Archive for the Music Category

Champion Jack Dupree: Seminal Blues Man with a Coney Island Connection

Posted in Blues, Coney Island, Music with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 23, 2017 by travsd

July 23 is one of the many possible birth dates given for boogie woogie, blues, and barrelhouse piano player William Thomas “Champion Jack” Dupree (circa 1909 – 1992).  Born and raised in New Orleans, Dupree was the son of a Congolese father and a mother who was mixed-blood African American and Cherokee. Orphaned at age eight, Dupree taught himself piano, and played in saloons and other establishments from  a young age. His stage name came from the fact that he was also a professional boxer in his younger years, and had won a Golden Gloves championship. (This may be one of the reasons for a speech impediment noticeable on some of his recordings, although there are also joking references to a cleft palate). Around 1940 he became part of the Chicago blues scene, although his career was interrupted by years of World War Two service, including two years as a Japanese prisoner. But after the war followed nearly five decades as a successful musician. He was an influence on Jerry Lee Lewis, and recorded with such major artists as The Band, Eric Clapton, John Mayall, and Mick Taylor. He co-wrote the song “Walkin’ the Blues”, covered by Willie Dixon, Otis Spann and many others.

This is our first entry in the blues section of Travalanche in quite some time, and we have a special reason for doing it. This year, Coney Island USA’s building on Surf Avenue turns 100 years old. The building began life as Child’s Restaurant, but for a time in the late 1940s and early 1950s, it was a music venue known as the Blue Bird Casino, where, for a while the house musician was….Champion Jack Dupree. Thanks, Dick Zigun, for the historical tidbit! You’ll be hearing more about the colorful history of the Child’s Restaurant building anon.

 

For National Moon Day: 33 Tin Pan Alley Songs About the Moon

Posted in Music, Tin Pan Alley, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , , , , , , , on July 20, 2017 by travsd

It’s National Moon Day — commemorating that day in 1969 when “the Eagle [had] Landed.” Neil Armstrong took his historic stroll the following day. I seem to remember a quote from Orson Welles (although I can’t find it this morning) to the effect that we shouldn’t have done that (gone to the moon) because it would ruin all the songs. He kind of has a point. For tens of thousands of years, it was an object of mystery to humanity, and thus an inspiration to poets. When you’ve been there, it loses that — it’s just a ball of grey rock in the sky. It’ll probably be a filling station on the way to better places at some point. At bottom, I think this is why some people (like my late hillbilly grandmother) cling to the idea that the whole thing was a ruse, a conspiracy. It’s probably why Fundamentalism exist in general. You must admit that life without faeries and leprechauns and bigfoot is far more charmless and existentially hostile (and, to use a lunar metaphor from real life), barren.

But I digress. A little listicle of songs from the Tin Pan Alley Era that put the moon front and center. It’s strictly Tin Pan Alley, which to my mind winds down somewhere in the middle of the Great Depression. Thus, we leave off plenty of favorite standards from later years, much as I love them, like “How High the Moon” (1940); “Blue Moon of Kentucky” (1947) and “Fly Me to the Moon” (1954) and scores of others. Too new-fangled! NB: I’ll be enhancing this post as time goes on. I was originally going to profile only ten songs, but then I hit the mother lode and decided to include them all, so it’s very barebones at present. In time for next year’s Moon Day, I’ll include more info on all the songs. But right now, I gotta hit “publish” because this has been going on for too many hours! You may think you know ’em all, but I bet you don’t!

“My Sweetheart’s the Man in the Moon” (1892)

The vaudeville circuits were just being formed when James Thornton wrote this song for his wife Bonnie Thornton to perform.

“If the Man in the Moon Were a Coon” (1905)

For a little context, Fred Fisher wrote this song to take advantage of the then-current craze for “coon songs” , mashing it together with the evergreen vogue for “moon songs”. Which is not to excuse it, just to point out why something so heinous to our ears would exist in the first place.

“The Moon Has His Eyes On You” (1905)

Albert Von Tilzer (best known for “Take Me Out to the Ball Game”) and Billy Johnson collaborated on this early moon song, which sounds a little paranoid if you ask me.

“Laughing Moon” (1908)

A ragtime instrumental by Joseph J. Kaiser. 

“Shine On, Harvest Moon” (1908)

One of the most popular songs of the vaudeville era, co-written by the then-married vaudeville team of Jack Norworth and Nora Bayes, and covered by countless others thereafter. It may well have launch the Tin Pan Alley craze for musical moons.

“There’s No Moon Like the Honeymoon” (1908) 

This lesser known tune was written by Edgar Malone and Al Gumble and popularized by Billy Murray and Ada Jones. 

“By the Light of the Silvery Moon” (1909)

Another massively covered Moon-Tune, written by Gus Edwards and Edward Madden. It got a new lease on life when it was made into a movie starring Doris Day in the 1950s.

“The Moon-Mad Moon” (1909)

Clarence J. Harvey and William J. Mullen

 

“On Moonlight Bay” (1912)

Ditto on all counts, including the Doris Day movie! Co-written by Edward Madden and Percy Wenrich. Madden seems to have had a thing about moons.

“I’ll Sit Right on the Moon and Keep My Eyes on You” (1912)

A hit for songwriter James V. Monaco. 

“Under the Summer Moon” (1914)

Check it out — “Leonard Marx” is of course Chico! He was known to dabble in songwriting from time to time. The song was introduced in the Marx Brothers tab musical vaudeville act “Home Again”

“Georgia Moon” (1914)

The first of several Southern-state based Moon tunes? By Jean C. Havez and Ted S. Barron.

 

“Moon Winks” (1915)

A ragtime instrumental by George Stevens. 

“Pale Yellow Moon” (1916)

By Fleta Jan Brown and Herbert Spencer. 

“Alabama Moon” (1917)

This popular tune by H. Will Callahan also inspired the answer song “Mississippi Moon by Jimmie Rodgers that same year

“When the Moon begins to Shine (Through the Pines of Caroline)” (1918)

By Will Hart and Ed Nelson.

“Jealous Moon” (1918)

By Harry D. Kerr and John S. Zamecnik. 

“Wishing Moon” (1919)

By Jack Frost and R. Henri Klickmann 

“Georgia Moonlight” (1920)

“Georgia Moon” wasn’t enough apparently. The craze for the moon in Southern states continues with this song by Roy Thornton, Helen Gillespie and Erwin R. Schmidt.

“Virginia Moonlight” (1920)

Harold B. Freeman jumps on the bandwagon.

“Dear Old Dixie Moon” (1920)

Harry D. Kerr and George J. Hayes

“Carolina Moon” (1924)

Joe Burke and Benny Davis. 

“Wait’ll Its Moonlight” (1925)

Bannister and Pinkard. 

“Get Out and Get Under the Moon”, 1928 

A popular one by Larry Shay, Charles Tobias, and William Jerome. There are versions by Helen Kane, Annette Hanshaw and Eddie White.

“Me and the Man in the Moon” (1928)

James V. Monaco and Edgar Leslie, popularized by Helen Kane.

“Blame it On the Moon” (1929)

Words and music by Phil Baxter. 

“Underneath the Harlem Moon”, 1932

By Mack Gordon and Harry Revel. 

 

“It’s Only a Paper Moon”, 1933

Originally written by the great songwriters Harold Arlen, Yip Harburg and Billy Rose for a planned Broadway show called The Great Magoo was to have been set in Coney Island.

“Blue Moon” (1934)

We’re pushing it to include this Rodgers and Hart classic. The style is post-Tin Pan Alley, I think, and it’s actually NEVER gone out of style. Covers of it pop up in every era. But since I’m included a couple of songs that follow it chronologically I feel obligated to include it.

“Moon Over Miami” (1935 )

By Joe Burke and Edgar Leslie, one of many tunes that was later turned into a Hollywood musical

“Me and the Moon” (1936)

Hirsch and Handman

Okay! I am done! Do you hear?! DONE!!! And if you dare suggest any missing songs I will come over to your house and beat you to death with a ukulele! You think I’m kidding? I AM NOT KIDDING!!!

For more on Tin Pan Alley and other vaudeville music, see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available wherever fine books are sold.

Tal Henry and His North Carolinians

Posted in Ballroom/ Big Band/ Swing, Music, Radio (Old Time Radio), Stars of Vaudeville, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 10, 2017 by travsd

July 10 is the birthday of big band leader Tal Henry (Talmadge Allen Henry, 1898-1967). Born in Georgia, Henry didn’t became a North Carolinian himself until he moved to Eton College, Burlington, N.C. to follow up on his earlier studies at the Shenandoah Conservatory of Music.

In 1919 he moved to Greensboro and played violin in a band led by Frank Hood. Henry took over the act in 1924, renaming it Tal Henry and His North Carolinians. The first several years of the orchestra’s existence were spent as the house band at Greensboro’s O’Henry Hotel. In time they managed to secure bookings in hotel ballrooms all over the country, as well as vaudeville engagements, radio spots, recording contracts, and,in 1928 two Vitaphone shorts. By the ’30s, they were a nationally known concern, with hit records, regular national radio broadcasts from the New Yorker Hotel, and coverage in national magazines.

By 1938, several years into the Great Depression, the expense of maintaining a full orchestra grew too great and the North Carolinians disbanded. This early break-up of the act may be one of the reasons Henry’s band is less well known today, whereas the ones who were able to press on into the 40s or beyond, like the Dorsey Brothers (who’d played with Henry on occasion), or Kay Kyser (Henry’s exact contemporary, and a fellow North Carolinian) continue to be known today. Henry worked as an agent and manager for a few years, and then led bands for U.S. Army Special Services during World War Two. After the war, he returned to North Carolina, where he continued to work as a violinist. A biography of Henry written by his daughter-in-law, was published in 2008.

For more on the vaudeville history, including big bands like Tal Henry and His North Carolinians, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever fine books are sold.

Gertrude Niesen: Singer, Comedienne, Wrecker of Mansions

Posted in Ballroom/ Big Band/ Swing, Broadway, Comediennes, Comedy, Hollywood (History), Movies, Radio (Old Time Radio), Singers, Stars of Vaudeville, Vaudeville etc., Women with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 8, 2017 by travsd

Singer, actress and comedienne Gertrude Niesen (1911-1975) was born on this day.

Niesen started out as a child performer in vaudeville. She was trained for opera, but became a pop singer in big bands, in films, on radio and records, and was cast in the occasional Broadway show. Half Swedish, Half Russian, her exotic, vaguely “Eastern” beauty added to her appeal.

I became aware of her from her 1932 Vitaphone short Yacht Party, in which she sang with Roger Wolfe Kahn and his Orchestra, and Artie Shaw. 

In 1933, she became the first person to record the Kern-Harbach standard “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” from the musical Roberta. Often referred to as a “torch singer”, she was prized for her comic ability as much as her singing. She was a frequent radio guest throughout the 1930s and 40s on the shows of such stars as Rudy Vallee, Edgar Bergen and others.

With vaudeville all but wound down, in the early 30s one finds her performing in the big presentation houses that largely replaced it, like Loew’s State in NYC, the Orpheum in Los Angeles, or the various RKO houses.  She was on the bill at Radio City Music Hall’s Inaugural Spectacular in 1932. Broadway shows included the Lew Brown revue Calling All Stars (1934-1935), the Ziegfeld Follies of 1936, and the biggest hit of her career, Harry Delmar’s Follow the Girls (1944-1946), in which she played a burlesque queen named Bubbles Lamarr. Co-starring Jackie Gleason, Follow the Girls played over 800 performances on Broadway, then went on tour. Niesen’s show stopping number was “I Wanna Get Married”.

Niesen appeared in a dozen films between 1932 and 1948, usually playing some version of herself singing in a night club. The last two are probably best known today: This is the Army (1943) with George Murphy, and The Babe Ruth Story (1948) with William Bendix. She also co-wrote the song “I Want to Make with the Happy Times, which was used in A Night at Earl Carroll’s (1940).

In the 1941 she became the owner of the Newport mansion Rosecliff, estimated to have been worth $2.5 million at the time but purchased by Niesen’s mother as a birthday present for $17,000 at auction. The Depression and wartime combined to make upkeep very problematic, which is how the family managed to acquire it for such a low price in the first place, and indirectly why they sold it off soon thereafter. In March 1942, with no caretaker having been hired for the winter, all the pipes froze and burst, flooding the house with lakes and waterfalls which in turn froze into great, thick sheets of ice. The Niesens resold the house not long after that. Both the purchase and the damage received national publicity.

In 1950, she starred in the west coast production of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, taking the Carol Channing role. She also did lots of tv variety in the early days of television, singing on the programs of Ed Wynn, Milton Berle, Jack Carter, Paul Whiteman, and others. Her last tv credit is in 1951. The last recordings I can find from her are from 1953.

Last record

In 1943, Niesen married Chicago nightclub owner Al Greenfield, owner of The Black Orchid and other establishments. The couple were divorced but remarried in 1954, remaining married until Niesen’s death in 1975. Her death notices all mention a “long illness”. Given that her last professional activity seems to have happened around 1953, and that Greenfield sold The Black Orchid in 1956, reportedly to be with her, one speculates the illness, whatever it was, was very long.

For more on vaudeville, including performers like Gertrude Niesen, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever fine books are sold.

On the Man Who Gave Us Eurhythmics

Posted in Classical, Music, Rock and Pop with tags , , , , , , , , , , on July 6, 2017 by travsd

I think I just saw him get off the L train in Williamsburg

If you come expecting a post on the great 80s synth pop band starring Annie Lennox and David A. Stewart, I hope you will only be slightly disappointed. This post will explain the name of the band, but the bulk of it is about the ORIGINAL eurhythmics.

Eurhythmics was a music education technique devised by a radical pedagogue named Émile Jaques-Dalcroze (1865-1850). Ethnically French, Dalcroze was born in Austria, and studied in Switzerland, where he also began his teaching career. He set up his school in Germany in 1910. Anita Berber was one of his pupils! Basically Dalcroze felt that the prevailing way in which western music is generally taught, notated, read, etc, that is,  through repetitive exercises and rote memory, was fundamentally flawed, because there was a primary disconnect between the systemization and the meaning and purpose of music, which is, or ought to be, intensely emotional. While music is intellectual and abstract on one level, there is an important way it is very real and concrete — what it does to our bodies. We tense, we relax. Our pulse quickens, it slows down. We involuntarily tap our toes, nod our heads, sway, and otherwise move our bodies to the rhythm. Dalcroze devised an elaborate method for teaching music that doesn’t just take this basic fact into account, it makes it the primary entry point for encountering and learning to listen to, play, and compose music. Movement, integrating the whole body, becomes the way music is internalized. (It must be said most “untrained”, or self-trained musicians take an approach much closer to this than conventionally trained musicians do. It’s about going directly to “owning” the music. Good trained musicians eventually get to the same place but by a somewhat circuitous route that alienates a good portion of the music loving public — including your humble correspondent!)

At any rate, I’ve never taken in a course in this, much as I’d like to have done, but it seemed to me worth celebrating Dalcroze in a show biz context on this his birthday. By the way, Annie Lennox was formally trained at the Royal Academy of Music, where she undoubtedly first encountered Dalcroze’s theories, which she and Stewart named the band after, removing the “h”: Eurythmics. And my wife makes the amusing point that in certain photos, Dave Stewart definitely seems to be channeling Dalcroze:

The Mystery of Hazel Green

Posted in African American Interest, Dixieland & Early Jazz, Hollywood (History), Movies, Music, Singers, Stars of Vaudeville, Vaudeville etc., Women with tags , , , , , , , on July 3, 2017 by travsd

There is a gent on IMDB who speculates that the Hazel Green in the 1927 Vitaphone Hazel Green & Company is the granddaughter of Confederate General John Stuart Williams and was born on July 3, 1892. Williams, who later became a U.S. Senator and the Founder of Naples, Florida, was from Kentucky. Early in the war, when still a Colonel, he participated in futile efforts to prevent a Union takeover of his home state, which included a minor action in the community of Hazel Green.  The writer claims that the singer is named after this military action,  that he “once read a bio of her”, and that she got the job due to “producers romancing antebellum times.” The fact that one of the songs in her set is “Just a Bird’s Eye View (of My Old Kentucky Home)” is possible support of that idea.

And yet I’m doubtful. I can’t find corroboration anywhere and it sounds like a stretch. Why would you name a child after one of your defeats? Among other things. And there is the fact that Hazel Green looks like she may be African American, as do a couple of her musicians. Her performance and the set are jazzy (it includes a very peppy, uptempo version of “Ain’t She Sweet”). Green tap dances in the film, along with a guest named Joe Lacurta. And one of the few references I can find to a singer named Hazel Green says she briefly formed a duo with blues pioneer Bessie Smith in 1918. Show biz was almost entirely segregated in those days; while not impossible, a black-and-white singing duo would have been rarer than rare. It would have meant that the white singer was willing to forego the better salaries and conditions of mainstream show business in order to perform in black vaudeville with Smith, which would be saintly but also highly unlikely. So the Hazel Green who sang with Bessie Smith etc had to have been at least partially black herself.

And then there’s this, taken from a book, which says she and her mother, one “Ma” Green choreographed a show at the Southland club in Boston, with Blanche Calloway (Cab Calloway’s sister) and a 14 piece band supplying the music in 1937.

Also, in the Bassically Speaking: An Oral History of George Duvivier, the musician’s mother Ismay Duvivier speaks of her own show business days and says this: “We all worked on the T.O.B.A. circuit…For a while I traveled with Ma Green and her daughter. That was a small combo…Normally there was about twelve girls in a [chorus] line, but there was one big production that required much more…” She also mentions a date in Baltimore (see below for the significance of that).

And we note that black artists were indeed represented in the Vitaphones. Hazel Green & Company is Vitaphone #2112. Just a couple of weeks earlier, the company had recorded Vitaphone #2009: Carolynne Snowden and Company “Colored Syncopation”. 

In short, the Hazel Green in the first paragraph does not sound much like the Hazel Green in the subsequent paragraphs. And yet there is a possible third way. I found this reference to Williams’ step-son Colonel A.W. Hamilton fathering children with Williams’ mulatto cook in the 1870s. This practice may have been rooted in the family culture. Williams was married twice, but there was a period of a dozen years between the death of his first wife, and his marriage to his second one. During this period, he owned upwards of 50 slaves. And it’s well documented that master-slave relationships and forced concubinage existed during those times. So it’s possible that Hazel Green is BOTH a descendant of Williams AND part African American. This is the wildest speculation on my part; I’m just trying to reconcile some seemingly contradictory puzzle pieces with logic. I’ve come across very little information on the woman, and would obviously welcome more.

But little pieces do help fill it in and contribute to this case. In the 1927 Vitaphone we see Green leading a quintet of musicians. I found an ad for her for performing in Baltimore with a “company of five” in 1922. Seems like the same woman. And the collaboration with Bessie Smith was also in Baltimore. So THAT seems like the same woman. This January 1923 ad for an engagement at Poli’s Bridgeport describes her act (“Hazel Green and Her Band”) as a “Riot of Color” — a possible allusion to the race of the performers, lending authenticity of the jazz, which was common in advertising at the time:

I find other references to the band playing in Pittsburgh, Scranton, Wilkes-Barre, Toronto, Brooklyn and New York City. The act is sometimes billed as “Hazel Green and Her Boys” or “Hazel Green and Her Beau Brummels”. All of these references pre-date the Vitaphone release. Oddly, I can find no references to her after it. Did she retire? Die? Change her name? Again, wild speculation, but I found a reference to a Hazel Green who was born in 1929 to a mother named Hazel Williams Green and a father named Dewey Green. Could Hazel Williams Green be our singer, given all that we wrote above? The timing would be right (many female performers retired to start families), as would the maiden name, though, granted, its a common one. At any rate, we put this out there in case anyone has the true facts — we’d be only too glad to have the record clarified and corrected so folks can learn the truth about this interesting and entertaining singer and bandleader.

You can see clips from Hazel’s Vitaphone on Youtube. In addition to the numbers already mentioned, the group also performed “That’s Why I Love You” and “I’ve Grown So Lonely.”

To learn more about vaudeville history, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

 

 

Willi Carlisle: There Ain’t No More

Posted in American Folk/ Country/ Western, AMERICANA, CRITICISM/ REVIEWS, Indie Theatre, Music, PLUGS with tags , , , , on June 30, 2017 by travsd

You’ve got one chance left to see the amazing Willi Carlisle in his solo show There Ain’t No More! Death of a Folksinger before he blows town for parts north (Maine and New Hampshire, I understand). In an age when even our “folksingers” tend to be narcissistic careerists, Carlisle is traditional beyond your great-grandfather’s wildest dreams, dedicating himself to the Voice of the People rather than road maps of his own navel. He is a kind of folk music superman, both scholar and showman. He plays fiddle, banjo, guitar, harmonica (while he plays guitar, using a harp-holder like Dylan and others), and accordion (or some kind of sub-accordion squeeze-box, which is impressive enough). He sings like an angel. And he dazzles with tricks — he can dance while he plays, and even does crazy juggling tricks with his banjo without missing a chord during the tune. He’s also a first rate poet, story teller, and actor, with a presence more than a little like Victor Buono.

That said, There Ain’t No More is strongest as a concert, by several orders of magnitude. The production has ambitions beyond this, but the other theatrical elements (script and direction, in that order) lag far behind Carlisle’s pure, honest and exuberant brilliance as a musical performer. He’s well worth seeing on the strength of that alone, in spite of some Brechtian aspirations that lard the overall evening down. But Carlisle himself makes me extremely hopeful. 40, 50 and 60 years ago, New York city was full of hundreds, maybe thousands of performers like him, devoted to keeping the old cultural folkways of the past alive.  But then the weathervane changed direction and everyone began penning their own songs. I ran an open mike night for two years and I can tell you that while the performers are often great (this is New York, after all) their songs are frequently dreadful. In my 30 years of living here and paying attention, he’s the first guy I’ve come across who’s making it about the FOLK. (For a couple of related essays about what I think that is, go here and here).

Carlisle is playing at Ryan’s Daughter on the Upper East Side tonight. For my recent Chelsea Now article about him and his work go here. 

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