Here’s a slightly amended and extended version of a review I’ve written for Just Jazz magazine. I have no commercial interest on this CD:
Hoagy, by the Chris Ingham Quartet
Downhome Records DOH0001
Riverboat Shuffle; Washboard Blues; Old Music Master; Memphis In June; My Resistance Is Low; Lazy Bones; Hong Kong Blues; Dear Bix; How Little We Know; Old Man Harlem; Baltimore Oriole; Old Buttermilk Sky; Skylark; Huggin’ And Chalkin’; Georgia On My Mind; Stardust
Chris Ingham (piano, vocals), Paul Higgs (trumpet), Rev. Andrew Brown (bass), Russell Morgan (drums)
Recorded at Toucan Tango Studios, UK, 13 December, 2013
Hoagland Howard ‘Hoagy’ Carmichael always considered himself to be, first and foremost, a “jazz guy” (his son’s description) and over the years his tunes have brought forth monumental performances from jazz musicians as disparate as Louis Armstrong and John Coltrane, both of whom recorded unforgettable versions of Hoagy’s masterpiece Stardust (Louis with his big band in 1931 and ‘Trane on his Standards album of 1958).
But it was Bix Beiderbecke, of course, who was Hoagy’s first and most enduring musical inspiration, and for whom he wrote his first composition, Riverboat Shuffle. So it’s only right and proper that this delightful album opens with that seminal number, and that trumpeter Paul Higgs paraphrases Bix’s 1927 solo, before launching into his own cool-school interpretation. It is also appropriate that one of the two non-Hoagy compositions on the album should be Dave Frishberg’s heartbreaking Dear Bix.
Leader Chris Ingham, as well as being a fine pianist (considerably better than Hoagy himself, if truth is told), also handles the vocals and stays pretty close to Carmichael’s 1940s Decca recordings. As Mr Ingham writes in his brief but erudite sleeve-notes, “We’ve resisted the temptation to reinvent the wheel here. Get too clever with stuff that’s already clever, you could end up with something stupid.”
Much of Hoagy’s material is, indeed, “clever” – and “whimsical” and “wry” and all those other words that might lead you to write him off as a lightweight. But listen to Stardust (or should it be Star Dust?) and Skylark and you will hear (as the late Richard Sudhalter noted) the melodic shapes, harmonies and sheer beauty of a Bix cornet solo. And when it comes to Washboard Blues, listen to the lyric: Hoagy didn’t write it (he only wrote the tune in this case), but he must have approved of it, and he sang it on several recordings. The lyric (clearly intended to be the thoughts of an impoverished black woman) concludes as follows:
I’m going to that river, going down to that river some day.
Hurry, day. Hurry.
I’s going down to that river, going down to that river some day.
And throw myself, self away.
I’m going to that river, going down to that river some day.
Hurry, day. Hurry, day. Hurry, day. Hurry…
If you’re already familiar with ‘Hoagland’ – small-town Americana, home-spun wisdom and a bittersweet yearning for something better that you somehow know will never come – then this CD will meet all your expectations. If Carmichael’s world is as yet unfamiliar to you, then this is as good a place to start as any.
By a melancholy coincidence, just as this album arrived, the news came through that sultry Lauren Bacall had died. A visit to Youtube’s clips from the 1944 film To Have And Have Not found Bacall singing How Little We Know (yes, it really was her voice, not Andy Williams’), accompanied by Hoagy at the piano. And watching that old classic confirmed the perceptive truth of Mr Ingham’s sleeve-note observation: “Hoagy was always the hippest guy in the room. Coolly apart from the central action, but all-seeing, all-understanding and always on hand to offer pithy philosophies to the hapless protagonists. And when he played his mysterious, dreamy, amusing songs, people stopped for a moment and listened, felt something and changed a little.”
That about sums up Hoagy and his world: to experience just some of it for yourself, buy this CD and be transported to Hoagland.
The wonderful Maxine Sullivan sings Loch Lomond. Somehow, this seems appropriate right now:
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.
Singer Jimmy Scott died Thursday morning at his home in Las Vegas at age 88, according to his booking agent, Jean-Pierre Leduc. Scott’s death was a result of complications from Kallmann’s syndrome, a lifelong affliction that prevented his body from maturing through puberty.
Scott was labeled Little Jimmy Scott by bandleader Lionel Hampton in the late 1940s. Hampton also delivered the first of many professional slights in 1949 when he left Scott’s name off on an early hit, “Everybody’s Somebody’s Fool.”
Scott’s career seemed promising after he left Hampton’s orchestra. He recorded for various independent labels and toured with a revue run by dancer Estelle “Caledonia” Young that included R&B singer Big Maybelle and comedian Redd Foxx.
Throughout the early ’50s and ’60s, Scott recorded for various indie labels including Savoy, where he was under the tight control of owner Herman Lubinsky.
According to Scott’s 2002 autobiography, The Life of Jimmy Scott (written with David Ritz), Lubinsky halted production of a 1963 album that was personally supervised by Scott fan Ray Charles for his own Tangerine label. Lubinsky used legal proceedings to halt distribution, claiming Scott was under contract to Savoy. The album was eventually rescued and released in 2003 and has been widely hailed as one of the great jazz vocal albums.
The experience of having his album shelved — not to mention the hardships he experienced being misidentified as a woman, accused of drug addiction and harassed about his sexual identity because of his voice — took a toll and Scott left the music business, moving back to his native Cleveland and becoming a hotel clerk.
Despite his absence, Scott maintained friends and fans in the music business, including legendary R&B producer Doc Pomus, who requested that Scott sing at his 1991 funeral. A record executive in attendance heard the performance and signed him to a record contract on the spot, kick-starting Scott’s second act. This time adulation came rushing in, resulting in a string of albums that received both popular and critical acclaim. He even appeared in the final episode of the singular TV hit Twin Peaks.
For most of his nearly nine decades Scott’s life and art were affected by loss: first his mother’s death when he was 13, then the personal slights and missed opportunities in his fractured career and decades of anonymity away from the record business. In 2000, The New York Times called him “perhaps the most unjustly ignored American singer of the 20th century.”
And yet in a late-career interview Scott was philosophical about the bad breaks he had caught along the way. “I’ve learned that music is such a healer,” he said. “As long as I could sing my songs, I wasn’t as angry about what had happened, about being shoved back for this or shoved back for the other. I’m a singer, and I never lost sight of that.”
From And Still I Rise, by Maya Angelou ,1978.
Source: The Complete Collected Poems of Maya Angelou (Random House Inc., 1994)
You have just five days to catch the superb BBC 4 (that’s TV not Radio 4) documentary, Nat ‘King’ Cole : Afraid of the Dark, which deals mainly with the music, but doesn’t flinch from describing the racism either.
Nat was the first black artist to have a show on mainstream US television, but it only lasted for two years (1955-57) before folding due to lack of sponsorship. Nat (not his channel, ABC) finally pulled the plug, commenting “Madison Avenue is afraid of the dark.”
The contributions to this BBC documentary from from Nat’s widow Maria are extraordinary and often heartbreaking. Meanwhile, here’s a reminder that Nat wasn’t only a (very superior) crooner: had he never sung a note he’d still be remembered as one of the great jazz pianists:
I was up late last night (well, this morning, to be precise), drinking single malt and surfing the net. I came upon this Youtube clip, featuring the great Harlem stride pianist Willie ‘The Lion’ Smith and a singer I’d been only very vaguely aware of, Thelma Carpenter. It’s from a 1964 TV salute to bandleader/promoter/man-about-jazz Eddie Condon, and is not typical of the hot music (sometimes called “Dixieland”, though Eddie hated the term) that predominates in the rest of the show: it’s the sophisticated Johnny Mercer/Harold Arlen ballad ‘Come Rain or Come Shine’, a song whose difficult chord sequence and structure momentarily wrong-foots even the usually impeccable trombonist Cutty Cutshall.
In truth, Thelma Carpenter isn’t a singer in the same league as, say, Billie Holiday or Ella Fitzgerald (or, indeed, Eddie’s favourite, Lee Wiley), but she does a good enough job here, and seems to have been an engaging personality. The Lion’s opening banter with her reminds us that he was – believe it or not – Jewish, and on his business cards described himself as “The Hebrew Cantor.”
Al Hall is on bass and the great George Wettling is at the drums. Melting-pot music…
Guest post by Pink Prosecco
Adam Deen, of the Deen Institute, has been coming in for a bit of flack from (some) Muslims over his ‘modernising’ approach to Islam. In particular he has spoken out against the marginalization of women in university ISOCs, the way they have been excluded from full participation. Now he is at the centre of another controversy, this time sparked by the Happy Muslims video, which you can see at the Pharrell – HAPPY BRITISH MUSLIMS! site here. Deen appears with other Muslims, including his wife Myriam Francois Cerrah, dancing and singing to the Pharrell Williams hit ‘Happy’.
Several different objections have been raised to this project. The most predictable focus on the supposed impropriety of the video:
“We’ve basically lost all meaning for what the word hijab means. I can’t even be bothered to explain this issue again, the fact that hijab is a state, not just a piece of cloth on the head. Anyway, whatever. This isn’t about the women anyway, this is about the mindset of *all* who support such things.”
Others complain that it is pandering to non-Muslim prejudices to put on a display of happiness and normalcy in order to counter stereotypes. A few just find it a bit cringey, and some feel happiness is rather misplaced when there is so much suffering in the world.
Here is an extract from one of the more aggressive responses, a post by Uthman Badar.
“What we have here is an attempt by Muslims to been seen as ‘normal’ by the mainstream non-Muslim white majority in response to overbearing stereotypes and allegations to the contrary. In the words of the producers,
‘We Brits have a bad rep for being a bit stiff, but this video proves otherwise. We are HAPPY. We are eclectic. We are cosmopolitan. Diverse. Creative. Fun. Outgoing. And everything you can think of.
This video is to show the world despite the negative press, stereotypes and discrimination we are burdened with we should respond with smiles and joy, not anger.’
There is so much wrong with this approach, I don’t know where to begin!
It has Muslims coming in to bat for ‘Brits’ and their bad rep. Reward for the excellent treatment received by Muslims in Britain and by Britain abroad? House-Muslim mentality?”
The quotation from the video’s publicity material, that Badar objects to above, in fact demonstrates that the participants are not complacent about anti-Muslim bigotry, yet still unequivocally identify as British, and want to reach out to non-Muslims with a positive message.
It’s a cheerful video – but I do wonder what it is for exactly. I don’t think EDL supporters will see the error of their ways after watching it – they’ll probably think the performers are practicing taqqiya. Those with more nuanced concerns may quite like the video – but wouldn’t have seen people like Julie Siddiqui as a problem in the first place.
I think Uthman Badar (and others like him) have got this all wrong. My hunch is that this video was never intended to influence non-Muslims, but rather to enable Deen and co. to position themselves in opposition to more conservative, or orthodox, Muslim voices. Participants such as Salma Yaqoob have sometimes seemed keener on differentiating themselves from Quilliam types than from Muslim ‘puritans’ (to use Deen’s term). It’s positive that the battle against real hardliners, usually waged by ultra-liberal Muslims and non-Muslims, is being joined by those who are only moderately moderate.
An appropriate song for today, from hep-cat Mel Torme (who always wanted to be a drummer):
…but if you want real, classy corn, here’s Al Jolson singing it, acted and lip-synched by Larry Parks (happily, not in black-face):
I often, these days, worry about growing old … until (as Woody Allen once said) I think about the alternative.
But these three elderly gentlemen, filmed in 1981 after 56 years of working together, demonstrate that we can grow old with style, dignity and an intact sense of romance: