HIGH FIVE FOR FIVE STARS

Each of the five days since my last post was the birthday of at least one iconic figure in music or film who left lasting memories for those who appreciate legacies in artistry. I could easily go overboard writing in depth about any of these mid-May arrivals, but maybe it’s best to lessen my losses by not overly testing readers’ patience (O me of little faith!):

May 11 — IRVING BERLIN (1888-1989). Perhaps the most prolific composer in American history, with an estimated 1,500 songs to his credit, including the scores for 19 Broadway shows and 18 Hollywood films (three of which were Astaire-Rogers musicals). Writing both words and music (relatively rare for his era), his hits include seasonal evergreens White Christmas and Easter Parade, as well as the red, white and blue God Bless America. His lyrics may lack the wit and sophistication of Cole Porter and Lorenz Hart, but there’s no denying the emotional appeal of such songs as….

May 12 — KATHERINE HEPBURN (1907-2003). In the Golden Era of Hollywood, was there ever a more successful, fiercely independent woman than Katherine Hepburn?  Successful? It’s hard to argue against receiving a record four Academy Awards for Best Actress, and being named the greatest female star of Classic Hollywood Cinema by the American Film Institute. Independent? Her own words say it all:

“I have not lived as a woman. I have lived as a man. I’ve just done what I damn well wanted to, and I’ve made enough money to support myself, and ain’t afraid of being alone.” (Hard as it may be to imagine the Bryn Mawr-educated Hepburn uttering “ain’t,” I ain’t about to correct her quote.)

“We are taught you must …. never blame yourself. It’s never your fault. But it’s always your fault, because if you wanted to change, you’re the one who has got to change.”

“As one goes through life, one learns that if you don’t paddle your own canoe, you don’t move.”

“Life gets harder the smarter you get, the more you know.”

“Politicians remain professional because the voters remain amateur.”

NOTE: For my ode to another May 12 bundle of joy, see my post of May 12, 2015.

May 13 — ARTHUR SULLIVAN (1842-1900). Can’t place the name? How about Arthur Sullivan of GILBERT AND SULLIVAN fame? Who doesn’t enjoy their great comic operas such as THE PIRATES OF PENZANCE, THE MIKADO and H.M.S. PINAFORE — the latter of which I have loved since When I was a Lad:

May 14 — SIDNEY BECHET (1897-1959). This is a name you almost certainly can’t place unless you’re a classic jazz fan….but if you are such a fan, you know him as a major figure in jazz annals since his recording debut in 1923. New Orleans born, he spent the last decade of his life in France, where he died on the same day — May 14 — that he was born. Here he is on soprano sax in a 1950s recording from the soundtrack of Woody Allen’s magical MIDNIGHT IN PARIS:

May 15 — JOSEPH COTTON (1905-1994). I have previously mentioned Joseph Cotton in regard to his co-starring role (with Orson Welles and Alida Valli) in one of my favorite films, THE THIRD MAN. He first met Welles in 1934, beginning a life-long friendship and on-and-off association with Welles in numerous plays, radio dramas and films, as well as co-starring with Katherine Hepburn in the 1939 Broadway play THE PHILADELPHIA STORY. But it is in his role as Holly Martens in THE THIRD MAN that he stands alone (literally so, in the end), and I can think of no more fitting way to end this post than with that indelible closing scene from the film (to the tune of Anton Karas’ Third Man Theme):

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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)

ATTENTION! (Or, as the French say, ATTENTION!)*

*There is a pronounced difference.

 

It is said that youth must be served, but the extent of what this generation knows of music is such that 1920s-1940s popular music/classic jazz, and hence this post, might as well be in a foreign language. However, for those past being served by the myopic world of current culture, listen up! August 15 is one of those days of a convergence which doesn’t come along every day: it’s the birthday of no less than four Golden Age American songwriters, the titles of whose songs afford me a theme-opportunity beyond the happenstance of their birthdays-in-common.

All four (born on this date from 1892 to 1901) were prolific tunesmiths, but what caught my attention is that each wrote one song with a girl’s name in the title which, in two cases, became standards, and in all four cases, were big hits in their day. The writers: Harry Akst, Sidney Clare, Charles Tobias, and Ned Washington; the songs: DINAH, MISS ANNABELLE LEE, ROSE O’DAY and STELLA BY STARLIGHT.

Although none of these men’s fame survived their era, a number of their compositions did (or, as an Irving Berlin song title put it, The Song Is Ended, But The Melody Lingers On). One such ditty is DINAH, by Harry Akst,  a favorite of jazz musicians which has been recorded countless times since the 1920s. I like so many versions of this song that I couldn’t further narrow down this list if you Akst me to:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BhVdLd43bDI
(Louis Armstrong)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7P0XQuOd5HI
(New Orleans Jazz Vipers)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UlPLXNsz4GA
(Bing Crosby/Mills Bros.)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TdkvJQuj2co
(Fats Waller)

The next tune, by Sidney Clare, is a particular favorite of mine.Written in 1927, it was recorded by numerous jazz and dance bands and became a toe-tapping best seller in America and Europe. What’s not to like about her? She’s wonderful, she’s marvelous….MISS ANNABELLE LEE:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QqavTUwm7sM
(George Fisher Kit Cat Band)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pj-nTjL_aTY
(Savoy Havana Band)

Next we have Charles Tobias’s ROSE O’DAY, the most lightweight of the four — due, not to diet, but to being a silly novelty song which nevertheless was one of 1941’s top hits:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nkH-hmRFA_Y
(Dick Todd)

Last but not lightweight, there’s STELLA BY STARLIGHT, composed by Victor Young as the theme for the 1944 film “The Uninvited,” with lyrics added by Ned Washington in 1946. This beautiful standard has been recorded by dozens of artists, including the following:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rwSaY1oSCw4
(Billy Eckstein)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8UZ0xqdP2rw
(Anita O’Day)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P94vB3mLRzc
(Frank Sinatra)

That’s all. AS YOU WERE (if you’ve ever been in the military, you know what that means).