Jun 23, 2013

Cole Times Two, June's Ballads, Marion's Best, Herrmann & Friends, Plus An "Eg Likar Norsk" Secret Song!

Have you ever seen "Night & Day," the 1946 biopic with Cary Grant about the life of Cole Porter? You know, the one that has him happily hetero-married? It's hilarious to watch now - kind of like reading certain old newspaper articles. Times, they are a changin', as they say, though we'll see by how much in the coming days.

As Stephen Sondheim has noted, Lorenz Hart and Cole Porter "are the two acknowledged gay lyricists in the American pantheon, but Hart's style conceals his homosexuality; Porter's parades it." So let's start the parade, ya'll! Let's enjoy Cole Porter - as interpreted by two very different jazz performers. First up, Cheryl Bentyne.

You may know her from her years with "The Manhattan Transfer," and since the early 1990's, she's carved out a very nice solo career. Her best effort, I think, is 2009's "The Cole Porter Songbook," where she brings unexpected warmth to Porter's lyrics, particularly on "Begin the Beguine" and "Ev-ry Time We Say Goodbye." She's like buttuh, I promise.

At the other end of the spectrum - bam! pow! pizazz! - we have the one and only Anita O'Day.

The "Jezebel Of Jazz" (so called after she was arrested for pot possession in 1946 and sent to prison for four months) was, of course, a jazzcat vocal stylist. So while she's emotionally connected to Porter's words, she's arguably more interested in how she can make them sound, especially in relation to the other instruments in her band. The result is a dazzling display of vocal pyrotechnics and chic sophistication. In other words, Porter and O'Day are wonderfully well-matched.

Let's move along to June Christy's "Ballad Collection," a 2000 CD brought home by my Cuban Luvuh - and yes, it's a Cheerful Exclusive! Poor June. Early in her career, she told a reporter that she didn't think she sang very well. Naturally, the critics picked up on this and deemed her singing "lightweight" and "inferior" for most of her career. Even worse, because her first LP was titled "Something Cool," the adjective "cold" was added to their arsenal.

This didn't help her self-esteem (obviously), and she battled alcoholism during much of her latter life. Interestingly, she first caught people's attention when she stepped in for the departing Anita O'Day with Stan Kenton's Orchestra (which is also when she changed her name from Shirley Luster to the stage name June Christy).

When you listen to this CD, you'll be shocked, first, that anyone in their right mind could find her singing "cold," for she's the warmest of jazz singers, and to call her "inferior"...well, don't get me started. I suppose its justice, of some sort, that she's now regarded as a masterful jazz performer twenty years after her death. The music she's left is luscious.

Quick, who first popularized the songs "After You've Gone," "Who's Sorry Now" and "Tea For Two?"

Wrong! It was Marion Harris, the first white singer to perform jazz and blues and the most popular singer in the 1910's and 20's (by far). Discovered by Fred Astaire's dance mentor Vernon Castle, she debuted in 1915 on the Broadway stage for Irving Berlin, created a sensation in Ziegfeld's Follies - "Who is that white girl singing 'colored music?" many critics breathlessly asked - then rocketed to fame when she started recording for Victor and Columbia records. Any jazz baby flapper worth their salt had plenty of Marion's records ready to play (or wake up with) on their phonograph.

Her life took a dark turn once her career sputtered in the early 1930's. After several unsuccessful marriages, she retreated to small cabarets in Europe, suffered an unspecified "neurological disorder" during the Blitz - which literally bombed her out of her London home - and tragically, in 1944, died in a fire in a dilapidated hotel room started by her own lit cigarette.

For a singer who's largely been forgotten, her discography of songs is astonishing in terms of how many standards she launched into the world's consciousness. "After You've Gone" - yes, it's a Cheerful Exclusive! - brings together all of Marion's best performances. Since some of the tracks date back to 1916, the quality varies, but listen close, and you can hear why she was "the bee's knees," as the kids said back then, and shocking, too. She was a very languorous singer - the inertia in her voice is erotic - which meant that in "Jazz Baby," when she sang, "There's something in the tone of a saxophone that makes me wanna do a wiggle all my own," she wasn't just breaking taboos, she was celebrating them.

Gregory Peck and Ann Todd gave good face in Hitchcock's "The Paradine Case," don't you think?

Okay, so maybe "The Paradine Case" isn't one of Hitchcock's best (actually, there's no maybe about it) (Pauline Kael famously noted, "If you can't remember if you've seen it or not, chances are you did and forgot it"), but the score, that's another matter. In 1995's "The Paradine Case: Hollywood Piano Concertos," you get not just work from Bernard Herrmann, but Franz Waxman and Alex North, which means it's an almost deliriously gorgeous collection of music.

Admit it, it's happened to you. It's happened to the Secret Song File. You leave a trick's place, and just when you're far enough away for it to be inconvenient to return, you realize that you've left your panties behind. Tres-tres inconvenience! It's like your memory went on the fritz or something. If only life were like one of those old mix tapes, where forgotten songs and old favorites could be found with just a quick rewind or fast-forward. 

That seems to be the thinking behind this Norwegian group's newest offering, which brings together all of their favorite tunes and such - from sources as varied as Vangelis and XTC and Rare Bird. And like the best mix tape, they all compliment each other beautifully. So remember, don't ever forget your panties, because some things just can't be rewound.

And, yes, your mama was right, you could be in a car accident, so make sure they're fresh and clean for the EMT boys. 

No panties allowed in the comments, but please, drop whatever else you like!


Anonymous said...

Cheryl Bentene's "Let Me Off Uptown" is a tribute to Anita O'Day and an enjoyable album to listen to. High quality production with Jack Sheldon sitting in on some of the sets, including the title track.

The Cheerful Earfull! said...

Good to know - that's (of course) one I don't have.

Coercin' A Bull said...

Love the Cheryl Bentyne - always been a Manhattan Transfer fan, Thanks again :)

The Cheerful Earfull! said...

You're welcome, Coercin'! :D

L said...

Marion Harris? Who knew. How is it that I never stumbled across her. Kudos for raising her profile here. BTW, not only are these posts informative, they're well written and witty to boot. I have a lot of back reading to catch up on. [Just hope you have no intention of quitting this sideline; it must require a good chunk of time to assemble.] With greatest appreciation...

L said...

What critic in his right mind would lace into June Christy? She's terrific. Your post prompted me to sample Do-Re-Mi. I had a note from long ago: "it includes six wonderful instrumental tracks with a great West Coast band lead by Bob Cooper and would be my top pick." Whoever wrote that was right, it is wonderful. I'm going to track it down (hopefully).

The Cheerful Earfull! said...

Glad you've come back for a visit, L! Enjoy Marion. :)