Sunday, August 09, 2009
A FINE ROMANCE: MY LIFELONG AFFAIR WITH JAZZ SINGING AND SINGERS
by Bill Reed
Cellar Door Books
Los Angeles, CA
TABLE OF CONTENTS
PART ONE: INTERVIEWS AND PROFILES
Introduction to Part One 8
Beverly Kenney 10
Joe Williams 21
Page Cavanaugh 25
Jo Stafford 36
Ethel Waters 44
Q & A with Ruth Olay 51
Nat “King” Cole 63
Helen Grayco 67
Dusty Springfield 73
Bobbi Rogers 76
Judy Garland 80
Mieko Hirota 85
Sue Raney 88
Kurt Reichenbach 91
Dick and Kiz Harp 94
Jennie Smith 98
Nora Evans 101
Dick Noel 104
Chris Connor 106
Carole Simpson 109
Pinky Winters 111
Johnny Prophet 130
Irene Kral 133
Nina Simone 137
PART TWO: ONE SHOT WONDERS
Introduction to Part Two 144
Bill Black 145
Carole Creveling 156
Sue Childs 160
Flo Handy 164
June Rudell 179
PART THREE: SHORT TAKES
Lorez Alexandria 172
Laurie Allyn 173
Flo Bennett 174
Betty Blake 174
Janet Brace 175
June Christy 176
Marlene Cord 177
Dorothy Dandridge 178
Cora Lee Day 179
Blossom Dearie 180
Ronnie Deauville 182
Marlene Dietrich 182
Kevin Gavin 183
Inez Jones 184
Abbey Lincoln 185
Julie London 186
Frances Lynne 187
Susannah McCorkle 189
Mary Ann McCall 191
Anita O’Day 192
Peters Sisters, The 193
Pied Pipers, The 194
King Pleasure 195
Jimmy Rushing 196
Kenny Sargent 197
Hazel Scott 198
Lizabeth Scott 199
Dinah Shore 200
Carol Sloane 201
Victoria Spivey 202
Maxine Sullivan 202
Lynn Taylor 203
Kay Thompson 204
Sarah Vaughan 205
Helen Ward 206
Margaret Whiting 207
Lee Wiley 209
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS AND SOURCES 227-228
Monday, July 13, 2009
Liner notes for SSJ Fall 2009 release, In the Mood for A Song?
Getting in touch with the rightful owner of the master of this album, veteran music executive Mort Hillman, was easy enough. And after negotiations were completed for SSJ’s release of the 1955 LP, next came the task of securing some background on the making of the disc. But so far back in time did Hillman oversee the production of the recording---more than fifty years ago---that he can only remember a few scant details about the artist, Corky Shayne.
Hillman’s hazy memory was complicated by the fact that the singer’s lone album was but one of hundreds of projects he was associated with between 1947,when he joined the Tommy Dorsey band as a trumpet player, and his retirement from music in 1980 when he entered the world of politics as a New York State assemblyman. Before that, Hillman was also a vocal group singer (The C Notes), the owner of Chicago’s Salem Records and, later, an exec with Jubilee, Audio Fidelity and Music Minus One Records. He also acted as a producer for these labels.
Hillman was also the personal manager of, among others, singer-pianist Joe Derise, singer Paula Castle and jazz star Herbie Mann. And this represents but a small part of his activities in the music business. Today Hillman is retired and living happily with his wife, Ruth, in Florida (where he still remains active in local Democratic Party politics).
Hillman can recall doing a record promo tour with Shayne, including appearances by Shayne on popular radio shows in the Chicago area such as those of popular dee-jays Howard Miller and Marty Faye. But that was just about it, . . .aside from the obscure recollection that Shayne’s uncle ran a popular record store in Chicago. And when I contacted the esteemed Chicago arranger Johnny Pate who arranged and played on the Shayne date, he could not even recall the session. I wasn’t surprised, for drawing blanks such as this is often the case today with still active session musicians who oftentimes cannot even recall record dates from the recent past, much less a half-century ago.
And were it not for the help of legendary Chicago singer-pianist Audrey Morris who did, in fact, recall Shayne from the golden era of the Fifties music scene in Chicago, I might never have ascertained the few facts about the singer that I finally did. In late 2008, the still professionally active Morris put me in touch with Shayne’s half-sister, Ava Schneider, who was able to supply me with a few facts about Shayne. From Schneider I learned that Corky (real name Corinne) was born in 1932 in Illinois and that she died in Indian Wells, California in 2005. But Shayne was more than two decades older than Schneider; thus, the singer’s professional career was over and done with by the time her half-sister would’ve been old enough to remember anything about it.
Schneider recalls that her sister didn’t remain in Chicago too much longer after her performing activities ceased, and that Shayne then moved to the Los Angeles area where she remained active in show business, but behind the scenes with a series of jobs as assistant to music industry executives. Somewhere along the line, Shayne was married to a certain Eugene Willage, but I was unable to learn how the marriage played out, nor could Corky’s half-sister summon up what happened with it either. Shayne’s half-sister also said that somewhere along the line, Corky became an avid golfer and eventually moved to Palm Springs, California area where she could actively pursue her growing interest in the sport. Clearly, if she was half as good a golfer as she was a singer, then Shayne must’ve had more than her share of holes in one.
--- Bill Reed
Saturday, March 14, 2009
continued from here
"But he came back," recalls Livingston, "and said, 'They won't make a deal with Capitol.' 'Why not?,' I asked. He answered, 'They think we're a square company.' So I said, 'Well, I'm gonna go up and meet them.' I went to San Francisco and we started to party. I was out until four in the morning for three nights in a row with these kids. They introduced me to Allen Ginsberg. They were smoking pot I'm sure. I didn't. Who knows what else they were taking? It was not really my scene I must tell you. But I made it appear that it was. We made a deal. I signed them both and they were delighted. Here was the president of Capitol Records partying with these kids."
Livingston's Summer of Love adventure in San Francisco was but one gamble in a long history of similar corporate risk taking. In fact, the biggest act in the history of Capitol--and the record business for that matter---came about in similar daring Livingston fashion. He explains:
"I read the English music press and about a group that were doing well on EMI Records in England. EMI was our major stockholder and Capitol had an agreement with them. EMI had the right of first refusal throughout the world to release any of our product. And we had the right to release any EMI product in the United States. I named one of my producers, Dave Dexter, to screen EMI product. He would suggest something now and then and nothing would happen. Nothing [Cliff Richard, et al] sold." I said at Capitol's weekly meeting of record producers to Dave Dexter, 'Dex, what about this group called the Beatles that I read about?'"
"'Alan,' Dexter said to Livingston, "they're a bunch of long-haired kids who are nothing. Forget it. '"
Livingston had no reason to doubt Dexter, one of the finest producers in the label's history, and who handled such artists as Nat Cole, Peggy Lee, and Stan Kenton. Looking back now, Dexter was apparently not the right person to pass judgment on what must have sounded like, at the time, Music from Mars.
"I continued reading about the Beatles," Livingston says. "Two weeks later I brought it up again. I said, 'Dex, are you SURE?' Because I was getting pressure from England to put the records out. He said, 'Alan. Please take my word for it.' I hadn't even listened to them. So that was that. We passed on the Beatles."
"And so did," according to Livingston, "every other major record label. They went to RCA Victor, CBS Columbia, Decca. All turned them down. Finally, EMI was so anxious to get a record out that they gave them first to a little black-owned Chicago label on the verge of bankruptcy, Vee-Jay and then to a company in Philadelphia called Swan Records. Nothing happened, nothing sold on Vee-Jay or Swan. The Beatles were dead in the U.S."
Until! One day Livingston was sitting in his twelfth floor office in Hollywood's Capitol Tower when his secretary entered:
"There's a call from London from a man called Brian Epstein."
Livingston had never heard of Epstein, but took the call. "Mr. Livingston!," Epstein said, "We don't understand why you don't put the Beatles out." "Well, frankly, I haven't heard them."
"Please listen and call me back."
"So," says Livingston, "I sent down to Dex's office and got some records and sat and listened. I heard SOME-thing. I called Epstein back."
"I'll put them out," Livingston told the Beatles' manager. "I felt that there was a shot and I was going to take it. Then I took a [British] Beatles record home and played it for Nancy [Livingston's wife of 38 years and former move actress Nancy Olson ("Sunset Boulevard"]. 'I want you to listen to this.' And I can quote exactly, I said, 'I think it's going to change the whole record business.' She said, "Realllly. Let me hear it.' I played it for her and she said [very derisively] 'I Wannnnnnna Hold Your Hand. Are you kidding?' And I thought, 'Maybe I made a mistake.' But I put the record out anyway," Livingston laughs.
Livingston's seemingly magic touch seems to be in operation even when he's not thinking about it. Witness:
"My son was rummaging around in my area where I had all my albums and he found some albums of the butcher cover. The butcher cover. . .the Beatles always said to me they'd like to do their own covers. Capitol always did the covers. I said, "Fine. You can do them." And they would send us final artwork from London. And once they sent an album cover which was a picture of them sitting in white smocks holding parts, dismembered parts of dolls, bloody looking. And I looked at it and said, "What is this!?" And I called them and they said, That's our comment on war." I don't want to put this out." They insisted. I had the contractual right to stop it. But I didn't want to do that. So I finally, in desperation, said, 'What we will do is to put out a few hundred of them at most, send them to dealers and have them take them to the stores and see what the reaction is.' Well the word came back in no uncertain terms. The stores said we won't put it on our shelves. We won't sell it. Now a Beatles album is obviously worth a lot of money to them. But they refused to sell it so I called London. I was dealing with Brian Epstein, I said, "We won't put the album out. We can't do it.' Finally he came back and gave us a new cover. I had no other way of dealing with the situation.
When my son found them, a box of them, he said, "don't you know what these are worth?" I said, "No." He said, "I can get 5 to 1 0,000 each for these. So I gave him a number of them and he went back to New York where he was living and was selling them off like crazy. And eventually I sold a few myself. I now have only one left."
"When they came to Los Angeles after they appeared on the Ed Sullivan show they were absolutely tops in this country. After they did Sullivan, I said I would appreciate it if you would do a benefit for me. I had a particular charity I was interested in. They said, "Oh,
Alan don't ask us to do that." So I said, "I'll tell you what. Just volunteer, you don't have to play. So Nancy's mother had a huge garden out in Brentwood and I said we'll do it there. And all I want you to do is sit on a chair so that kids can shake hands with you. It will be by invitation only and we'll charge---I could have charged anything, I charged 25 dollars a child---plus an adult had to be with them. It was by invitation and the location was kept secret. But it got out and I had calls from everyone. We took a picture of the Beatles with each kid We took it to capacity. And then we had to call the riot squad. They came up and hid in the garage waiting in case there was anything gone wrong. They roped the place off, mobs of kids were trying to get in. The Beatles walked through and I had a cameraman that took a picture of every child as they came through the line. The pictures will be on the wall at Capitol records in two weeks and you can order prints. Well what could be more appealing, and kids went through that line crying, emotional, hysterical. I never saw anything like it.
"I got to know the Beatles pretty well. I got along best with Paul. He would sit at the piano and play songs for me. That was one trip when I had them in a house in Bel Air. I could't put them in a hotel anymore so I rented a house for them. Secretly. No one knew where they were and I would go out and sit and talk with them. I never understood whether John was putting on an act or that was his real self. He was reasonable at first. But more and more took on an attitude that was anti a lot of things. He was strange, remote. Ringo was just a happy go lucky guy. George I never had much contact with.
One day when they were in the Bel Air house. I came home from the office one day. It was about six o'clock. I came in the front door and just as I shut the front door the doorbell rang and I opened it and there was a camera in my face. It was CBS. They said, "You have BeatIes here?" I said, "Yes." They said, "Where are they staying?" I said, "I don't know." They said, "Come nowwww! Certainly you know where they're staying." I said, "I don't know where they're staying" They finally went off. Then I'm watching television that night and I see my face and they're asking me and I say that I don't know where they're staying. Then there's a shot of my twelve-year-old daughter in front of the house saying, "I know where they're staying." She didn't really know.
In Dave Dexter's autobiography, published in 1992 shortly before his death, he takes almost sole credit for signing the BeatIes. Livingston just smiles and shrugs it off. He knows that his place in Beatle history is secure. As is the part he played in the resurrection of Frank Sinatra's sagging pre-From Here to Eternity fortunes in the early 1950s.
"When I was at Capitol, Sinatra was in the doldrums. He couldn't get a job in a nightclub, Ava Gardner had left him, he was despondent, he was drinking heavily, they SAID he'd lost his voice. He was in bad shape but he certainly hadn't lost his voice. He had been at Columbia Records, and Mitch Miller who was the head of that label made records with him that didn't sell at all. "
The most notorious example of what Sinatra was asked to record toward the end of his stay at Columbia is the now-infamous novelty tune "Mama Will Bark" which features him and fleeting early 50s US TV sensation Dagmar singing a love duet in the personae of canines. Sprinkled throughout are the sounds of a male dog barking voiced by Sinatra. Not only is it inarguably the worst record he ever recorded, also it is one of the worst recordings of all time. . .by anybody. After this record tanked, according to Livingston, "Mitch Miller finally gave up and let him go. Then one day I'm sitting in my office and I get a call from the president of William Morris Agency. He said, 'Alan we just took on management of Frank Sinatra' and I said, 'Realllly.' He said, 'Would you consider signing him?' And I said, 'Yes.' And he said, [incredulously] 'You would?' A half-century later, Livingston chuckles and says, 'Some agent!' I signed Frank to a seven year contract with a union scale advance. Right after that I went to a sales meeting in New York and when I made the announcement everybody moaned---Ughhh---I didn't know how to answer it at first and then I said, 'I only know one thing. He's a great talent.' Instead of trying to make hits for him we started to make albums. Porter, Gershwin, Rodgers and Hart, Rodgers and Hammerstein. All the great American classic songs and Frank sang them, like nobody else."
Livingston was not only a driving force behind Sinatra and the Beatles but such varied, influential and varied recording acts as Les Paul and Mary Ford, June Christy, Stan Kenton, George Shearing, Nat "King" Cole and come the second wave of rock and roll in the mid-1960s, the Beach Boys. With the latter, Livingston didn't play such a hands-on role, but the success of this great group happened on his watch.
Livingston's strong suit, and where he also functioned as a hands-on producer, were comedy, i.e., Stan Freberg, the 2,000 Year Old Man, etc, and childrens' records, including Bozo, the successful recording clown on whose multi-colored coattails Livingston rode to the eventual presidency of Capitol Records, and early Warner Bros and Capitol cartoon recordings, etc. He even co-wrote a hit song "I Taut I Taw a Pussy Cat" rendered at the top of the hit parade in 1950 by cartoon voice legend Mel Blanc, singing as Warners' Tweety Bird." A minor novelty trifle, but not exactly a classic in the Great American Songbook Nancy Olson Livingston reminds me that her former husband, Alan Jay Lerner, just so happened to have co-written "My Fair Lady." "I went from 'I Could Have Danced All Night' to 'I Taut I Taw a Puddy Tat'," Olson laughs.
In the late fifties RCA Records began a campaign to lure Livingston away from Capitol. He turned them down. Happy at Capitol, he didn't want to move sideways. "Why go from one record company to another. I kept turning them down until finally they said, 'How would you like to be in television?' I'd been in the record business nearly twenty years. This was a challenge. It excited me. I went to NBC as head of programming. The first thing they wanted was a western. I finished the pilot for Bonanaza, but couldn't sell it. That was the end of Bonanza. Eventually though, it went on the air for RCA and it ran for seven years. Henry Mancini, who got very sick before he died, called me in one day and said, "Alan, I always neglected to thank you." I said, "what for?" And he said, Peter Gunn. Somebody brought him to me to compose the score. I knew that was it." Risk-taker Alan Livingston struck again! Up to that time, 1958, the notion of a jazz score for a TV show was unheard of. (In 1961 returned to Capitol for a final stay of seven years.)
There are those who might say that even Livingston's farsightedness in regard to Sinatra and the Beatles pales in comparison to an act he signed to Capitol in 1952.
"I can tell you the story. I had a man who was head of the New York office. He said somebody brought me in this woman, a Peruvian Indian, who had a 4-octave range. She has an amazing voice quality. She doesn't speak any English. I don't know what to do with her. He sent me some tapes. There was no music on them, nothing that you could put your finger on. Her Somebody tired to do something with her on another label nothing had happened. She came to California and I met with her and her husband, Moises Vivanco who was a musician and a guitar player. He spoke English. I said, I'd like to try something with her and we made a deal. I hired the composer/arranger Les Baxter. And I said, "I want you to work with me and her and see if we can come up with something that will be appealing. She couldn't read music, we didn't know where to start. We had her sing all the various things she did which had no form of any kind. Les sat down and wrote a score based on what she was singing. Then I went into the studio with them and an orchestra and we began recording the whole thing live and literally we were dealing with pieces of tape that were [hold out his hands one foot from each other] this long. We'd get something, then say okay, then go from there. We sat and worked and worked and it was driving me crazy. I thought we would never get finished. But we did finish and had come up with an unusual album of effects and sounds. Now what to we call this. I asked Moises. What is this music known as? Tell me about her background. Well, she came from the hills of Peru. She's an Indian and they called it the music of Xtabay. What does that mean? Well, it has a significant meaning to them. I don't know exactly. Well I said, "We're going to call it Voice a/the Xtabay. And we put it out and promoted it as something unusual. And it caught on." A typical Livingston understatement: if there every was one: Sumac went on to become perhaps the most successful offbeat act in Pop history .
I interviewed Alan Livingston in the Beverly Hills home, where the Beatles partied till dawn during their second visit to California in 1966, and in which he has lived for nearly half-a-century. Early in our first conversation I said to him:
"Depending on one's particular point of view you could be be considered either the great destroyer of American popular music, or its great savior."
"What do you mean?," Livingston asks curiously.
"You signed Frank Sinatra to a recording contract at the lowest point in his career, in the early 1950s. In turn, he begin a series of recordings that almost (along with Ella Fitzgerald) single-handedly held the line of the Great American Songbook of Berlin, Gershwin, Porter, Rodgers, Hammerstein et al against the overwhelming tide of rock and roll in the 1950s."
"That's the 'savior' part, right?," he muses.
"Yes, many would say that, I believe."
"And the destroyer part?"
"Ten years after you signed Sinatra, the Beatles came along and launched a second offensive (many would view it that way) from which non-rock American pop and jazz has yet, more than thirty years later, to---many would say---" recover."
"Hmmm, I never thought of THAT before." It is a remark typical of this uncommonly modest and low-key Captain of American Industry.
Saturday, February 28, 2009
Helen Grayco cont'd
“I was singing at the Hollywood Palladium in Hollywood and that’s where Spike heard me in 1946. He asked to see me after the show and offered me a job. He was already established. A huge star. He was going on tour. I was in direct contrast to what he did. I was terribly insulted when Spike first asked to hire me. He had just done “Cocktails for Two” and all that stuff that he was known for. “I don’t know where I could possibly fit in in your group. I‘m not a comedienne,” I told him. He said, “No, you’ll do your own thing. You’ll have your arrangements. You’ll do 15, 20 minutes entirely separate from the show.” They needed something to calm people down. And that’s how we always worked from then on.” On the Spike Jones TV show, even there I was the contrast.”
And in fact, in a 1947 review of the Jones live act, that is the very word the writer uses to describe Grayco‘s contributions to the proceedings: “For contrast, an eyeful called Helen Grayco warbled “Ca Ca Carumba” and a very spicy ditty or two.”
But by the time she had joined the Jones band, Grayco was already a seasoned pro. Here is some of what she also told me about her private and professional life before then.
“I was born in Takoma, Washington. I’m one of eleven children. Six girls and five boys. I was second to the youngest of a good Italian Catholic family. I got a job when I was eight years old singing on KHJ Radio in L.A. on a show called “The Carnival Hour.” Bing Crosby and his brothers had heard me sing on a variety show on the radio in Seattle and they said [sings] ‘Holly-wood!’ And so two of my brothers and my sister moved here and I did the show and then all my family migrated here. It was during the Depression., so it was a very hard time for my family. Actually, I was the breadwinner. My father was in the grocery business and what had happened during the Depression was that he gave out so much credit and food in the area they lived in---he had a great market and a restaurant all combined---and no one could pay. He couldn’t pay whoever he owed and so he went out of business. He lost everything. But I was earned fifty, sixty, seventy-dollars a week. That was a lot of money during the Depression.
“Then, I was put under contract when I was thirteen years old, to Universal Studios. Producer-director Joe Pasternak signed me. Deanna Durbin was their big star at Universal and she had outgrown everything and was going into adult roles and they wanted someone young to be the new Deanna and they hired me and I was put under contract and that year they were paying me a hundred dollars a week and so I was really moving up in the world. I was going to do a film called “Little Lady” and Norman Taurog was going to direct it, but a new regime came into Universal and the group that hired me left. So I never made the film and consequently my contract expired. But I was an extra in the Marx Brothers film , “A Night at the Opera” and you see a little girl go up to the piano and Alan Jones is singing, that’s me. [That's Grayco second from the left in the Chico photo below.] No speaking part, though.” Grayco also had a small part in a Universal movie, “That Certain Age” (1938) billed as “Girl.”
“Before I ever joined Spike Jones, I worked with Stan Kenton. I was in high school at the time and he was going on a tour during the summertime. I was going to Hollywood Professional School and that summer my sister Teresa went with me and we traveled by bus from L.A. and made stops, all one-nighters, all the way to New York to the Roseland Ballroom. But prior to Stan I worked with the bands of Chuck Cascalas, Chuck Cabot, and Red Nichols. But I never recorded with any of these bands. This covered a period of about two or three years.”
Nearly all the while Grayco was with the Spike Jones band, she continued to cut a lengthy list of singles; but alas none were as memorable as the two albums she recorded in 1957 (“After Midnight“) and 1958 (“The Lady in Red“), the former of which has an especially strong standing among critics and fans. Of her singles, she said, “When you’re with a record company they just call you and you come in and record what they want. ‘Ooop Shoop’ and all those songs were picked out for me by the record companies.”
Shortly after hiring Grayco to be a part of his regular band in ‘46, Jones became determined to show the world that he was also capable of producing legitimate, "pretty" music, And so he formed his so-called “Other Orchestra,” which featured Grayco. While this group recorded a number of transcriptions, it was a financial failure and lasted less than one year. The band didn’t want to hear that Spike Jones. But the relationship between Jones and his singer was far more successful and they married in 1949. It was one of their eventual three children, Leslie, who had the pleasure of informing her mother of the ongoing popularity of her albums in Japan.
“My daughter Leslie Ann Jones is a marvelous sound engineer who works for George Lucas in San Francisco. And she’s recorded Michael Feinstein, Rosemary Clooney and won several Grammys. She had just finished a session with Michael Feinstein about three years ago and he said “Leslie, I just bought your mother’s album, “After Midnight” in Japan.” And Leslie said, “My Mother hasn’t recorded in a hundred years.” And he said, “No, it’s very popular in Japan.” She didn’t believe it. And he called Japan and had them send a copy to Leslie. That’s how I found out about my albums in Japan. Through Michael Feinstein.”
In the course of my interview with Grayco, I read to her part of a retrospective rave review of “After Midnight” that appeared in Japan’s Swing Journal a few years back, and which contained the following observation:
“When one encounters such a rare and refined recording, one comes to realize that the established versions of certain songs are not necessarily the last word on the subject. Hopefully the reissue of this work will lead to a re-evaluation of Helen Grayco.”
She was pleasantly surprised:
“WHAT! You’ve got to be kidding. I took great pains with album, unlike the singles that were given to me to do. I never would have chosen any of the singles to do if I had a choice. In those years you recorded what they wanted you to. I took a lot of time. . .saloon songs, nice listening, hopefully rather sexy at times. I think the album got that across. When Tony Curtis heard the album he said, ‘Oh I’ve got to do the liner notes.’ Our budget wasn’t that huge. We could have used a forty piece orchestra. I thought he [Russ Garcia] brought the proper mood to the album. We had all the top players in L.A.“ (She’s right. They included alto sax Les Robinson, alto; Gerald Wiggins, piano; Alvin Stoller, drums; Joe Mondragon bass, Barney Kessell, guitar; and Larry Bunker, vibes. It was arranged by Russ Garcia and conducted by Judd Conlon).
Grayco’s next (second and final) album was recorded for Verve the following year. Like several others of that period on the label, Mel Torme, Anita O’Day Frances Faye, it was a Latin session. “Latin music was hot at the time, she recalls. “It had come into its own. Everybody had to get into the act, including record companies.”
“I continued my singing professionally for a few years after Spike died in 1966,” Grayco tells me, “the Copa in New York, the Dean Martin TV show. . .. Then I met Bill Rosen who ran a restaurant out of New York called Gatsby’s, we married, and after that I gave up my career to concentrate on my marriage. I moved to New York. Then he opened a Gatsby’s in L.A. [in its Brentwood area] and I moved back here.”
Much like when she met Jones, her life took a similar unexpected turn when, in 1976, Gatsby’s hired a piano player by the name of Bob Millard mostly for background atmosphere playing. But it quickly became apparent that he was also a wonderful accompanist for singers. Soon, all the top singers in town came to drop by and jam. “One night,” Grayco says, “Tony Bennett would come in to sing, or Vic Damone would drop by. Just sitting around the piano bar singing. Just a casual thing.”
Then Grayco got caught up in the proceedings at the restaurant and she too began to sing at the restaurant on a semi-regular basis. The “scene” at Gatsy’s lasted for several years until Millard was hired away by the competition, Jimmy’s in Beverly Hills, but the Rosen’s venue remained a hot “in” spot until the early-1980s when Rosen retired (he died in 2002).
After talking with Grayco, I phoned Millard, an friend of mine as well, and he confirmed what Grayco had told me, “Even Sinatra would come in from time to time,” he recalled, “but never to sing, just to watch.” The pianist was also quick to point out that his departure from Gatsby’s did nothing to affect the ongoing (to this day) good feelings between himself and Grayco.
Grayco says that she has no strong interest in resuming her career. As for how she spends her time these days, she says: “I’m very social. A lot of lunches, dinners, a lot of friends, my children, my grandchildren.” She adds: “Just the other day I ran into [fellow singer] Jane Harvey at the Café Roma here in L.A. She came with her dog.” In addition to the Café Roma, currently you can also “catch” Helen Grayco on the various DVDs of the Spike Jones TV shows and on the CDs culled from the bandleader’s radio shows and transcriptions now in release. And, of course, on the current Japanese issues of both her wonderful CDs, “After Midnight’ and “The Lady in Red.”
SELECTED HELEN GRAYCO DISCOGRAPHY
Non-commercial air checks and radio transcriptions
To construct a complete listing of Helen Grayco’s recordings, including radio and TV air checks, radio transcriptions, is outside the scope of this discography. However, here is just a small part of the non-commercial Grayco material that exists (a complete commercial listing follows).
* With the Spike Jones Other Orchestra on Program #Z-213. Standard Program Library (1946) singing: "I've Got the World on a String" and "E-Bob-O-Lee-Bop." These 16-inch records were made only for radio stations, although they were reissued to the public by Wally Heider on a Hindsight LP in the 1970s.
* Grayco also performed "live" with the Other Orchestra in 1946 at the Trocadero in Hollywood. Several titles featuring Helen were carried on radio KHJ, including a version of "Personality." Presumably air checks of this broadcast exist.
* Grayco made a pilot for radio show (without Jones) for NBC, Greetings From Helen Grayco w/ the Tune Toppers and an interview with Bob Waterfield -15 min.
* There is also a 32-track transcription series with a performer known as Wayne Fair. It is not known which songs are performed by Grayco.
* She was a regular on nearly every Spike Jones television show, including the 1950 "Wild Bill Hiccup" pilot. Several broadcasts of the regular series are now available on DVD and feature Grayco’s singing. She also appeared in the summer of 1958 on the “Club Oasis” TV series. It is to be hoped that either audio or video recordings of this series exists. She was also a guest on a 1968 episode of the Dean Martin NBC TV series.
Singles through 1951 are 78 rpm only; her 1950s singles were issued on both 45 rpm and 78 rpm (the numbers here are for the 45s.
Diga Diga Do / Or No Dice by Manny Klein Orch w/vocals by Helen Grayco - London L -761 (1949)
Red Silken Stockings / A Hundred Years From Today - London L-1022 (1951)
'Twas Brillig / I Don’t Want to Go Home - London L-1005 (1951)
Ev’ry Baby Needs a Da Da Daddy / Don’t Send Me Home - Mercury 5818 (1952)
Walkin’ To the Mailbox / To Be Loved By You - Mercury 5838 (1952)
Oop Shoop / Teach Me Tonight - “X” 4x-0051 (1954)
Please Don’t Freeze / Say the Word - “X” 4x-0089 (1954)
I Love You Yes I Do / What Do You See in Her ? - “X” 4x-0139 (1955)
Love and Marriage / When You’re in Love You Believe - “X” 4x-0168 (1955)
I’d Better Be Careful / Night Train - “X” 4x-0180 (1955)
Lily’s Lament / Rock and Roll Wedding - Vik 4x-0199 (1956)
Fool For You, A / C'est La Guerre - Vik 4x 0219 (1956)
They Can’t Take That Away From Me / Year Round Love - Vik 4x 0236 (1956)
Them There Eyes / Temptation Verve V10129X45 [from lp “The Lady in Red“] - (1959)
If That’s How Nature Made Him / When a Woman Loves a Man - label ? (1977)
A Wrong Kind of Love / San Francisco Heartache - United Artists (ca. 1985)
Note: Ms. Grayco is heard on only two RCA recordings with husband Spike Jones and his City Slickers: None But the Lonely Heart (RCA 47-2992) and "Rhapsody from Hunger(y)" (RCA 47-4055). Both are spoken parts. She made no recordings with Jones on any other commercial label, i.e. Verve, Liberty, etc.
After Midnight - Vik LX-1066 (1957) currently available on RCA CD releases from Spain, France and Japan (?)
Lady in Red - Verve MGV 2099 (1959) currently available on Universal Music CD Verve UCCU-3094.
(My thanks to Spike Jones expert Ted Hering for his assistance in compiling the non-commercial part of this discography.)
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Monday, September 15, 2008
Flo. . .
CONTINUED FROM HERE
Jazz critic and head of the Rutgers Jazz Institute Dan Morgenstern heard Handy perform just once “live” accompanying herself in a jazz club in New York City, “some 35 years ago,” he wrote in 2000. “If anything, she was even better than on Smoky and Intimate. ” It was only then that I learned that Handy was also a pianist.
Singer-pianist-songwriter Dave Frishberg was the first of many of Flo Handy’s friends and musical associates with whom I spoke in piecing together the story of this remarkable woman. He, along with a number of other similarly gifted musicians, was part of a musical colony that, in the 1960s and 1970s thrived in the Delaware Water Gap, Pennsylvania area. And still living there, in fact, are the likes of Phil Woods, pianist John Coates, Urbie Green. Sax giant Al Cohn had moved there in the mid-1960s with his new wife, Flo Handy, who continued to retain her professional last name which she had taken when she married her first husband, arranger-pianist George Handy. (Cohn died in 1988, Flo in ‘96, George Handy the following year.)
It was from Frishberg, over breakfast one morning in L.A. in late 2007, that I also began to learn of a somewhat “secret” musical life of Flo Handy that operated in areas other than those demonstrated on this CD. Here is what he said:
“She told me once that she was studying piano with [famed piano teacher] Sanford Gold. I said, ‘Do you have a piano background? And she said. ’No I never had a lesson before in my life.‘ She played well. She said, ’When I got a job singing I began to teach myself to play the piano so I could accompany myself. ‘
"One club was called The Lost and Found. Some clubs on First Avenue. They were all on the East Side, kind of gangsterish places. I met Al Cohn about the same time he was going with Flo around 1960. [Frishberg would soon become a Cohn sideman.] Anyone Al Cohn married was worth checking out. When I heard her play I was taken aback by the excellence of it. I wasn’t expecting that at all. I‘m certain that Sanford wasn’t teaching her scales. He was teaching her keyboard harmony and how to use the piano as a tool. She was such a great natural musician that she picked right up on it. I couldn’t believe how beautifully she played. It was jazz-inflected but it wasn’t merely jazz. [I was told by another friend that Handy had also studied with jazz pianist Dave McKenna.] You could tell that she had a deep talent for composing.”
But it was “composing’ that fell far outside the territory of as jazz, i, e., classical lieder written to frame previously written literature and poetry of such as Edna St. Vincent Millay, Tennessee Williams and John Steinbeck. Art songs with titles like Song Cycle for Mezzo-Soprano and Piano. And it was Flo Handy’s classical endeavors that are remembered by most of her close friends, several of whom were even unaware of the existence of Smoky and Intimate until I informed them of it.. All were at pains to stress the excellence of this “other” music of Flo Handy. The general consensus was that Flo had received her training in musical theory strictly at the “knee” of her first husband, the somewhat older George Handy (Boyd Raeburn‘s chief arranger), who she married at age 18 just out of high school in the mid-1940s.
Aside from Frishberg, other friends of Handy’s with whom I spoke included: two younger musicians who both describe Flo in mentor-like terms, singer Katherine Cartwright and jazz pianist Eric Doney; singer Pinky Winters; Phil Woods’ wife Jill; Eddie Caine, former musician with George Handy; and Louise Sims, widow of Zoot. And, in fact, Flo wrote four of the instrumentals heard on the self-titled ’56 album for Riverside. Somewhat curiously, though, there are no songs written by Handy on Smoky and Intimate. But there is one title by Barnes and the great American songwriter Alec Wilder, “Lack-a-Day,” which appears to have been written especially for the album. Along with other originals co-written by Barnes, “Wait With Me Love”; and label owner Richard Carney, “Compromise.” The other nine titles fall into the category of, to one degree or another, standards.
In addition to Smoky and Intimate, there were also a few tracks recorded by Handy for a couple of novelty albums by Creed Taylor and Kenyon Hopkins. And there was also a complete LP recorded with her first husband at a recording studio in the legendary jazz Baroness Nica de Koenigswarter‘s New Jersey home. But the result was later intentionally destroyed by George. And that’s just about it! How could such a fine singer as Flo Handy have ended up so under-recorded? Part of the reason for this appears to have been strictly geographical. Singer Katherine Cartwright told me:
“In the early 1960s Al [Cohn] wanted to move to the Poconos, get out of the city. Up till then Flo had been working all the time solo in New York. She was doing very well. On the upswing. Al was able to dip in and out, do all the things that he could do from the Poconos, but she. . .woman singer, hadn‘t nearly the career that he had, it wasn’t so good for her. Fortunately she did do a few fairly long running solo stints when she moved to the Poconos.“
One of those gigs was a long-running stint she had opening for jazz pianist Eric Doney in the Delaware Water Gap, PA area. It was an act that consisted of Handy singing and playing strictly the verses of songs. She knew them all, would play them, Doney told me, and, as often as not ask, the audience to guess the name of the song.
Describing the music written by Handy, Cartwright said, “It’s great, beautiful music, but a mess to read. Because she didn‘t use key signatures. The music looked very strange. She wrote all the time. She understood harmonically what was going on. But in terms of what it looked like on the page. . .. She was sort of my primary mentor growing up. She was THE Jazz woman. I knew her from the late 60s until her death. I performed a lot of her music.”
On a more personal level, Frishberg told me, “I thought she was very attractive, Like that,” he said, pointing to the cover of the LP. “But not ostentatious . She would never dress up real pretty. She was just a good looking woman. Dressed very plainly. Then they [Cohn and Handy] bought a house out in the Poconos where I also had a place. During the last part of their lives I stayed at their house a few times after I no longer lived there. Al was older than both of us. Compared to my marriages I thought that Al was the luckiest guy in the world. It was a terrific team they had and I appreciated the way they appreciated each other. Two of the most extraordinary human beings in the music world. Absolutely. She performed one day at the piano for me in Pokonos and I couldn’t believe it. My knees buckled. She sounded so great. There are certain females who play piano and sing. Jeri Southern was in that bag, Joyce Collins, certainly Flo was in that bag.”
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Monday, June 16, 2008
More 4 G 4
continued from here
Reed: The most popular definition of a jazz singer is that there is no definition, but there is. The late critic Whitney Balliett wrote that “He or she simply makes whatever he or she sings . . .
SWING.” I might interject here that no disrepsect was intended when Balliett continued, “Ethel Merman is not a jazz singer.”
Sutton: But there’s that great Ethel Merman-Bill Evans album that's a really great record. You're ignoring that entirely.
Reed: “However,” Balliett wrote, “Doris Day IS a jazz singer.” And so, I would like to ask anyone on the panel who cares to jump in, Do you think that one could learn from a teacher how to swing?
Ross: No! When you swing, you know what it is to swing. You work with musicians your whole life. Suddenly one night you're working. . .. The definition of swing can be so many things. But it's like, I will say it's like everything jelling. You're jelling with the bass player and the drummer and the piano player and you're all on the same plane and you know it's swinging. No one has to define it for you. But above all, you’ve got to know where 1 is. . .1,2,3,4.
Reed: I could add that, I think it was Ira Gitler who wrote: “One person's jazz singer is another person’s Robert Goulet.”
Which opens the door to another question and---any one of you can jump in here---how do you define jazz singing?
Sutton: As the only person on the panel who has to admit that I think someone actually did teach me to swing. And a couple of people on the panel taught me to swing. I think for me the definition of a jazz singer is that jazz singing is about singing in a context. You know that old joke about the singer holds a light bulb and the whole world revolves around him or her? Usually HER, because of the sexist world we live in. but I think that philosophy is the polar opposite of how I see jazz singing. And I didn't really get exposed to jazz singing until I was in my late teens and early twenties. And what happened was that when I heard it and I said,‘There is something about this that is so linked to the musicians, the instrumentalists.’ And it was different than anything that I had heard before. And when you talk with arrangers and composers about working with a jazz singer or working with a pop singer---I was talking with one arranger friend who you all know but I won’t say who the artist he was talking about was---‘I was working with this pop singer
. . .’[who shall remain nameless] and he said it was such a shock because he works with so many jazz singers, and in this context, every sixteen bars they would have to figure out how the key and the tempo and the instrumentation and everything about the arrangement would showcase the glory of this voice. That to me is the polar opposite of what jazz singing is. A jazz singer wants to hang with the guys, and in order to hang with the guys you have to know certain things. And you hear music not just horizontally but also vertically. So for example if you think of Sarah, she's going to. . .she's singing in such a way that she arpeggiating chords. She’s hearing the harmony. She's singing the context of the music. And other singers, if I'm coaching a Broadway singer or a classical singer, the whole focus of their training is. . .THE VOICE. I WILL CREATE MY SOUND. AND MY SOUND WILL BE SO SUBLIME THAT ALL ELSE WILL FLOW FROM MY SOUND. In jazz, no one gives a rat's butt about your SOUND. You know what I mean? I mean, I care. It's nice to have a good sound, and it’s appropriate to work on your sound, but it’s really about the context, the words and the context. So. . .and the chord changes.
Merrill: We've had the greatest experiences. I know that Annie and I have had similar musical experiences. I know that my first piano player in jazz was Bill Trillian [sic]. Do you remember Bill? No? Then I went on to the big names, but I won't bother to tell you.
Ross: Go on.
Merrill: Yeah. I have to remember. Bud Powell. How about that one? That’s a good one. Yeah! I was about fifteen years old and I knew that I was going to be a different kind of singer and that the only people I would be in it with would be jazz people because I liked to phrase in my own way, I liked the chord changes, I liked to improvise in my own way. And the only place you could do that really was with jazz people. And so that was my reason for being part of the jazz world, loving every minute of it. Still loving every minute of it. Right?
Reed: Earlier this week, the first day I was here I went to a panel about the Great American Songbook. And, actually, I had prepared a somewhat recondite question about the subject and then when I went to the panel, which was chaired by Ron Kaplan, who is starting a group called the American Songbook Preservation Society and afterward he gave me his card which had a quote on it that is far better than what I wrote and much more succinct and . . .less verbose, and it is from Tony Bennett and it says simply, ’In a hundred to a hundred-and-fifty years from now, I believe that people will recognize the music of Gershwin and Ellington as the classical music of our time.’ I couldn't agree more, and I wonder if any of you might have some insights that would might buttress that statement as being a correct one?
Ross: I think he's absolutely right. And you know, songwriting is such a craft. Lyric writing is such a craft. I was given the gift of doing Gershwin tonight, and what a gift! I started going through. . .there used to be a guy in new York named Frank Military. Do you remember him? [To Sutton: You're too young.]
Merrill: He sent us all books of music. We don't get them anymore.
Ross: Well I pulled out my books and did I find gems. And you know I knew a lot of the songs because my aunt was a singer, so they came over to the house. But I think, they used to. . .you could really concentrate on what was the right rhyme. What was being expressed, what you eally wanted to say. This is my dream, and I think it happened. They all stayed up nights. They would phone one another---this is all in my fantasy---and say, ‘I got it. I GOT IT!’ And that would become a line. So I think it does a disservice not to sing the lyrics correctly, not to sing the melody correctly. At least once!
Merrill: I found out a lot about Irving Berlin, too. What a genius he was. He was able to take our feelings and condense them. It was he was reading your feelings and your mind. I is amazing to read his lyrics.
Simple . . ..
Ross: ‘When I Lost You.’
Merrill: He wrote that for his wife.
Reed: What puzzles me a lot, and maybe Ron Kaplan is on to a clue as to how this will be done, is that with mass public taste spiraling ever downward into the primordial ooze, how will this happen, how will this music be protected so that it will have the same kind of legitimacy as the 3 B’s, Bach, Beethoven and Brahms?Sutton: Well, I think. . .I do a fair amount of education and I recently took over a position as the vocal department head at a small concentrated music academy here in Los Angeles, Los Angeles Music Academy. One of the reasons I decided to do it is that they said that I could do anything I wanted with the curriculum. That I could do whatever I wanted. And I knew what I wanted. A lot of the singers who are coming there are foreign singers who want to be pop stars. But if they come to L.A. Music Academy they have to learn the Great American Songbook. they have to learn the root montion of the song, they have to. . .last week was Review of Blues and Rhythm Changes. They’re learning those forms and. . .what happens is, to learn to sing those forms is to learn musical structures you’ll use for the rest of your musical life. And I've had the opportunity a fair amount of time to teach that to singers that haven't been exposed to it. And once they realize the elegance and the beauty of those structures, they sort of say. . .’Hmmmm?’ I gave a student an assignment. She came in and she had a pop singer who she really loved who was lovely, but I don’t think not a composer on the same level of Gershwin, let’s just say. And I taught her how to hear the root motion, how to hear the root note of the chords and how they go by and I said, listen, ‘Now that you know how to do this, you go home and bring back to me a lead sheet with the chord changes or this song that you love so much,’and it was 46 bars of A minor. Well, I can’t tell you the look on this girl’s face. And then, the next week I assigned her to sing the melody of ‘Prelude to a Kiss,’ which takes her the rest of the semester to master, but after that she can sing a half-step, so there’s all sorts of things about getting into this music that show anyone loves music and has good ears. . .that says ‘Wow, this is sort of off the food chain.’ That’s what happened to me. I was singing in a cheesy, sort of pop, singing cocktail waitress sort of thing. And on my one night off there was a jazz trio across the street and I would go over there to hear them and I would think ‘Why is this music so much better than what we’re doing?’ I didn’t know why it was, but I knew it was. I knew the music, I knew the melody, I knew the harmony was better. I think for people that are lovers of music, if that’s your passion, If we introduce them to these forms, they say ‘Wow, this is really cool! I get this.‘ And then they compare a lot of other music that’s out there and they say, ‘Oh, hmmm,’ I guess this [more commercial music] wasn’t as interesting as I thought.’ But in some ways it is interesting. There’s rhythm things going on in modern music, there's different things. I’m not one to totally bash it. I think there’s elements of that that we can bring. . .. But, a great melody, and a great, elegant harmony line, and a great lyric, that’s what they [American Songbook songs] are. When you analyze these things. . .. I was just trying to memorize a Cole Porter lyric. ‘It’s Alright With Me,’ and it’s just fascinating when you analyze why that line is first and why that line is that line is second and why that line is third ‘It‘s the wrong time. And the wrong place, though your face’---nice little internal rhyme there---is lovely it's the wrong face. It’s not his face. . .'; then ’face, ‘lovely,’ then you go ‘It’s the wrong song in the wrong style, though your smile. . .’ A little more personal than face, ‘Your smile is charming.’ Then ‘It’s the wrong game with the wrong chips, though your lips. . .’ Get to the sex! You know, ‘Lips are tempting’ is stronger than ‘charming.’ You analyze that and figure out why ‘lovely’ is first, then ‘charming,’ then ‘tempting.’ And then you say, ‘Okay, these guys were the masters.’ And when you analyze that and point that out to kids and say there’s a reason that it’s ‘lovely’ first, and ‘tempting’ last. Then you say, ‘Oh, wow, that’s why we study this music.’ I think it survives because of its greatness and you don’t really have to do anything about it. You just have to introduce it to people.
Reed: I hate to sound like the character in Hard Day’s Night who says, ‘Hey, you kids, get off my lawn,’ but I really feel that the bad has absolutely driven out the good to a wildly disproportionate point. One of my favorite quotes of all time is when a reporter asked Max Roach what he thought of rap, he said, ‘People who voted for defunding of music education in public schools are getting what they paid for.’
And so how can we reverse that, with the drum machines and the synthesizers throughout every show on television, even the National Geographic Specials are unwatchable because they have all this horrible, thumping synth music. What can be done? Any ideas
Ross: [singing] ‘They wanted me to go to re-rab. I said no, no, no.’
Merrill: That’s great, Annie.
Sutton: So maybe all four of us should participate in some incredible scandal. I’ll take Barack Obama. Just for the jazz press.
Ross: He likes jazz. Sutton: Yes, he likes jazz I saw his list of records and it had Coltrane on it.
Merrill: I disagree with you a little bit. I think there’s plenty of good jazz around. We have Dizzy’s Coca-Cola, stuff at Carnegie Hall. . .
Reed: But I’m talking about the media and American Idol. . ..
Merrill: Oh, dear god. I haven't watched it even once.
Sutton: You know we have to get in there. I just went to my son’s school and they do have a little music program there. I was flabbergasted. I was shocked and saddened because the symphonic band was very good. But there are several jazz bands and they're so terrible that I sat there with my heart sinking, thinking that this is audience watching this and they’re thinking ‘This is jazz.’and was so badly done, and it was taught by someone who obviously knows nothing about jazz, and I thought ‘This is inoculating people against what’s great about this music.’ So I think that all we can really do is to strive to be as excellent at what we’re doing as we possibly can give our time, to a certain degree. . .. Annie and I sang at the Hollywood Bowl a couple of years ago---now there’s a phrase I never thought I would say in my life---’Oh, you know, when Annie Ross and I were singing at the Hollywood Bowl. . ."
My son after the show---there was also John Pizzarelli and Kurt Elling---and it’s my kid. What does he remember? ‘It’s that meatball song, mom. What a great song. She's [Ross] great! I loved her.' This is my eleven-year-old son and what does he pick out of the show? Does he pick out the r n’b stuff that's similar to what he’s heard before? No! He picks out Annie Ross singing ‘One Meatball.’
I'm dead serious. All we have to do is do our thing and we have to make sure that as many young people as possible are exposed to it. Because when I first heard Sarah Vaughan when I was nineteen, I was angry that no one had ever no one had ever played anything like this for me. I was a dopey white girl in Milwaukee and what did I know. ‘Oh this has been out there all this time and I never knew?’ So I think that when you actually play the stuff, and you are careful that you play things that are interesting. You play things that are funny. You play things that they can cross over to. You don’t disrespect them and play something that has a twenty minute trombone solo. . .no offense to my husband. You have to give them a bridge to walk over. You have to show them how the skills of jazz musicians have implications for their life as songwriters themselves.
Reed: I'm going to change the line of. . .I will shortly be throwing open the floor to questions, but right now I'm going to change the subject to the degree that I might induce whiplash. But. . .Pinky. . .
Reed: You have been strangely silent this morning.
Part two in the not-too-distant future.
Saturday, September 22, 2007
Liner Notes for Beverly Kenney's "Lonely and Blue" - SSJ Records
Imagine my surprise in the late 1980s when I found a reference to Beverly Kenney in a collection of writings by the Beat Generation essayist, Seymour Krim. It was the first time I'd seen her name in posthumous print since she committed suicide in 1960. Small matter that her name was misspelled, i. e, “Kenny.”
There was a time, though, when this singer’s name was everywhere, at least in jazz circles: “She’s a top bet for jazz rooms, there the crowds will go for her looks as well as her vocals” (Variety, 1956), “a gifted singer with good taste in the choice of songs she sings and a plethora of natural equipment with which to sing them” (Barry Ulanov in Down Beat, 1956), and “the kind of ability and potential that should enable her to stay a long time” (Down Beat, 1955).
But not long after that brief mention of Beverly KENNY, there came a relative deluge, in the form of an article about her in, of all places, the Nov '92 issue of the U.S. men’s fashion magazine, GQ. It seems that its author, New York disc jockey, singer, and son of famed songwriter, Arthur Schwartz, Jonathan Schwartz, had long since relegated Beverly Kenney to what he describes as his "A shelf" of recordings, alongside "Sinatra, the early Miles Davis, Beethoven string quartets, anything for the cello, the Verve Billie Holiday, [and] the original cast recording of Carousel." To say that Schwartz' affection for Kenney placed him in the vast minority is an understatement. But only as regards the U.S., for even though she has long been forgotten in her native land, Kenney is still a name known to most Japanese devotees of jazz singing. There were six lp's three on Roost, three on Decca that have remained mostly in print all these years in Japan. And in 2007, this label released a seventh volume, a demo session, entitled “Snuggled on Your Shoulder.”
Schwartz truly did his homework, including his revelation of the name of a lover of the singer, a dazzling, legendary fifties Greenwich Village professional intellectual, Milton Klonsky. A kind of Beat Generation guru with a huge intellect and an ego to match, Klonsky apparently even inspired her to write poetry.
The article spurred me on to begin, using clues contained therein, undertaking some Kenney investigation on my own. I contacted several individuals whose paths had crossed hers during the brief period of Kenney’s rapid musical ascendancy in the mid-1950s and who were kind enough to answer some of my questions about her. The one thing that most agree upon is that Beverly Kenney was of a psychological disposition somewhat at odds with her upbeat vocal style. Musician Ralph Patt who worked with Kenney in Larry Sonn’s band: “I remember what a great singer she was but she seemed pretty unhappy and not too stable, so I wasn't surprised at her untimely death. A great loss” Jazz singer-pianist Audrey Morris recalled: “It was customary for the visiting singers to hang out with the locals a lot, go to hear all the others, etc. and I often asked Beverly if she wanted to join in, but she never did.” Singer Beverly Kelly‘s recollections of Kenney echo almost word for those of Audrey Morris and Ralph Patt: “sad,” “unhappy,” “depressed.” Ironically, because of the similarity in their names, more than four decades later, the still professionally active Kelly continues to quash rumors of her own demise.
But there were two major exceptions to this downbeat point of view of Kenney. One was her closest female friend, actress Millie Perkins:
"Beverly could be pensive, moody, but she was wonderful.” Perkins is at great pains to underscore that she never saw Kelley’s suicide coming. As for Kenney’ lover for the last year-and-a-half of her life and, whose name I have chosen to withhold for reasons of privacy, he was shocked by her untimely death, though not as surprised as was Perkins. In an extended memoir of his relationship with the singer, he writes of a red flag alert that came up unexpectedly several months into their affair:
“We went out for dinner and then to front-row seats in the theater. About half-way through the show, Beverly said she wanted to leave and so we did . She seemed a bit distant, and said she was not in the mood for it, and so we walked back to the apartment. By now it was about ten o’clock and Beverly went into the bathroom and I went to the bedroom to get undressed. After about 15 minutes, it occurred to me that it was quiet, in the bathroom. No toilets flushed, no showers, no sinks, no sounds. I went to the bathroom door; it was very still inside. I called to Beverly and there was no reply. I called again louder thinking she might have fallen asleep. Still no answer. Next, as my mind started racing with scary thought, I kicked in the locked bathroom door. As I pushed inside, I saw Beverly sprawled on the floor, unconscious.” Next to her lay an empty bottle of sleeping pills.”
Up to that point in their relationship, the lover had not a single clue that Kenney was in any way troubled. And when she recovered a few days later, all was back to seeming happy normalcy until the next (again) thwarted attempt a few months later. However, on her third attempt, a year afterward, she was “successful.” Her lover had the sad experience of hearing her death announced on the radio. “The last paragraph of his memoir reads as follows:
“Beverly was one of a kind, a truly enchanting person, and I choose that word carefully. Now, many years later, I look at her pictures on the CD covers, put on the stereo and once again hear her sweet, innocent voice. And try to think only of the good times.”
Unlike the first SSJ volume, “Snuggled,” these cuts have been released before, but only after a fashion. The tracks herein were made for a radio transcription service in the early 1950s, prior to Kenney’s first commercial recordings. Unfortunately, the service has long ceased operations; thus, with a couple of exceptions, the composers of the songs have fallen through the cracks of time. What IS known about the writers is that they were mostly unknown and most likely paid to have their wares recorded. In exchange, the sides were sent to U.S. broadcasters with hopes that the songs would receive radio exposure. The two songs for which I have been able to ascertain authorship are: “That Pyramid Jazz” (Frank Panella, Ben Fields, Louis Zuber) and “Long Lean and Lanky” (by the well-known r n‘ b writer Rudy Toombs). In fact, both titles had been recorded previous to Kenney’s version. The tracks contained herein were scattered about eight different recordings, which were sent to radio stations in the form of 12 inch LPs.
What is also known about the recordings are the musicians on the session, who constitute a veritable who’s who of jazz players circa the early 1950s. They include: Eddie Safranski, arranger-bass; Dale McMickle, trumpet; Al Klink, tenor sax; Dick Hyman, piano; Mundell Lowe, guitar; Don Lamond, drums. It is a measure of their experience and musicianship that the majority of them had, at one time or other, either appeared or recorded with Frank Sinatra. Leader Safranski was especially active on the New York music scene at the time these recordings were made, not just as a session player, but also music producer. The transcription service that originated these sides also released many dozens of other efforts also overseen by Safranski.
The bassist made his initial big splash in the music world as a bassist for Stan Kenton. Settling into a less-nomadic lifestyle in the late 1940s, he eventually became a staff player for the National Broadcasting Company. From the late '60s until his death in 1974 at age 55, he ran workshops and master classes for a bass manufacturer, and played swing and bop with various combos in the Los Angeles area.
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