your heart out …
… ghosts of midnight
This is about singers and Bethlehem Records, voices that have been lost and found along the way. It starts with a mistake; a Sunday afternoon, not-paying-too-much attention kind of mistake. I‟d settled down to watch Colombo, one of the great pleasures in life. Peter Falk‟s portrayal of the LAPD detective is one of my favourite things, and some of the shows are right up there with the highest forms of art. There are few better ways to waste an afternoon than losing yourself in a Colombo. I love his dogged, dog-eared approach, the way he gets under the skin of the killer, sometimes feeling enmity and sometimes empathy, always remaining decent in the glare of greed and corruption. Coming across a Colombo that is not familiar is a delight, and this particular one was a 1998 feature-length episode, Ashes to Ashes, with Patrick McGoohan directing and starring in it as a funeral director to the Hollywood gentry. And right at the beginning I thought I saw among the credits the name Audrey Morris. I wasn‟t really paying close attention, and the names flash up pretty quickly, but it certainly looked like Audrey Morris. So would that be Audrey Morris the great jazz singer? Well, there‟s certainly plenty of other pretty special people who have appeared in episodes of Colombo as special guest stars, often in the twilight of their careers, such as Ida Lupino, Janet Leigh, Laurence Harvey, Johnny Cash, Sal Mineo, and even Billy Connolly. Did Audrey Morris act? Well, why not? After all, all great singers act out their songs don‟t they? Was Peter Falk a jazz fan? Well, I‟d seen him on a Sinatra tribute TV show on YouTube. And he was a friend of John Cassavetes, who‟d made one of the great jazz films, Shadows. There were close connections there. Falk had been in Cassavetes films like A Woman Under The Influence, and so on. And Cassavetes had been in Colombo.
Anyway, the great thing about all this was that it got me listening to Audrey Morris again, and in particular her 1954 recording of Bistro Ballads which is one of the most beautiful things there is. It‟s oh so still and stark. It‟s just Audrey singing and playing the piano, with Chicago soul legend Johnny Pate playing bass, discreetly and sombrely, way before the Impressions came along, and Charles Walton lightly dusting the cymbals from time to time. And Audrey sings songs like Nobody’s Heart Belongs To Me, Good Morning Heartache, Guess Who I Saw Today, Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out To Dry, and The End of a Love Affair. She sings them so hauntingly, with an apartness and almost an air of insouciance, as if to say: “Well these things happen. It‟s no good making a song and dance of it.” It‟s not bleak, because that suggests a certain coldness, but it does have an air of fatalism not unlike a Jean Rhys novel.
Bistro Ballads came out on the X label, which was a short-lived subsidiary of RCA Victor. I love the way it‟s pitched as Audrey singing bistro ballads. The choice of the word bistro immediately captures an air of intimacy, a location that is not exactly swish and opulent, but instead has a certain bohemian or even Parisian air, with couples dining fairly simplistically, and in one corner there‟s a piano where a young female singer sits pretty much singing to herself as the human dramas are acted out at the tables. She‟ll know the diners are not there to hear her, specifically, but that knowledge provides a certain freedom which enables her to experiment slightly with her material. There‟s no need to choose crowd-pleasers if no one is listening closely. And people don‟t want you making too much of a racket, so to avoid being intrusive ballads seem a better bet, which suits the singer fine as she can lose herself in these, wrap herself up in the warmth of the emotion which even the most desolate song glows with. This may not be mere musing. The Audrey Morris story really does feature the young singer playing in such locations in her home city of Chicago. But there‟s a twist in that once the diners had drifted home, the night people, the jazz denizens, would wander in and lend their support and show their approval just by being there. In fact, Audrey seems to have rarely left Chicago. When she did it was to head for the West Coast to make an LP for Bethlehem in July 1956. And that was such a special record – The Voice of Audrey Morris – with arrangements by Marty Paich, and featuring the Hollywood String Quartet led by Felix Slatkin. This was a pretty prestigious affair, and shortly afterwards the Hollywood String Quartet would work with Frank Sinatra on his Close To You LP. Marty Paich was just beginning to make a name for himself at the time. He‟d created a few waves working with Mel Tormé, particularly on the Dek-Tette set which is also known as Lulu’s Back In Town, and features the distinctive Burt Goldblatt cover with his drawing of Mel with sports cars in his hair. Marty‟s adventurous arrangements allowed Mel to stretch himself, and try some different things that ballad singers weren‟t supposed to do or weren‟t allowed to do in the big band days, like scat singing or working out against fascinating rhythms.
On The Voice of Audrey Morris, though, it‟s the reflective ballads that work best. Paich‟s arrangements showcase Audrey‟s contemplative singing perfectly, and it‟s a trick he pulled off perfectly again on Jerry Southern‟s 1958 LP Southern Breeze, where elegance rather than demonstrativeness is the order of the day. The performance of Audrey‟s I keep coming back to is her interpretation of the Peggy Lee/Dave Barbour song, What More Can A Woman Do. I gather Peggy was one of the great inspirations for Audrey, and
that‟s understandable. The choice of the Rodgers & Hart song Glad To Be Unhappy is perhaps telling, and even the occasional up-tempo track like Cole Porter‟s You Irritate Me So suggests a certain contrariness and waspish wilfulness. And Audrey was awkward. She stubbornly refused to „play the game‟. You were never going to find her poured into a sequinned gown cooing charmingly and obediently. Many years later she would tell the Chicago Reader‟s Justin Hayford: "The people I knew who hit it big, they had to wear a yoke. Sing what people wanted them to sing. Play clubs you don't want to play. On the road all the time. Marriages breaking up left and right." Hayford adds that she turned down Warner Brothers' offer of an exclusive contract recording film themes. "Fame and fortune, what's that? Doing what you want to do, that's everything." Audrey kept on singing in the Chicago clubs and cabarets, but it would be another 30-odd years before she had another flurry of recordings released. These included a set of Film Noir songs, which I‟m pretty sure was not what Warners had in mind way back when. This CD has remained elusive, but the „idea‟ is just perfect. And Audrey‟s choice of songs suggests an in-depth knowledge of numbers featured in these old films or at least diligent research into the subject which must have been great fun. One of the few songs featured on that LP I recognise is Ace In The Hole which Gloria Grahame is memorably seen to perform in The Naked Alibi. Gloria Grahame and Film Noir seem somehow indelibly linked. There is, for example, her memorable role in Nicholas Ray‟s In A Lonely Place, which is itself part of an amazing popular culture triptych, from Dorothy Hughes „ book to the film to Ian Curtis‟ song: “Someday we will die in your dreams”.
Mention of Film Noir instantly makes me think now of another great Chicago figure Barry Gifford and his book Out Of The Past, a collection of miniature essays on films with something of the night about them. They were written as he imagined many of the Cahiers du Cinema reviews of the 1950s were written, on the café or kitchen table, at one in the morning. And I‟ve said before its piece on Truffaut‟s Shoot The Piano Player is particularly good. And I‟ve asked before if I first come across this film in the liner notes of Dylan‟s Times They Are A Changing? “There‟s a movie called Shoot The Piano Player, the last line proclaimin‟ „music, man, that‟s where it‟s at‟. It is a religious line. Outside, the chimes ring an‟ they are still ringing”. Barry Gifford quite rightly starts this piece with some words on David Goodis: “David Goodis was, according to the literary critic Geoffrey O‟Brien, „the poet of the lost‟. Goodis specialised in stories involving men and women on their uppers, the down-and-out, and the down-for-the-count struggling to find some small way to justify their existence; a hint, a suggestion, a clue as to why or how to go on living. In most cases they‟re unable to find a satisfactory answer and the bottom comes up fast to greet them. Born in
Philadelphia, where he also died, David Goodis lived mostly with his mother except for a brief period when he worked on screenplays in Hollywood. Decent films of his works were turned out there: Nightfall and Dark Passage are two of the better ones. But the best job was done by Truffaut with Down There, retitled Shoot The Piano Player.” At the start of Gifford‟s own memoir, The Phantom Father, he dedicates the book to Nelson Algren. Inside he writes about listening to the radio as a kid, and mentions hearing for the first time the Valentinos do Lookin’ For A Love by Bobby Womack. Elsewhere in Read ‘Em And Weep, a collection of miniature pieces on his favourite novels he mentions how “growing up in Chicago, Algren meant a lot to me.” He describes Algren‟s Chicago: City on the Make as “a pithy, prole prose poem to a town that never really cared for its artists”.
Gifford credits Studs Terkel with trying to convince people about Chicago‟s artists. Terkel himself loved to tell a tale about when Nelson Algren met Billie Holiday. As he tells it in his memoirs Talking To Myself, this was in 1956, and Studs had gone to see Billie perform in a South Side Chicago cellar. Nelson Algren accompanied him. About the performance itself Studs writes quite beautifully: “Billie‟s voice was shot, though the gardenia in her hair was as fresh as usual. Ben Webster, for so long big man on tenor, was backing her. He was having it rough, too. Yet they transcended. There were perhaps fifteen, twenty patrons in the house. At most. Awful sad. Still, when Lady sang Fine And Mellow, you felt that way. And when she went into Willow Weep For Me, you wept. You looked about and saw that the few other customers were also crying in their beer and shot glasses. Nor were they that drunk. Something was still there, that something that distinguishes an artist from a performer: the revealing of self. Here I be. Not for long, but here I be. In sensing her mortality, we sensed her own.” Audrey Morris has said she first heard Billie Holiday sing as a child while listening to Studs Terkel on the radio at home in Chicago: “Most of my knowledge of songs comes from Studs Terkel's radio program, The Wax Museum, where he played all kinds of interesting recordings. A beautiful show. A beautiful man.” I first heard Audrey Morris sing when her The Voice Of … LP was included on a Girls of Bethlehem CD. I had no idea what it would sound like when I bought it, but I was at the time just getting really, really interested in the irregular jazz independent Bethlehem and its catalogue.
---In the record business, the small independent label is the music industry equivalent of the 1940s movie cliché, “Golly, gee, let‟s find a barn and put on a show!” And like the characters played by Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney and Donald O‟Connor in those countless films, most independent record companies – especially, it seems jazz labels – are invariably begun by naively optimistic, underfinanced, inexperienced owners whose unavoidable doom is hastened, also seemingly, in direct proportion to their depth of dedication to the music and dearth of knowledge about the industry.” – Bob Thiele, What A Wonderful Life Bob Thiele‟s comments about independent labels could have been specifically about Gus Wildi‟s Bethlehem Records. During the 1950s Wildi‟s operation released an astonishing collection of jazz sounds, featuring everything from experienced heavy-hitters to brighteyed ingénues. There seems to have been a real sense of „let‟s try it then‟. It‟s hard to pin the label down. Bethlehem had bases in New York and Los Angeles, so had feet firmly in the West Coast and East Coast camps, and somehow attracted albeit often only brieflythe very elite of the jazz world despite its limited resources.
Gus Wildi started the label in New York some time in 1953. Biographical notes always mention he was a Swiss immigrant, but in-depth profiles remain elusive. It seems he‟d been in the States a couple of years, had a bit of money, and fancied running a record label. The most revealing information can be found on the website of Tyler Alpern who struck up a correspondence with Wildi in 2003. Gus got in touch to point out, in what seems a touchingly humble way, that he was the person who started the Bethlehem label rather than Red Clyde, who was for a number of years the head of company‟s West Coast operations. Astonishingly nobody seems to have taken the trouble to track Wildi down prior to this to get the story of one of the greatest labels in the history of popular music. From the extracts Tyler shares on his site one thing really struck me, and that was Wildi‟s obvious pride in what Bethlehem did to develop the art of the record sleeve: “We recognized from our first 10 inch album release on, that the importance of the quality of the cover was underrated by the other companies. I believe then that Bethlehem was the first company to create covers with some artistic merit as opposed to use them akin to soap or soup advertisements. The covers were heavily laminated, wrapped around, and minimal type was used, giving off a feeling of quality and substance.”
I don‟t know if it was luck or genius, but Wildi‟s organisation seems to have had a knack for getting the right person in to perform a particular role, and then boldly allowing that right person the freedom to do what was needed. In terms of design, Bethlehem employed the photographer and artist Burt Goldblatt to do its design work. And the covers that Goldblatt produced for Bethlehem are exquisite. Unlike, say, the great Reid Miles at Blue Note, another great pioneer of sleeve art, Goldblatt deliberately seemed to chop and change styles to avoid being pigeon-holed. Some of the sleeves were magnificently moody photographs of the artist, while others were abstract cartoons, for example. Another difference between Reid Miles and Burt Goldblatt was that the Blue Note designer apparently wasn‟t fond of the music, while Goldblatt was a massive jazz fan. Hence, Goldblatt was entirely at home photographing artists in the studio or in the clubs, and musicians and singers were comfortable having him around. Some of his shots capture the spirit of the time perfectly, and are right up there with the best of William Claxton‟s photography from the same era. Gus Wildi graciously credits Creed Taylor with transforming the fortunes of Bethlehem. Before Creed Taylor got involved with Bethlehem in 1954 it was a struggling pop operation. Newly arrived in New York Creed with the brash confidence of youth had a particular vision of what he wanted to do in the music business, and Bethlehem provided the perfect opportunity. With his vim and vigour Bethlehem soon became a cutting-edge jazz concern. And when Creed tells the story it‟s interesting to see early mentions of what would become very familiar names, like Tom Dowd and Rudy Van Gelder. Although he only stuck around for a couple of years what Creed did at Bethlehem tellingly became something of an apprenticeship for what he later achieved at ABCParamount, Impulse!, Verve, CTI and Kudu. His contribution to the world of music, and jazz in particular, is remarkable. And if Bethlehem as a label pioneered the idea of the LP as a beautiful object to cherish then this is something Creed continued with the sumptuous Impulse! orange and black designs and the gorgeous photography of Pete Turner that was used by Taylor at CTI.
What Taylor did to change things at Bethlehem in 1954 was to exploit the emerging market for LPs. He got a young jazz singer who was signed to the label, Chris Connor, to record a set of songs with a small group led by Ellis Larkins that would capture an „after hours‟ session style of nocturnal, smoky intimacy. Burt Goldblatt provided a cover that captured the record‟s mood of beat-boho-cool perfectly. And it helped that Chris had the frosty blonde looks somewhere between Peggy Lee and Kim Novak to make promotion that much easier. This was very much a release aimed at a hip, aware jazz audience.
I am not clever enough to know how revolutionary an approach this was. I am sure jazz scholars could point to other examples of this recording approach. Peggy Lee had recorded the Black Coffee 10” the year before. And Lee Wiley, the Greta Garbo of jazz, had made the Night in Manhattan set a few years before. But it was nevertheless a bold move by Creed and Bethlehem at the tail-end of the big band era. Chris went along with the concept enthusiastically, and another set Lullabys For Lovers was put together rapidly, to maximise the impact of the Lullabys of Birdland 10”, with this time the Vinnie Burke Quartet providing the accompaniment. A third Bethlehem long-player, This Is Chris, was recorded in 1955 and it is up there with my favourite ever things. Backing is provided by a small group, led by Ralph Sharon, with some lovely guitar work by the splendidly named Joe Puma. Herbie Mann is on flute, which is always a good thing. Herbie would have been at the start of his career then, and there‟s a great story about how Creed Taylor came across him rehearsing where they lived in New York. The trombone legends J.J. Johnson and Kai Winding play on a few tracks too.
Pianist Ralph Sharon is particularly effective accompanying Chris in an unobtrusive way. And it‟s easy to see why Tony Bennett would later approach him to be his accompanist and arranger. Sharon is an interesting character. He was born in the East End of London and was heavily involved in the emergence of the British be-bop scene. He was regarded as one of the more inventive British jazz players, and recorded sides for Melodisc and Lyragon before moving to the States in 1953 as he wanted to be where the real progress was being made. An odd footnote in the Ralph Sharon story is that in 1963 he seems to have released an LP on the Gordy label, part of the Motown family, called Modern Innovations On Country And Western Themes. Chris Connor left Bethlehem to join Atlantic Records, along with Charlie Mingus and the Modern Jazz Quartet with whom she shared a manager in Monte Kay. From 1956 up until 1962 she made around a dozen LPs for the label, and together with the Bethlehem sides these make up a formidable body of work. During the Atlantic years Chris made so many great recordings, ones that make you feel as though you hardly dare breathe while you listen, such as Go ‘Way From My Window from I Miss You So or Lonely Woman from Free Spirits, which was the first time anyone had sung Margo Guryan‟s words set to the great Ornette Coleman tune. The great thing about Chris Connor‟s singing ballads and blues is the inherent contradictions that have never been resolved, where the listener revels in warm vs. cool, remote vs. confidential, detached vs. tender, glacial vs. soulful,
minimalism vs. expressionism, hard-boiled vs. vulnerable, reserved vs. swingin‟, precision vs. improvisation, knowing vs. innocent. If I was to choose one record from Chris Connor‟s golden era it might well be Chris Connor Sings Ballads of The Sad Café from 1959. The implicit Carson McCullers reference in the title track is wonderful, but it‟s not an allusion directly relevant to the record. The key words are ballads and sad café, for this is a gloriously desolate collection of torch songs, as melancholy and mordant as any of the great Sinatra sets of bleakness. Chris‟ voice on this set is way, way down there, to match her mood. The choice of songs speaks volumes: The End of a Love Affair, Glad To Be Unhappy, Good Morning Heartache (ones which have already been mentioned in connection with Audrey Morris), Lilac Wine and One For My Baby.
At the end of the Atlantic era Chris made a couple of ill-starred LPs for FM, a label run by her manager Monte Kay. One of these was a live set recorded at the Village Gate in 1963. The „late show‟ portion of this recording is astonishing in that it‟s pure David Goodis deep dark despair delivered in a blankly resigned manner which makes it all the more chilling. She is backed by her trio of Ronnie Ball, another ex-pat Brit on piano, the remarkable Richard Davis on bass, who would have been playing with people like Andrew Hill and Eric Dolphy at the time, and Ed Shaugnessy on drums. Mundell Lowe guested on guitar. There is a sequence that goes from Black Coffee to Goodbye to Only The Lonely which takes the listener down to some dark, troubled places. But her tortured rendition of the old Rodgers & Hart song Ten Cents A Dance is a whole book in itself, and it‟s not an easy read. Anyone who ever suggested Chris‟ singing lacked passion needs to hear this. Interestingly the Village Gate LP was leased to the great Brazilian independent Elenco, which put out so much great bossa nova related music and featured pioneering artwork by Cesar Villela, and there is probably a case to be made for it being very much a label close to the spirit of Bethlehem Records in the previous decade. ----
Apart from the wonderful Chris Connor, Bethlehem had some great singers on its roster at various times: Mel Tormé, Johnny Hartman, Carmen McRae, Nina Simone, for example, all released important sets on the label and are rightly revered. But not all the singers Bethlehem put out records by would go on to better things, or have illustrious careers. Times were changing anyway, and rock „n‟ roll took its toll on the opportunities for jazz singers. It‟s no wonder that, and interestingly for those of us who grew up worshipping the Subway Sect, Beverly Kenney wrote a song called I Hate Rock ‘n’ Roll which went: “I'm growing weary of teenage hoods, motorbikes, blue jeans and Natalie Woods. I'm tired of rebels without a cause. Say, whatever happened to Santa Claus, rules of the road and Baby Ruth? I for one must tell the truth. I don't care who knows it. I hate rock and roll ...”
Apparently Beverly also appeared on a bill with Jack Kerouac, performing solo and also accompanying Kerouac‟s readings with low-key vocalese backing. I first came across this glorious snippet of iInformation courtesy of Bill Reed of the excellent People vs. Dr Chilledair site. Bill is very much a jazz scholar and a leading authority on lost jazz vocalists, and seems to shed more light on the area than anyone I‟ve come across. One overview features this lovely passage: “Also, more than a few bore at least passing stylistic resemblance, replete with those long, long vowels, and husky chest tones just this side of pneumonia, to the (arguably) most influential jazz singer to have successfully come of artistic age in the mid-1950s, Chris Connor. One even has visions of those pretenders to Chris' throne running around the block in the rain before every take in order to insure the proper amount of Connorian plangency.” There are some intriguing issues. One, in particular, is that a large number of the lost jazz singers recorded just one or two LPs. The actual jazz musicians of the time seem to have recorded a whole host of sides in various permutations but, with some notable exceptions, some experienced and respected jazz singers made very few records. A great example of this is Terry Morel, who made one LP for Bethlehem in 1955 and, as far as I know, never made another long player. There was an earlier EP for Prestige, but for whatever reason she doesn‟t seem to have had another chance, which is crazy. I would love to be proved wrong …
Terry‟s Bethlehem LP, Songs of a Woman in Love, was recorded live at the Montclair Supper Club, Jackson Heights, Long Island,in late 1955. Accompanying Terry were Herbie Mann on flute and Ralph Sharon on piano, with Jay Cave on bass and Christy Febbo on drums. The applause on the recording is polite, and the ambience summons up something special for romantics whose notions of the jazz world is far removed from rowdy rock „n‟ roll squallor. I have no idea what kind of a night club the Montclair Supper Club was but it feels right when you say it slowly. The set starts with a couple of perky pick-me-ups before Terry and the group get into the real business. On one hand the ballads like The Night We Called It A Day sound suitably sombre and stark, delivered in deep, damn I‟ve got to say it, husky tones by Terry. On the other the more upbeat numbers like The Gentleman Is A Dope are sung with a certain disdain and mischievousness. And Terry can hardly be excused of playing it safe and sticking to the obvious standards. She seems to revel in being a little awkward in her approach. And I guess that‟s why she didn‟t have popular appeal. I‟m not sure that explains why she doesn‟t seem to have made more records though.
After the Bethlehem set, I can‟t add too much about Terry‟s activities. I‟ve seen her mentioned in a coffee table book on Laurel Canyon and music, which details how the jazz crowd got there first. It mentions that “Terry Morel, jazz singer, came from Philly to LA in 1957, and she lived in what was essentially a tree house, on top of her landlady‟s house, in the canyon. Sixty bucks a month, with more raccoons, squirrels and possum than she‟d ever seen in her life.” There‟s a great photo of Terry with Cannonball Adderley, taken in June 1959. It‟s also known that Miles Davis was among the friends who would hang out at Terry‟s place when they were visiting the West Coast. Among the treasures on YouTube are a series of clips from the Frankly Jazz TV show, hosted by Frank Evans, and broadcast on the West Coast in the early „60s. These clips include an extraordinary performance by Terry Morel where she sings What Is There To Say?, one of Chris Connor‟s lullabys of Birdland, standing stock still, hands clasped behind her back, truly elegant, in subdued lighting. When she finishes her song Frank Evans is visibly moved, you could say hypnotised, and can barely speak. It‟s a lovely moment. Terry must have also been a guest a couple of times on an earlier West Coast TV show, called Stars of Jazz, which was hosted by Bobby Troup. There is a small number of clips scattered around on YouTube, and it‟s to be hoped more come to light. One clip features Scott LeFaro, another is of a show featuring pianist Pete Jolly and breathtakingly Billie Holiday. In the mid-„70s the Calliope label put out a series of LPs featuring performances from Stars of Jazz. These were it seems „unofficial‟ releases, and rapidly withdrawn. But a quick perusal of these releases show some mouthwatering combinations: Cal Tjader and Ernestine Anderson, Red Mitchell Quartet and Toni Harper, Leroy Vinnegar and Jeri Southern, Herbie Mann and Ella Mae Morse, Jimmy Giuffre and Nellie Lutcher, Bud Shank and Chris Connor, Chico Hamilton and Georgia Carr, plus plenty of other greats like Mark Murphy, the MJQ, Max Roach, Julie London, Irene Kral, Art Blakey, and so on. Terry Morel is featured singing with Gerald Wiggins on one occasion and with Sonny Criss on another. And oh how I‟d love to see the complete series. ----
The first records I bought on the Bethlehem label were a couple of those gorgeous facsimile editions that the Japanese specialise in, with gloriously impractical, ultra-glossy, laminated, thick cardboard covers and those odd clear plastic inner protective covers. They‟re quite extraordinarily beautiful objects. Coincidentally or not both the records I indulged in were by singers heavily influenced by Billie Holiday. These were records from the mid-to-late „50s, and I‟m not sure how much was to be gained from being quite so inspired by Billie at that time, but nevertheless the singers concerned were very open in pledging their allegiance. Neither of these singers were ingénues. Both had paid their dues, singing with big bands, and so on. Both had been in and around the jazz scene for some years. Both were married to respected jazz musicians. And this just happened to be how they felt they should sing. Billie was their inspiration, and she was almost certainly their friend. The effect could be eerie but, almost as strangely, it works. One of the singers was Helen Carr. She recorded two long players for Bethlehem in 1955. On the first of these she was backed by a small combo, featuring her husband Donn Trenner on piano. Apart from the „Billie‟s blues‟ angle there is an attractive sharpness and sassiness at work. The highlight, interestingly, is the reflective, beautiful ballad Memory of the Rain, which Helen wrote with Donn Trenner. Also featured on the record is bassist Max Bennett, and Helen returned the favour by singing on a couple of numbers Max‟s group recorded for Bethlehem.
The second LP, Why Do I Love You, was the one that I‟d bought on a Japanese import CD, primarily because of its striking cover, designed by Burt Goldblatt, featuring two lovers entwined on a deserted beach, though it is unclear whether they are kissing or consoling one another. On the back cover Helen has something of Gloria Grahame about her in the photo. There is a nice, stark sound to the record, with Helen backed by a trio. „Cappy‟ Lewis‟ muted trumpet is curiously nostalgic, Red Mitchell is on bass, and the star of the show is Howard Roberts, who was then a rising West Coast session player, who is particularly effective on guitar. The track where it‟s just Helen and Howard, Lonely Street, is the standout number. Helen wrote the lyrics for this torch song, which used a Paul Villepegue melody. It would have been interesting to know what else Helen could write, but as far as I know she didn‟t make any further recordings before her untimely death in 1960.
Howard Roberts most certainly went on to play on many, many other records. He probably played on literally thousands of recordings. He is certainly known to be one of the elite session musicians based in LA that played on an incredible amount of recordings in the „60s and would later be known as The Wrecking Crew for historical convenience. Among the credits Howard has to his name the most curious may well be the magical finger clicks on Peggy Lee‟s Fever. The song itself had been brought to Peggy‟s attention by the bassist Max Bennett, though ironically he didn‟t play on the recording. It remains open to conjecture whether the finger clicks were Howard‟s, but nevertheless what a record.
One person Howard is particularly associated with is David Axelrod with whom he worked during his time at Capitol. He played on a number of the great Axelrod productions, from Lou Rawls to the Electric Prunes‟ Release Of An Oath. He features on those two extraordinary William Blake-inspired Axelrod projects, Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience. Howard also plays a prominent role on the superb old/new 2001 Mo‟ Wax David Axelrod set, back when we joyously overdosed on the great man‟s back catalogue. From the late „50s onwards Howard was able to record a series of LPs under his own name, initially for Verve and then in the „60s for Capitol, often featuring small combos with colleagues like Henry Cain on the organ, demonstrating an ability to progress and adapt with the times as they were changing. You can‟t really go wrong with any of those sets if you have a fondness for funky, hip, adventurous easy listening sounds, along the lines of what Gary McFarland or Gabor Szabo were doing around the same time. Indeed Howard played with Gabor on Wind, Sky and Diamonds, one of the great Impulse! releases. In 1971 Howard Roberts got to release a record himself on Impulse! that even by the label‟s standards was one of the strangest sets of the time. Produced by Ed Michel and Bill Szymczyk, Antelope Freeway was a curious mixture of Roberts blasting out some experimental blues „n‟ jazz licks, mixed in with all sorts of city noises and curious snatches of conversation and dialogue cut up and added to the music. A few years later there was a second Howard Roberts „psychedelic jazz‟ set on Impulse! entitled Equinox Express Elevator but I confess I‟ve never heard that. Another great composer Howard worked with a number of times was Lalo Schifrin. He played on a number of Lalo‟s great soundtracks, including the fantastic jazz score for the surfing movie Gone With The Wave, 1967‟s Cool Hand Luke, Bullitt, Mannix. He also plays on Lalo‟s 1971 Rock Requiem. I always loved the fact Lalo was doing that and David Axelrod was doing a rock interpretation of The Messiah at pretty much the same time.
---I‟ve had a strange attraction for the LP Moody Marilyn Moore ever since I saw a photo of its cover sometime in the 1980s in one of those oversize coffee table books. I can‟t even remember what the book was really about. I remember it being called The Hip! I remember Chet Baker being on the cover, and that gives a clue to where it was coming from. The theme was hipsters, jazz and the beat generation. Roy Carr, Brian Case, and Fred Dellar put it together. But I‟m scared of revisiting it. Fred is one of the few people I‟ve seen write anything directly about Bethlehem Records, coincidentally. I would often look through this book, The Hip!, in shops in central London, and one of the photos, signifying „cool‟, was the cover of Moody Marilyn Moore. It sort of obsessed me that photo. The lettering was stark. Marilyn is pictured standing looking suitably surly against a sort of sandstone wall, her face partly in shadow looks haunted. She‟s wearing a plain crew neck sweater, possibly grey, with a simple artful necklace. There‟s a guy in front of her, partly pictured, blowing a sax. It‟s so anti-glamour that it‟s impossibly appealing and oh so beat-boho-cool.
I may not have seen that particular book in years, but the photo stayed with me. One enduring reminder was the Sonic Youth song on E.V.O.L. called Marilyn Moore: “You get to a point. To make it disappear. And you're always believing. And believing in fear.” I‟ve never ever known if the song‟s title was a reference to Marilyn Moore the jazz singer. Sometimes I suspect it is. Sometimes I am convinced it isn‟t. Kim and Thurston knew their jazz. And it is co-written by Lydia Lunch, and she did record her own twisted torch songs with Billy Ver Planck for Ze so there is a link there in some ways. The photo stayed with me so much that when I finally saw it again as part of a listing of Japanese jazz reissues I knew I had to have a copy. It was pure indulgence buying a record I‟d never heard in one of those gorgeous facsimile editions that the Japanese specialise in, with gloriously impractical, ultra-glossy, laminated, thick cardboard sleeves. But it was worth it for the cover photo. And it turned out to be the first record I bought on the Bethlehem label. What I wasn‟t prepared for was how Marilyn Moore sang so extraordinarily like Billie Holiday. That threw me. But, as with Karen Dalton, somehow it works, although it‟s easy to see how such a style of singing could be off-putting. The irony is that if Marilyn had adopted or adapted the style of Ella Fitzgerald or Chris Connor we probably wouldn‟t even mention it. Her style naturally divided fans and critics. I can understand Lady Day devotees being offended, but tThe respected jazz writer Leonard Feather in his Book of Jazz, first published in 1957 which was the year Moody was recorded, writes: “Marilyn Moore, whose approach, though almost indistin-
guishable from Billie Holiday's, has enough sincerity and passion to compensate for its apparent secondhandedness.” And where Moody works really well is on the tortured, tired ballads. Here Marilyn really manages to capture the right air of weariness, particularly on the George Handy/Jack Segal number Leavin’ Town. The only other record I‟ve heard Marilyn sing on is the jazz reworking of the musical Oh, Captain! which was written by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans (whose songbook includes Mona Lisa and Que Sera Sera) and first staged in 1958. The jazz version was put together soon afterwards by Dick Hyman, and it featured some top players like Coleman Hawkins, Art Farmer, Tony Scott and Oscar Pettiford. A jazz reworking of a musical was pretty unique then, though in time there would be plenty more (Annie Ross did an LP of songs from Gypsy, Herbie Mann did an LP of the Anthony Newley/Leslie Bricusse musical The Roar of the Greasepaint, Bob Dorough did one of Oliver! and so on).
The featured vocalists on the jazz version of Oh, Captain! were Marilyn Moore and Jackie Paris, and it seems appropriate somehow for those two doomed romantics to be thrown together. Jackie‟s story has been immortalised in the film ‘Tis Autumn. Marilyn‟s story is harder to piece together. She certainly sang with Charlie Barnet‟s big band, and he wouldn‟t and didn‟t need to pick just any old singer. She toured around. Mose Allison has mentioned how she saw him play down in Galveston very early on and was impressed enough to tell him to get in touch with her and her husband if he ever made it to New York. Mose did just that some months later. Marilyn‟s husband was the saxophone player Al Cohn, and pretty soon Mose was playing with his combo. Al wrote the lovely tune Ah Moore for Marilyn, and plenty of people covered that one, including Howard Roberts and Pete Jolly. I assume it‟s Al Cohn just about pictured playing the sax on the cover of Moody Marilyn Moore. He certainly plays on the record. He played on many records. He arranged plenty, too, notably Chris Connor‟s Free Spirits, which has that exquisite version of Lonely Woman on. Frances Wayne‟s The Warm Sound Of on Atlantic is another jazz vocal record he‟s on. Frances was the wife of Neal Hefti, and I‟m never sure how much of a boon it was having a partner in the business. Sometimes I guess it worked for you and sometimes I bet it was a hindrance.
Al Cohn is probably best known for his partnership with Zoot Sims. They were particular favourites of Jack Kerouac‟s. And when it was suggested by Bob Thiele that Jack should make a follow-up to the Poetry of the Beat Generation LP he made with Steve Allen, Jack insisted on having Al and Zoot play on the record. After the rumpus the first Kerouac LP caused at Dot Records Bob Thiele decided to do the second one on his own new independent label which was called Hanover Signature. It would be Thiele‟s last independent venture, before his time at the legendary Impulse! and Flying Dutchman labels.
This second Kerouac LP, Blues and Haikus, was a wonderfully strange affair. Al Cohn and Zoot Sims do their thing on sax and piano while Jack recites his haikus and poetry and prose and sings a bit of blues. I guess Cohn and Sims were pretty bemused by the whole affair, and Jack‟s goofing would have been a very different way of behaving than the true professionals they worked with day in and day out but who got nowhere. But they do their job. And in Bob Thiele‟s memoirs he recounts how Cohn and Sims disappeared at the end of the session without a word of farewell, leaving Jack inconsolable and in a dangerously depressed state. Nevertheless it‟s a great record, and at times oddly reminiscent of parts of Trout Mask Replica and some of Tom Waits‟ work. And some of the haikus were great:
No telegram today, only more leaves fell. All day long, wearing a hat that wasn‟t on my head. Beautiful young girls running up the library stairs, with their shorts on. Crossing the football field, coming home from work, the lonely businessman. Snap your finger. stop the world. rain falls harder.
I wonder how many records Jack heard in the „50s were on the Bethlehem label. The New York Times reported on how for a while Jack lived with his mother in Northport, a Long Island harbour town. “In August 1964, the night before Kerouac and his mother were to move to St. Petersburg, Fla., to care for Jack‟s sister, Caroline, there was a small farewell party at the house on Judy Ann Court. Kerouac sang along with a Mel Tormé recording, according to a tape Mr. Smith made of the event, and rose to waltz his beer around the room, wearing a fedora with a turned-up brim.” ---The CD editions of Moody Marilyn Moore and Helen Carr‟s Why Do I Love You opened up a whole load of new vistas. The sleeves and the inserts provided clues to a whole range of Bethlehem releases, and I became increasingly fascinated with the vocal jazz titles the label put out. One that I didn‟t become aware of in this way was Betty Blake Sings in a Tender Mood which finally appeared on the label at the start of the „60s just as Bethlehem faded away slowly. As Gus Wildi put it in his correspondence with Tyler Alpern: “In 1958 King acquired a half interest in the company against doing its distribution and rendering some other services. In 1962 I sold them the other half, thus getting myself out of the business. Unfortunately they subsequently allowed Bethlehem to fade away.” The Betty Blake record I think holds a particular fascination for many jazz vocal fans due to its elusiveness. Information about Betty is pretty scarce. And yet that one LP is fantastic. It features some pretty notable musicians: Marcus Belgrave is on trumpet, Kenny Burrell plays guitar, Mal Waldron is on piano, Zoot Sims provides tenor sax, producer Teddy Charles is on vibes, and Ed Shaugnessy is one of the drummers on the sessions. But there doesn‟t seem to have been any subsequent Betty Blake records, or at least any that are known of.
Betty Blake Sings in a Tender Mood has the requisite Chris Connor style „lost in the music‟ cover shot, and the songs lean heavily in the direction of the darker ballads and torch songs side of vocal jazz. Betty‟s singing is simultaneously crystal clear and astonishingly intimate. The choice of material is a little obtuse. Six of the songs are Alec Wilder compositions, and of these Betty and the group‟s interpretations of Blue Fool and Moon and Sand are particularly special. In fact, Kenny Burrell would return to record Moon and Sand again, incredibly beautifully, on the Guitar Forms album he made with Gil Evans on Verve in 1964, produced by Creed Taylor. Another of the Alec Wilder songs
Betty sang was Don’t Say Love Has Ended which Johnny Ray had recorded back in 1952 in a remarkably dramatic manner. The highlight of Betty‟s LP is her rendition of James Shelton‟s ultimate torch song Lilac Wine. It‟s the most chillingly beautiful version of the song I‟ve ever heard. It‟s one of the most chillingly beautiful performances I‟ve heard, full stop. It‟s up there with Tim Buckley‟s Song To The Siren. Too often over the years the song has been belted out, or treated as a novelty number to be sung „exotically‟, and in those versions the impact of the words is lost. I don‟t know anything about James Shelton, I‟m afraid, but what a song he wrote: “I lost myself on a cool damp night Gave myself in that misty light Was hypnotized by a strange delight Under a lilac tree I made wine from the lilac tree Put my heart in its recipe It makes me see what I want to see... And be what I want to be When I think more than I want to think Do things I never should do I drink much more than I ought to drink …” It is known that Betty had a background singing with big bands, like Buddy Morrow‟s, and as Betty Ann Blake she had a single out on the Golden Crest label in 1957, featuring another Alec Wilder song The Lady Sings The Blues. She also features on a couple of tracks on another Golden Crest release, the Cool Man Cool LP by the John Plonsky Quintet. But beyond that it looks like we will have to console ourselves with the fact that she made the one astonishing yet elusive LP.
----Tyler Alpern‟s invaluable correspondence with Gus Wildi about Bethlehem Records was prompted by his love of the fantastically formidable Frances Faye, one of the label‟s stars. My own passions tended to idealise the girls of Bethlehem as misty, moody, reflective, tortured torch singers. So, coming across Frances Faye was a real wake-up call, but it is easy to understand why many people are such big fans. Frances pounding away on the piano, hollering like a hellhound, vamping and ripping it up, scatting and adlibbing is all the more remarkable as she looked like she should be playing the female lead in an Oscar Wilder play. Frances‟ career started back in the „30s and she soon became the queen of the supper clubs in New York. It‟s easy to imagine her having that era‟s wise-guys eating out of her hand. In the „40s she was dubbed the atomic bombshell of rhythm and her sets were a mad mix of latin, rhythm & blues and cabaret. I first came across Frances‟ name on the sleeve of Moody Marilyn Moore where other Bethlehem releases were listed. As part of a growing obsession with jazz vocalists I tracked down a CD on Fresh Sounds which combined two of the LPs Frances recorded for Bethlehem in the mid-„50s under the umbrella title of Frances Faye Sings, Russell Garcia Conducts. It featured the 1955 set I’m Wild Again and from 1957 Sings Folk Songs. The latter opened proceedings on the CD. I realise now it is probably the least typical intro to Frances‟ work I could have had, but you often learn more about an artist from their diversions and deviations, such as when the tough get tender, and so on.
From the Folk Songs LP, Frances‟ rendition of Go ‘Way From My Window is exquisite. It‟s not an LP for folk purists, so the inclusion of one of John Jacob Niles‟ reimagined traditional songs is perfectly apt. I suspect around the same time I first heard Frances sing the song I would have been newly aware of John Jacob Niles via Bob Dylan citing him as an inspiration via No Direction Home and Chronicles. There‟s a brilliant description too by Studs Terkel on first hearing John Jacob Niles in his book And They All Sang: “As I first listened to his haunting falsetto on an old Victor 78 I was hearing, it seemed, an Elizabethan minstrel offering a mediaeval carol. It was, in fact, something John Jacob wrote in the 1930s. He is a writer, singer, and collector of folk songs. His style of speech is that of an old time schoolmaster lecturing a group of enraptured though at times unruly students.” The Folk Songs LP features Howard Roberts on guitar, Max Bennett on bass, and what I realise now was Russ Garcia‟s characteristic choir of four trombones. I didn‟t really know anything much about Russ Garcia back then, when I first had the CD, though it was clear his approach was a little out of the ordinary. The earlier set, I’m Wild Again, was more typically the fiery Frances of legend, with off-beat takes on the Great American Songbook and a decidedly Latin flavour to the arrangements (featuring some great drumming from Chico Hamilton). Russ and Frances were reunited again for a 1961 set for Verve, the appropriately titled Frenzy!
Frances features prominently in Bruce Weber‟s film Chop Suey, which I guess is essentially the great photographer sharing his enthusiasms and inspirations and pasts with his muse and model Peter Johnson, an extraordinarily handsome young wrestler and seemingly genuinely nice guy. It‟s a fascinating insight into what shaped Bruce, and the story of Frances Faye, as told by her partner Teri Shepherd and other close colleagues, is pretty central to the film. Bruce it seems had been a fan of Frances‟ since he picked up a copy of her Caught In The Act LP while he was at college in the late „60s, and her boldness no doubt appealed enormously to him over the ensuing years. As he says in the film, she crossed the line so many times. Chop Suey provides a fantastic opportunity to see some rare photos and footage of Frances. There are, unexpectedly, shots of her with The Animals and later The Faces. And some of the TV clips are amazing, like the 1957 Ed Sullivan appearance where she sings, I think, Darktown Strutters Ball, with short cropped hair, looking awkward and demure before launching into a performance that has the same whiff of danger as Jerry Lee Lewis surrounded by mod girls on Ready Steady Go!
There is also a 1956 clip from the Steve Allen Show which shows Frances Faye with Mel Tormé in the recording studio performing the lead roles of Porgy and Bess in, what was Bethlehem Records‟ most extravagant project, a triple LP of a jazz reinterpretation of the complete folk opera by the Gershwins and DuBose Heyward. This was the first jazz version, and a few years before Miles Davis and Gil Evans recorded their LP. Viewed by some as a work of genius and by others as a fantastic folly, it‟s an extraordinary record. And the casting may seem curious, especially when you consider Russ Garcia would the following year make a Porgy and Bess LP with Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong, but Frances Faye had recorded a rousing version of Summertime as a single for Capitol back in 1954, a big favourite of dancefloor jazz and soul DJs still. Then again, somehow you get the sense that Russ Garcia and the people at Bethlehem rather liked taking the less than obvious route. The Bethlehem version of Porgy and Bess features some fantastic ensemble playing courtesy of permutations of the Australian Jazz Quintet and the Stan Levey Orchestra who have great fun with Garcia‟s inventive score. It‟s pretty unusual to claim that a narrator steals the show, but Al „Jazzbo‟ Collins really does keep things ticking over nicely with his languid „cool‟ Cary Grant approach. I first came across the legendary jazz DJ when he was included as one of the „hipster saints‟ in Gene Sculatti‟s directory of Cool, alongside Lord Buckley, Robert Mitchum, Jack Kerouac, Louis Prima and Lenny Bruce. His extra-curricular activities included a series of recordings of children‟s fables retold in „hip‟ speak, often in the company of Steve Allen, and his LPs turned up on Impulse! during Bob Thiele‟s tenure and later on his Flying Dutchman label. The song Summertime from Porgy and Bess is perhaps too familiar to us, but the version here sung exquisitely by Betty Roché in her role as Clara has to be right up there with the very finest interpretations. Betty takes it slow and easy, and it is really one of the finest moments in the whole „opera‟. Betty herself recorded an LP for Bethlehem in 1956, Take The ‘A’ Train, which had one of Burt Goldblatt‟s most evocative film noir style covers, showing a photo of Betty singing superimposed on a shadowy railway scene with sinister figures lurking by a tunnel. The LP itself draws heavily on Betty‟s Duke Ellington connections in its choice of material, which is fine. There‟s a great version of Bobby Troup‟s Route 66 too. Accompaniment is provided by a great quintet, with Donn Trenner on piano and Eddie Costa prominently on vibes.
Betty sang with Duke Ellington‟s Orchestra in the 1940s and again in the early „50s, but astonishingly the Bethlehem set was her first full-length recording. She only recorded two more LPs, both of which were for Prestige at the start of the 1960s. The second of these, Lightly and Politely, is ridiculously good. Betty‟s work is criminally neglected, as the song says, in this world of overrated pleasures and underrated treasures, but one write-up of Lightly and Politely struck me as being spot-on, even if bizarrely it is taken from a site called The Daily OM which highlights the occasional record to help on the journey towards healing and awareness:
“Backed by guitar, piano, bass, and drums, Roche performs each song like it's a dramatic movie, repeating phrases and twisting every ounce of meaning and musicality from every syllable. When she sings Someone to Watch Over Me, for example, the words ache with optimistic promise-she sings "someone to watch," then stops, and the „over me‟ is preceded by a jazz guitar flourish; the bass and softly brushed drums lurch the song forward as if she's coming home from the party with a broken heel, hoping some pair of arms will catch her when she stumbles on the street. Despite this vulnerable ache, Roche is clearly in command throughout the album, vamping and improvising but always in service of the song. Just as a really great pair of headphones makes you instantly forget you have them on, so does Roche's brilliance obscure the fact that someone is even singing these songs. When she sings about this guy „Jim‟, who doesn't love her back, the lyrics insinuate right into your mind a sort of jazz possession, where instead of thinking, „This lady sure can sing,‟ you think, „Jim, oh, Jim, why?‟ She could probably sing in a different language and you'd still understand every word.” The jazzy blues guitar work on Lightly and Politely is provided by Wally Richardson, who is one of those characters that turns up on a whole series of fantastic „60s and „70s recordings, from the great vocal jazz of Honi Gordon to Bobby Hutcherson‟s Now! to Donald Byrd‟s Electric Byrd and Kofi to Wally‟s own 1968 Soul Guru set which has a phenomenal version of Monday Monday on and the wonderful raga-flavoured title track . Add to that list sessions with Shirley Scott, Jimmy McGriff, Byrdie Green, Ray Bryant, Etta Jones, Archie Shepp, and many more, and you realise how important a figure Wally was in the music of the time. The cast of Porgy and Bess provided some fantastic vocal performances, either individually or collectively. The participants included Johnny Hartman, George Kirby, Loulie Jean Norman, Joe Derise, and Bob Dorough. The role of Serena is sung by Sallie Blair, who went on to make an LP, Squeeze Me, for Bethlehem in 1957, which was arranged and conducted by Richard Wess, who would go on to work with Bobby Darin on Mack The Knife etc. As far as I know Sallie only recorded one other LP, which was Hello Tiger! with Neil Hefti for MGM in 1959. Sallie‟s recordings frustratingly have not become widely available yet, but hearing bits and pieces here and there more than whets the
appetite. She sounds fiery and playful, with the sizzling Latin-inspired settings on her Bethlehem LP guaranteed to get the listener hot under the collar. Mongo Santamaria was among the featured musicians. In 1953 Jet magazine reported: “Newest and perhaps most sizzling „brown blonde‟ to break into the night club spotlight is Baltimore-born Sally Blair, who did her stage apprenticeship in smalltime Baltimore and Washington cafes, then toured with the Duke Ellington and Johnny Otis bands. Recently she tired of the one-nighter grind, gave up the band business in Los Angeles to have a fling as a single. Says she: „I‟m anxious to reach the top in show business, but not over the one-nighter road.‟ Like most „brown blondes‟ the beauteous Baltimore girl was originally a brunette, who bleached her once auburn tresses to platinum, then dyed them a buttermilk blonde. On stage Sally wears low-cut, slinky gowns to showcase her voluptuous (36-25-37) figure, tosses her shoulder-length hair around in a Bette Davis manner. While strong in the sex appeal department, Sally refuses to count on sex alone to sell her songs. Sally explains: „A singer shouldn‟t count on sex alone. I want to make it one talent, too.‟ Besides, she adds, sex will not „come off‟ on records.” At the end of 1957, hot on the heels of her Bethlehem release, Life magazine reported Sallie was the hottest singer to turn up on the nightclub circuit since Eartha Kitt and that she mixed her singing with improvised barefoot dances much to the delight of audiences. There were some striking photographs to accompany the feature. But it never really seemed to happen for Sallie.
Bethlehem used Russ Garcia a number of times as an arranger and conductor for its West Coast sessions. He was useful as someone who could easily flit between working on soundtracks in Hollywood and leading adventurous jazz recordings. He was, it seems, equally at home with the work of Schoenberg as he was with Duke Ellington, but didn‟t feel the need to make a big thing about his versatility. As perhaps the magnificent Porgy and Bess project shows, he had a sense of the absurd and even used the name Wigville for his Orchestra when recording for Bethlehem.
Among Russ‟ Bethlehem recordings was a 1956 LP he made with the appealingly photogenic singer Peggy Connelly, which featured terrific versions of That Old Black Magic and other standards performed with a twist. Jimmy Giuffre was among the musicians featured on this LP. The cover was one of Burt Goldblatt‟s finest works, featuring images of Peggy in a variety of coquettish poses, dressed in striped top and ski pants, looking like the finest amalgam of Elizabeth Taylor and Brigitte Bardot. The immediate impression on seeing the sleeve is of vintage Andy Warhol screenprints, but Burt Goldblatt was years ahead of the pop art crowd.
Garcia went on to make LPs with some of the great singers like Ella, Anita O‟Day, Blossom Dearie and Mel Tormé, as well as great records which have been lost along the way like Interlude with Lorrie Raine from 1957. In 1966 he sailed away from it all. But he remains a massive favourite of connoisseurs of space age pop, lounge and easy listening sounds on account of a series of records he made in the late „50s and early „60s. This included soundtrack work like his compellingly dramatic and beautiful score for The Time Machine in 1960. Then there was wonderful Sounds In The Night from 1956, initially released on the AAMCO label in 1956, and then picked up by Bethlehem. It is particularly highly rated by fans of choral singing. Garcia‟s arrangements are low-key and haunting, and the group singing (almost entirely wordless) is wonderful. At times the soprano stylings of Marni Nixon float over the top, like a beautiful clarinet solo, in a manner which prefigures much of Morricone‟s work in the „60s featuring Ella dell‟Orso. The other work of Garcia‟s that has an enthusiastic cult following is a set of space exotica that is pure genius from start to finish. While the setting of Fantastica! from 1959 is outer space, it actually feels much closer to home at times, somehow suggesting a soundtrack for a Patricia Highsmith novel, This Sweet Sickness or something, where the lead character is outwardly respectable and sophisticated but in reality is unravelling and psychotically disturbed. That‟s just my take on the music, and that‟s the beauty of „imaginary soundtracks‟. It does genuinely feel quite sinister, and it‟s easy to see how it led to Garcia being asked to compose the soundtrack for The Time Machine. ----
Among those taking part in the recording of Porgy and Bess were the Pat Moran Quartet. The Quartet‟s distinctive four-part intricate harmonies can be heard during the proceedings. While out on the West Coast the group also recorded their first LP for Bethlehem. A second LP for Bethlehem, While At Birdland, followed later that year with some brass and woodwind embellishments. The group‟s leader, the pianist Pat Moran, started playing jazz while at the Cincinatti Conservatory of Music. She teamed up with fellow student Bev Kelly, and in time the two of them headed for Chicago. Performing as a quartet, with John Doling on bass and John Whited on drums, they came to the attention of Bethlehem and were offered the opportunity to record. The Quartet‟s approach was three-fold. There was the web of harmonies as all the group pitched in with the vocals. The effect on these numbers was quite startling. And Lambert, Hendricks & Ross had yet to appear on the horizon. Then there were the instrumental numbers where Pat‟s piano playing took the lead. Her style was both forceful and tender, and she could really move things along in a distinctive hard bop way. On the other numbers Bev Kelly took the vocal lead in a commanding manner, stealing the show completely, such as on the dramatic Lullaby of the Leaves from the Birdland set where Sam Most adds fluttering flute lines to complement Pat Moran‟s strident piano.
At the end of 1957 Pat would record again with Scott LaFaro of Bill Evans and Ornette Coleman fame on bass and Gene Gammage on drums. This was released on the Audio Fidelity label as This Is Pat Moran, and repackaged as The Legendary Scott LaFaro to reach a different audience. Pat had started working with Scott just as his time with Chet Baker‟s group was ending. The sessions with Pat Moran were the first recordings Scott made as part of a trio, and they were I believe the favouriteones of all the sessions he played on. They recorded the one instrumental set, which is utterly fantastic. Pat‟s piano playing really drives the proceedings, and Scott‟s bass playing is superb. I‟m not the sort of person that really notices bass players as a rule, but there really was something unique about Scott‟s approach. He was clearly not content to let the bass disappear discreetly. He was right upfront, almost leading things in a way. The Pat Moran Trio, featuring Scott LaFaro, recorded another set at the end of 1957 backing Bev Kelly. This was released, again on Audio Fidelity, as Beverly Kelly Sings with the Pat Moran Trio. This really is one of the great vocal jazz sets. Her astonishing performance of You Don‟t Know What Love Is really is emotionally draining. If Chet Baker sings that song with weary resignation, then Bev sings it in a way that suggests she‟s been ripped apart by the course that true love has taken. The stark setting of piano, bass and drums fits the feel of the record perfectly, and Pat‟s piano playing and Scott‟s bass work seem intuitively to work perfectly together.
Scott is a fascinating figure. He died tragically young, in a car crash, at 25. But even by that time he had been a integral part of an impressive series of great jazz records. He looked fantastic too, lean with an early modernist crop. He devised his own way of playing. The trio/small group format fitted him perfectly. Just days after the Pat Moran sessions he would record in a trio with Victor Feldman on vibes and piano and Stan Levey on drums for the fantastic The Arrival of Victor Feldman LP. Feldman was the teenage prodigy of the London jazz scene who moved to the States in the mid-„50s and went on to play on many great records. Scott LaFaro and Stan Levey featured on another Victor Feldman title, Latinsville!, which was painstakingly put together during 1959. These excellent jazz adventures in afrocuban sounds also had contributions from Willie Bobo, Mongo Santamaria, Frank Rosolino and Vince Guaraldi among others. I suspect for Feldman it was an exciting extension of the experiements he was party to in London with Kenny Graham and Phil Seamen.
Following the buzz created by her LP with the Pat Moran Trio Bev Kelly made a couple of LPs for Riverside. Love Locked Out was recorded in 1959, with a great line-up including Kenny Burrell. Bev and Kenny sound particularly wonderful on Lonelyville, and it‟s easy to see how mentions of this record have writers reaching for lines about purring cult beatnik jazz . Among the set‟s other highlights are Gloomy Sunday, and rather more obscure numbers like Lost April and My Ship, the Kurt Weill and Ira Gershwin composition, which really do make the listener melt. Bev‟s In Person was released the following year. In her own words, after that: “At this point in bev‟s career, most of her fans believed she had „dropped out of sight.‟ In reality, bev made a monumental decision. She did not feel that having a career and traveling mixed well with being a mom to her son, Greg. So she opted for the latter with no regrets. In 1961, she and her husband, Chuck, moved to the Belmont Shore area of Long Beach, California. In 1963, they had another son, Shawn. During these years, bev began writing poetry and music, making pottery, raising German Shepherds, and working on her doctorate in psychology.” It‟s easier to trace Bev‟s story than it is for that of many of her contemporaries as she has a dedicated website detailing her activities and interests, and the records she subsequently made when she got involved with jazz again. The site itself is worth seeking out. There is a particularly appealing 1961 photo of Bev relaxin‟.
---It‟s not easy putting together information about the singer Paula Castle. I first came across Paula via The Girls of Bethlehem Vol. 1 where her Lost Love 10” is tagged with The Voice of Audrey Morris. The two sets complement each other perfectly, and it is an essential compilation. But even Michael Paul Lund‟s sleevenotes concede biographical details about Paula is scarce. As far as I can tell she recorded just the eight songs for Bethlehem in the mid-„50s. Even the astonishingly detailed Bethlehem jazz discography project is ironically vague about recording and release dates. It is known that Tom Dowd engineered the sessions, Creed Taylor produced the record, and Burt Goldblatt provided a suitably romantic and desolate impressionistic photo for the cover. It is also known that Paula sings with a small group consisting of Sam Most on flute, Ronnie Selbey on piano, Chet Amsterdam on bass and Herb Wasserman on drums.
Most of the tracks are misty, reflective ballads which Paula sings in a perfectly poignant way, often seemingly performing a duet with Sam Most‟s wonderful flute playing. Bass player Chet Amsterdam wrote the title track, a perfect torch song. I confess I don‟t know much about Chet, but his name does pop up on some great records, including later ones like Laura Nyro‟s Eli & the Thirteenth Confession and others by Gary McFarland, Spanky & Our Gang, Lotti Golden and John Berberien. Other great moments on Paula‟s 10” include Yesterday’s Gardenias, which Jeri Southern also did on her 1958 torch song collection Coffee Cigarettes and Memories. And there is You Don’t Know What Love Is which Bev Kelly later did in such a devastating manner. It‟s interesting, but once upon a time I found it off-putting hearing some songs sung by a range of different singers, but I‟ve grown to appreciate the way a vocalist can tease something different out of a melody or a phrase, and it is the twists and nuances that now fascinate.
The closing track Why Can’t I later appeared on one of those Music For A Bachelor’s Den volumes which were in vogue for a while. The volume it appeared on was subtitled Sex Kittens on the Hi-Fi – The Blondes. Now looking on the internet there is a photo of the original back cover of Paula‟s 10”, and while it is impossible to read the print clearly it certainly seems to suggest Paula is from New York, has black hair and likes Italian cooking. Of course that means nothing, as Bev Kelly for instance seems to be blonde on the cover of Love Locked Out. But confirmation about Paula‟s appearance came in a curious way courtesy of a home video loaded on YouTube by an old friend featuring Paula telling tales of „past days‟. Paula, it seems, remains a striking, raven haired New York lady, and there are glimpses of what she looked like many years before, which would be somewhere between Elizabeth Taylor and Maria Callas. Why on earth Paula didn‟t record more is a complete mystery to me. It‟s known she sang and recorded with Chubby Jackson‟s band in the late „40s. She is also featured on Joe Roland‟s 1950 set Joltin’ Joe singing Love Is Just Around The Corner. Vibraphonist Joe coincidentally made an LP for Bethlehem in 1955.
I have a particular weakness for flutes used in the jazz context. And in the 1950s Bethlehem Records were pretty important in promoting pioneering jazz flutists. Herbie Mann was very active on the label, and so was Sam Most whom Leonard Feather described as the first truly creative jazz flutist. As well as providing exceptional support to singers like Paula Castle and the Pat Moran Quartet, Most made some great records for Bethlehem as a leader. These included the excellent Musically Yours LP from 1956 where Sam leads a quartet featuring Bob Dorough on piano. This has since been salvaged and rebranded on CD as Bob Dorough & Sam Most Quartet Complete Recordings. It also includes recordings made at the end of 1953 featuring Percy Heath on bass and Louis Bellson on drums.
The CD liner notes focus on the story of Bob Dorough, “a jazz enigma”. It wouldn‟t have always been that way. Bob hasn‟t always been a „national treasure‟. I adore Dorough, but it took me some time to get there. It‟s not just Bob‟s persona, piano playing, singing and song writing that I love. It‟s wonderful where his name pops up, and it‟s really the cumulative effect of that which made me finally appreciate his genius. The first time I heard, as in really listened to, a Bob Dorough record was via the incredibly important Joe Sarno of Singer Saints fame who‟d „shared‟ the 1966 LP Just About Everything. I knew the name Bob Dorough, naturally, from here and there, but never really knew about him. At first I thought this is like The Muppets do Mose Allison. The record started with a sort of ragtime take on Bob Dylan‟s Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright and then a stroll through Hoagy Carmichael‟s Baltimore Oriole. I found it all delightfully disorientating, but came to realise it was an incredibly important statement as in look there is an entirely natural link between Bob Dylan and Hoagy Carmichael, which I‟m not sure everybody would have realised at the time but Bob Dorough got it. Bob recorded his first LP in October 1956 for Bethlehem Records. Devil May Care featured Bob on piano and singing with Bill Takus on bass, Jerry Segal on drums, Warren Fitzgerald on trumpet and Jack Hitchcock on vibes. The LP captures Bob developing his distinctive bebop vocal style and smarter than smart beat-boho-cool persona. A cover of Baltimore Oriole is included, but the standout track is Yardbird Suite, Bob‟s vocalese tribute to Charlie Parker, which really does capture exactly the excitement someone like Dorough would have felt discovering the music of Bird as a young man, seeing him play, becoming immersed in the jazz life, and so on, so so so much more effectively than all the scholarly analyses. If Bob came on like a hip hyper Hoagy then that was fair enough. Oddly they got to appear on a record together, if not actually record together. This was the remarkable
Jazz Canto collection which came out in 1958, and set a selection of poetry in a jazz context. Bob and Hoagy were among the readers. The Bob Dorough Quintet‟s interpretation of Lawrence Ferlinghetti‟s Dog is as quintessentially hip and beat as you can possibly get. Although John Carradine with the Chico Hamilton Quintet performing Lawrence Lipton‟s Night Song For The Sleepless is remarkable, to put it mildly.
I believe that at the time of recording Devil May Care Bob had only recently returned to the New York scene. One of his „jobs‟ had been to play piano for Sugar Ray Robinson, the great boxer who decided to try his luck as a singer and dancer. Their adventures took them to Paris. While there, or perhaps while stranded there, Bob would hang out with the likes of Annie Ross, Blossom Dearie, and Maya Angelou who was there singing calypsos. You can imagine them as minor characters in a James Baldwin novel. One of the first, if not THE first, time Bob Dorough‟s name registered with me was the curious inclusion of his song Nothing Like You at the end of Miles Davis‟ Sorcerer. I say „curious‟ because that‟s how you always see jazz critics describe it, but it always made sense to me as an act of contrariness on Miles‟ part to add the song on the end to throw people who think they‟ve got it all worked out. The whole thing between Miles and Bob seems to have started out in LA in 1959. Miles had been visiting his old friend, the singer Terry Morel, I like to think in her tree house out in Laurel Canyon, and he saw Bob Dorough‟s Devil May Care LP and asked to hear it. Apparently he really liked the way Bob sang Baltimore Oriole. When Bob heard about his new fan, and conveniently being in LA at the time too, he went along with Terry to see Miles play at the Seville on Santa Monica Boulevard. When Terry introduced the pair Miles insisted Bob go out on stage and perform Baltimore Oriole. This encounter led to Bob singing a couple of songs with Miles and Gil Evans in 1962. One track was the cynical Christmas number, Blue Xmas, and the other was Nothing Like You. And who else got to sing with Miles? Nothing Like You was a song Bob had written with Fran Landesman. Or rather Bob had set Fran‟s words to music. They‟d first met back in 1960 when Bob had been invited out to St Louis to star in a musical adaptation of Nelson Algren‟s A Walk On The Wild Side. Fran had been working on it with her songwriting partner Tommy Wolf and Algren himself who had recently returned from Paris where he‟d been a favourite of Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. It was to be staged at the Crystal Palace, a cabaret theatre which Fran‟s husband Jay owned with his brother. Fran and Tommy had enjoyed some success as songwriters before this, with the song Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most. I think the singer Jerri Winters was the first to
record what has now become something of a standard, albeit a challenging one, in 1955 for an LP on Fraternity. Jerri would actually record a great LP, Somebody Loves Me, for Bethlehem in 1957. Plenty of other singers have recorded Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most, including Mark Murphy, Jackie & Roy, Betty Carter, and so on. Another success for Fran and Tommy was the musical, The Nervous Set, based on a novel by Jay Landesman, about The Beat Generation, which opened at the Crystal Palace in March 1959. The show bequeathed the world two classic songs. One was Night People, which became the title track of one of June Christy‟s wonderful LPs, and the other was The Ballad of the Sad Young Men where Fran‟s words capture a certain world weariness which again has been sung by a number of great artists including Roberta Flack, Davy Graham, Anita O‟Day, Karin Krog and Mark Murphy (who added a passage from Jack Kerouac‟s On The Road at the beginning).
The musical based on A Walk On The Wild Side was not a success. The play only lasted a few weeks. And I only know of a couple of songs from it that have appeared elsewhere. One is I’m A Born World Shaker which was performed by the singer Ernie Andrews on an LP he made with Cannonball Adderley‟s band for Capitol, which David Axelrod produced. The other is This Life We’ve Led, which the great Irene Kral recorded for her 1965 LP Wonderful Life. Irene recorded a number of Fran and Tommy‟s songs at various times in her career, and indeed Tommy Wolf wrote the sleeve notes for her fantastic 1963 LP, Better Than Anything where she was backed by the Junior Mance Trio. Irene‟s brother was Roy Kral who with his musical partner Jackie Cain also recorded a number of Fran Landesman lyrics. Roy wrote some songs with Fran along the way, including Stopping The Clock which Mark Murphy recorded in 1961 for his exemplary LP Rah! During Bob Dorough‟s stay in St Louis he put music to a number of Fran‟s songs, including Nothing Like You, Small Day Tomorrow (which Irene Kral, again, did a lovely version of), and The Winds of Heaven which the 5th Dimension and Jackie & Roy did wonderfully. When success did occasionally collide with Bob Dorough it was in the strangest of circumstances. For example, he put words to a tune by the bass player Ben Tucker in the early „60s. The tune was I’m Coming Home. Herbie Mann recorded an amazing instrumental version, live at the Village Gate in New York in 1961. Somehow, the song, with Bob‟s words added, made its way to Mel Tormé‟s people. Mel recorded it for Atlantic, and the rest is history. So many people have recorded it since, though I would argue the best is a „lost‟ version Frances Faye made as a single for Audio Fidelity which is astonishingly fierce. It would be many years before I made a connection between I’m Coming Home and another of my favourite songs which I first came across performed by the Irish folk group The Johnstons as the title track of a 1968 LP on Transatlantic. I absolutely loved the
song when I got it on CD in the late‟90s, and while the writing credit said Scharf/Dorough I didn‟t realise it was Bob Dorough. I didn‟t know either that the song was a minor hit for Spanky & Our Gang, or that Dorough and his then musical partner Stuart Scharf were closely involved with the recording of the second and third Spanky & Our Gang LPs. I suspect I may have been a bit sniffy about Spanky & Co. at that time even if I had known as part of the lingering influence of Julian Cope‟s outlook on pop as absorbed in the early „80s. Now I adore Spanky & Our Gang. I understand much more about how people involved in harmony pop/soft psychedelic sounds had roots in blues and jazz, and that it wasn‟t all about progressive folkies. After all Bob Dylan himself is the first to tell us that in the New York of the early „60s the music was all gloriously mixed up. You could stagger from a folk club to a jazz joint, and so on. So there are parts of the close harmony work of Spanky & Co. now where I can detect distinct similarities with what The Pat Moran Quartet or Jackie & Roy were doing ten years before. And the inclusion of Hoagy Carmichael songs is a giveaway. The title track of the group‟s third LP, recorded in late 1968, Without Rhyme or Reason, was an old Bob Dorough and Fran Landesman song, and it really is exquisite with its jazzy feel and intricate harmonies. The LP that Dorough and Scharf were brought in to help Sparky & Co. on was Like To Get To Know You. The title track was a Scharf song, and the big hit was the cover of Margo Guryan‟s Sunday Morning. It‟s fairly well documented now how Margo had something of an epiphany when her friend Dave Frishberg played her the Beach Boys‟ God Only Knows, and how at that point she realised that what was being created in the pop world had the same special quality that she‟d previously found in her jazz background. Margo‟s song writing adapted accordingly, and she recorded the classic Take A Picture LP as well as writing a wonderful selection of songs for others to sing. Margo, incidentally, produced with David Rosner, Oklahoma Toad, the debut LP of the great singer, pianist and song writer Dave Frishberg, which was one of the earliest releases on Creed Taylor‟s CTI label in the late „60s. Known now as a jazz man, the LP is wonderfully poppy with some great songs on like Van Lingle Mungo, which is a swinging bossa nova affair with lyrics made up of a list of baseball players. Margo and David had recorded the LP out on the West Coast, with Stuart Scharf and Al Cohn among the contributors. Creed Taylor then tinkered with the mix back on the East Coast. There is, I believe, a Japanese CD edition that has both mixes of the LP on, but I confess I‟ve not been lucky enough to get my hands on a copy at a reasonable price.
Frishberg had been around the jazz world since the late „50s, and at the start of the „60s wrote the ultimate hipster putdown, I’m Hip, with music by Bob Dorough, which Blossom Dearie would later love to sing. The lyrics of which could nicely be adapted for any era: See, I'm hip. I'm no square. I'm alert, I'm awake, I'm aware. I am always on the scene. Making the rounds, digging the sounds. I read Playboy Magazine. 'Cuz I'm hip. Like, dig! I'm in step. When it was hip to be hep, I was hep. I don't blow but I'm a fan. Look at me swing. Ring a ding-ding. I even call my girlfriend "man," 'cuz I'm hip. Every Saturday night with my suit buttoned tight and my suedes on I'm getting my kicks digging arty French flicks with my shades on. I'm too much. I'm a gas. I am anything but middle class. When I hang around the band, Popping my thumbs, digging the drums, Squares don't seem to understand Why I flip. They're not hip like I'm hip. Scatting I'm hip! I'm on top of every trend. Look at me go. Vo-dee-o-do. Sammy Davis knew my friend. I'm hip, but not weird. Like, you notice, I don't wear a beard. Beards were in but now they're out. They had their day. Now they're passé. Just ask me if you're in doubt, 'cuz I'm hip. Now I'm deep into Zen meditation and macrobiotics, And as soon as I can I intend to get into narcotics. 'Cuz I'm cool as a cuke. I'm a cat, I'm a card, I'm a kook, kook, kook. I get so much out of life. Really, I do. Skoo ba dee boo. One more time play Mack the Knife. Let 'er rip. I may flip, but I'm hip. I believe Stuart Scharf and Bob Dorough were invited to work with Spanky & Our Gang after hearing what they‟d done with Chad Mitchell who had moved on to perhaps more adventurous pastures after his time leading folk outfit the Chad Mitchell Trio. He‟d also recorded the Fran and Bob song Without Rhyme or Reason. I don‟t know too much about how these collaborations came about, but the „60s must have been tough for jazz singers and so I guess the likes of Bob Dorough had to scrabble around for work and were grateful to find it wherever it popped up. But anyone as cool as Bob was would have had open ears and liked some of the things going on in the „60s counter-culture, and the feeling would have been mutual. Hence, for example, The Fugs were guys who had been knocking around for some while, so it‟s not too much of a surprise to find Bob Dorough involved with the recording of the It Crawled Into My Hand, Honest set from 1968 when they had the luxury of a major label budget courtesy of Reprise.
I guess like a lot of people I‟ve grown up on stories about the exploits of Ed Sanders and The Fugs, and have probably read more about them than actually listened to them. This LP then was quite a surprise as there was quite a lot of structure and beautiful music amid the chaos and madcap tomfoolery. The same applies to the Holy Modal Rounders, who I always bracketed with The Fugs. Bob Dorough had connections there too, producing their Good Taste Is Timeless LP in Nashville. I believe the Rounders find it a little too „straight‟. Personally, I always struggle with the Rounders as they make me burst out laughing thinking of a Muppets sketch featuring a jug band rave-up. Another record Dorough played on was Allen Ginsberg remarkable interpretations of William Blake‟s Songs of Innocence and Experience, which was recorded in New York in December 1969 and released as an LP by MGM. Bob Dorough‟s strangest and most enduring success came via the Schoolhouse Rock phenomenon, which was first aired on the US‟ ABC network in 1973. As far as I know it never made it to the UK, so the first inkling I had of its existence was when De La Soul‟s Magic Number lit up our lives at the start of the Daisy Age in 1989, and various smart arses pointed out that it drew heavily on the song Three Is A Magic Number which Bob Dorough wrote and sang for an animated kids‟ educational TV show. I didn‟t think much about it at the time, and just imagined this was some Ken Nordine novelty thing. I guess it would be many years before I got a real sense of how wonderful the songs from those shows were, and finally understood why kids in the States revere Bob when they realise he was the person behind those songs. As I understand it the bass player Ben Tucker was the person who recommended to TV executives that Bob Dorough was the person to write and sing songs that would help kids get to grips with their grammar and arithmetic. Bob only agreed when he realised he wouldn‟t have to patronise the kids tuning in, so he got away with writing a whole series of smart, witty, and wordy songs that had a very specific educational purpose which appealed enormously to his audience. And it wasn‟t just Bob. He got some of his old colleagues involved. Terry Morel sang on Conjunction Junction. Blossom Dearie sang a couple of songs, as did the trumpet player Jack Sheldon. Essra Mohawk also wrote and sang a couple of numbers. And none of these people had attained national treasure status at the time.
------What did you listen to when you were growing up? TW: "It was mostly the hit parade, that kind of stuff. There are a lot of composers I like: George and Ira Gershwin, Jerome Kern, Johnny Mercer, bless his soul, Cole Porter... " MH: That stamps you as somewhat of a trowback these days, more than a little out of sync with tha mainstream of the American music scene. TW: "Well, I do like some of the current people. I like Martin Mull, Randy Newman... Another composer I like is Bob Dorough. He wrote Baltimore Oriole back in the '50s; nowadays he writes mostly for kid shows. The first time I got hip to him was on an album called Poetry And Jazz, John Carradine was on it reading some Dylan Thomas stuff. Dorough did a Ferlinghetti poem, something called A Dog, I think." There is a particular American tradition. Tom Waits sort of taps into it in that curious quote from Downbeat in 1976. In a press release for The Heart of Saturday Night, on another occasion, he cites that he was: "Musically pulling influence from Mose Allison, Thelonious Monk, Randy Newman, George Gershwin, Irving Berlin, Ray Charles, Stephen Foster, Frank Sinatra...." You could I guess have easily added Hoagy Carmichael to that list. You could even be bold and add Bobby Troup to that tradition.
Bobby Troup is I guess the antithesis of Tom Waits in that he was ultra-suave and smooth. Looking at vintage clips of him performing on YouTube he looks the epitome of mature Ivy League cool, with his grey crewcut and smart knitwear as he swings gently through his composition Route 66. He‟d written the song back in 1946, and the Nat King Cole Trio had made it a hit shortly afterwards. Somehow over the years the song was debased to a point where it‟s become a bar room/pub rock cliché you‟d run a mile from. But when you see Bobby Troup taking it slow and easily you get a sense that it just might be a good idea to get hip to the kind of trip you can have on Route 66. In 1955 Bobby Troup made a couple of LPs for Bethlehem Records where he adopts a languid Hoagy Carmichael loping approach to his singing and piano playing. One LP was made up of of Johnny Mercer songs and the other was of selections from the Great American Songbook with particular emphasis on the compositions of Rodgers and Hart and the Gershwins. On both sets the backing was pretty minimal, with Howard Roberts‟ guitar very much to the fore. I‟m not sure why Bobby didn‟t record any of his own songs for Bethlehem. Perhaps he didn‟t want to. Perhaps he wasn‟t feeling that confident about his songs at the time. He hadn‟t been going through a successful spell. But he was a great songwriter. Some other of his well-known numbers prove this: Girl Talk, The Meaning of the Blues, The Girl Can’t Help It. Little Richard, of course, sang The Girl Can’t Help It in the film of the same name, which contained the memorable scene where a very drunk Tom Ewell puts on a copy of Julie London‟s LP Julie Is Her Name only to be haunted by a succession of images of Julie singing her signature tune Cry Me A River. Julie would have an awful lot to do with a change in the fortunes of Bobby Troup, and vice versa. It was Bobby that encouraged Julie to become a singer, acting as her mentor or Svengali and eventually becoming her husband. As Julie became successful, so Bobby‟s profile got higher and within a couple of years he was hosting the Stars of Jazz TV series.
Cry Me A River was the song that changed everything. In 1955, Bobby Troup got Bethlehem to record his reluctant protégée. Bobby had accompanied her on piano, Howard Roberts played guitar, Buddy Collette provided flute and Bob Enevoldsen was on bass. Despite the songs featuring on compilations Bethlehem didn‟t press ahead with more recordings of Julie. Instead Bobby Troup sold his vision to the newly-started Liberty Records, and before long Cry Me A River was a massive hit. And its appeal seems to be eternal. But there was nothing obvious or inevitable about it at all. Julie was different from most jazz singers in that she didn‟t have a big band background, and she seems to have been uncomfortable in the limelight and very aware of her limitations. But what she did worked perfectly, creating an astonishing sense of intimacy.
The song itself was unusual in that it wasn‟t from the Great American Songbook, and its composer wasn‟t an established name. Arthur Hamilton had been a school friend of Julie‟s. Before Cry Me A River took off, his success had been limited, though Peggy Lee had already performed a couple of his numbers in the film Pete Kelly’s Blues, the gorgeous He Needs Me and Sing A Rainbow which became rather more famous later when the Dells and Cilla Black among others covered it. And the arrangement of the song itself, Cry Me A River, was decidedly daring and seductively stark, with just Barney Kessel on guitar and Ray Leatherwood on bass. Peggy Lee had captured a similar haunting/haunted feel with the theme from the Nicholas Ray 1954 film Johnny Guitar, which she wrote with the great Victor Young, but the team around Julie took the template and really sold it to the market. And it wasn‟t just in the States where the reverberations were felt. In Ruy Castro‟s delightfully gossipy Bossa Nova book he writes about how Barney‟s guitar playing on that song and the subsequent Julie Is Her Name LP became an obsession with a new generation of aspiring musicians in Brazil such as Roberto Menescal, Francis Hime, Eumir Deodato, Marcos Valle, and Edu Lobo. The other song he mentions that had a similar impact was Peggy Lee‟s Fever. Ironically when the bossa nova wave hit the States its style would be perfectly suited to Julie‟s singing, and she would record some gorgeous bossa flavoured numbers.
I can understand the young musicians in Brazil obsessing over Cry Me A River and Fever. I found myself in a similar position with those songs as a kid in the early „80s with a head full of ideas and passions ignited by the likes of Vic Godard, Weekend, Carmel, Postcard Records and the Jazzateers, Everything But The Girl, the twisted torch songs of Lydia Lunch and Ze Records, Ian Penman writing about torch songs in the NME, and so on. With a very limited knowledge of jazz and no easy access to the past‟s treasure troves those two songs perfectly captured perfectly for me an idea of what music could be, stripped down in arrangement, emotionally raw and yet wonderfully sophisticated and glamorous. Liberty worked Julie hard, and she would record a couple of dozen or so LPs for the label before bowing out of the music scene at the end of the „60s with no regrets. Several of these LPs featured smart, urbane numbers written by Bobby Troup, including the title track of Julie‟s second LP, Lonely Girl. I think that song sort of captures the essence of a torch song‟s appeal – that is, how someone so obviously attractive can endure heartache and loneliness. And listening to that LP in particular it feels as if you are intruding on a scene of very private grief. For that second LP Bobby Troup had pared the sound down even further with just Al Viola on guitar accompanying Julie.
Naturally the formula varied, and in 1958 Russ Garcia was drafted in to arrange and conduct on a couple of LPs. The first of these was About The Blues, where the songs all had a blues theme in the title at least. This was not an unusual device at the time, and there are plenty of examples of similar conceptual LPs such as Mary Ann McCall‟s gorgeous Detour To The Moon. Russ‟ arrangements for About The Blues were suitably inventive, and he magically manages to use the occasional blaring brass and dramatic strings in a way that actually enhances Julie‟s singing rather than drowns it. The second LP Russ did with Julie was the unsettlingly wonderful Make Love To Me, where the strings are seductively low-key and Julie‟s voice was beginning to deepen and grow more huskily confident. Julie Is Her Name Vol. 2, the next LP in the sequence though is the important one, with Julie back on familiar territory, accompanied by just Howard Roberts on guitar and Red Mitchell on bass. Howard‟s guitar work is more bluesy and spiky than Barney‟s had been, and it really suits Julie.
The last record that Julie made was the wonderful 1969 LP Yummy Yummy Yummy where she followed the trend of adult contemporary artists in covering some of the cooler pop songs of the day. The record was arranged by Tommy Oliver, who had one of those oh so „60s-ish pedigrees of working with everyone from Joanie Sommers and Vikki Carr to the Jefferson Airplane. I adore this particular LP of Julie‟s, and Tommy lets her take it so nice and easy through the songs that she positively purrs. And the choices of songs are great. It starts with Laura Nyro‟s Stoned Soul Picnic and closes with Louie Louie, and they‟re both treated like torch song standards. Light My Fire is, as ever, wonderful in the jazzy easy listening context. The Beatles‟ And I Love Him is gorgeous too, while Dylan‟s Mighty Quinn is plain bizarre. The success of Spanky & Our Gang must have struck a chord with Julie‟s people, as Stuart Scharf‟s Like To Get To Know You and Margo Guryan‟s Sunday Morning are covered beautifully. Another of Margo‟s gems, Come To Me Slowly, is included, and sung in a much more smoky, weary way than other versions by, say, Samantha Jones or Margo herself. And then there is the title track, a bubblegum ditty delivered with all the potency of Nina Simone singing Feeling Good which transforms the song entirely. It‟s almost unnerving. Into the 1970s and Julie London and Bobby Troup became stars of the long-running medical adventure LA-based TV series Emergency! I am not aware of any overlap the characters may have had with a certain Lieutenant Colombo of the LAPD. ---And yes, it was a mistake. It wasn‟t the jazz singer Audrey Morris that featured as a guest star in that episode of Colombo. It was the British actor Aubrey Morris. I had to look him up, though. It seems he is one of those character actors, of the sort that could easily be celebrated in OK You Mugs, the wonderful book edited by Luc Dante and Melissa Holbrook Pierson. Old Aubrey has been in a whole host of „cult‟ films, Up The Junction, The Wicker Man, A Clockwork Orange, Lisztomania, as well as numerous TV appearances, including The Prisoner and Danger Man, hence the Patrick McGoohan connection, I guess. There was another Aubrey Morris, a Jewish tailor at Highbury Corner, much loved by the original London mods. But that‟s another story.
---Further reading: Tyler Alpern http://www.tyleralpern.com/bethlehem.html Burt Goldblatt http://www.birkajazz.com/archive/bethlehem.htm http://www.angelynngrant.com/writing/GoldenAge.html Bethlehem discography project http://www.jazzdisco.org/bethlehem-records/ Fred Dellar – Bethlehem http://www.rocksbackpagesblogs.com/2009/03/bethelem-records/
---With apologies to those who know much more about these things … www.yrheartout.blogspot.com