BOOKS RIGHT DOWN MY ALLEY

The Public Library near where I live held a one-day used book sale recently. I got there shortly after it opened in the morning, hoping to find a book or two of interest. A few minutes later, I learned that a man had donated (for this sale) his collection of 500 old books on one of my favorite subjects: the movies, including biographies of directors and actors, movie history, Hollywood, the stories behind some of the great films,  etc. I ended up selecting almost 50 of those books, filling two large boxes at a cost of $10 a box. It’s been a long time since fortune favored me with so bounteous a cache for so little cash.

So now, on top of already owning a not-inconsequential number of unexplored tomes, I find myself even more bogged down with unread books I need to find time to read…..or, at minimum, get to a place where I can see daylight at the end of the bog. Therefore, I’m going to skip a post or two in my usual post-every-five-days schedule.

In the words of Gen. Douglas MacArthur, “I shall return” — sometime in December, presupposing I won’t still be SWAMPED/haven’t gone blind. See ya later, alley-gators….

At least, that’s the time-frame in my crystal ball, but in my Lorenz Hart of hearts, who knows….

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

 

ECHOES FROM THE (V)ALLEY

tin_pan_alley_plaque

In my last post (NOTES FROM THE ALLEY), I touched on TIN PAN ALLEY’s origins and location, but failed to mention where the name came from. For that, I quote from another book, FROM SAGINAW VALLEY TO TIN PAN ALLEY by R. Grant Smith:

On a summer day in New York City, just before 1900, songwriter and journalist Monroe Rosenfeld walked down West 28th Street, on the way to his publisher, to demonstrate a new song he had written. As he passed the rows of music publishing houses, clustered together and piled on top of each other, he heard the sounds of hundreds of pianos, playing hundreds of pieces of music, pouring out of the open windows. The tumultuous noise reminded him of tin pans clanging together.
Later that day, when Rosenfeld returned to his typewriter at the New York Herald, he wrote an article about what he had just experienced, referring to the area he had visited as “Tin Pan Alley.” This name would remain synonymous with the popular music publishing industry in America for the next sixty years.

Think of THE GOLDEN AGE OF POPULAR MUSIC (which includes the storied Roaring Twenties) as TIN PAN ALLEY writ large, a coast-to-coast cacophony of sounds impossible to paint a complete picture of in these few sketches — but my hope is to convey at least a feel for the era….principally with clips of songs written and performed by composers and artists like those featured in the previous post. Picking up where we left off in 1921, I’ll resist the urge to test your forbearance with a 1922 triumph of treacle titled GRANNY, YOU’RE MY MAMMY’S MAMMY (I kid you not), and go instead with 1922 and 1923 hits about guys named Harry and Barney:

Skipping past such 1924/25 doozies as DOODLE DOO DOO and DOO WACKA DOO, we come to 1926, a banner year for songs that became all-time standards, including one that a very young Bing Crosby and the Mills Brothers blew out of the water — “The name of this song is DINAH”:

Now we’re on a roll — here’s another 1926 standard, played by it’s Hart-less composer:

But what’s a Richard Rodgers composition minus Lorenz Hart lyrics? It’s like romance expressed without a word, as proposed in another of their 1926 songs (1:40 into this clip):

Hart died (tragically young) in the month of November, but many great Golden Age songwriters were born in this month, including Harry Woods, who began writing hits (like “I’m Looking Over A Four-Leaf Clover”) in the early 1920s….however, I’m going to jump ahead here with one of his lesser known songs from the 1930s — repeat, the 1930s:

(TO BE CONTINUED at least ONE MORE TIME)

NOTES FROM THE ALLEY

Now that the madness of America’s interminable election season is over, it’s time to get back to the saner things in life. It has been a while since I devoted an entire post to a subject which is right down my (Tin Pan) Alley, namely the Golden Age of Popular Music (between WWI and WWII). I assume that, unlike me, few (if any) of you were alive during that era….but, since I feel reasonably certain you wouldn’t miss that opportunity again if you had the chance, I forgive you for such a lamentable shortcoming.

Speaking of lament-able, I’ll start with a song written toward the end of the era by a 15 year old wunderkind, Mel Tormé, who went on to decades-long fame as a jazz vocalist:

For those who are unfamiliar with the term TIN PAN ALLEY, I quote excerpts from a 1975 book of that title by researcher Ian Whitcomb about the beginnings of pop music:
The name “Tin Pan Alley” applied to the railroad flats around 28th and Broadway in NYC where the music publishing houses were clustered. Around the 1890’s a canny bunch of businessmen, keenly aware of the new mass-market created by the Industrial Revolution, decided to manufacture songs. They fed theaters and parlors, cafes and dance halls with their wares. By 1910 The Alleymen had pushed hundreds of songs into million-selling sheets. These tall piano copies, fronted with colored art-work and spotted with ads for other songs, were the sole pop moneymakers until records, radio and talking pictures became the chief pop vehicles.

This brings us to the period immediately following the end of WWI on Nov. 11, 1918, and to one of the biggest hits of the next year, when our doughboys were returning home by the hundreds of thousands from the battle fronts of Europe and the pleasure fronts of Paris. With un peu d’imagination, perhaps you can appreciate the question….

Two years later (1921), song writers were still asking questions, including this one posed by its composer Richard Whiting (whose birthday was three days ago, Nov. 12, 1891), sung here by his daughter and Bob Hope:

Of course, the above words and recordings have barely scratched the surface of  the sounds you would have savored had you been around in those days (and make no mistake, that music would have seduced you as much then as today’s music seduces you now). And so on that note….

(TO BE CONTINUED)

 

 

 

SAY WHAT AGAIN?

The use of wordplay in the titles of my last two posts (ROMANCE WASN’T BUILT IN A DAY and ALL’S FARE IN LOVE AND FOUR) doesn’t cancel the reservations I expressed in my 6/1/15 post (SAY WHAT?); i.e., it’s chancy to ‘pun’ old sayings because most people today don’t know them….and if they don’t know the sayings, they won’t get the wordplay.

Now, granted that some party-poopers may have known the actual sayings (ROME WASN’T BUILT IN A DAY and ALL’S FAIR IN LOVE AND WAR) behind those titles, but pooh-poohed the wordplay as hardly worth the strain my brain went through to get the end result. Be that as it may, my purpose here is to be ‘test assured’ that my readers are more familiar with once-familiar old sayings than “most people” in the first place — so, if you’re game, here’s a list of 4 old sayings, 4 song titles, and 4 made-up idioms. If you can pick — out of the dozen — 3 of the 4 old sayings, consider yourself a genius. If you get all four right, I will consider you a genius.

1.  FAINT HEART NE’ER WON FAIR LADY

2.  A PRETTY GIRL IS LIKE A MELODY

3.  DISCRETION IS THE BETTER PART OF VALOR

4.  ANY PLACE I HANG MY HAT IS HOME

5.  GOOD FECES MAKE GOOD NEIGHBORS

6.  FISH AND VISITORS STINK AFTER THREE DAYS

7.  ANY TIME’S THE TIME TO FALL IN LOVE

8.  DON’T CHANGE CORPSES IN THE MIDDLE OF THE STREAM

9.  DON’T THROW COLD WATER ON THE FLAME OF LOVE

10. GO TO BED WITH THE CHICKENS, WAKE UP WITH THE ROOSTERS

11. WHILE THE CAT’S AWAY, THE MICE WILL PRAY*

12. GENIUS IS ONE PERCENT INSPIRATION AND 99 PERCENT PERSPIRATION

*Apparently they’re church mice.

So, how do you think you did? If you can’t stand the suspense, hold on to your pants, because I will keep you in suspenders no longer — the old sayings are #1, #3, #6 and #12. Speaking of #12, if you weren’t right at least 3 times of 4, obviously you don’t perspire enough to be a genius.

As for the other two categories, I made up #5 (“feces” for “fences”), #8 (“corpses” replaces “horses”), #10 and #11 (“pray” is a play on “play”), and the song titles are #2, #4, #7 and #9. What’s that you say — #9 sounds like something I made up, not a song? Well, I hate to throw cold water on your hot tamales, but the proof is in the pudding:

In  closing, take pride, ye geniuses who passed the test and could dig the rest; let the record show, The wordplay’s the thing.

 

 

 

IT’S ABOUT TIME

Half our life is spent trying to find something to do with the time we have rushed through life trying to save. –Will Rogers

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

Daylight Saving Time arrives on March 13, when, under penalty of painful death or being forced to watch GOP debate videos every day for the rest of your life (you may find death preferable), by law you must arise at 2 a.m. to set clocks ahead one hour….or, if you don’t wish to get up at 2 a.m., you can simply stay up, which many all-night carousers among my readers do anyway (not naming names, of course, but you know who you are).

As a retiree, I have neither caroused nor set an alarm clock for years, so this presents a problem. On the one hand — which, by the way, many timepieces no longer have, much less two hands (they now have digitalis or some such new-fangled technology) — I may just ignore Big Bro and risk the consequences. On the other hand, I could drink a gallon of coffee, stay up, and when the time comes, set my clocks ahead –or is it back — one hour?

Last year, my wife reminded me of an easy way to remember which is which: in spring, spring forward; in fall, fall back….to which I said, “Fine — if it’s so easy, you get up and do it.” Unfortunately, my wife has no sense of humor and cleaned my clock. By the time I came to, it was too past two, so I thought to hell with it, and fell back to sleep. Who needs Daylight Saving Time anyway? If there must be a Saving Time, there ought to be a

To my fellow earth-and-time-sharing fellow Americans, Mexicans, Franciscans, Anglicans, Wiccans, pelicans, toucans of Cannes who can cancan as too few can….and even Republicans: as you know, these are mean times we’re in. It’s enough to drive you cuckoo. I say it’s time to tune out, take a break, and enjoy some timeless old time songs:

A note on There’ll Come A Time, played by Frank Trumbauer’s Orchestra featuring the great and legendary 1920s cornetist Bix Beiderbecke: Bix was born on this day, March 10, 1903 (less than two years after his friend, Louis Armstrong), and died tragically young of alcoholism/pneumonia at age 28. Actually, Bix Beiderbecke never died….he just ran out of time. His sound was so transcendent, remembered guitarist Eddie Condon, it hit you where you lived, “like a girl saying yes.”

I see by ye olde clock on yawnder wall that it’s past midnight. Time to Hit the Road to Dreamland* — but that’s another song for another day.

*by Harold Arlen & Johnny Mercer, 1942