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There many new aspects to Anne and my latest duo offering, amidst a few old friends. We start this odyssey with a tune I first learned during my stint with The Titan Hot Seven. Founder Louis Brown’s book for that band had quite a few gems, including Red Hot Mama from 1924. Of course, I couldn’t let my late friend get the best of me, so we found the verse and another set of lyrics as well! Composer Fred Rose created many wonderfully syncopated early jazz hits, and was rewarded with the likes of the Original Memphis Five, Cliff Edwards, Coon-Sanders Nighthawks and Sophie Tucker recording this and his other tunes. Ms. Tucker earned the title “the last of the red hot mamas” from her recording of this tune in 1924.
Our next tune marks Anne’s vocal debut on recording so the tune title has a double meaning. Jules Styne’s terrific swinger, Just in Time comes to us from the show Bells are Ringing of 1956. Sydney Chaplin (Charlie’s son) and Judy Holliday sang it in the show, with poor Sydney being replaced by Dean Martin for the film. The songwriting team of Comden and Greene wrote the lyrics, which almost sing themselves. I join in (trying to sound more sober than Dean) on the reprise of the vocal refrain.
Blue Autumn is a gorgeous piece from 1980 written by clarinetist Mick Lewis, the founder of the Climax Jazz Band. Mick’s an ex-pat from the UK and I am sure was influenced in his youth by Acker Bilk, if not in playing style, certainly when composing a sonorous ballad. More classical in nature than jazzy, the tune could easily fit into the German tradition of Lieder. Thus, our arrangement showcases what you might have heard had Franz Schubert and Acker Bilk met in a bar and collaborated. More importantly, it features the golden tone of Anne’s flute and creates a greater audience for Mick’s marvelous piece.
When you think of the blues, certain instruments come to mind: an old guitar, a sax, a beat-up piano in the corner...but the flute?? Not so much. That’s why it took flautist Moe Koffman to write one, a swinger called the Swingin’ Shepherd Blues. It became his biggest hit and is a lot of fun to play. It was on this piece that things started to click for Anne as she was learning improvising. This and many other tracks on the CD show how far she has come!!
The Granddad of all Tin Pan Alley rags and the first one to popularize the technique of setting a three-note melody against a duple “boom-chick” rhythm is the venerable (and venerated) Dill Pickles by Charles Johnson. Written in 1906 (not 1908 as our CD jacket implies; sorry for what I hope is our only gaffe) it was the second rag to sell a million copies; the first was Joplin’s Maple Leaf Rag. I have a feeling more people played Johnson’s rag than did Joplin’s; it is much easier. Anne and I had some fun trading motifs back and forth, with an absurd moment where she takes the bass line away from me on the flute!! Daft that we are...
The Depression era gave us such amazing songs! Times were rough and tunesmiths knew it was their job—and would prove extremely profitable—to create melodies to lift the spirits of the downtrodden! The year 1933 was a bumper crop for such optimistic ditties, with It’s Only a Paper Moon heading the parade. The celebrated Harold Arlen wrote the melody, and its simplicity made it one of his biggest hits. Two equally heralded lyricists, Billy Rose and E. Y. Harburg, penned the
happy, hopeful lyrics. Everyone recorded it, from Paul Whiteman to Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole, the Mills Brothers and Benny Goodman. We don’t always perform songs that are, for lack of a better word, as ubiquitous as is this one. It was a fun, comfortable tune for Anne to explore singing and became the first song she performed in public, so it will part of her repertoire forever!!
We learned of the brooding and powerful tango Oblivion from our friend, Stanley Stern, from Los Osos, CA. Argentinian musician Ástor Pantaleón Piazzolla was a tango composer, bandoneon (a kind of concertina) player and arranger. He revolutionized the traditional tango into a new style termed nuevo tango, incorporating elements from jazz and classical music. His music has been featured in concert and film throughout the world. While there are many recordings of Oblivion performed on the bandoneon and the concertina I had yet to find one featuring the flute. Once we played the piece, it really stuck with us. We hope it will with you, too!
After the somber tone of the previous piece, I begin my solo, Viper’s Drag the way Fats Waller recorded it in 1934 with a mock serious, sinister, strutting minor theme. Since I was not limited to the 3-minute length of Fats’ original rendition, I extended the 1st section to create more tension before the release into the quicker, stride section. I have some fun improvising on that prior to visiting the famous “riff” chorus and return once again to the lurching, minor theme to close. In the 1930’s, the term “viper” referred to anyone who was fond in indulging in marijuana. Perhaps the piece is programmatic, with the first theme depicting someone before taking a hit and the second theme suggesting someone “riding high.” Of course, the situation for each section may be reversed as well!!
Our next tune was a surprise for me. Our friend, Dr. Craig Wright, is a real student of the music of the 1st three decades of the 20th century, and it was he who provided the sheet for I Got Love. Rather then collaborating with his usual lyricist, Andy Razaf, Fats wrote this tune, and the better-known A Cottage in the Rain, with Spencer Williams. At the time, Fats and his wife, Anita, were visiting Williams in the UK at his home in Sunbury-on-Thames (Spencer had moved over to France to write for Josephine Baker’s new show, Revue Negre, in 1926 and returned to France with Fats in tow in 1931; by 1938 Williams was happily ensconced in his home in England). The song is a lovely bit of fluff with a very simple melody from Waller and naively joyous words from Williams. Anne and I enjoy performing these kind of happy, carefree tunes (replete with some Wallerian phrases in the bridge, such as “she’s bella, she’s buxom,” and “she’s worthy, she’s wealthy—incidentally, Anne is at least two of these). If a tune is “worthy,” so much better if it’s rare: we understand fully such a philosophy won’t make us “wealthy,” but, hey, we got love!!
Won’t You Play a Simple Melody takes us to the Irving Berlin songbook—a very nice place to be! Even in 1914, tensions between generations were growing concerning new popular music styles; the older generation still desired the genteel (some would say maudlin) tunes of the Victorian Era, while the later generation was hot on ragtime and anything syncopated (including, though it wasn’t being referred to by the name yet, jazz!). This song came into our repertoire by a circuitous route. We were performing in Switzerland with some CA friends and our friend Martin Jaeger and he included Simple Melody for his students to sing during a concert. I’d
not thought of the tune in decades, but hearing them perform it brought back to me how much fun it is. It’s now one of Anne’s and my favorite tunes to perform. It initially appeared in Berlin’s first full score, a “syncopated musical” entitled “Watch Your Step.” His was the earliest musical to offer popular, contemporary rhythms, breaking out of the more serious “light operetta” style then dominating Broadway. It was the longest running show for which he wrote music up to that time, made stars of the dancing team Vernon and Irene Castle, and the success of “Watch Your Step” enabled Berlin to break from the publishing company Waterson, Berlin & Snyder Co., for which he had been providing all the profits, to start Irving Berlin, Inc.
As a complete musical contrast, yet answering in the affirmative to the question postulated in the previous selection, we offer the beautiful What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?. No embellishments here; Anne caresses the melody while I provide a quiet, flowing accompaniment. When it comes to matters of the heart, simpler is always better.
We continue with a tune I’ve always associated with the West Coast Traditional Jazz sound, perhaps because I first heard groups like the South Frisco Jazz Band perform it. It’s a great number and about the oddest thing you could imagine on which to include a flute, but Anne got hot and it works! San Francisco Bay Blues was composed by Jesse Fuller, a one-man-band musician who busked on the streets of San Francisco in the 50’s. He played a few clubs and dives and was finally recorded by the Good Time Jazz label in 1958. We are in good company covering this most famous of Fuller’s tunes: it has been recorded and performed by countless other musicians, including Janis Joplin and Eric Clapton!
The repertoire of Ivory&Gold® always includes rare, contemporary compositions written in an older style. We are honored to present a haunting waltz by ragtime composer and critic Jack Rummel. Shortly after finishing his composition, he included it in a performance and informed the audience that he had yet to name the piece but wished to present it to them. After the concert, an elderly woman approached Jack. She epitomized the hard-working farmwife who one could only guess had raised 10 or 11 children and kept the family together through feast and famine. She said, “Excuse me, Mr. Rummel, but I believe I might have a name for that lovely waltz you played.” With a wry smile, Jack replied, “What would that be, ma’am?” She looked him in the eye and intoned: “When the Work is Done, I’ll Dance.” Jack was very moved by this title and must have had this woman in mind when he made the dedication: “A Waltz for the Women of the West” underneath the title. It has quickly become an audience favorite and is certainly one of ours!
Good Gravy Rag is a really hot ragtime romp from 1913. The melodies are sweeping, the chord sequences exhilarating and the D section features a thunderous climax! This folk rag certainly lives up to its subtitle: “A Musical Relish.” Composer Harry Belding featured it regularly in his vaudeville act.
Midnight, the Stars and You is a great 1934 ballad (when ballads still had that special little lilt, eschewing lugubriousness) written by two Brits and an American, and became well known in the 30’s in England and Europe, primarily for the iconic recording made by Ray Noble and his Orchestra, featuring singer Al Bowlly. Only two other recordings of the tune were made that year, one each by Roy Fox and Hal Kemp, and the song pretty much disappeared. THEN, in 1980, it was
featured in the 1980 horror film The Shining and ensuing generations would forever associate this innocent tune with the sinister closing credits. I’d frankly forgotten it for decades and then we heard it during a UK tour when a young lady I was accompanying included it in her program. I instantly fell in love (with the tune, of course) and Anne and I started including it in our shows to great acclaim.
In 1910, Some of These Days rocketed vaudevillian performer Sophie Tucker to super-stardom. She would use it as her theme song for the rest of her career. Her best-selling record was a 1927 version of the by-then antique song backed by Ted Lewis’s Band. Every hot band plays this timeless tune, every hot singer belts it out. Some audience members are a bit shocked when my petite wife takes the vocal on so successfully. I just hang on and play as hot as I can to keep up! It doesn’t help that she prefers the key of Db for this number!!
In the past, I’ve felt inundated by our final selection. Seems like everyone and his dog was doing this one and in so many ways, from hobbling it with a lackluster Armstrong imitation to hamstringing it with a lung-busting display of over-emotion. Our old friend Tom Hook brought me back to the beauty of this song, and so, although I vowed never to do it, I’m actually proud that we finish our recording with What a Wonderful World. Louis Armstrong recorded it in 1967, the year it was written and got a good shot-in-the-arm for his career (the 2nd best after his huge megahit with Hello Dolly). The popularity of the tune mushroomed after its inclusion in Robin William’s 1988 film, Good Morning. Vietnam. Anne and I chose to take the tune in a quiet, reverent direction, as befitting our sincere awe at how amazing this world is and how lucky we feel to have the opportunity to share our lives with each other and our music with you.
Jeff Barnhart Mystic, CT, October 1, 2014
Liner notes: Journeys
When we chose the tunes for Journeys, Anne and I wanted to take the time to re-explore some favorites of both ours and fans of Ivory&Gold. Although many of the titles will be familiar to followers of our duo, the renditions herein bear little if any resemblance to our initial recordings of these pieces.
The strongest illustration of my above assertion is our new I Got Rhythm. We stay true to the song’s stage origin with a dramatic introduction from the bridge to the end of the song. Then, as Fats would aver, it’s time for “Tempo de Tear-Ass.” What the listener will notice on this track, and throughout the album, is Anne’s ever-increasing comfortability and inventiveness when it comes to improvising. We have a great time trading fours—sharing the center stage on a chorus and making up “musical conversations” back and forth—on this and several tunes on Journeys.
I Got Rhythm has become an anthem jam tune for jazz ensembles large and small, traditional and modern; a long way from its inclusion in 1930’s show Girl Crazy as a vehicle for Ethel Merman and the Foursome.
We then move to a swinging (purists BEWARE!) version of Joplin’s The Entertainer. Huge volumes have been written about this piece and its impact on American music, so we’ll just suffice it to say that once I heard Dick Wellstood’s bluesy version, I felt emboldened to approach this seminal rag in a personal way. Anne swings along playfully and we keep to the adage “Please the audience and get invited back” by returning to the favorite first section of the rag to conclude.
We are always searching for those beautiful, heart-grabbing tunes that will highlight Anne’s rich, golden tone. Our first ballad is a new one for us but a favorite for generations. When David Gates of the rock group Bread penned the soaring love-song If, it was such a big hit that even Telly Savales recorded a Sprechstimme version!! Anne simply states the melody and our good friend, world-class engineer Jack Miller, gives the track a truly ethereal sound. We were all speechless at the end and hope that this version transports you as well.
More Gershwin with our new rendition of Oh, Lady Be Good! From the show with a similar title (just omit the “O”), this is another favorite Gershwin ditty for jazz instrumentalist and vocalist alike. Paul Whiteman and his Orchestra, some 25-30 musicians, recorded the first hit of the song. We number only two, but try to give it enough variety that you won’t miss the other two-dozen players!!
Autumn Leaves has become something of a signature piece for Ivory&Gold and it seemed fitting to include it to showcase once again the huge musical distance Anne has traveled since our first recording of it. Here her improvisations are more assured and we are much more playful with it, although we have toned down the tempo to bring out the inherent romance of the harmonic and melodic sequences. We also include the rarely heard verse this time around. Our instrumental version could really be called “Les Feuilles Mortes” as the US version from 1950, with English lyrics by Johnny Mercer, used the French melody note-for-note.
1911 was a great year for Irving Berlin and popular music in general with the publication of Alexander’s Ragtime Band. Although as written the song contains no ragtime rhythms, the tune is simple enough that we can add ample syncopation to it. While Berlin was quoted in the 1950’s as saying that he never did understand “that ragtime stuff” he certainly had a handle on giving the public what they wanted. This infectious tune sets the toes and other body parts of even those who are unfamiliar with it tapping with abandon! The song was still being used in films including Berlin’s music 43 years after its publication. Concerning the publication of the sheet music it eventually reached over 1,000,000 copies sold and had sixty-five individual performers’ photos featured in cameos on separate sheet covers. From the success of this one song, Berlin was able to leave the Ted Snyder Publishing Co. and start his own venture. Anne and I launch into a swingier version than we have performed and recorded in the past, bringing out the versatility of this immortal tune.
Two Berlin songs back to back? Why not!! He wrote over 1,500 tunes so we have 1,498+ to go! Another huge hit in its day, Blue Skies literally stopped the show when it debuted in the show, Betsy. This must have upset composers Rodgers and Hart, who penned the rest of the tunes in this musical! Its inclusion was the result of leading lady Belle Baker’s insistence that Berlin write a song to feature her. A standard that has been covered in virtually every style, it provides us with a chance to be playful and share ideas back and forth once again.
Other than the aria Summertime (found on My Funny Valentine, JACD1012), Abdullah Ibrahim’s deep, sonorous, ringing anthem Water From An Ancient Well is our most requested song. We find performing this tune to be transporting. The piece speaks for itself so I’ll say nothing here except a word of encouragement to anyone who wishes to explore Ibrahim’s music further. Whether as a soloist or bandleader, this brilliant South African pianist creates truly unique and beautiful sounds when performing his compositions.
Another stalwart from the Ivory&Gold songbook, Pennies From Heaven receives new treatment here with a looser swing, some trading fours, and Anne taking on a real leadership role in her improvisations. All I can say here is that we had a real fun time playing around with this one. This song was not written for the stage but rather for a movie with the same name. By 1936, the US was making the slow climb back towards prosperity but the sentiment of the lyrics reveal that the hard times endured during the Depression were still, and would be for decades, foremost in people’s mind.
Blue Goose Rag is a special piece for Anne and me as it is the first rag on which we imposed our individuality. Unique among rags, this piece features great syncopation in the first two sections but eliminates all the ragtime rhythms in the rhapsodic C section. We have performed this piece pretty much the same way over the last 10 years, although Anne throws in much more virtuosity on the final choruses. Metaphorically, this rag is one of our favorite revisited locations and never fails to please the audience!
Our interpretation of the sultry Mahna de Carnaval has changed a great deal over the years. We have mellowed our performance to highlight the truly romantic nature of the song. During this one, sway with a loved one and have your own carnival!!
The perennial Ain’t Misbehavin’ found its way into the studio and on the radio dozens of times during composer Fats Waller’s short but illustrious career. A favorite for stride pianists, it pops up at almost every jam session (along with its sister tune, Honeysuckle Rose) and is also featured on nearly every concert Ivory&Gold performs. Even audiences unfamiliar with Waller in particular (or jazz in general) respond favorably to the irrepressible lyrics, the lilting melody and the impish harmonies. The subject matter (a sort of anti-carpe-diem theme) wandered into several of Waller’s compositions, perhaps as an apologia for his actual behavior!
Ain’t Misbehavin’ first found the public in the Broadway show Hot Chocolates and was presented by Louis Armstrong in his Broadway debut. How could it miss?
There are several interesting things to point out regarding our new tune Fly Me to the Moon. First, the original title was In Other Words but when the song became a standard on radio and television during the 50’s and 60’s it became known by the opening words of the chorus. Second, it is note-for-note the same as one of Anne’s daily warm-up exercises. I overheard her going through it one morning and said “How great, you’re playing one of the most popular songs ever written. We should add it to the act.” She queried, “Add my exercise to our repertoire?” Once I revealed what she was playing it was a very short time before she was belting out the tune. We keep our arrangement very loose, so each time the tune takes on a new flavor. We liked this version best to include on the recording and it has since become one of our “enticing new destinations.”
No matter which wild rags, irreverent comedy tunes or hot swingers we present to an audience, it always turns out that Anne’s way with a ballad produces the most acclaim, so we needed to be sure and include another aria-like standard for Anne to caress with her pure, gorgeous tone. Here we explore the nuances of Gershwin’s masterpiece, Someone to Watch Over Me. This song was pretty sophisticated for 1926, when it appeared in the Broadway show Oh, Kay! with star Gertrude Lawrence doing the vocal honors. Gershwin himself performed it as one of his few recorded piano solos.
Our first recorded Duke Ellington song is a favorite of musician and listener alike and sums up (along with I Got Rhythm) my personal philosophy of music--and perhaps life in general. It’s great fun to urge an audience to join us on the “Doo-wah, Doo-wah” part of the chorus. Feel free to make like Ivie Anderson and try it at home! Gm happens to be one of Anne’s favorite keys so here she plays with real abandon. With a surprise ending, we conclude this journey and are already looking down the road to future adventures with long-time musical favorites and heretofore undiscovered gems! As always, we extend our heartfelt thanks to YOU, dear listener, for taking the time to listen to us either on recording or in person. Hope to see you soon!
Jeff Barnhart—May 31, 2012
Ivory & Gold
Liner Notes: Bridges
Anne and I travel a LOT and we especially love road trips, perhaps because we spend so much time in planes! Over the years, she’s discovered that I love tunnels and bridges and have since I was a kid. There’s something magical about leaving one place by crossing under or over something and arriving someplace new. While Freudian scholars will quickly point to a tunnel as being symbolic of birth, or of returning to the womb, almost everyone agrees in the universal symbolism of a bridge: a crossing to somewhere new, a reaching out to someone or something, a step of a journey large or small.
We’ve crossed numerous bridges since last I sat down to write liner notes for our latest recording. Anne continues to cross into new territory as she explores her voice styling and gains greater confidence in her improvisational prowess, while I encounter bridges that lead me to new compositions and lyrics. Perhaps the most significant bridge we’ve crossed is the passing—across the ultimate bridge—of Jack Miller, our dear friend and engineer of the last dozen or more of our projects, and having to cope not only with his loss but with searching out the right person to capture the next stages of our musical journey together. We went back to Jim McNeish, an old friend and director of the music school at which we once taught. While he did a great job recording our first two projects (including our best seller: My Funny Valentine) I think the sound he is creating now is even better.
We thought we’d be cheeky and begin the recording with Bye Bye Blues, a hit from 1925 that first appeared on record by co-composer Fred Hamm’s Orchestra, an outfit so obscure that all of my sources listed the publishing date as 1930—the year several important recordings of it were made—and so we have as well. Apologies to the Hamm family. From this whisper of a start, the song rocketed to popularity and has been covered by everyone from Bing Crosby to Peggy Lee, the Spotnicks to Bert Kaempfert (in 1966 as a top 100 single). It’s a great romp of a tune and we loved racing through it!
Onto to Anne’s first “Red Hot Mama” tune—if her university professors could hear her now—with the 1919 Eddie Green Classic, A Good Man Is Hard to Find. Anne’s version owes a great deal more to classic belter Pat Yankee’s version than it does to the original recording of the song as warbled by Marion Harris in the year of its composition. Another vastly covered ditty, this plaint of male quality becomes a paean to revenge and enjoyed versions by Bessie Smith, Brenda Lee, Helen Humes and, incredibly, Wingy Manone, Fats Waller and Frank Sinatra!!
The Lover’s Waltz has rapidly become one of our most requested pieces. Written by fiddle player Jay Ungar (of Ashoken Farewell fame) and his wife, pianist Molly Mason, the song was introduced to us by Melanie Foss, in Muscatine, IA, where I direct a ragtime/early jazz festival every January. On the sheet music she gave us, Jay Ungar tells the story of the piece:
“Molly and I wrote this tune in 1985, when we were first together. It was kind of a spontaneous composition—where I started playing melody and she played chords, and both the chords and melody evolved as we played it. We’d play it at home together. But it was too personal to play for other people—I felt the same way about Ashoken Farewell at first. You know, you’re not sure if people will even like it. Eventually, we played it at a late night waltz session at Ashoken. It seemed the right moment for the tune to emerge.”
It took this piece 7 years to cross the bridge into being published as the copyright date is 1992! I found Jay’s words resonating with me as I sometimes feel that the music Anne and I create is very private. It takes real bravery to share one’s music with others and Anne and I feel so blessed to be crossing bridges together.
Ours is the debut recording of Take Away My Heart. I know this because I wrote the lyrics to a melody composed by our good friend, French stride pianist Louis Mazetier. He played it for me last October in CT at our annual jazz event, Jeff and Joel’s House Party. I was taken by the flow of the piece and the seamless chord structure. He captured the swinging melancholia one can only find in the best of the Waller ballads of 80 years ago. I mentioned that the tune seemed to ask for lyrics and he gave me his blessing to write some. Honoring jazz tradition, I changed his title for the instrumental, Take It Away, to the more poignant listed title for the song version.
Undecided was written by Charlie Shavers—then only 19!!—and debuted with a version by John Kirby and the Onyx Club Boys. A notable recording saw Ella Fitzgerald singing it with the Chick Webb Orchestra in 1939, but the big hit went to The Ames Brothers with Les Brown’s outfit in 1951. Since then it is included in virtually every swing band’s repertoire. Perhaps the most surprising appearance of the song is in the 2015 role-playing video game, Fallout 4!
Simultaneous with Anne’s exploration of “shout” or “hot” tunes is her enjoyment of singing a pretty tune prettily. Here, she turned the large recording studio an intimate jazz club and I was able to watch her sing just for me as I accompanied her on (I Love You) For Sentimental Reasons. Of course, the great Nat Cole had the big hit in 1946; his version reached the Billboard Best Seller chart, lasted on it for 12 weeks and peaked at number one. A song that appeals to many styles and both genders, this pop hit has been covered by Dean Martin, Linda Ronstadt, Ella (is there ANYTHING she didn’t sing?), Rod Stewart, Sam Cooke and even had two versions, a funk one in 1969 and a disco one in 1976 by James Brown! Here, we keep it simple and let the pureness of the melody, the sentiment and Anne’s voice take front seat.
Our roots are in ragtime and so we depart from the sublime to the syncopated with a rollicking take on Lampe’s cakewalk hit from 1900, Creole Belles. The earliest recording was by John Philip Sousa’s band in 1902. 115 years later, this rag is still vibrant and was loads of fun to record. There is a whole set of lyrics to each section, but I grew up hearing Vince Saunders of The South Frisco Jazz Band sing only the chorus and I thought that was a perfect interlude. Note that on the final chorus, I take over the melody so Anne can soar above, and soar she does!
Only recently did I realize that the American songwriting team of Lerner and Loewe had so many hits with shows concerning Anne’s and my adopted homeland, the U.K. First up was Brigadoon in 1947, followed by their biggest hit, My Fair Lady in 1956 and culminating with Camelot in 1960. We began performing Brigadoon’s big hit, Almost Like Being in Love,as an instrumental but Anne soon realized that the words were wonderful to sing and the melody fit her to a T. This song is always a highlight of any of our sets together.
A Bientôt is a tune penned by Jazz pianist Dr. Billy Taylor. Our good friend George Huxley introduced it to me and, several years after he and I recorded it, I started to wonder if Anne would enjoy playing it. It is a lovely melody transformed with the rich tone and phrasing of my amazing wife. One of my two favorite tracks on the recording.
While the history of our next tune, Avalon, from 1920, has been recounted numbers times it is such a great story that it needs to be repeated here. Vincent Rose and Buddy DeSylva had a tune they were hoping Al Jolson might sing. Sing it, he did, but only after they included him as co-composer. Seems stars could get away with that, and not just way back then: for example, many sources suggest Duke Ellington pulled rank on several tunes exclusively written by Billy Strayhorn. In the case of Avalon, the opening phrase of the melody, though in a different mode, resembled an aria from Puccini’s opera Tosca closely enough that the composer’s publishers sued Jolson, Rose and DeSylva in 1921. They were awarded $25,000 and all subsequent royalties into perpetuity. Insisting on claiming co-authorship was one of Jolson’s rare mistakes.
As a nod to the classical antecedent of the tune, we have a bit of fun “fugue-ing” it up before the final hot chorus.
We move on to another fantastic rarity, a tune with the curious title (I’ve Got the Blues) But I’m Just Too Mean to Cry. The editors of the sheet music might have gotten their parentheses mixed up as, while the earlier track on our recording can stand alone as For Sentimental Reasons, in this case, without the parenthesized portion, the title seems odd…At any rate, Anne belts it out in a fashion that would make original artist Sophie Tucker proud. Anne rewrites one lyric as she is small in stature—but not in volume!!— so the line “some sweet papa bouncing on my knee” becomes “some sweet papa bounce ME on his knee.” Such “size-ist” humor worked for Ms, Tucker but not for mon petit damsel. The lyricist was Mitchell Parish, who, 8 years later, would go on to write lyrics for the immortal Stardust! Special thanks to Dr. Craig Wright for introducing me to this tune years ago and pianist Mark Allan Jones for contributing hipper chords to the tune than were in the original.
If the previous track has the weirdest title, this next track has the strangest origins. Once again, we received the music from our Melanie in Muscatine, who draws her sources from the rich folk music world of the hammer-dulcimer, an instrument that she and her husband Chris play (and build). On the sheet, the source for The Dark Island was listed as “The Clutha: Scots Ballads, Songs and Dance Tunes.” When we played it, it had an ancient sound and feel to it and I assumed it was a 16th or 17th century melody. I checked all sources I could find in search of a tune from such an era and came up empty-handed. Turns out I was 4 centuries off! While compositional rights to this haunting piece seem to be in dispute, it is generally acknowledged that the tune itself was penned by an accordionist called Iain MacLachlan, or at least he is responsible for the version used in the 1963 BBC thriller series called The Dark Island. Many people on the web claim to have heard this melody as early as the late 1940’s so we may never know its true origin. As a cultural aside, Anne and I performed this tune twice in Southern Scotland to huge acclaim. Once we entered England, our performance of it was met with polite golf claps. Definitely a regional hit! However, wherever we are, when we perform this melody, invariably someone approaches us to say they were brought to tears. It does stick with one!
Crazy Rhythm (1928) remains a favorite for traditional and swing jazz bands and also has been covered by everything from mainstream jazz ensembles to hillbilly bebop (!?!). This Tin Pan Alley ditty has lent its name to shows, albums, books, music stores and bars. I’ve not read, seen or been to all of these yet, but I’m working on it! We start with some tight harmony and then have fun trading leads on this infectious tune. Dance to this one in your own crazy way!
No-one in modern times can perform or hear Dream a Little Dream of Me without thinking of the seminal 1968 version by Mama Cass with the Mamas and the Papas. That recording was a world-wide hit and breathed new life into a 37-year old standard created by ubiquitous lyricist Gus Kahn, and the obscure melody-writing team of Fabian Andre and Wilbur Schwandt. Recent versions by Barry Manilow and Robbie Williams have kept the song in people’s minds and ears. Ours sets out to do nothing radical; it is a simple, beautiful melody with sweet lyrics and we perform it with those in mind.
The Gershwins had a huge hit with S’Wonderful and the song just keeps on going! It was introduced in the show Funny Face by Adele Astaire and Allen Kearns. It seems every decade sees someone resurrect this tune with huge success. Perhaps this will be OUR decade!!! What I especially love about this classic is its versatility; it is a great tune at any tempo. Anne and recorded it twice during the session and decided on the more upbeat one. In live shows, I sometimes kick the tempo WAY up and Anne manages to get all those words out and still swing!!
Our penultimate selection is not John Denver’s Annie’s Song but one written by me for my beloved. I am always writing complex pieces for her to master and she asked me to write her “something simple” for a change. While the song is indeed simple, the emotion behind it is complex and deep; I’ll never fully be able to explore how much I love Anne Barnhart. She blesses me every day with her talent, patience, outlook, strength and passion. I am truly blessed.
We finish up with the timeless classic from No, No Nanette: I Want to be Happy. When I introduce this song on stage I tell the audience if they’d like to choose another dwarf (Sleepy, Bashful, etc.) they can feel free to do so. Not at all PC, but it always gets a laugh. It DID backfire recently when I fell victim to a spoonerism and referred to “Dumpy” and “Gropey” in my list of possible alternatives. I think this concept is following me around, as my Dad sent me a card for my 50th renaming the dwarves, as they turned 50, into Squinty, Itchy, Gassy, Saggy, Cranky, Gimpy and Snoozy! Better than the ultimate alternative, I guess…
So there you have it: Anne and I will continue to cross as many bridges as we can, and endeavor not to burn any!…and we hope our crossings will lead to an encounter with you, either in person or wherever you are listening to our music. Thanks for listening!