must come to an end, so too must all bad things (even Trump’s evil rule will run out of recourse eventually — e.g., the fat lady’s last aria at the opera seems to go on forever; will it end short of becoming a hoarse opera?). What it all a-mounts to is….

Meanwhile, back at the ranch , we bid happy trails to “bad” actors not named Trump, and end our HOLLYWOOD’S GOLDEN AGE series with a roundup of some of the era’s great song & dance stars, starting with this incomparable pair whose magic outlasted their time:

When it comes to high-energy dancing, no one outshined Gene Kelly. Here he is in THE PIRATE (1948), clowning around with the fabulous Nicholas Brothers:

I do have one regret about this retrospective: so many musical stars, so little time and wherewithal for them all. Perhaps, as time goes by, I will use a favorite star’s birthday as an occasion to do an occasional post.

In closing (speaking of when A STAR IS BORN), if ever someone was born to be one, it’s this star-crossed girl/woman with whom we bring down the curtain on this series: