I love Pat Suzuki, and not just because of her singing. It's her brimming-over-with-happiness sound, and her willingness to share it, that really wins me over. Pat didn't have it easy as a child. Because of anti-Japanese sentiment during WWII, she and her family - along with other Japanese-Americans - were rounded up by police, forced to give up their money and possessions, and confined for the duration of the war at the Granada War Center in Colorado, a grim interment camp with machine gun towers and barbed wire fencing.
Yet somehow Pat persevered. Actually, she did more than that. She hit the road singing right after college and booked a gig singing at The Colony, a Seattle nightclub. As TIME magazine reported, "What the audience saw was a little (4 ft. 11 in.) button-nosed Nisei girl with a ponytail which hung below her shoulders. What they heard when she began to sing was a booming, brassy voice that all but rattled the ice in the highballs." From there, she broke out big-time by originating the lead role in Rogers' and Hammerstein's musical "Flower Drum Song." She's been cutting LPs and appearing on stage ever since.
1958's "The Many Sides Of Pat Suzuki" - a Super Cheerful Exclusive! - was Pat's first LP, recorded shortly after she was discovered at the Colony by Bing Crosby, and before she was scooped up for countless TV variety shows and Broadway. It's not hard to imagine what all the excitement was about. Just her range alone is breathtaking; her first number is a brash, take-no-prisoners version of "From This Moment On," while her take on "Lazy Afternoon" is alternately intimate and vividly expressive. This won't surprise those already familiar with her. But if you're not, you're in for quite a treat.
I'm still in a Broadway state of mind - but with a dash of jazz, I think. Is that too much to ask (don't say "yes")? It's not too much to ask if you're The Mastersounds, a 1950's jazz foursome - or "bop group," as they were known - who cut ten record in just four years before disbanding.
One of their best was their 1957 jazz interpretation of "The King And I" - a Jazzy Cheerful Exclusive! - and I know, that sounds questionable, but in these musicians hands, their renditions are like a dreamlike tour through each of the musical's songs. Some of you may be reminded of "The Modern Jazz Quartet," especially with the group's use of electric xylophone, or vibraphone, but "The Mastersounds" use it in their own illusory fashion. I wasn't sure if I was enjoying this LP at first, but as it continued, I realized I was in a near trance-like state. And I loved it.
If "The King and I" is trance-like, then "The Verve Jazz Sides" by Wes Montgomery is its ka-bam! polar opposite. Wes played briefly with The Mastersounds in 1958, and then he was off, embarking on a remarkable career - as one of the most important and celebrated guitarists in jazz history - which was sadly cut short by his untimely death at the height of his fame in 1968 from a heart attack.
I think the best quote I've ever heard about Wes' work is that it's "unbearably exciting." You'll get more than a taste of that kind of excitement in the wonderful 2-CD "Verve Jazz Sides," a collection of cuts he made when he was with Verve from 1964 to 1966. Pat Metheny said it's "the absolute best guitar jazz album ever made." Both CDs are terrific, but for me, the second one is almost deliriously enjoyable.
With the passing of Patty Andrews this month, the last of the Andrews Sisters is finally gone - but they weren't the only popular girl group back in the day. Pre-dating the Andrews Sisters by a decade were Bobbe, Kathlyn and Lorayne, the Brox Sisters. And there they are below, wearing nothing but their scanties in a very roomy bed:
The Brox sisters had the good fortune to arrive just as the 1920's Flapper Girl era was in full bloom. They first made a name for themselves in Broadway shows of the day, like the Marx Brothers "Coconuts," and of course, in "The Ziegfield Follies," charming audiences with their sexy, but craftily gauche, stage presence and mellow vocal harmonizing.
It wasn't long before Hollywood called. They appeared in "The Hollywood Revue of 1929" performing "Singin' In The Rain," amongst many other movies, though my favorite has them slyly satirizing Marlene Dietrich in 1932's "Hollywood on Parade" by crooning her signature tune "Falling In Love Again."
"The Brox Sisters, 1922-1932" - a Cheerful Girl Group Exclusive! - is a lovely sampler of their more popular tunes. And, yes, there were many Brox detractors; some critics thought the sisters simply weren't as skilled as The Boswells, for example. And yet I find their lack of polish their most endearing trait. Think of them as three affable gals from your neighborhood who just happened to wander onto a Broadway stage. You can identify with their occasionally klutzy three-part trills, and celebrate when they really nail those high notes. They're "Every Girl" (and they made good), a major component, I think, of their success.
Who is that stunner with the thousand-watt smile on the cover of "Jet?" Why, it's Sheila, of course!
Sheila! Sheila! Sheila! There was only one. Sheila became a star in so-called "race" films of the 1940s, or low-budget indie films with all-black casts like "Sepia Cinderella." And Sheila really stood out. She could sing, she could act, and she was just as sultry as Dorothy Dandridge (if not more). Who knows what her screen future might have been like if she'd been able to break through into Hollywood (Dandridge was an anomaly)?
Yet her most lasting legacy are her records, and make no mistake, Sheila had serious pipes. You can hear her in all her glory in 1958's "This Is Sheila," which prompted Miles Davis to wonder why she wasn't yet considered a "legend" on the order of Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald. It's a good question, and we'll probably never have a satisfying answer, though I'm guessing it may have had something to do with the broadly-appealing "showstopping" material she chose to perform. She wasn't a "jazz baby," per se, or at least not exclusively, and if she had been, that might have burnished her reputation with taste makers of the day. Mostly, she seemed driven to deliver big razzle-dazzle pows, and on that score, at least, she truly succeeded.
Just two decades later, aspiring movie starlets had to do more than just sing, dance and act in order to capture the publics attention. They had to pose for "Playboy:"
Okay, so they didn't "have to," but it sure didn't hurt in Joan Stayley's case. Yes, she was a noted violinist and a skilled singer - in other words, she had talent - but Hollywood only took serious notice once her "Playboy" spread hit the stands. I know. Shocking.
She didn't have a long career, but still, how many can say they've starred opposite Don Knotts in "The Ghost And Mr. Chicken," a loopy slapstick-mystery with an even loopier score by Vic Mizzy? Vic had a wide-ranging career penning hit songs for the Andrew Sisters, then wrote the theme songs for "Green Acres," "The Addams Family," and soundtracks for many more TV shows and movies. "The Ghost And Mr. Chicken" - a Wink-Wink Cheerful Exclusive! - is Vic at his bouncy best. I'll admit it, listening to it makes me grin like a fool; it's like an instant serotonin boost!
The Secret Song File is always willing to give a friend a lift in her chauffeur-driven town car. I mean, what are friends for? But, yo, don't even think of stealing her man...or she'll go crazy. Because let's be blunt, she's crazy for her man's "p" (the "p," of course, is the first letter for that word) (rhymes with "Venus!") (or the zoo is full of arthropod "genus!") (or OMFG, you should have "seen us!").
Personally, I'd rather a town car then a limo, but that's me.
Let 'er rip in the comments if you like!