Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Second Chorus (1940)

Continuing our Big Band/Jazz Movie series is this pleasant musical comedy, always a favorite of yours truly.
Second Chorus contains the usual silly Hollywood cliches and an equally silly plot.
However, there is some great music by Artie Shaw, wonderful trumpet playing by Bobby Hackett and Billy Butterfield , the radiant beauty of Paulette Goddard and of course, the always delightful dancing and singing of Fred Astaire.

The slim plot involves Danny (Fred) ,a trumpeter and bandleader and his buddy Hank (Burgess Meredith), also a trumpeter. These two have managed to keep flunking in college to keep the band going. (Fred was 41 and Burgess 32 at the time!). Ellen (Paulette) enters as Band Secretary and object of both boys' affections.
When Artie Shaw steals her away,the boys try to get jobs with Shaw and get involved with eccentric millionaire Mr. Chisolm (Charles Butterworth) who is sponsoring a Shaw concert and yearns to be a Professional Mandolin player! After several silly misadventures, Fred gets the girl and a big solo number in the film's climax. Despite all of this nonsence, we get a lot of good music via Artie, his band and trumpet stand-ins, Bobby Hackett and Billy Butterfield.

Over the years there's been a lot of misinformation on who dubs for who. Bobby plays all of the Meredith solos and Billy dubs for Fred except for on Sugar ,where it's obviously Bobby's mellow tones.
There are some hilarious moments for musicians- On Sweet Sue,(played at a college dance) Fred and Burgess think they're auditioning for Shaw who has actually shown up to hire Paulette (who could blame him!). The ensuing trading of fours features glorious contrasts of the pure,Louis-ish Butterfield horn against the melodic cascades of Bobby(still into his Bix bag at this part of his career). Unfortunately, no one bothered to coach the two actors on fingering a horn-their wild flailings are a riot! (Before Shaw enters there's a bit of a blues with Bobby on lead,then Billy riding over him).

Later they get a chance to audition again at a Shaw gig. Fred chooses Artie's pretty arrangement of I'm Yours. Meredith has sabotaged his part backstage, writing in wrong passages and a wild, atonal held note that Fred thinks belongs in the piece!(this is probably Billy or a studio man) Meredith starts off okay on Lady Be Good (his break is played by Bobby) but is pulled off the band riser by an irate Fred just as he's about to solo! Artie has both trumpeters thrown out!

Astaire himself thought this was one of his worst films.The main problem is that he doesn't get to dance enough. When he does we're suppose to assume that Danny also can dance as good as he plays!
His duet with Paulette on Dig It!(Hal Bourne and Johnny Mercer) is a fun jitterbug routine done at a band rehearsal. (You can spot Fred's collaborator/choreographer Hermes Pan holding a clarinet).
Although Paulette has been listed as one of Fred's worst partners, she does a nice job and it doesn't hurt to have Fred as a partner. Her beauty and great legs also don't hurt a bit.
The production number Me and the Ghost Upstairs was cut from the film, although it survived via a Youtube clip and features some great Fred dancing assisted by Pan as a girl ghost!

We see plenty of Artie's 1940 band featuring Billy Butterfield, Vernon Brown (trombone), Les Robinson (lead alto) and a great rhythm section of Johnny Guarneri(piano), Al Hendrickson(guitar), Jud DeNaut (bass) and Nick Fatool (drums).We hear a good portion of Everything's Jumping played early in the film. Artie also had a full string section who appear on the Concerto for Clarinet sequence. This is the musical highlight of the film. Set in a club during rehearsal we get a good portion of the recorded version featuring Butterfield, Nick Fatool's drumming and Artie's virtuoso clarinet inprovisations on what is basically a blues.

Artie also contributed a lovely composition, Love of my Life with Johnny Mercer's lyrics. Fred sings this song to Paulette during the audition scene. Artie also recorded the tune for Victor that year and years later the New Artie Shaw Orch. conducted by Dick Johnson recorded it. Artie was obviously fond of the tune and it garnered a Best Song Oscar nomination.
The song Poor Mr. Chisolm (Bernie Hanighen and Mercer) is a comical number named after Butterworth's mandolin playing character. It's later used as Fred's big number in the concert finale.

As a sidelight, on Sept. 22, 1940 Fred recorded Dig It, Mr. Chisolm,Love of my Life and Me and the Ghost for Columbia with a fine studio band directed by Perry Botkin (who dubbed Mr. Chisolm's mandolin ramblings). The band consisted of quite a few members of the Hal Kemp Orch. along with such studio pros as Mannie Klein (trumpet), Dick Clark (tenor), Charlie LaVere(piano) and Spike Jones on drums. Spike was still a few years from forming his City Slickers, but uses his famous tuned cowbells on Me and the Ghost.
This selection surfaced on Youtube and has some nice singing by Fred and a politely swinging band. We hope to hear the other sides soon.

Over the years Artie has been lambasted for his acting, but I thought he did a nice job and played himself
without a lot of Hollywood "jive" talk and some humor.He was a very bright, sensitive guy and I'm sure he wanted to present himself as the consumate musician he was.
Paulette Goddard is a delight as a great beauty and works well off the boys. Meredith is a bit corny, but still fun as the eager Hank who tries to best Fred musically and romantically.Butterworth was a fine comic supporting actor but gets a bit too much to do here. His act gets a bit stale after a while. Still the film is good fun and the music saves the day when things get too silly.(Incidentally, Paulette and Meredith must have connected during the filming, they were later married for a time).

Second Chorus is one of many films that ran out of copyright. It has been put out in numerous budget VHS and DVD packages,all usually using an old, grainy print. The recent TV version on GET TV had a beautiful print, so there are pristine prints available.

Till our next Jazz/Big Band film-Keep Swinging!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Some Jazzy Stocking Stuffers

Following our previous Christmas jazz posts, Ira Ironstrings plays Santa Claus and Christmas with Louis Armstrong are some favorite jazz Christmas albums from the Pete Kelly collection.
An early 10" lp with delightful jazz holiday music is Urbie Green's A Cool Yuletide recorded in 1954 for RCA's subsidiary X label.
This is nice cool mainstream with some boppish touches, not unlike the Dave Pell Octet.
The personnel is Urbie, Joe Wilder,trumpet- Al Cohn,tenor- Al Epstein, baritone (a nice surprise) -Buddy Weed,piano-Mundell Lowe,guitar-Milt Hinton,bass and Jimmie Crawford and Don Lamond splitting up drum chores.The arrangements are by Charles Shirley. All these men are top studio players and great jazzmen.

The ensembles are tightly voiced and Joe Wilder's clean,boppish horn is a highlight thruout. Some of the highlights are a neat version of All I want for Christmas with a Northwest Passage riff on the intro and coda. I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa has a bit of the Jimmie Lunceford 2 beat before breaking into 4/4 for solos. Urbie's sweet Dorsey-ish horn is featured on White Christmas and Christmas Song with some nice spots by Lowe's guitar. Winter Wonderland is played at a medium swing with Joe getting in some Cootie-like plunger spots. Santa Claus is Coming has a bit of the Birth of the Cool sound with some tasty piano by the underated Weed.
The lp has been long out of print and not yet restored to CD but you can try ebay or youtube. It's worth the search.

Fans of Glenn Miller will really enjoy Christmas Serenade-In the Glenn Miller Style , a 1965 Columbia lp reuniting Tex Beneke, Ray Eberle and Paula Kelly and the Modernaires.
The studio band was arranged by Alan Copeland (a former Modernaires vocalist-he may sing on this session). There are some of the Miller reed and doowah brass sounds but the band has more of a swinging Les Brown sound.
Tunes from the original Miller book are It Happened in Sun Valley and Jingle Bells. Tex's vocals are a joy thruout and Merry Christmas Baby is tailor made for him. His tenor work on the album is exellent and he gets some mellow spots on Christmas Song and Snowfall (a nice chart). Sleigh Ride is given a nice swinging ride with more of Tex's tenor and the Mods have many nice moments with Tex and Ray Eberle (Ray sounds a bit creaky on his solo spots).
I noticed a curious arranging passage. The vocal coda on Christmas Song was later used on Herb Alpert's version on his own Christmas Album. Perhaps vocal arranger Shorty Rogers remembered it and worked it into his own chart!
This session came out on lp and later on cassette(I still have my copy) and has made the transfer to CD.

One of the classic jazz Xmas albums is Hark the Herald Angels Swing! (World Jazz-1972) by The World's Greatest Jazz Band.
This is one of the band's best lineups with Yank Lawson and Billy Butterfield,trumpets- Ed Hubble and Vic Dickenson,trombones- Bud Freeman,tenor- Bob Wilber,clarinet and soprano-Ralph Sutton,piano-Bob Haggart,bass and Gus Johnson,drums.
Bob's Bob Crosby-like charts abound and all the soloists excell in a very happy session.
Highlights include the title tune, a real swinger with Billy wailing up high on the out chorus. Yank and Gus turn Little Drummer Boy into a neat jazz conversation. (Yank using his trusty Harmon mute). Silent Night is turned into a bluesy but sacred outing and Vic and Gus get in some good humored vopcalizing on Jingle Bells and Rudolph. Ralph shows off his own Fats Waller piano and vocal chops on I'll be Home for Christmas. Christmas Song features the pure pretty Butterfield fleugelhorn. Every track is a gem. This is the kind of jazz album that even non-jazz fans will respond to.
As of this writing the lp hasn't been transferred to CD-It certainly should. You can get a copy on ebay and sample tracks on Youtube. Here's hoping someone puts it out on CD soon.

For Trad Jazz fans here are two tasty treats. In 1984 World Jazz released another standout Christmas album this time by the Jim Cullum Jazz Band. Jim's band from San Antonio has been a fixture on the trad scene for 50 years and this edition of the band is an excellent one.
"Tis the Season to be Jammin' features Jim on cornet, Randy Reinhart,trombone-Allan Vache,clarinet-John Sheridan,piano-Howard Elkins,banjo/guitar- Jim Johnston,bass and Ed Torres,drums.
The tunes range from a scorching Sleigh Ride to a Basie-ish Christmas Waltz in swingtime with a mellow Elkins vocal. We also get bluesy,sacred takes on O Holy Night and Ave Maria. Vache's hot clarinet takes honors on God Rest ye Merry Gentlemen and Randy's feature on Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas gives us shades of Teagarden. There's a nifty Santa Claus is Comin' with a Hot 5 style ensemble and merry band vocal. John Sheridan takes a stride feature on Nutcracker Rag. This is a wonderful album, expertly played and full of jazz joy.
It's available on CD from Jim Cullum's Landing. (the CD has bonus tunes not on the lp).

The great Turk Murphy and his San Francisco Jazz Band put out a lovely Xmas lp recorded in 1984 and 86. The lp was issued on the Merry Makers label and sponsored by See's Candies who also sponsored Turk's weekly radio shows from the Fairmont Hotel.
Songs of Christmas features several Turk originals along with favorites such as Silver Bells,
Santa Claus is Comin' and O Christmas Tree (alias Maryland,my Maryland). From the trad repertoire are Chimes Blues, At the Christmas Ball, Santa Claus Blues and a fun oldie, The Storybook Ball (also recorded by the Castle Jazz Band). There's also a great caricature of Turk on the cover by Ward Kimball of Firehouse Five fame.
Personell is Turk, trombone/vocal- Bob Schulz,cornet- Lynn Zimmer,clarinet/soprano- Ray Skjelbred,piano-Bill Carroll,tuba and John Gill on banjo, drums and vocal. This is one of Turk's best later bands and the album is full of great trad jazz sounds. I don't think it's been transferred to CD but you can check ebay for lps.

Back to swing sounds and a real sleeper that came out in 1986, Christmas in Jazztime by Glenn Zottola and his group. This album released on the Dreamstreet label has an instrumentation similar to the Urbie Green session and features tightly voiced ensembles and great soloists. Leader Zottola is a very versatile trumpeter with a clean, swinging sound capable of ranging from boppish runs to Louis-ish riffs and high notes. The wonderful Maxine Sullivan is a special guest on Jolly Old St. Nick, White Christmas and Jingle Bells.
Personell is Zottola, George Masso,trombone (I'm sure he did some of the arranging) - Phil Bodner, clarinet/alto/piccolo- Joe Temperly, baritone/ soprano/bass clarinet- Derek Smith, piano- Milt Hinton,bass and Butch Miles, drums.
There are many wonderful moments including a swinging Let it Snow featuring all the soloists. Winter Wonderland gets a nice bossa nova feel and Silent Night has a bluesy Duke feel with electric piano. On White Christmas, Glenn gets into his Louis bag with a classic Pops cadenza.
Joe's big sound on bari is featured on Christmas Song (he followed Harry Carney in the Ellington band). Greensleves gets a cool shuffle treatment and on Santa Claus there is more of Glenn's nod to Pops with a high note climax. All the soloists are tops but I should single out Masso's fluid but muscular bone work and the great clarinet spots by Bodner (a top studio reed man). The great rhythm section swings all the way thru.
The album has yet to surface on CD but do look for it on ebay and Youtube.

I'd also like to mention some compilations. Big Band Christmas on Columbia features Duke(Jingle Bells), Woody Herman(Let it Snow),Les Brown(We Wish you the Merriest), Jimmy Dorsey(Dixieland Band from Santa Claus Land), Les Elgart(Greensleeves), Claude Thornhill(Snowfall) and a lovely White Christmas by Bobby Hackett. It's been on cassette but perhaps not CD yet.
Jingle Bell Jazz also Columbia has been around for a while and is on CD. The tunes have been re-shuffled over the years from the lp days. The constants are Duke's Jingle Bells, Hamp's White Christmas, Brubeck's Santa Claus is 'Comin' and Chico Hamilton's Winter Wonderland. The lp originally had the Dukes of Dixieland playing Frosty the Snowman.
A Swinging Big Band Christmas on Laserlight CD features Lombardo, Krupa, Nichols, L. Brown, Larry Clinton, Bob Crosby and a lovely Christmas medley by Glenn Miller's Army Air Force Band. The highlight is Jack Teagarden's vocal/trombone feature of The Christmas Song recorded in 1954 and hard to find.

In closing , here are some random favorites that are out there on compilations or Youtube. The Firehouse Five plus Two's joyous rendition of Jingle Bells on Good Time Jazz(1950). Tommy Dorsey's Santa Claus is Comin' (1935) and March of the Toys (1939) on Victor. Dick Robertson's I Want You for Christmas (1937) Decca with a young Bobby Hackett. For more lovely Hackett check out his change of pace version of We Need a Little Christmas (Epic 1966) with pianist Ronnie David on The Swingin'est Gals in Town (Collectables CD). Louis Prima's composition What Will Santa Say? (When he finds Everybody Swingin') is a fun novelty from 1936 on Vocalion and there's that great duet of Jack Teagarden and Johnny Mercer with Paul Whiteman on Christmas Night in Harlem (Victor 1934). And lest we forget the amazing re-interpretation of the Nutcracker by Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn on Columbia CD.
Here's hoping all these Jazz Christmas goodies bring you Happy Holiday Listening.

Wishing you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy and Healthy New Year. We'll be back with more blogs in 2012.