Norman Field on the correct key for Armstrong’s Cornet Chop Suey

December 13, 2014 at 5:30 pm (good people, history, intellectuals, jazz, New Orleans, posted by JD)

I met up with my old friend Norman Field yesterday, and – as is invariably the case with this extraordinary autodidact – had a wonderful time. The conversation ranged from nineteenth century European history, to contemporary jazz-scene gossip and Birmingham local history. Along the way we touched upon Thatcher and the Falklands war, the arranging skills of Fud Livingston and the reason(s) why Paul Whiteman and his Orchestra left Victor records and joined Columbia 1928.

Norman is (was?) a fantastic clarinet and sax player but has now – for reasons best known to himself and which I would not presume to cross-examine him over – more or less given up playing in public. Suffice to say that people who know about hot jazz (Keith Nichols, Scott Robinson, Richard Pite, to name but three) regard him as a master and oracle. Scott Robinson, having heard Norman play at the Whitley Bay classic jazz festival a few years ago, described him as a “f****n’ genius.”

I should add that Norman made me a clear plastic 78 rpm record (of Jimmy McPartland with the Original Wolverines) in the course of our meeting!

Norman’s commitment to serious jazz research is demonstrated by this article, from his website. It’s reproduced here with his permission:

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Louis Armstrong’s ‘Cornet Chop Suey’ (1926): What key is it in?

Above: Armstrong’s Hot Five

By Norman Field

This article could not have been written without the generous help of Michael Kieffer, to whom many thanks. Other acknowledgements will be found at the foot of the text.

Over the years, I had occasionally heard that some doubt existed as to the correct key for Louis Armstrong’s tune of this name. The doubt specifically concerned the original version of it, which he had recorded with the Hot Five for OKeh early in 1926. This problem had apparently been around for some years. It had been discussed in the correspondence columns of Jazz magazines; possibly articles had been written about it, and it had certainly been talked about quite a bit. I understood that well known trumpet players had gone into the problem, and that, surprisingly, there was still no general agreement.

A few years ago, I became interested in selecting the correct pitch for early Jazz and dance band records, and found that by applying a few simple tests, it was – usually – possible to be fairly sure of the correct speed at which to play a 78 rpm record, so that it would come out at the correct pitch.

However, these tests were only valid for Jazz and dance records made in the U.S.A. and Britain in the 1920s through to about the mid-1930s; and even then, only when the band included a piano. It primarily rested with the piano, of course, and the assumption that this would be tuned to a standard pitch. I asked the late John R.T. Davies, the doyen of 78 rpm record restorers, whether this assumption was acceptable. He agreed strongly, pointing out that the major record companies (Victor, HMV, Columbia, Brunswick, Vocalion, Odeon, OKeh &c.) were large concerns, recording the most prominent international artistes, and the use of first-class pianos was to be expected, and therefore, for pitching purposes, that assumption was valid, tenable; indeed, unavoidable.

Of course, there are instances of ‘below-par’ pianos to be found on some Jazz and dance records of this period. However, these are probably pianos that are simply rather out of tune (with themselves), and sound ‘ploingy’ as a result. This is quite a different thing from the piano being tuned to the wrong pitch altogether. (See appendix 1.) 

So in general our assumption that the pianos are tuned to standard pitch is valid as a starting point. In any case, if for example, a piano had been allowed to become very flat in pitch, it would be difficult for wind instruments – the clarinet in particular – to ‘get down’ to the pitch of the piano without becoming out of tune with itself. And if a piano had somehow been tuned very sharp, a clarinet would simply not be able to get up to that pitch at all. Overall, the statement: ‘Pianos in recording locations, whether permanent or temporary, were, in general, tuned to standard pitch’ is a reasonable one, and likely to be true far more often than not.

And what actually is this standard pitch? As far as the U.S.A. goes, the note A (the one above middle C on the piano) should be 440 Hz, usually written as A=440. And the standard pitch used in Britain for orchestral and dance music at that time (circa 1900 – 1945) was A=439, a fairly trivial difference, so that the same tests can be used pretty safely for both countries. (See appendix 2.) 

As for other countries, and other styles of music, and indeed those artists and ensembles in the U.S.A. and Britain not using a piano, the application of ‘The General Rule Of The Piano’ must – in the first instance – be assumed to be inapplicable and, consequently, conclusions from it non-viable. I am not qualified to comment further on these musics; but certainly commend those who may be interested in them to pursue their own researches on these fascinating topics. Perhaps they will be able to derive some simple tests to help ensure correct pitching of old 78 recordings of e.g. a Javanese gamelin orchestra, or a Cantonese instrumental ensemble? After all, the correct pitching of any and every ‘78 rpm’ record is an essential part of properly preserving, for posterity, the information contained on it.

About three years ago, I heard of the existence of a CD set of early Louis Armstrong classics that included the 1926 Hot Five ‘Cornet Chop Suey’ twice. Once in the key of E flat; and also in the key of F. This was because, in the opinion of the compilers of the set, there was still no general consensus on which key it was in. To include it, therefore, in both keys was certainly very commendable. But I was puzzled that a record could be attributed to two keys so much as a tone apart. Not merely a semitone, but a whole tone: really a very large interval! In theory at least, it should have been fairly easy to decide which was the true one. The trumpet players who disagreed on the key of the piece may have (I don’t know…) played the tune over on their trumpets (or cornets) in both keys. And then used, as a basis for their conclusion, the fingering of their horns indicating one key rather than the other because one key ‘fell more naturally under the fingers’ than the other. At least, I assume that this is what they did. If my assumption is correct, then I have to say that that approach might at times be deceptive. As a clarinet player, time and time again, I have tried to find out exactly what Johnny Dodds or Don Murray played on their clarinets back in the 1920s, and the more I learn, the more I distrust what seems logical on the surface. Also, as the decades pass, it becomes ever more difficult to even attempt to analyse the ‘mindset’ of a 1920s virtuoso player. Certainly, Dodds and Murray were both virtusosi of the clarinet. They could play anything they mentally conceived… and usually did so. Perhaps intuitively, they ‘eliminated the instrument from the equation’: the music that appeared in their consciousness was the music that straightway sounded in the club or the ballroom in which they were playing. There was no intervention of any ‘problem of execution’ on their instrument. If – as I suspect – they (along with most other top musicians) did this, they were rather in advance of their time. They did not need to read treatises on the psychology of musicianship, the bulk of which have proliferated in the last 50 years. They just did it anyway.

If Dodds & Murray could do that, how much more could Louis Armstrong do it? Louis, from his first startling appearances on disc in 1923, was manifestly a very special case. On this basis, Louis’s cornet fingering patterns, I thought, might be rather unsusceptible to logical analysis. I’d found exactly the same in trying to play Dodds’s clarinet solo on ‘Potato Head Blues’ by the Hot Seven on a clarinet in C, in case he was playing one of those, instead of the normal B flat clarinet. Both fingerings, I found, were pretty equally plausible.  Read the rest of this entry »

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No benefits for them?

November 29, 2014 at 4:16 pm (anti-fascism, Europe, good people, history, Human rights, immigration, Poland, posted by JD, Racism, war)

Tomas Prouza posted the picture (above) on Friday, having been upset by Cameron’s suggestion that EU immigrants should only be allowed to claim welfare after they had been in the UK for four years.

Tomas responded by posting the photo of these Eastern Europeans (not only Czechs, but Poles as well) who helped defeat fascism, with the words: “These Czechs ‘worked’ in the UK for less than four years. No benefits for them?”

This followed an earlier Tweet by Prouza in which he said: “Cameron’s speech on migration: taxing people according to their nationality? What other criteria will come next?”

Prouza’s sentiments were echoed in Warsaw, with the Polish Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz releasing a statement that read: “Poland will not agree to changes undermining the principles of the EU’s single market, specifically the free movement of people.”

The Tory leader’s speech marks an attempt to regain the agenda after embarrassing official figures showed net migration to Britain is higher than it was when the coalition came to power, leading experts to conclude that his promise to cut migrant numbers was “dead and buried”.

Unemployed Europeans heading to Britain to find work will have six months to find a job or they will be kicked out, he said in a keynote speech on immigration.

Cameron’s proposals may be hard to enact as the European Parliament’s President Martin Schulz has warned that they would need the approval of all the rest of the European Union’s member states.

“Let’s be clear,” he told the Huffington Post UK. “If they [Cameron’s proposals] are not in the interests of all 28 member states, we will not get it [any re-negotiation].”

Schulz said that the UK was not part of the Schengen Group [26 European member states without border control] or in the euro, and the rest of the member states would only look at any new proposals for change once they were concrete.

“He says ‘our relationship with the European Union’, well, this is a relationship with yourself. The UK is a member of the EU. I don’t negotiate about my relationship with myself, it’s a little bit strange.”

Cameron signalled that those with jobs will only receive in-work benefits, such as tax credits, and social housing once they have been in the UK for four years.

No child benefits or tax credits for children living elsewhere in Europe will be paid out, regardless of how long an EU migrant has paid into UK coffers under the plans.

He insisted the package of measures he is unveiling will mean Britain has the toughest welfare system for EU migrants anywhere in Europe.

He said: “People have understandably become frustrated. It boils down to one word: control. People want Government to have control over the numbers of people coming here and the circumstances in which they come, both from around the world and from within the European Union. And yet in recent years, it has become clear that successive Governments have lacked control. People want grip.

“I get that.They don’t want limitless immigration and they don’t want no immigration. They want controlled immigration. And they are right. Britain supports the principle of freedom of movement of workers. Accepting the principle of free movement of workers is a key to being part of the single market.

“So we do not want to destroy that principle or turn it on its head. But freedom of movement has never been an unqualified right, and we now need to allow it to operate on a more sustainable basis in the light of the experience of recent years. My objective is simple: to make our immigration system fairer and reduce the current exceptionally high level of migration from within the EU into the UK.

“We intend to cut migration from within Europe by dealing with abuse; restricting the ability of migrants to stay here without a job; and reducing the incentives for lower paid, lower skilled workers to come here in the first place. We want to create the toughest system in the EU for dealing with abuse of free movement.

“We want EU jobseekers to have a job offer before they come here and to stop UK taxpayers having to support them if they don’t … EU jobseekers who don’t pay in will no longer get anything out. And those who do come will no longer be able to stay if they can’t find work.

“The British people need to know that changes to welfare to cut EU migration will be an absolute requirement in the renegotiation. I say to our European partners, we have real concerns. Our concerns are not outlandish or unreasonable. We deserve to be heard, and we must be heard.

“Here is an issue which matters to the British people, and to our future in the European Union. The British people will not understand – frankly I will not understand – if a sensible way through cannot be found, which will help settle this country’s place in the EU once and for all.

“And to the British people I say this. If you elect me as Prime Minister in May, I will negotiate to reform the European Union, and Britain’s relationship with it. This issue of free movement will be a key part of that negotiation.

“If I succeed, I will, as I have said, campaign to keep this country in a reformed EU. If our concerns fall on deaf ears and we cannot put our relationship with the EU on a better footing, then of course I rule nothing out. But I am confident that, with goodwill and understanding, we can and will succeed.”

Tomas Prouza responded with the photo at the top of this post, and the words: “These Czechs ‘worked’ in the ‪#‎UK‬ for less than four years. No benefits for them?”

H/t: Ian Woodland

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Coleridge Goode – 100 not out!

November 28, 2014 at 6:50 pm (good people, jazz, Jim D)

Above Coleridge, about 15 years ago, playing along to one of his records with Django Reinhardt

“During the mid-thirties jazz in Britain was enriched by the presence of West Indian musicians like trumpeters Dave Wilkins and Leslie Hutchinson; saxophonists Bertie King, George Roberts, George Tyndale, Louis Stephenson and Freddie Grant; pianist Erroll Barrow; bassist Coleridge Goode; drummer Clinton Maxwell and guitarist Lauderick Caton. They were often joined, in various combinations, by the Cardiff-born blacks, Joe and Frank Deniz, on guitar” – Jim Godbolt, Jazz in Britain 1950-70 (Quartet Books, 1989).

The late Jim Godbolt’s tribute to black musicians on the early British jazz scene was as welcome as it was unusual in 1989. Sadly, all the players he mentions are now long gone – with one exception: bassist Coleridge Goode who is still with us and celebrates his 100th birthday tomorrow, Saturday 29th November. Coleridge has had an amazing career: he worked with Stephane Grappelli and Django Reinhardt when they were in London in the 1940’s, in Ray Ellington’s Quartet (regulars on the Goon Show), and in the late ’50s began working with fellow West Indian Joe Harriott in a pioneering group playing free-form jazz and then, in the ’60s, Indo-jazz fusions.

He continued playing until only a few years ago, and was a regular at veteran bebop drummer Laurie Morgan’s jam sessions at the Kings Head in Crouch End, London (which I believe, are still going on) in the 1990s. At 100 years old, he remains an avuncular and inspiring presence on the British jazz scene.

Happy birthday, Coleridge!

2005: from left: Coleridge Goode, Tommy McQuater, Jim Godbolt and Frank Deniz

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Soul Deep: Jimmy Ruffin and Paul Weller support the miners

November 20, 2014 at 8:41 am (good people, music, posted by JD, RIP, solidarity, unions)

In memeory of Jimmy Ruffin, May 7 1936 – Nov 17 2014

The Council Collective performing the extended version of Soul Deep live on Channel 4’s The Tube, 14th December 1984 at the studios of Tyne-Tees Television in Newcastle Upon Tyne. In aid of the striking miners this single featured Paul Weller, Mick Talbot, Dee C. Lee, Jimmy Ruffin, Junior Giscombe, Dizzy Hites and Vaughan Toulouse.

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Comrade Jim Padmore: RIP

November 18, 2014 at 1:42 am (good people, posted by JD, RIP)

In memory of Comrade Jim Padmore, who’s died aged just 47. This was selected by Comrade Dave Kirk:

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Dave Kirk: I was shocked when I could not find a video of this famous speech in its entirety. So here it is! Tom Joad: Henry Fonda Ma Joad: Jane Darwell
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Dave writes:
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Jim Padmore, a good friend of mine through politics has died at the young age of 47.
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He was one of the most commited and educated Marxists i know. He was at every picket line, demo and meeting he could make. Yet its the stuff like after meeting drinks, the books he leant me and getting nostalgic and sun burnt with him at Durham miners Gala last year that i remember.
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I will be at his funeral singing the Internationale with Pride in the memory of a great class fighter and a good mate.

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Acker Bilk RIP

November 3, 2014 at 12:58 am (good people, jazz, Jim D, music)

Bernard ‘Acker’ Bilk b. 28 Jan 1929, d. 2 Nov 2014

Above: Acker’s band in Prague, 1964 with  Colin Smith on trumpet, Johnny Mortimer, trombone, Ron McKay (joined by pianist Stan Greig), drums, Tony Pitt, banjo, Tucker Finlayson, bass.

News has just come in of the death Acker Bilk, aged 85. He’d been ill for some time and had to stop playing about a year ago. His tremendous popularity tended to obscure the fact that he always led really good bands, and his own clarinet playing was much better than he was usually given credit for. At first a follower of New Orleans clarinettists like George Lewis and then Ed Hall, in later years his playing took on a quirky, Pee Wee Russell-ish quality that displeased some fans, but I found very attractive.

When I last saw him (about 18 months ago) he was still telling his jokes and stories and described is big hit, Stranger On The Shore as “my pension.”

I once asked the trombonist Ian Bateman, who worked in the final edition of the band, whether Acker was such an easy-going, affable bloke to work for as his public persona would seem to suggest (not always the case with apparently jovial bandleaders): the answer was an immediate and unequivocal “yes.”

Farewell Acker. And thanks for the laughter, the good times and (most of all, of course) the music.

Telegraph obit here

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Tom Cashman: talking, explaining, and telling the truth

October 9, 2014 at 6:29 pm (good people, Marxism, posted by JD, RIP, truth, Unite the union, workers)

We carried a piece honouring Comrade Tom shortly after his death in August. But this appreciation, which also appears in the AWL’s paper Solidarity, is the best and most politically astute article about Tom I’ve yet seen. It is also very moving and the author, Mick O’Sullivan, was probably Tom’s oldest and closest political friend. I’m proud to be able to post it here at Shiraz, with the author’s unhesitating agreement:

I knew Tom as a friend and comrade since the early
70s.
Tom was someone who had a hinterland; his interests
spanned good whiskey, particle physics, a love of Sean
O’Casey’s plays, modernist architecture, and an encyclopaedic
knowledge of schisms in the Catholic Church,
which quite frankly bemused me. Tom was a very rounded
person and a very humorous one.

But I want to say something about Tom the public man.
Tom was a Marxist, an atheist and trade unionist who dedicated
his life to the working class and had an unwavering
conviction that socialism was the only hope of humanity.
Tom’s main arena of activity was within the unions and
in particular the T&G [later Unite].

Although he was active in the 1970s, his misfortune was
to come of age when the union movement was in decline.
That, however, was the movement’s gain. It meant much of
his activity was about holding the line; he did this by explaining
to those who had forgotten, and those who had
never known, what a trade union should do, and how a
trade unionist should conduct themselves.

He often made the point to me that there were no shortcuts,
no tricks to this, all we can do is talk and explain.
What I think gave his approach such a sharp edge was his
decision to consistently tell the truth. Now some may say
so what, what’s the big deal about telling the truth? Well,
all I can say is, you try it inside a trade union.

Talking, explaining and saying what needs to be done
next is what Tom did, and others will testify to his importance
within the T&G and its left.

However Tom was also vilified for his views. While we
often joked about this, the wellspring of this enmity towards
him arose from what he stood for.

If you think about it, there were always going to be those
who did not like the fact he was principled, that he fought
against Stalinist influence within the union, that he was incorruptible;
the idea that a trip to Cuba or America would
turn his head and him into someone’s creature was never
going to happen, although I have seen people try. On the
most mundane of levels there were those who resented
him because he always turned up to meetings having read
the paperwork, and they had not.

For all these reasons people kicked against Tom, yet in all
the years I knew him I never once heard him get angry
about such people; his duty was to explain. His political
enemies and comrades were a different matter. He was always
ready to have the argument.

Of course there are many trade unionists with similar
qualities. However no-one exhibited these qualities in quite
the same way or with quite the same mix as Tom.
In our world where we measure our actions and our victories
in a lower case, Tom played a huge role in holding
the movement together and provided real insights in how
we should rebuild it.

I cannot think of anyone who has acquitted themselves
in our cause with greater dedication. As for me
I have lost a dear friend and the staunchest of comrades

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Vic Collard, RIP

September 15, 2014 at 10:00 pm (Brum, class, ex-SWP, good people, Guest post, history, intellectuals, RIP, solidarity, unions, workers)

My friend Victor
Guest post by Mick Rice

Birmingham’s engineers march over the hill to shut the gates at Saltley coking works in 1972 (Pic: ©Tony Coult/ http://gallery.me.com/tony3ts gallery.me.com/tony3ts )

Above: Saltley Gates mass picket, 1972

Vic Collard was a friend of mine. We met in the late 1960’s when the heady days of revolt embraced the young. I was a “child of 1968” when the French events demonstrated that different politics were possible. Vic was 10 years older than me and a worker intellectual of the finest calibre. As well as being widely read he was also an AEU Shop Steward! There could have only been a handful of AEU Shop Stewards who knew about Marshall McLuhan never mind being conversant with his theories. Vic knew about the Frankfurt School. He was deeply interested in philosophy and psychology. He knew about Wilhelm Reich and Herbert Marcuse.

How much different the world might have been if the Left had concentrated on perfecting the “Orgone Box”! It has, unfortunately, so far, been singularly unsuccessful in promoting world revolution.

Vic once confessed to me about his role in the Second World War. I thought I was going to be entertained by a humorous Spike Milligan type – Adolf Hitler-My role in his Downfall – story. But Vic was ashamed of his behaviour. He had gone out, with a relative, for a walk by the canal. He must have been 5 or 6 years old. Alongside the towpath a group of German prisoners-of-war were clearing overgrown vegetation. Vic, our intrepid Brit, took a run at the first German POW and kicked him in the shins. No doubt thinking the juvenile equivalent of: “Take that you dirty Hun!” The Dandy and other boys’ comics of the time have a lot to answer for as they, of course, were bastions of British Imperialism. Vic had not yet read Marx.

The poor prisoner was probably just a conscripted German worker. However, if Vic felt that he had something to atone for, he certainly made up for it in later years. In the early 1970s the Birmingham East District Committee of the AEU was considering submitting motions to the union’s National Committee. One branch had sent in a motion supporting the boycott of goods to Pinochet’s Chile. If I remember right a Scottish factory with AEU members had already blocked the export of vehicles. Ted Williams, the leading right-winger, was pouring scorn on the motion. “These do-gooders want to interfere with international trade”, he thundered. “They risk putting in jeopardy AEU jobs”. Normally the later point was the ace that floored left-wing opposition as “AEU jobs” was paramount.

Vic played a blinder which completely changed the meeting. “No doubt”, said Vic, “If Brother Williams had been a member of this committee in the 1930s’ he would have been in favour of exporting Gas Chambers to Hitler’s Germany so long as they were made by AEU members”. Yes Vic was great with words and great at thinking on his feet.

Another time the full time officer was singing the praises of equality as he proudly told us he had negotiated an agreement to allow women to work night shifts! Vic had to point out that we wanted equality up and not equality down as working nightshifts was bad for men. It could not be regarded as a giant leap forward for womankind that they were going to be subjected to the same anti-social, unhealthy working patterns!

In the mid 1960’s Vic and his friend Geoff Johnson, were members of the “Labour Loyalist” group. They would go around meetings campaigning for an end to Incomes Policy which had been introduced by the Labour Government. Of course their intention was to be entirely disloyal to the Labour Government of the day. Calling themselves “Labour Loyalists” confused their opponents and, as they explained to me, it was really the Labour Government that wasn’t being loyal to the workers! A neat strategy that put Labour apparatchiks on the back foot! Read the rest of this entry »

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JAZZ: A CURE FOR SPIRITUAL JET-LAG

August 31, 2014 at 7:51 pm (good people, jazz, Jim D, music, reblogged)

It’s been a while since we had some jazz here: and who better to provide it than my old chum Michael Steinman, who writes the following at his bog, Jazz Lives:

I arrived back in New York late last night. With no offense to my fellow urbanites and suburbanites, the word that would describe my return is RELUCTANTLY. Unfortunately, I couldn’t muster up the good cheer of this Hero as imagined in a beautiful drawing by Thomas B. Allen

louis-back-in-new-york

Even in enhanced stereo (!) Louis looks young and healthy.

But it will take a while for me to look close to that. The Beloved is 3000 miles away. My apartment has serious water damage . . . precious objects became damp, musty — some can’t be repaired. I feel as if spiritual mildew is creeping up on me, which is not something that responds to ordinary curative methods. While I was slumping around the apartment, wondering what else had been ruined and whether I could ever find everything, I knew I needed serious help of a medical kind.

I called on my own medical group and they rushed to my aid. They are Doctors Warren, Dubin, Caparone, Barnhart, Barrett, Shaw, Cavera, Reynolds, and Reynolds:

I apologize for the swooping camerawork but I was trying to create closeups without a tripod, and I think I was so happy that my hand possibly couldn’t remain steady. Somewhere, Fats Waller and Bing Crosby smile approvingly, too.

This always makes me feel better, and I will now play it again while I do other domestic chores.

May your happiness increase!

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Lauren Bacall and Hoagy Carmichael: How Little We Know

August 16, 2014 at 1:35 pm (cinema, Civil liberties, Democrats, film, good people, jazz, Jim D, mccarthyism, RIP, song, theatre, United States)

Lauren Bacall (1924-2014) and Humphrey Bogart lead a march to the Capitol in Washington, DC to protest against Senator McCarthy's witch hunt of communists and alleged communists, 1947.

The death of Lauren Bacall (pictured above with husband Humphrey Bogart leading a 1947 march against McCarthy’s witch hunt of leftists and liberals) robs us of the last great star from Hollwood’s ‘golden age’ and a brave liberal – in the best sense of the word. She described herself to TV host Larry King, in 2005, as “anti-Republican and a liberal. The L-word. Being a liberal is the best thing on earth you can be. You are welcoming to everyone when you’re a liberal. You do not have a small mind.”

I can’t resist the opportunity to show you a clip of Bacall in her first film, Howard Hawks’ 1944 ‘To Have And Have Not’, in which she sings the Hoagy Carmichael/Johnny Mercer number ‘How Little We Know’, accompanied by Hoagy himself at the piano. For many years it was thought that Bacall’s singing was dubbed by the young Andy Williams, but Hawks confirmed (in Joseph McBride’s book ‘Hawks on Hawks’) that although Williams’ voice was recorded, it was not used because he (Hawks) decided Bacall’s voice was good enough.

RIP Betty

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