Is There Anything Finer?

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“Gay Guffaws Galore!”  The recent DVD release of four of Danny’s Kaye’s 1940s Goldwyn films serves as a reminder of a lovely pairing that occurred in the first film, UP IN ARMS. I don’t mean the partnership of Danny Kaye with Samuel Goldwyn, but the  collaboration of Dinah Shore and Harold Arlen.

This 1944 Technicolor extravaganza was Danny’s feature film debut and Goldwyn outfitted the comedian with enough padding to fill a three-ring circus.  Elaborate sets, dozens of nubile Goldwyn Girls, outlandish costumes, Daliesque dream sequences and Danny set in the middle of it all like a gleaming diamond in a platinum setting.  Kaye is provided with several trademark patter numbers, written by wife Sylvia Fine, that gave Warner Brothers cartoons enough material for Daffy Duck to parody for years.

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In the middle of the frenzy stands Dinah Shore. In this, her second feature film, she radiates warmth and a cool brunette sexiness, quite a difference from her later blond extrovert TV personality.

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Dinah’s jazz chops have always been overlooked. She had strong Dixie roots from her Southern upbringing and years spent on the Chamber Music Society of Lower Basin Street radio series.  Her choice to go the pop, rather than jazz route, has worked against her in the view of music historians, who liken her more to Kate Smith than Anita O’Day.

Dinah had a big hit with Harold Arlen’s “Blues in the Night” a few years earlier, so he was a natural choice to craft her two numbers for the movie.  With his old Cotton Club lyricist Ted Koehler, Arlen created two winners – a sinuous ballad, “Now I Know,” and a swing tune, “Tess’s Torch Song.”  Dinah’s performances are definitive and she is, thankfully, given full charge of the screen for both of them.  These song sequences are the only relief from wall-to-wall Danny and they are most welcome.

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Due to the onerous 1942-44 musicians’ record ban, neither song got much public attention. Dinah did manage to record them both – “Now I Know” for RCA, in an a capella rendition backed solely by a doo-wah chorus; and “Tess’s Torch Song” for Columbia in 1947, by which time the song had been totally forgotten. A later Dinah LP recording of “Now I Know,” while most welcome, didn’t raise the song’s profile.

Any contemporary singer interested in obscure Harold Arlen would do well to check them out!

Here’s Dinah in the film:

and Johnny Desmond with the Glenn Miller Orchestra in a gorgeous Norman Leyden arrangement, sung in German for a wartime propaganda broadcast:

Bad Timing

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Needless to say, being named “Student of the Week” in my 6th grade class on November 21, 1963, did not leave much time to celebrate.  But Robert Becker was a great homeroom teacher – he even looked a bit like a rumpled JFK.  I’ll always be grateful to him for turning me on to American composer Charles Ives by playing his music in class – where and when else were 10-year-olds exposed to such music?

I asked my poor Dad to get me an Ives album – Bernstein and the NY Phil playing Ives’ Second Symphony. He got it at Heinz and Bolet on Park Row and was rather surprised when he saw the cover, with a rather scruffy photo of the aged composer.

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“Is this really the album you want?,” Dad asked. Yes, it was!  And I still treasure it.

The Duke Steps Out!

Here’s a slight puzzle – no year or city are mentioned on this garish little flyer, promoting a Fraternity Dance featuring Duke Ellington and His Cotton Club Orchestra.ImageImage

A quick Google search reveals that the other band, led by Johnny Brown, often played in the Philadelphia area and was listed on a flyer from 1931 promoting Cab Calloway at a similar Fraternity Dance in 1931. ImageLikely at the same Elk’s Club, same $3.00 price and a confirmation of Philadelphia as the location.  Since research shows that the Duke played New York’s Roseland on this date in 1930 and was in Boston from October 14-20, 1932, my best guess for this engagement is 1931. Tough Depression times to spend $3.00 for a Hallowe’en Frolic!

How ‘Bout That Mess?

Some souvenirs of long-ago nights out, circa 1938 – check out the elegant signature of Fats Waller on a card from the Yacht Club; fatschick fatschick2

and the plainer autographs of drummer Chick Webb and protegee Ella Fitzgerald, at Boston’s Cocoanut Grove. fatschick01fatschick201

The Yacht Club lasted a good long time on 52nd Street, but the Cocoanut Grove, opened in 1927, was the scene of a horrific fire in November 1942 – nearly 500 revelers dead on the scene and 200 more injured.  By that time, Chick was gone for over three years and Fats would pass away suddenly at the end of 1943. Fortunately, Ella lived on for another half-century, spreading great music around the world.

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So one never knows, do one?

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