ALLEY BABBLE AND THE FORTY THEMES

As we have noted, out of the cacophony and babble of pre-WWI Tin Pan Alley came the Roaring Twenties and the Jazz Age (not to mention Prohibition, 1920-33). If any one song could be said to capture the pulse (and become the anthem) of this dynamic cultural shift, it has to be George Gershwin’s RHAPSODY IN BLUE, written in 1924 and heard (in part) here at the outset of Woody Allen’s paean of a movie to a place called MANHATTAN:

RHAPSODY IN BLUE was commissioned by band leader Paul Whiteman and introduced to the world by his orchestra (with Gershwin himself at the piano) at NYC’s Aeolian Hall on Feb. 12, 1924. It subsequently served as Whiteman’s theme song — theme songs being a virtual prerequisite for big bands and dance bands of the 1930s. One ‘whiff’ of a familiar opening theme song immediately identified a band to radio listeners, and set the stage for a band’s performances at ballrooms, dance halls and other venues wherever they played.

There were literally hundreds of bands big and small, sweet and swing, hot and not, in the decade leading up to WW II. Of these, I’ll list 40 whose theme songs were (in my opinion) well chosen or well known, followed by your match-the-band-with-the-theme-song quiz (just kidding; that would be like s’posin’* I could match today’s artists with their hit songs — forgeddabouddit!). So just rest easy and enjoy the clips of a few selections from the list.

Louis Armstrong — WHEN IT’S SLEEPY TIME DOWN SOUTH
Gus Arnheim — SWEET AND LOVELY
Count Basie — ONE O’CLOCK JUMP
Bunny Berrigan — I CAN’T GET STARTED
Lou Breese — BREEZIN’ ALONG WITH THE BREEZE
Willie Bryant — IT’S OVER BECAUSE WE’RE THROUGH
Billy Butterfield — WHAT’S NEW?
Cab Calloway — MINNIE THE MOOCHER
Benny Carter — MELANCHOLY LULLABY
Tommy Dorsey — I’M GETTING SENTIMENTAL OVER YOU
Sonny Dunham — MEMORIES OF YOU

Duke Ellington — TAKE THE ‘A’ TRAIN
Skinnay Ennis — GOT A DATE WITH AN ANGEL
Ted Fio Rito — RIO RITA
Benny Goodman — LET’S DANCE
Glen Gray — SMOKE RINGS
Johnny Green — HELLO, MY LOVER, GOODBYE
Bobby Hackett — EMBRACEABLE YOU

George Hall — LOVE LETTERS IN THE SAND
Lionel Hampton — FLYIN’ HOME
Coleman Hawkins — BODY AND SOUL
Ina Ray Hutton — GOTTA HAVE YOUR LOVE
Jack Hylton — SHE SHALL HAVE MUSIC
Harry James — CIRIBIRIBIN
Art Jarrett — EVERYTHING’S BEEN DONE BEFORE
Isham Jones — YOU’RE JUST A DREAM COME TRUE
Dick Jurgens — DAY DREAMS COME TRUE AT NIGHT
Ted Lewis — WHEN MY BABY SMILES AT ME
Little Jack Little — LITTLE BY LITTLE
Guy Lombardo — AULD LANG SYNE
Wingy Manone — ISLE OF CAPRI
Johnny Messner — CAN’T WE BE FRIENDS
Eddie Miller — LAZY MOOD (sung here by Johnny Mercer with Eddie Miller’s band)

Glenn Miller — MOONLIGHT SERENADE
Lucky Millender — RIDE, RED, RIDE
Vaughn Monroe — RACING WITH THE MOON
Leo Reisman — WHAT IS THIS THING CALLED LOVE?
Buddy Rogers — MY BUDDY
Jack Teagarden — I GOTTA RIGHT TO SING THE BLUES
Fred Waring — SLEEP

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

* S’POSIN’ was a 1929 hit song; it is, of course, a ‘traction (contraction) of SUPPOSING

 

TITLES FOR BARE NAKED POEMS

Words should be only the clothes, carefully custom-made to fit the thought. –Jules Renard

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

With the above in mind, I have tailored the following titles to fit a dozen poems fashioned to stir your imagination. WARNING: These poems may drive you stir crazy; do not take too literally.

WHITE OUT

I THOUGHT ABOUT EWE*

SILENCE OF THE LAMBS

EASY WRITER

THIS IS A PIECE OF CAKE

THE ICING ON THE CAKE

POETIC SUBSTANCE ABUSE

BLACK AND….

SNOW JOB IN SIBERIA

DRAWING A BLANK

SHAKESPEARE’S WORK BY BACON

LOVE’S LABOR#

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

#The way to love anything is to realize that it might be lost.
–G. K. Chesterton

*In coming up with this title, I thought about this Johnny Mercer song:

 

 

TELLTALE TITLES

How much time and thought do you devote to coming up with just-the-right title for your story, poem or article? If you take writing seriously, the answer is probably: as long as it takes to nail it — which could be almost no time at all, if it comes to you in a flash — or, more time than a less intense writer is willing to allot.

Ernest Hemingway, for one, evidently wasn’t the latter type. Case in point: in writing his definitive Spanish Civil War novel, he didn’t settle for less than a killer title that would encapsulate ‘the moral of the story,’ eventually finding it in this passage from a 1624 work by the poet John Donne: “Any man’s death diminishes me because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”

As a writer of (mostly) humorous poems and posts, I’m inclined to go for witty and/or wordplay titles. Many times, the title to a particular piece all but suggests itself, but more often, no such luck, and I’m stuck — until eventually (as with the title of this post) a eureka moment rewards my resolve….or a poem resists my labeling efforts, and I just settle for:

UNTITLED

This poem’s title is Untitled —
Not because it is untitled,
But because I am entitled
To entitle it Untitled.

If I’d not titled it Untitled,
It would truly be untitled….
Which would make it unentitled
To the title of Untitled.

So it is vital, if untitled,
Not to title it Untitled,
And to leave that title idled,
As a title is entitled.

Moving on, suppose we try a title quiz based on the Papa Hemingway model (sorry, those of you who’d prefer the mistermuse model). Here are five passages from classic original works from which later authors lifted titles for their novels. Can you name the five later works and pin each tale on its author (ten answers total)? If you name all ten correctly, you win the title (with apologies to Cervantes) of Donkeyote Of All You Survey.

PASSAGES FROM ORIGINAL WORKS:

Gentlemen-rankers out on the spree/Damned from here to Eternity/God ha’ mercy on such as we/Ba! Yah! Bah! –Rudyard Kipling

The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men/Gang aft a-gley/An’ lea’e us naught but grief an’ pain/For promised joy! –Robert Burns

By the pricking of my thumbs,/Something wicked this way comes. –Wm. Shakespeare

Come my tan-faced children/Follow well in order, get your weapons ready/Have you your pistols? Have you your sharp-edged axes?/Pioneers! O pioneers! –Walt Whitman

No Place so Sacred from such Fops is barr’d,/Nor is Paul’s Church more safe than Paul’s Churchyard./Nay, fly to altars; there they’ll talk you dead/For Fools rush in where Angels fear to tread. –Alexander Pope

TITLES (WITH AUTHORS) FROM  ABOVE PREVIOUS WORKS:

FROM HERE TO ETERNITY –James Jones
OF MICE AND MEN –John Steinbeck
SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES –Ray Bradbury
O PIONEERS! –Willa Cather
WHERE ANGELS FEAR TO TREAD –E.M. Forster

How many of the ten titles/authors did you get? That last title, parenthetically, became part of Johnny Mercer’s lyrics to this 1940 hit song composed by Rube Bloom:

And now I fear I must tread on out….before something wicked this way comes.

 

A DISTANT RAINBOW

Once upon a time, in a sepia-toned place called Kansas (before landing in the colorful and Merry Old Land of Oz), a girl by the name of Dorothy sang a song called OVER THE RAINBOW. We all (many of us, at any rate) know who sang that song in the film, but the man who composed it is now long past recognition by almost all. He was born on this day (Feb. 15, 1905), and his name was Harold Arlen. This post is simply an appreciation of the man and his music, each of which encompasses much more than one man and one song….for, in those days, popular songs generally did not live by melody alone and were not born of one person alone. Composers/songs needed lyricists/words.

Arlen himself (according to biographer Edward Jablonski) acknowledged that words – even the title – were just as important as the melody, often saying that “A good lyric writer is the composer’s best friend.” The lyricists who collaborated with Arlen were among the best in the business: Ira Gershwin, Ted Koehler, Johnny Mercer, E.Y.”Yip” Harburg….and the songs they wrote were among the best in popular music history (many of them done for movies and Broadway shows). Here are some of them:

1930 – GET HAPPY
1931 – BETWEEN THE DEVIL AND THE DEEP BLUE SEA
1932 – I’VE GOT THE WORLD ON A STRING
1933 – IT’S ONLY A PAPER MOON; LET’S FALL IN LOVE; STORMY WEATHER
1934 – ILL WIND
1935 – LAST NIGHT WHEN WE WERE YOUNG
1939 – OVER THE RAINBOW; WE’RE OFF TO SEE THE WIZARD; DING-DONG THE WITCH IS DEAD
1941 – BLUES IN THE NIGHT
1942 – THAT OLD BLACK MAGIC
1944 – AC-CENT-CHU-ATE THE POSITIVE

But even those who remember Harold Arlen the composer probably do not know that he was also a fine singer who made a number of recordings, such as this one in 1933:

Harold Arlen died April 23, 1986, but his music should never die.

THINGS I LEARNED IN SEARCH OF SOMETHING ELSE

Sometimes, what one comes across in search of something else is as educational as what one was seeking in the first place. For examples:

“Fools rush in where wise men fear to tread” isn’t from the Bible, but from Alexander Pope’s An essay on Criticism (1711). What I did know was that Johnny Mercer and Rube Bloom set that quote to music in 1940:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=td1L3G6a2S4

New York’s famous Waldorf-Astoria was originally two separate hotels, the Waldorf built in 1893 and the Astoria in 1897, both on land which is now the site of the even more famous Empire State Building. The two hotels were connected after construction of the Astoria, and moved to Park Avenue in 1931 (the year the Empire State Building was completed).

My vocabulary isn’t as large as I thought or may need for possible future use. Who knows where or when one of these arcane Scrabble-whiz delights might come in handy:
Bumfuzzled (confused, perplexed, flustered)
Collywobbles (bellyache)
Snickersnee (a large, long knife)
Taradiddle (pretentious nonsense)
Widdershins (counterclockwise)

Apropos quaint words, I was but faint-aware, until I happened upon the following “concert” appearance schedule, that it must be unlawful for a contemporary band to have anything but a non-conformist name (such is the time capsule a lover of classic jazz is in):
Mushroomhead
UnSaid Fate
Escape the Silence
Can’t Breathe
Shut Up & Drive
Social Hermit
The Henhouse Prowlers
Bad Religion

Oh, for the good old “Jazz Age” days of yore when bands had respectable names such as Busse’s Buzzards, The Clicquot Club Eskimos, Golden Pheasant Hoodlums, and Whoopee Makers.

If I were smart, I think I’d start a band called

THE END

IT’S SPRING AGAIN

It’s spring again / And birds on the wing again / Start to sing again / The old melody.   from I LOVE YOU (lyrics and music by Cole Porter)

Yes, fellow (and gal) music lovers, it’s spring again — the season which usually comes unusually late or early every year and seems to inspire the romantic poet in every song writer….or at least it did when the world was more melodic, and composers were Cole Porters at heart. It has been said of Porter that “even in the absence of his melodies, his words distill an unmistakable mixture of poignancy and wit that marks him as a genius of light verse.”*

I think the same can be said, though not always to the same degree of genius, of many song writers from America’s Golden Age of popular music. No matter their individual personalities, their songs — not least, their “spring songs” — betray them as “rank sentimentalists” beneath the surface (in the manner of Captain Renault seeing through Rick in CASABLANCA).

To the point, here’s a sampling of such songs (and their lyricists) from that lost world, followed by clips of recordings sung by voices which may sound strange to generational “foreign-ears,” but as Jimmy Stewart once said of his singing Porter’s EASY TO LOVE in the film BORN TO DANCE, the song’s so good, even he couldn’t mess it up:

SPRING IS HERE (Lorenz Hart) www.youtube.com/watch?v=LFiNQObPxEk

THERE’LL BE ANOTHER SPRING (Peggy Lee) www.youtube.com/watch?v=h1utcGFiXu8

SPRING WILL BE A LITTLE LATE THIS YEAR (Frank Loesser) www.youtube.com/watch?v=QbwRgQ-I_ms

IT SEEMS TO BE SPRING (George Marion Jr.) www.youtube.com/watch?v=Svi45srqhgM

IT MIGHT AS WELL BE SPRING (Oscar Hammerstein II) www.youtube.com/watch?v=n-JLbac6EVE

SPRING, SPRING, SPRING (Johnny Mercer) www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZT6RHkYViOc

*quoted from the dust jacket of Cole Porter, selected lyrics, Robert Kimball, editor

THE AUTOBIOGRAPHIES OF HOAGY CARMICHAEL (Book Review)

On this, the 114th birthday of Hoagy Carmichael (11/22/1899 – 12/26/1981), I daresay you could mention his name to 100 random people under age 60, and 99 (maybe all 100) would say, “Hoagy who?”  But why waste time lamenting the fate awaiting almost all “celebrities” sooner or later? Fame is indeed fleeting — perhaps now more than ever — and relative few are the songwriters, actors and singers (for Hoagy was all three) who will be remembered on their triple-digit birthdays by succeeding generations. So it is with Bloomington, Indiana’s Hoagy — but his star shines on, nonetheless, for those who appreciate the timelessness of creative magic.

For this occasion, I have pulled from my bookshelves a 1999 Hoagy double-autobiography which is a republication of The Stardust Road (1946) and Sometimes I Wonder (1965), with a new introduction by John Edward Hasse. I’d read this volume a few years ago, and it’s as good a way as any to re-visit Hoagland Howard Carmichael, a man whose music and film roles I’d known since my youth in the 1940s. As Hasse puts it in his introduction:

Hoagy Carmichael was a true American original. First of all, there was his name…. Then there was that singing voice–the flat, Hoosier cadences–and that laconic public persona, impossible to mistake for anyone else’s. And there was his unusual career path–from law student, lawyer, and Wall Street employee to hit songwriter and celebrity via records, motion pictures, radio and television.
But most original of all were the songs Carmichael wrote, songs that typically sound like nobody else’s.

I love the way Hoagy begins The Stardust Road:
The phone rang and I picked it up. It was Wad Allen. “Bix died,” he said
 (referring to Hoagy’s close friend and legendary early jazz trumpeter, Bix Beiderbecke).
Wad laughed a funny laugh. “I wonder if it will hurt old Gabriel’s feelings to play second trumpet?” Wad asked.
I could hear Wad’s breathing, then suddenly, but gradually getting clearer, I heard something else.
“I can hear him,” I said. “I can hear him fine from here.”
Over and around the sound I heard Wad’s voice.
“Sure,” he said shakily. “So can I.”
“I guess he didn’t die, then.”
And so it went back and forth, until Hoagy said, “Call me up again,” I told him, “when somebody else doesn’t die.”
But Wad had hung up. I tilted back in the chair before my desk and felt tears behind my eyes.  

These are the kind of personal reminiscences you can only get from those who experienced them. If you’re a true lover of classic jazz and the Golden Age of popular music, you will find Hoagy’s autobiographies irresistible. THE STARDUST ROAD/SOMETIMES I WONDER combo is available on Amazon.com, AbeBook.com and elsewhere.

And speaking of combos, let’s close with two versions of Hoagy’s immortal Star Dust, the first by Louis Armstrong, whose incomparable 1931 rendition still sets the standard after all these years, and the second, by Hoagy himself:

www.youtube.com/watch?v=r94-7nJt-WM

www.youtube.com/watch?v=j2fbOAyNOpM