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

 

WOODY AND ME

I come three days late to note the 78th birthday of my favorite living film director, Allen Stewart Konigsberg, better known as Woody Allen. Woody’s post-ANNIE HALL (1977) movies may not be to everyone’s taste — particularly those who don’t like films with what might be called an existential fixation/almost-obsession with the meaning of life and death. Whatever you call it, it works for me. I haven’t seen all of Woody’s films (especially since 1995), but I’ve seen most of them, and I can’t think of one I disliked….and more than a few I loved.

As it happens, I am a contemporary of Woody’s (born less than a year after his 12/1/35 birth date), but generational nearness means little if there is little else to relate to. Like Woody, Charlie Chaplin (for example) was a brilliant director, actor and master of comedy, but coming from a different generation doesn’t dim his star for me. Unique creative inventiveness is timeless.

So what is it about Woody that makes me feel an affinity? For one thing, there is our mutual passion for 1920s classic jazz (hence his spare-time gig as a jazz clarinetist). For another, there is what the distinguished film critic Richard Schickel called Woody’s “distrust [of] organized religion [and] conventional politics,” among other things. But perhaps most of all is his love for “magic realism,” as captured in such films as MANHATTAN (1979) and MIDNIGHT IN PARIS (2011)….which, not coincidentally, happen to be two of my favorite Woody Allen films. Other favorites, in addition to his pre-ANNIE HALL great comedies which brought him acclaim, include ZELIG (1983), THE PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO (1985) and RADIO DAYS (1987). ANNIE HALL was an Oscar winner, but to me, it’s a notch below MANHATTAN.

Schickel’s book WOODY ALLEN – A LIFE IN FILM speaks to Woody’s falling-out with the latter-day mass American movie audience, which Schickel considers a product “of our crude and witless times. I basically despise the quality of modern American life — its history-free culture, its pietistic politics, the grinding stupidity of our public discourse on every topic. I suspect Woody feels the same but is too smart to say so openly.” Elitist harrumphing? Undoubtedly — if you don’t agree with him. Right on the money, if you do agree. Personally, I’ll TAKE THE MONEY AND RUN (1969)….or better yet, I’ll take the book and run. If you’re a Woody Allen fan, it’s too good to pass up.

Well, all good things must run out eventually, and I can think of no better way to take this opus out than with what Woody’s character in MANHATTAN called “one of the reasons life is worth living” — referring to Louis Armstrong’s 1927 recording of POTATO HEAD BLUES:

www.youtube.com/watch?v=QxN0DZhwvss

Hold on — I just came across this. Can you dig it? It’s Wild, Man:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8MQ89OQUPOE