Hoagy revisited by the Chris Ingham Quartet

September 27, 2014 at 2:54 pm (film, jazz, Jim D, music, song, United States)

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.

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