Turpentine and Truth

I was watching Warner Brothers' not insignificantly flawed but immensely atmospheric The Two Mrs. Carrolls:

Sally Carroll (Barbara Stanwyck), having gushed into an upper-floor studio, freezes, instantly sick and horrified at the sight of Geoffrey, her artist spouse (Humphrey Bogart), assiduously and zealously going over a canvas with a turpentine-soaked rag.

Sally: Geoffrey, what are you doing?
Geoffrey: Something I should have done weeks ago – I'm sick of looking at it – it was phony.
Sally: Oh, Sweetheart, you shouldn't have done that – you might not think it's so good, but someone might have bought it.
Geoffrey: Well, I don't care what other people think – it's what I think.
Sally: But you thought it was good once.
Geoffrey: That's why I know I'm slipping.
Sally You can't always paint masterpieces.
Geoffrey: Well, I can always try.

Barbara ... Babs ... Missy ... Sally – don't get me wrong – my sympathies are with you in the grand scheme of this little Warner Brothers drama. But your crazy, murderous, obnoxious, implacable husband is right, here: If you're an artist – heck, even if you're not an artist, but merely a person of integrity – you can't shove something out, to which you feel no sense of attachment or commitment, on the hope or assumption that no one will recognize its inauthenticity or feel its counterfeitness and that people will clamour to buy it, blinded by its slick, shiny veneer. Sure, you know they may buy it, purchase it, with money. But ultimately, in another more important sense, they won't buy it – they'll become aware of its absence of credibility. You know that – as an artist, a human being – and you can't be associated with something that is simply "product," statement without substance. Even if you have no pretensions to producing masterpieces, you can't put out intentionally small, modest things – you can't release words – that are just puffs, hollow. You have to omit – or keep the turpentine handy.

Funny that a no-good bum but ego-maniacal character like Geoffrey Carroll could see this much.

*The Two Mrs. Carrolls screenplay by Thomas Job

In Service of Music

I caught Frank Vignola a few nights ago at the
Ark in Ann Arbor. The tickets for the show, sticking in my bedroom mirror frame, had been tantalizing me for over a month – and Frank and confreres delivered on my expectations. His band – comprising the leader, rhythm guitarist Vinnie Raniolo, double bassist Gary Mazzaroppi and guest accordionist Julien Labro – opened with an almost misleadingly relaxed "Stardust" and, without pause and employing the instantly recognizable intro to the Django Reinhardt-Stephane Grappelly recording of "Honeysuckle Rose," went into a spirited treatment of "I'm Getting Sentimental Over You" (perhaps a nod to Birthday Boy Tommy Dorsey).

In making mention, early in the proceedings, of the 2010 Django Reinhardt Centennial, Vignola set the tone for the evening. The legacy of the Belgian guitarist, like a convival, vivid and colourfully-garbed ghost settling comfortably in the best armchair, was very much in evidence throughout the set. Still, though the Long Island-born Vignola, capable of tossing off patented Reinhardt licks and creating heady Gypsy jazz atmosphere, is unmistakably a Django disciple, he's no clone. Frank Vignola is his own man – virtuosic, vibrant, vital and enclopedically informed on jazz. And blindingly fast. Apart from the distinctive manner of bending the strings, if there's one thing in Vignola's playing that, for me, conjures Reinhardt, it's the dazzling, dizzying speed. Like Django (and "Django's Tiger"), Frank flies through the changes, deftly, cleanly and with clever detours from the expected course. The velocity, though, is not without artistic purpose; Vignola's speed on the strings is always used in service of the music. Again acknowledging Reinhardt with a soulful and nuanced "Nuages" and then the recent passing of guitar-slinging giant Les Paul with a respectful "How High the Moon," Vignola verbally commented on the langourous lope into which the band had fallen with a jocular "Old guy's tempo." This guy, though often loud and fast, knows when and how to employ such.

I discovered the guitar-playing of Frank Vignola, a chronological contemporary of mine, a good 15 years ago when, intrigued by unusual instrumentation, a diverse song list and a Gatsby-esque CD cover, I grabbed a copy of the second album of Travelin' Light. Having been not just instantly awestruck by his technical skill but delighted by his unique "voice," I've been a Vignola follower ever since. The highlight of Thursday evening, for me, was perhaps an appropriately ferocious, and – yes – fast, trek through Django's "Rythme Futur" (spoken of, in Relative Esoterica, here); Frank and his fine crew took me places – in the past as well as the future – with that one. The night, or Frank's part of it (the miraculous Hot Club of Detroit took the stage next), neared its close with that perennial showpiece, "Flight of the Bumble Bee": remember, this is one of the things Harry James got critically stung for buzzing on his trumpet back in the 1940's. It was flashy, without musical substance, just a display of prowess – or so the snobby "they" said. Modest in dimensions and unassuming in manner, Vignola vindicated the Rimsky-Korsakov piece (he gave the composer credit), the artistic application of speed ... and maybe even the oft-maligned (among "purists") Harry James with a zealous and yet effortlessly-winged flight. "Serve the song," I always say (see, I'll even quote myself): playing fast or slow ... and always extremely well, Frank Vignola does just that.

Dig Italian-American Frank, unabashedly ethnic (like a certain Mr. Lang), on the 'tube:

Reflecting on Stafford Style

A few months ago – if you weren't aware – the UK's Jasmine label added to its catalogue a third Jo Stafford entry, "Reflections: The Ultimate Collection." Well, naturally, I had to buy – in scanning the track listing, I'd spotted several previously unreleased records (and you know that one is all it takes, for me). Well, the 4-disc set turned out to be something of a hodge podge
– even for an artist billed as "America's Most Versatile Singing Star": some of the later things from Jo's first Capitol stint ('43-'50), including duets with Gordon MacRae and Johnny Mercer; the Columbia hits, Great American Songbook and Americana interpretations and Mitch Miller-initiated dross; several religious hymns; the entire "A Portrait of New Orleans" EP, with Frankie Laine's two sans-Stafford sides as well as the duets and the solo Jo's.

Oddest – and, for me, most revelatory, perhaps – of all among these 100+ tracks, though, are the records from late in Jo's Columbia tenure, a time when Rock & Roll had supplanted big band, swing and jazz as pop music. Dopey sing-along cycle aside, A & R man Mitch Miller was a trend follower – when sparser, guitar-prominent accompaniment became the fashion, he wanted even the by then middle-aged orchestra alumni signed to the label to don the musical clothes of the day and sell records to the kids. Jo herself admitted that to some extent she was willing to go along with the program in trade-off for being one of a very few artists who didn't have to pay for their own recording sessions. Such songs, represented in Jasmine's "Ultimate," as "Hibiscus," "I'll Buy It," "What's Botherin' You Baby," and (the egregious) "Underneath the Overpass" do not bear the Kern or Gershwin pedigree and the Rock & Roll-tinged rhythms and instrumentation applied to them seem unlikely Stafford surroundings – but Jo triumphs. An amazing feat when you consider the intrinsic worth of the material.

Today, Jo's birthday, as I've listened, I've thought about the quality that preceded her celebrated versatility – adaptability: without the capacity first to gain an understanding of the environment and then to adjust and conform to and fit it, while retaining your identity, you can't acquire versatility. In those garish late '50's years, Jo didn't turn into a pony-tailed Teen Queen chanteusie – no. But she again displayed the elasticity of
her contemporary outlook, so essential to her musical style.

I Haven't Forgotten

Here I am: stuck in '38-'39. Well, I shouldn't say "stuck" – I mean, I'm thrilled to be planted at this point in the 20th century, surveying musically, with the aid of my CD collection, the waning years of the Great Depression. Today, I spun, among other platters, Disc 7 of Mosaic's magnificent Mildred Bailey set (out-of-print, as eventually become all things Mosaic), from which played, at the command of the mindless but benevolent random buttom, "Have You Forgotten So Soon," a treatment that I'm mad about of
a now undeservedly forgotten ballad.

The song was put together by a distinguished lyricist team, Edward ("Body and Soul") Heyman and Sam ("My Old Flame") Coslow, and a considerably more obscure Tin Pan Alley composer, Abner ("On the Beach at Bali-Bali") Silver. I am touched by its plaintive, lilting melody and still more deeply affected by its picturesque and (like most everything else I adore) at once both timeless and capturing-the-period words. Who better to deliver this combination than the hip Rockin' Chair Lady, Mildred Bailey? Similar in tone to but more vivid in its details than 1940's "At Least You Could Say 'Hello,'" this 1938 offering presents an eternal question, posed yet today by hurt and disbelieving jilted lovers, against a backdrop of distinctly '30's images.

I first came across Mildred's 9/29/38 interpretation, in which she is accompanied by the band of her xylophone-playing husband, Red Norvo, and fell in love with both song and performance thereof and later reacted with equal enthusiasm to the Tommy Dorsey and His Orchestra 9/22/38 take, featuring the sensitive vocal of the scandalously underrated Jack Leonard.

I couldn't find Mildred's version on youtube but came across TD's. Though Jeri Southern isn't a musical direction that I've taken, when, in scrolling down the list, I happened upon her record, on which I saw she is joined by Johnny Smith, a guitarist whose playing I greatly admire, I decided to veer off there and was rewarded by a probing exploration, which includes a verse I hadn't known. Jack and Mildred double up here and there and each has his/her own choruses . Jeri's reading, taken at a crawl, follows, in part, the Mildred lyrics. Wonder if it was La Bailey who introduced this later singer to the extremely beautiful, sentimental but not lachrymose song?

Have You Forgotten So Soon?
Music by Abner Silver,
Words by Edward Heyman and Sam Coslow

find it difficult
To think that once you cared for me at all.
I can't believe
That you refuse to speak to me
Each time I call.

Have you forgotten so soon –
That lovely night in June;
Our graduation dance;
The glorious beginning
Of a beautiful romance;
All those gay diversions
We planned in advance –
Have you forgotten so soon?

Have you forgotten so soon –
The sun upon the sand;
The moon of yellow gold;
The things at Coney Island
That the fortune teller told;
Air-conditioned movies
That gave us a cold –
Have you forgotten so soon?

Don't you still remember
The Witches' Party
On Halloween?
And that grand December –
The whitest Christmas
We've ever seen.

Have you forgotten so soon –
That loving cup we made
Of old Italian wine;
That New Year's Eve at Tony's
When the gang sang "Auld Lang Syne";
All those nights in Heaven
That used to be mine –
Have you forgotten so soon?

Have you forgotten so soon –
My birthday party cake;
The sandwiches you made;
The kisses that I borrowed
And so eagerly repaid;
And the day we walked
In the Easter Parade –
Have you forgotten so soon?

Have you forgotten so soon –
The winding country lane;
A little wayside inn;
And sipping tea while list'ning to
A muted violin;
Thrilling to the old songs
By Irving Berlin –
Have you forgotten so soon?

Don't you still remember
The moonlight hayride,
The Beaux Arts Ball?
And that grand September –
The crimson woodland,
The waterfall.

Have you forgotten so soon –
The concert in the park;
The Army-Navy game;
The time I lost my money on
A horse that bore your name;
The day I snapped your picture
That's still in my frame –
Have you forgotten so soon?

I'll admit – this is a song that really starts the tears going with me.

Docile ... and Not

I have the Merriam-Webster Online Word of the Day sent to my email address. Today's word is docile. I remember, twelve years ago, Nelson's vet saying that Nelson was a very docile puppy. He was – and very sweet. He was quick in learning his tricks, too – nothing fancy, as such displays in answer to a demand therefor always seem to me like making someone sing for their supper, but he did the basic stuff; his shake was particularly fetching (to keep it dog-themed). He had his own form of diplomacy: if ever he didn't care to do something I asked, he'd just turn his head away as if he didn't realize that I was speaking to him – cute!

My eldest sister says that people who have dogs are bossy and people who have cats aren't. My sister loves cats, has three.


Yes, Nelson was docile. Aubrey, on the other hand, is not. In fact, he's downright intractable. He has to see the color of my money – or, rather, training treats – before he'll deliver.
And I don't ask that much. Aubrey, the little hellion, can be quite rebellious. Then again, I remember, too, my step-father describing me as a "militant rebel." Yeah ... that was an amazing flight of imagination. Aubrey's intractable ... but, then again, somewhat more subtly, so am I.


An Anniversary: More and Less

With the passing of time, some things – such as my appreciation of the artistry of Bunny Berigan, my favorite trumpeter, born 101 years ago today – grow greater; other things – such as my attention to
Relative Esoterica, my web journal, begun 3 years ago today – diminish. A subjective view of subjectivity.

Please dig the one and only Bunny, unchanging in his revelance, timeless – and yet who, with the passing of time, has attained giant dimensions:


Ah, what the heck ... I feel like following up a post about two dogs that I love with a little tribute to a record whose title features a canine exclamation: doggone!
– as in "Doggone, I've Done It."

Chronologically touring the CD collection, I today found myself easing into 1933; it's been a '32-'33 day: think Roosevelt defeating Hoover and Repeal the following year. One of the highlights of my day surely has been The Sisters, accompanied by The Brothers, jiving (as only they can) through an exceedingly cute number by a Dave Franklin, whom I can't, at the moment, recall having encountered elsewhere. This record, cut 6/17/32, is truly one of my all-time favorites:

Eight sprightly little introductory bars, setting the perfect tempo, and then the girls are off, drawling away. The Dorsey Bros., Mac (Tommy) and Lad (Jimmy), play an uncharacteristically minor role in this one but, still, that no one gave the Boswells better (or as fine) support is highly evident. The line-up is Tommy, trombone; Jimmy, clarinet, Bunny Berigan (
yeah!), trumpet; Joe Venuti, violin; Dick McDonough, guitar; Artie Bernstein, bass; Stan King, drums. ... Oh, and that's Martha, the eldest of the sisters, providing that fine piano comping; I love her on this side. A harmonious and inimitably swinging chorus and verse by Martha, Connee and Vet en masse and then Connee – the middle sister, vocal arranger for and heart and soul of the vocal trio – gets a chorus to herself; dig the accent and the Armstrongian sense of what's right for the moment. Next, Four String Joe, the michievous Mr. Venuti, serves up sixteen sassy bars (check out Martha behind him). ... And now – Bunny! Hear him getting on mike; the sudden increase in his volume gives the record an immediacy that you have to relish – you're right there in the studio. I love the way he negotiates the diminished chord in bar 9 of his spot. Listen hard for the great, too-soon-gone (from the planet) Dick McDonough. Fine, well-placed accents from Stan King.

Doggone, I've Done It

Music and Words by Dave Franklin

Doggone, I’ve done it – I’ve fallen in love;
Doggone, it hit me from heaven up above.
The day I met him, I knew I was gone;
My heart went kerplunk – oh boy, I was sunk.
Doggone, I’ve done it – I fell with a thud;
It must be springtime, ‘cos it’s in my blood.
Mr. Cupid sneaked behind and gave me a shove;
Doggone, I’ve done it – I’ve fallen in love.
Oh, you dog!

I don’t use strong expressions;
I’m known for my repression;
Nobody ever heard me swear.
But something’s gone and changed me;
It’s really disarranged me –
I’m cuttin’ loose and I don’t care.

Doggone, I’ve done it – I’ve fallen in love;
Doggone, it hit me from heaven above.
The day I met him, I just knew I was gone;

Heart went kerplunk – oh boy, I was sunk.
Doggone, I’ve done it – I fell with a thud;
It must be springtime, ‘cos it’s in my blood.
Mr. Cupid sneaked behind and gave me a shove;
Doggone, I’ve done it – I’ve fallen in love.

Doggone, I’ve done it – I’ve fallen in love;
Doggone, it hit me from heaven above.
The day I met him, I knew I was gone;
My heart went kerplunk – oh boy, I was sunk.
Doggone, I’ve done it – I fell with a thud;
It must be springtime, ‘cos it’s in my blood.
Mr. Cupid gave me a shove;
Doggone, I’ve done it – I’ve fallen in love.

It's The Girls!

Bunny ... Who else?

Oh, you dog ...

See C. Aubrey

I miss Nelson terribly.
I missed his sunny and sweet companionship so much that soon, very soon, after losing him, I found myself seeking a new canine friend with whom to walk and talk and play. Googling, I discovered a Michigan breeder of Jack Russell Terriers whose young brood, consisting of two little boys and two little girls, looked promising. Two weeks ago, I brought home, from among this furry quartet, C. Aubrey – informally, just plain Aubrey. I wanted a moniker both very British-sounding, as the breed originated in England, and one I wasn't likely to encounter in my travels. (I don't seek my inspiration from names stitched on dog beds or Christmas stockings in pet catalogues.) Who, I ask, is more English than Sir C. (the C., I discovered, stands for Charles, as I'd suspected) Aubrey Smith, kindly but imposing presence in countless Hollywood films of the Golden Age?

Aubrey, born May 13 (the birthday of powerhouse trumpeter in the Goodman and T. Dorsey orchestras, Ziggy Elman), is ten weeks old. He's teething, gnawing happily at my hands and wrists and learning, without treat incentive (unlike the highly food-motivated Nelson), the sit, down and rollover commands (I mean, "requests"). His breeders were calling him Mr. Chubsters, as he was the biggest in the litter, outweighing, at birth, the closest in size by a full ounce and had maintained a well-padded lead. He doesn't seem especially interested in his chow now, though, and his svelte little body rather reminds me of a ferret's. My Nelson was a bit of a chunk, I must admit. I think Aubrey, whose mother was the long-legged variety of JRT and father the short-legged, will be a bit taller as well as slimmer than Nelsie (I pronounce the s like a z).

He doesn't look much like C. Aubrey Smith

A few days ago, I was listening to some Gus Arnheim sides, and Aubrey was fascinated by Bing's trademark whistle. Just as Nelson and I had our little songs, I sing to this young lad as we go about our activities. As his middle-section still can be spanned by one of my fairly small hands, I often say, "Scoop of Aubrey," as I lift him from danger (killer bees!) or naughtiness (tassel destruction is a favorite pastime); sometimes I croon "You're the Scoop of C. Aubrey," to the tune of "Sheik of Araby." A holdover from Nelson's and my repertoire is the winning Harry Warren-Al Dubin "Would You Like to Take a Walk?" Nauseatingly precious, aren't I/we? Please forgive the tales of the sister of a tail-wagger.

It still seems only yesterday that Nelson was limping around, awaiting knee surgery following a tumble he took – one week to the day after his twelfth birthday – in jumping from a rock to pursue a chipmunk. We couldn't go for our daily strolls, so we'd sit in the yard, communing with nature. Literally overnight, he developed a distended stomach that was clearly causing him pain. An observatory stay in the hospital was followed by a visit to a specialist's clinic, at which he underwent an ultrasound, which didn't prove illuminating: perhaps he had a duodenal ulcer or had swallowed something that created a blockage. Back at the local hospital, exploratory surgery was the next step. Before my little baby was taken in, I told him just to make it through the surgery – pet people know about anathesia and older dogs, cats, etc. – and we, the staff and I, would take care of the rest. He then gave me a kiss. The doctor wasn't gone long; upon opening his tummy, she found that he had a tumor on his pancreas that was positioned in a way that prevented him from releasing fluids in his stomach. Too, his liver showed indications of cancer growth. Presented with the options, it was apparent to me that the purpose of any treatments, surgical or chemotherapeutic, would have been merely to give me time for a longer goodbye and Nelson time for more pain. I asked, "Does this mean there's no good way this can come out?" I didn't want to be selfish; I opted for euthanasia ... and the doctor told me that she felt I'd made the right decision: to let go. It was difficult, extremely difficult, to say the least.

Aubrey's here now. He's not a replacement for Nelson – no dog will ever take Nelson's place. Aubrey is a new friend. I've been sleeping with Nelson's collar under my pillow. At this point, I can't imagine developing with Aubrey the rapport that Nelsie and I shared. But taking care of the new lad and taking pleasure in his antics takes my mind off the loss.

Even the liveliest among us requires rest occasionally.

Aubrey's a cute kid – cute, where Nelson, even in puppyhood, was handsome. And Aubrey's affectionate, like his brother, whom he didn't know. If I can just keep him away from the damned tassels!

Not Gone

"[A]nd with you gone, life just doesn't seem half so fine."

Jo Stafford, making a not insignificant change to the Sy Oliver-Jimmie Lunceford-Edward P. Moran "Dream of You" (On the 10/29/34 Lunceford Orch. record, Sy sings "[...] life no longer seems quite so fine.")

Jo still makes life seem fine.

A Tiger

These last several days, I've been listening to late '20's stuff – Louis, Duke, Bix with and without Whiteman
, Venuti and Lang ... that sort of thing. I've been listening, because that's what I do at home, absorb music, but also, I suppose, because I've been seeking a happy aural diversion from my very frequent thoughts of Nelson ... whom I miss. Popular music sides from the late '20's, be they entirely jazz or merely jazz-infused, were, in large part, very peppy (silly word, peppy, isn't it?) – much more so than the Depression-response crooner records that immediately followed. This afternoon, I was distracted in my reflections on a member, dear to me, of the canine community by a few insistent blasts announcing my all-time favorite treatment of a tune about an elusive member of the feline community: "Tiger Rag," recorded 11/10/28 and heralded on the record label as "A Trumpet Specialty by Tom Dorsey."

Those whose interest in Tommy Dorsey, prominent swing band leader, extends beyond merely casual are aware that the smiling, bespectacled musician was not only a virtuouso trombonist but also an extremely interesting, industrious and wholly original trumpet player. For the liner notes for "The Dorsey Brothers Vol. 1 – Recorded in New York, 1928," Jeff Healey offered these astute observations on the dichotomy of TD, the brassman:

A comment on the trumpet-playing of Tommy Dorsey should be made here. If ever a musician displayed, albeit musically, a split personality, it is Tommy. Although justifiably rated as one of the finest trombonists ever to master the instrument, Tommy was a better "straight" than "hot" player on the trombone. In fact, he all but gave up attempting jazz solos by the time he organized his first orchestra under his own name in 1935. His trumpet-playing, on the other hand, is always "hot," if not always precise. There is always a sense of agitated urgency in his tone.

I love Tommy's pithy statements in the verse section as well as the way he turns up the heat with each successive "Hold that tiger!" line. And yet he's so uninhibited and spontaneous; he just lets it go. The way he wails through that final straight mute chorus: Man! I dig Jimmy Williams galumphing bass, also. As for Eddie Lang ... well, with him on your date, you just don't need no piano player!

All this talk of tigers made me think of an amusing scene from one of my Swinging '60's-London favorites. ... I wonder what TD would think of this juxtaposition. Something tells me he wouldn't find it very gear/fab.

They're holdin' him, no?

Heigh Ho ...

Untamed, a favorite of mine

Charles E. Scoggins, story
Sylvia Thalberg, writer
Frank Butler, writer
Willard Mack, dialogue

An oft-quoted (by me) exchange on the enormities I currently find myself pondering:

Ernest Torrence as Ben Murchison: Another day in the funny old game of life.
Holmes Herbert as Howard Presley: One wonders why we trouble to play it at all.

Bob and Joan: Pondering, it appears, too

June 30

Eternity begins in forty-five minutes [...].
Spencer Tracy as Father Flanagan in Boys Town

Nelson Eddy
5/30/97 - 6/30/09

My pal, Nelson: here and everywhere, now.

I love you, Boy.

"... just futures."

Sometimes, I just have to watch
Gilda. As you may imagine of someone leading such an outwardly ... scintillating life, in which neither vacations nor nightlife as commonly viewed figure prominently, I've seen the film a zillion times – but that, and the attendant fact that I can recite the entire script practically line for line, doesn't matter. Through the years, since first being knocked out by the struttings, frettings and interplay of the fantastically beautiful redhead (faux or no), the sinisterly handsome scar-visaged chap and the boyish male lead and their alluring backdrop of a lavishly-appointed gambling house, Buenos Aires and post-WWII intrigue, I've returned to the Columbia money-and-icon-maker when I've felt the need for glamour, a look at 1946 in all its sheen with disillusionment around the edges, and "Put the Blame on Mame," in its various performances. Last night, I thought of a line, in tune with my current thinking, and plopped Gilda into the DVD player.

... Well, to digress a moment: My movie ratings book (rather out-of-date but, then, considering my viewing preferences, it hardly matters) doesn't esteem Gilda too greatly – two-and-a-half out of a possible four stars and then this:

Gambler meets the new wife of his boss, and it turns out to be the gal he once loved. This one was hot stuff when it first came out, with the Hayworth-Ford combination very successful. It may still be, but it doesn't hide the fact this is merely a routine melodrama, not particularly well done.

At least it acknowledges that the picture indeed sizzled upon its release and (grudglingly) that it may have retained its heat. Gilda is hot stuff; never fails to hit the spot. I remember smiling, years ago, at Mom's account of her and Dad, in their courting days, taking in the flick at the drive-in ... with my maternal grandmother in the backseat.

Much as I adore the picture, I will say that I find it too conventional in its philosophy to rate the noir label often attached to it. Gilda, at times, sports the look of noir, but though both the titular character and her erstwhile lover are deeply wounded, neither bears the scars of the classic noir "murky past"; neither, we find after things play themselves out, is beyond emotional and/or moral redemption. ... As for the third point in the triangle, Ballin – well, he's just crazy, and you don't have to inhabit the noir universe to be that.

They might not be scarred, but they're mighty darned burned up at each other a good part of the show: I particularly like Gilda's cool warning to Johnny, "I hate you so much that I'd destroy myself to take you down with me," as well as Johnny's disgusted likening of Gilda to a bundle of laundry, to be taken and picked up, without feeling or attachment.

Anyway, to get back on track – my recent reflections on my past, hardly sordid but in many ways unproductive in terms of my definition of accomplishment, and eventual thought that it would be nice to progress in a personal association, be it platonic or romantic, without the encumbrance of the past, without a feeling that it needed to be referred to, made me recall Ballin's silken-voiced comment to Johnny: "All three of us with no pasts – just futures. Isn't that interesting?"

But even as I just plain don't feel like talking about the last twenty years or so of my life, I realize that, though I'm not a nosy person, I probably would feel wary toward anyone who displayed to me evasiveness with regard to his/her past. And that's hardly fair. You can say, as Johnny does, in an early reel of Gilda, "Get this, I was born last night, when we met in the alley. No past and all future. I like it that way." But is it really possible to proceed in your interactions with another in such a manner? Would I like it that way? Unlike newly-ejected infants, adults bring to relationships not merely chromosomes and (if there are such) universal instincts but also character-and-outlook-shaping experiences. Who knows – maybe a claustrophobic stint in stir (for copyright infringement; nothing bloody) accounts for your love of wide-open spaces. Or maybe you're just like me – someone who has led what those fixated on colourful incident would, I expect, find a boring life. Do we need to know? Is it truly conceivable to begin together, as grown-ups, with no pasts – just futures?

Benny, Tram and My Little Dog, Too

Listening exclusively to BG, born 100 years ago today ... and being reminded that a musical organization under the direction of no other leader has provided me a more satisfying aural experience than have the many outfits captained by this incomparably dedicated instrumentalist, Benjamin David Goodman

... and thinking about Tram, born 108 years ago today ... and hoping that, some time, my music and artistic "voice" will move someone as I have been moved by such assets of the great Frank Trumbauer

... and walking about the neighborhood with Nelson, born 12 years ago today ... and watching him open, with tremendous terrier determination, his birthday presents ... and reflecting that I'm very lucky to have such a fine friend as my little canine companion, Nelson Eddy:

That's how I spent my day.

Infinite Relativities

C]ompared to the life I lead, the last man in a chain gang thoroughly enjoys himself.
Katharine Hepburn as Linda Seton in Holiday

One need not be a poor little rich girl, or even a – in the self-describing words of the character – "black sheep," to relate.

A Getz Pastorale

Making my way along in my continuous, looping chronological tour of my CD collection, I find myself cruising aurally
through the 1950's. Today, as I was mentally zipping about in my two-toned, aqua and white, tail-finned, white leather-seated affair, which runs on sonic fuel, taking in the reedy musical landscape of the early years of Eisenhower (Mom often remarked, "He never really said anything in his speeches"), I paused in my actual physical movements at the sound of The Sound, Stan Getz, who himself was pausing, "Down by the Sycamore Tree." When Stan reflects, aloud, you have to stop and listen. Really listen.

I was introduced to Getz's recording of "Down by the Sycamore Tree" several years ago through the Verve CD, "Stan Getz Plays," which is the digital version, onto which this track and three others were tacked, of the LP of the same title. Well, it just knocked me out. And I must say, I'd already been reeling from the insinuatingly socko first few bars of this stunningly lovely set's opener, the perfect "Stella by Starlight." Stan's "Down by the Sycamore Tree," one of several languid, pensive performances in this grouping of twelve 1952 and four 1954 takes, simply stands out on its own, unique terms; it's just another devastatingly beautiful, singular moment in the electronically recorded life of one of the greatest players ever to approach a musical instrument.

Stan and son, Steve

I wasn't familiar with "Down by the Sycamore Tree," before hearing Stan's tender reading, so I had no point of comparison. I was inclined to believe that the song had words; there seemed a very compelling verbal story linked to this sweet melody. The liner notes credit the song – erroneously, I discovered – to that fellow, Public Domain, indicating a very old piece, possibly of "Jeannie with the Light Brown Hair" vintage. Some years after falling instantaneously in love with Getz's go at the number, I encountered the Dorsey Brothers Orchestra's treatment and, by the CD on which it appeared, had the record set straight for me. Composer Pete Wendling and lyricist Haven Gillespie, recognizable denizens of pop music's renowned Tin Pan Alley, put together the song, typical in its bucolic quality of material of its period, in 1931. Both the Bros. Dorsey, who took a whack at "Tree" 12/9/31, and the, to me, barely bearable Rudy Vallee offered contemporary impressions.

By The Sycamore Tree
Music by Pete Wendling, Words by Haven Gillespie

Heaven seemed to be a little closer,
When you smiled for me,
On the night when you gave me your love
By the sycamore tree.

There we drew a lot of pretty pictures –
Babies on my knee;
Maybe one, two or three or four,
Down by the sycamore tree.

Sweetheart, keep on dreaming,
As you did before.
We found love by dreaming.
Tell me, who could ask for more?

We will be a lucky pair of lovebirds,
Honey, can't you see?
In a cute little two-by-four,
Down by the sycamore tree.

Phrasemaker Haven Gillespie, didn't exactly outdo himself here, I have to say. In incorporating domesticity as well as the afore-mentioned rusticity, he followed rather than bucked the then current trends in churning out little songs for the hoi polloi. The two-by-four, always "cute," turned up in many an early '30's number, presumably to remind the folks facing those lean, mean times that if a couple or a family has love, they need not aspire to a palace. ('Course there's nothing wrong with that message.) For my Depression dollars, it's tunesmith Pete Wendling who made the most intriguing contribution to the finished product, with his superficially nonchalant-sounding melody, set to "sycamore" eighth notes in bars 5-6, 13-14 and 29-30 of the chorus.

The Dorseys' record, with which I, as a follower of both Tommy and Jimmy (or, respectively, Mac and Lad) and Depression-era pop, have become intimately acquainted, is elevated from a sort of mildly pleasant mediocrity by the elegant and vital muted and open statements of jazz trumpet giant, Bunny Berigan.

Twenty-two years after the Dorseys committed their interpretation to wax – by which time, by pop standards, the "Tree" had become fossilized – Stan, in company of pianist Jimmy Rowles, bassist Bob Whitlock and drummer Max Roach, took a fresh look at the song. Where did our tenor titan dig up "Sycamore Tree"? For sure, he'd already made apparent a fondness for evergreens – but this was something different, not of "Stardust" or "Night and Day" status. Did Rowles, who knew everything, famous or obscure, bring the song to the 1/23/54 session? I can't help but wonder. "Down by the Sycamore Tree" is a song about the past, present and future: what happened, what is happening and what the first-person protagonist hopes will happen as time inevitably unfolds. Unlike Bunny, who – with his impassioned full-throttle bridge – made, it appears, an importunate plea for the future, Stan chose to focus, it seems, on the irrevocable past, describing it in delicate detail. Listening to this exquisite, quiet side, I have a strong sense of what is irretrievably gone – for Stan, for me, for all of us.

Much as I love endlessly inventive, unsurpassably facile "Stanley the Steamer" (so dubbed by an admiring Oscar Peterson) swinging hard, I love even more "Stanley the Dreamer" (my humble designation) talking softly. It's fascinating to consider that one month before the "Sycamore" date, the lavishly talented tenorist had been arrested for drug possession (for which he would do six saxless months behind bars). In his Nobody Else but Me, Getz biographer Dave Gelly had these observations to make:

In the middle of all this (two days after his court appearance, in fact), Getz recorded four three-minute numbers with Rowles, Roach and bassist Bob Whitlock, which sounded as blithe and untroubled as a May morning. "Nobody Else But Me," "with The Wind And The Rain In Your Hair," "I Hadn't Anyone But You" and "Down By The Sycamore Tree" are performances as serene as any he ever recorded. They stand as a powerful caution to anyone tempted to read a musician's autobiography in his music. It all depends on the musician. Getz, it seems, stepped into a whole different world when he picked up his instrument, a world of order and light and softly breathing passion. By contrast, Lester Young's playing unfailingly betrayed his day-to-day feelings, his state of health, his forebodings, his whimsical passing thoughts and gently ironical cast of mind.

The "Down by the Sycamore Tree" of this ballad "singer" is a thing profoundly poignant in its wistful rumination. Getz, a city boy, takes you to the country.

Don't miss it.

Fear and Faith

We're all cowards. There's no such thing as courage. There's only fear – the fear of getting hurt and the fear of dying. That's why human beings live so long.

Houseley Stevenson as Dr. Walter Coley in Dark Passage

Maybe the question is too obvious, too banal, even in all its implications, to pose. Maybe the answer, whichever it might be believed to be, is too evident – or thought to be too evident: "Which came first – fear or faith?"

Well, I can't say that the conundrum just came – separate, naked, out of any context – to me. I was listening to a recording, I now forget which, of a song, perhaps not a genuine religious hymn – I rather think not – but one whose theme was religious faith, and I thought something like, I can believe in this particular expression of belief and conviction, because it is so beautifully contagious – which seems a silly reason to believe – without quite being able to believe in what is proclaimed, by the singer, to be personally believed. ... I just don't know. Someone once told me, simply, concisely, meaningfully, "That's why they call it faith." Maybe it's trivializing to talk about it in a blog post. ... Or is it? Well, I'll risk denunciation.

Soon after hearing that record, I thought of the Dark Passage line. Don't miss Houseley Stevenson's brief appearance in that movie. How cheap and vulgar and irreverent of me to link spiritual faith with Hollywood. ... It seems to me that faith comes in answer to fear. Part of everybody's standard equipment is fear – in one form or another, of something. Fear is intrinsic. Faith, belief in a higher being – beneficent, forgiving and overseeing – is a comfort, a means of overcoming or coping with the fear. Or so I believe. But what would I know?

... Then again, maybe I'm looking at this the wrong way. Maybe "Which came first – faith or fear?" is not the question because, fear being an inherent component of mankind and faith being intellectually arrived at or the result of a mental process, maybe the chronological precedence between the two is not being debated; the answer is clear to all, is the same for everybody.

Maybe I'm not actually presenting a question; maybe I'm merely confessing to my preoccupation with the relationship between fear and faith – or to my belief that there is a relationship between the two in that faith is an intellectual protection against fear. I don't think there's anything wrong or shameful or ignoble or reproachable in developing this protection. Just as I don't think there's anything wrong in recoiling from a flame. It's reflexive, even as it's an act behind whose commission is the knowledge or a theory of how to avert pain, physical or emotional. It might sound nicer to say that faith is based on the observation of all the good – abundant, predominant, undeniable – in the world, but I truly believe that faith is primarily fear motivated. ... But what would I know? Practically everything apart from matters mathematical is opinion.

Two Minutes and Twenty-Six Seconds of Noir

I have to admit – it hardly qualifies as esoterica, relative to anything. I'm talking about the first hit record of the The Zombies: the darkly atmospheric and utterly sublime "She's Not There."

Well, to explain: Though for the past twenty-some years I've been listening almost exclusively to representations of what may be called, if we must apply labels, jazz and swing, I retain an affection of long-standing (I gave an account of my early listening background here) for the music – itself jazz-tinged, I now recognize – of The Zombies, the English quintet hailing from St. Albans, who participated in the much-celebrated British Invasion of the mid '60's. Recently, deciding that I couldn't go much longer without hearing a couple of Zombies sides I've forever loved ("I Could Spend the Day"; "I'll Keep Trying"), unlocatable-on-the-web-for-listening, and knowing that I'd never be able to unearth my "Greatest Hits" LP or cassette on which these sides appeared, I broke down and ordered the insistently tempting 4-CD "Zombie Heaven," touted (accurately, it turns out) as an impressively annotated and packaged set, containing the original group's recorded output in its entirety plus a fascinating and rewarding collection of unissued and live extras. Track one of disc one, I discovered when my copy arrived, is "She's Not There," my favorite – possibly your favorite – Zombies record. Hearing the platter, remastered, as I never had before, I realized, as I was pulled deeper than I ever had been into the music and lyrics, that I was listening to pure sonic noir: a mini (in terms only of duration) black drama, complete with femme fatale, as insidious as any ever to slink across the silver screen, and anti-hero, requisitely scarred and disillusioned.

She's Not There
Music and Words by Rod Argent

Well, no one told me about her –
The way she lied.
Well, no one told me about her –
How many people cried.

But it's to late to say you're sorry.
How would I know; why should I care?
Please don't bother trying to find her –
She's not there.

Well, let me tell you 'bout the way she looked;
The way she acted and the colour of her hair.
Her voice was soft and cool, her eyes were clear and bright –
But she's not there.

Well, no one told me about her.
What could I do?
Well, no one told me about her –
Though they all knew.

But it's to late to say you're sorry.
How would I know; why should I care?
Please don't bother trying to find her –
She's not there.

Well, let me tell you 'bout the way she looked;
The way she acted and the colour of her hair.
Her voice was soft and cool, her eyes were clear and bright –
But she's not there.

Whew! ... But what do we actually know about this girl – this spider woman – after the final cymbal splash? That her voice was soft and cool, her eyes were clear and bright ... and she's not there. ... Oh, and she's a big liar, too. This is what is told. What is suggested is still more threatening; all those people weren't crying for nothing. It's obvious that she's beautiful – exuding a kind of exotic charm – and with an intriguing remoteness. She entranced him, we deduce, with this exciting, unfamiliar manner and became the dominating presence in his present ... but, clearly, she, like all femmes fatales, had a past – full of misdeeds so heinous and ugly that no one dared speak of them and wise up this poor chump in time – before it was "too late." Maybe she, through her deceit and manipulation, pushed a guy to bump himself off. Maybe she bumped him off. Maybe she was a heartless opportunist, flitting from prospect to more promising prospect. Maybe she was a colossal tramp (how provincial of me to pose this transgression). We just don't know. And, as is often the case with femmes fatales appearing, seemingly out of nowhere, in both film noir and roman noir, it's not necessary that we know. "She's Not There" is, simply, one beautifully put together number. Its brilliance lies in its mystery; its mystery lies in its economy and restraint.

For the "Zombie Heaven" notes, Rod Argent, Zombies' keyboardist, discussed the influences behind the song as well as the care he took in matching words and music:

I know I was very concerned with the lyrics on "She's Not There" but in the sense that they had to really complement the melody. They had to stand on their own, and had to have their own rhythm and, in that last section I was using the words with different stresses at different times to propel it along towards the final chord.


If you play that John Lee Hooker song ["No One Told Me"] you'll hear "no one told me, it was just a feeling I had inside" but there's nothing in the melody or the chords that's the same. It was just the way that little phrase just tripped off the tongue. I'd always thought of the verse of "She's Not There" to be mainly Am to D. But what I'd done, quite unconsciously, was write this little modal sequence incorporating those chord changes. There was an additional harmonic influence in that song. In the second section it goes from D to D minor and the bass is on the thirds, F# and F, a little device I'd first heard in "Sealed With A Kiss" and it really attracted me, that chord change with bass notes not on the roots. And I'm sure I was showing off in the solo as much as I could!

The original impetus for the song, the original shape I had in my head, was those three sections and the last section of the three, "let me tell you about the way she looked" is all on one note really, with just the harmonies changing behind it. And I deliberately made the scansion overlap, in order to try and build rhythm and impetus towards the climax of "but she's not there." The whole idea was to make it as exciting as possible. The way it was recorded initially, I was a bit disappointed, I thought it could have been a lot ballsier, but in fact I think the way [producer] Ken Jones recorded it in the end made it more of an event than if it had gone a slightly cruder way, if you like. It's more mysterious, which was a great advantage and I think we owe a lot to Ken for that.

We know more of the protagonist, the narrator, in this sonic noir (or shall I say, "sonique noir?"). We know that, despite the fact that he realizes she's no good ... and that she's gone for good, he's still nuts about her. "What could I do?" he asks. He was putty in her hands. "Well, let me tell you 'bout ...": He's already told us she has a predilection for prevarication but, besotted regardless, he still wants to go on about her captivating features. Zombies' lead singer Colin Blunstone might not have the vocal timbre that seasoned film noir aficionados would expect from a Bogart or a Mitchum, but he has the emotional tone of noir; he conveys all the anguish, bewilderment and weary cynicism that is the standard baggage of the noir anti-hero. "Why should I care?"

Also in the "Zombie Heaven" notes are Colin Blunstone's thoughts on the song, as initially waxed:

"She's Not There really stuck out. I thought very early on that that stood a good chance of being a hit, in fact I thought all three of those tracks [produced at the band's first recording session], "She's Not There," "You Make Me Feel Good" and "Summertime," were really good, and there was a time when all three of them were being talked about as an A-side. I liked them all. "She's Not There" has got an edge. Moody, maybe a bit sinister. I think that was something we could have built on, but people didn't really worry so much about image and mood in those days.

As recorded June 12, 1964, "She's Not There," from the first A note from bassist Chris White to the last A chord from the ensemble, is a journey through the noir environs. It seems to begin in a dimly lit Bogartian apartment or flat, whose sparse furnishings allow for the lonely, hollow echo that is Colin Blunstone's voice. Beyond this non-descript, shabby room is the urban jungle into which "She" vanished. Hugh Grundy's snare and high-hat tattoo is the sound of the busy city; the bass is the winking of the neon lights; Paul Atkinson's guitar, heard almost subconsciously, is the band in every bar, on every corner; Rod Argent's electric piano, the instrumental star of this sonic noir, is the rain falling in the dark streets, obliterating every trace of her perfume; the vocal harmonies are the reflected lights from the street lamps, in the sheen of the wet pavement; the recurring minor-to-major shifts are the ambiguous, tension-filled noir universe.

Number 291 on Rolling Stone's "500 Greatest Songs of All Time" list (uh ... I think it's performances of songs rather than the songs themselves that they mean to designate – but we won't quibble), "She's Not There" is much more than a mere Billboard second slot hit. It's as timeless as the emotional response it depicts so vividly, if in noir's trademark monochrome.

"'Well, no-one told me about her,'" comments Alec Paleo, author of the "Zombie Heaven" sleeve notes, "is still one of the most recognised opening lines in pop music." Indeed, this classic beginning could have been penned by Cornell Woolrich or spoken by Bob Mitchum. "She's Not There" is petit noir in size, but not in substance.

An Order of Jo on CD, Rare

I've been listening to my recently arrived copy of the DRG label's new "The Capitol Rarities," the latest compact disc collection to present unreleased recordings of my favorite singer, Jo Stafford. Is this CD what it purports to be? Well ... yeah. Is it great? (More positively and enthusiastically) Oh, yes! I suppose I have to remember that not every Jo Stafford admirer would, as I would, snatch up (a hypothetical) "Jo Sings the Beverly Hills Directory, Live from a Phone Booth during Rush Hour" and, in which case, might not be aware that, really, all but three of the "Rarities" tracks have been available on CD for some time. Not a caveat – merely a clarification. Beautifully remastered and accompanied by insightful and informative liner notes by the dean of pop/jazz vocalist essayists, Will Friedwald, this well-chosen sampling of undeniably (as well as undeservedly) obscure sides from Jo's first Capitol stint offers something to win the uninitiated and satisfy the well-experienced. (I have to admit that I'm sort of put out by the absence, in the booklet, of recording dates but, hey, there's always Jim Marshall's Jo discography, clearly a labor of love.)

Shall we go through "Rarities" track-by-track? We shall:

"Out of This World" 9/13/44 Well, we discussed it before, but there's always much to say about Jo's records, which, themselves, speak volumes. Pretty and celestially evocative as the arrangement, by then future Stafford spouse, Paul Weston, is, I agree with WF (author of "Rarities" notes, of course) – it's a bit dramatic; so, Jo, of the flawless instincts, holds back even more than usual, for appropriate contrast. No one understood so well as Jo the potency of restraint. As I recall, I first caught this cosmic treatment of the minor-keyed Mercer-Arlen nugget on the Memoir label's (now out-of-print) "Too Marvelous For Words."

"Conversation While Dancing" 9/13/44
Another Mercer lyric – this time, with hep cat rather than egg head jargon and paired with a Weston rather than an Arlen melody. Jo is, perhaps, primarily thought of as a ballad singer, but as this track – on which she is teamed with her idol and boss, wordsmith extraordinaire and Capitol co-founder, John Henry Mercer – demonstrates, she could dish rhythm and jive with the best of them: JM, for example. The gap-toothed gent from Savannah "
loved Jo Stafford," observed another Capitol contractee, the hardly talentless Margaret Whiting, and we can see this too in all the Johnny-Jo collaborations. Memoir's "For You" first allowed me to eavesdrop on the "Conversation."

"Alone Together" 11/29/44
You want rarities? You got 'em! Jo's 7/12/44 JM Music Shop-rehearsal performance of the Arthur Schwartz-Howard Dietz stunner, released back when WWII was raging as a for-servicemen-only V-Disc, has been available on compact disc for more contemporary civvy-wearing
folks for some few years now. Her yet more nuanced, still more devastating commercially-issued take of a few months later is just making it to CD on 2009's "Rarities." Applied to Schwartz's exquisitely somber melody and Dietz's stark lyrics and layered on Weston's spare and stately orchestra animation, Jo's haunting voice is at its barest, conveying powerfully the bleakness ("the blinding rain") and nothingness ("the starless night"), indeed "the great unknown" in which the two (of whom she is steadfastly one) "cling together." Here, I strongly suspect, is Jo singing one of her favorites.

"Gee, It's Good to Hold You" 6/29/45
This hitherto unissued take contains a slightly muffed (concert) Bb from trumpeter Billy Butterfield and is a little less punchy than the V-Disc version (lauded, in
RE, here), which was recorded a few days later and has been kicking around, in digitized form, for a while. Darn cute song and Jo was the girl to put it over properly.

"You May Not Love Me" 11/21/45
I was introduced to the Johnny Burke-Jimmy Van Heusen number through the 1950 Nat Pierce and His Orchestra version with a Teddi King vocal, and I must admit that I was impressed by neither song nor interpretation initially. Though both eventually grew on me, I was unprepared for the reaction I had to Jo's take – even being aware of my fondness for her singing – when I encountered the side on the Stafford-Gordon MacRae "Stars of the Summer Night." Whew! Working with quiet material, albeit such made interesting by an opening gambit, "You may not love me but you may," of an intriguing ambiguity of meaning (on which WF perspicaciously comments), and before a muted Weston-fashioned backdrop of brass and strings, Jo comes up with an reading of controlled intensity. "I only hope tomorrow won't be just another day" seems an unlikely lyric climax, but Jo makes of the line a shining zenith.

"This Time" 8/1/46
Hate to say this of material composed by Weston and to disagree with Will who finds the song "stunning" but "This Time," inherently, is a snore. The lyrics, written by someone with the surname of Benton, remind me a bit of those of "A Sunday Kind of Love." "This time, I'm taking no chances on summer romances that fade in the fall," falls, I'm afraid, though, far short of "I want a Sunday kind of love, a love to last past Saturday night" from the far superior Belle-Leonard-Rhodes-Prima collaboration of the same year. The best thing in the world to happen to "This Time," as far as I'm concerned, is Jo, who sings it for far more than its worth. The record was digitized for 2007's "The Ultimate Capitol Collection."

"Promise" 9/16/46
As WF clarifies in the notes for Sony's: "Jo Stafford: The Portrait Edition," Jo is "hardly the girl next door." Your neighbor doesn't sound like Jo; she never does; yours (and mine) sounds like Marion Hutton. In the "Promise" record, we do, though, get a confiding Jo – full of unselfconscious gee's and revelations about the "grand" and "swell" boy, from whom she hopefully awaits a marriage proposal – sounding as close as she ever did to that girl we view, from our lace-curtained window, swinging on the veranda on starry summer nights. Here the sweet-toned Miss Stafford is everything we imagine of and idealize about post-War, pre-McCarthyism America. An unassumingly charming ditty, most winningly rendered. I like the way Weston scores the reeds, too. This one first appeared on CD, some years back, on ASV's fine "Coming Back Like a Song."

"It's as Simple as That" 10/18/46
WF sees the material as "a bargain basement 'She's Funny That Way'" – while acknowledging that Jo "treats it like a first class song." Well, I heartily agree with the second part of the analysis. Being not a paean to a slavishly devoted gal/guy but, rather, a celebration of love oblivious of and immune to adversity, "Simple" strikes me more as a kind of "two against the world" number along the lines of 1938's equally undistinguished "Never Felt Better, Never Had Less." Jo indeed shows complete commitment to this modest ballad, making me believe and relate.

"Through a Thousand Dreams" 11/4/46
Jo dips into her rich lower register, dazzling with those seamless legato lines, for this Arthur Schwartz-Leo Robin beauty, the type of yearning satisfied song at which she excels. You can always tell a Stafford side for which Paul Weston did not provide the arrangement: musically, something just seems impersonally different. The pizzicato strings somehow seem to belong on somebody else's record.

"Give Me Something to Dream About" 12/20/46
So snazzy! Instead of Jo's trusted Paul Weston, it's Lloyd Schaffer, the conductor for the Chesterfield Supper Club leading the orchestra but, despite the anomaly, the proceedings are, in the parlance of the comparatively innocent day, dreamy. Jo, with her perfect but never over-precise diction, always says words so prettily; lovely gets my attention on this. Very nice electric guitar obbligato placed here and there. Wonder who that is!

"It's Monday Every Day" 12/17/47
The muted compressed-sounding trumpet in the opening sets the tone beautifully for Jo's rueful, reflective reading of a nifty number by the lesser known Robin – Sydney Robin, the guy who set words to Charlie Shavers' "Undecided." Our always sensitive interpreter of music and lyrics makes effective use of that (afore-mentioned) "California-modified Tennessee accent." Marvelous Weston-scripted saxes provide strong support on this bluesy doozy.

"It was Written in the Stars" 12/31/47
Well, if there was ever written a Jo Stafford kind of song, it's this Harold Arlen-Leo Robin amber gem. Against the composer's dark sky of minor chords, pinpointed at times by major chord stars, Jo sings stirringly of destiny (it's nice to believe, sometimes). "It was written in the skies that the heart and not the eyes shall see" is, I think, highly representative of the Jo we encounter most frequently in song. Hear her soar on "so it shall be."

"Jolly Jo" 4/1/49
WF considers the Dave Lambert (later of Lambert, Hendricks and Ross) composition, "Jolly Jo" – or, in long form, "m + h + r x 3ee - oo (over) 4/4 aa3 x (times) 32 + bop (Jolly Jo)" – "easily the furthest out thing she [Jo] ever did." Well, who can say, when you look over the variegated material covered by the unmatchedly and unmatchably diverse Miss Stafford? No question, though – this platter (the flip of the ultra groovy, more widely known "Smiles"), on which Jo appears alongside the author and his Vocal Choir is a must-be-heard-to-be-believed, even for admirers of "America's Most Versatile Singing Star." Jo never took on anything she couldn't handle; truly, she could do it all exceedingly well. Hear the voice that Billie Holiday thought "sounds like an instrument" trading fours with Lambert; scroll down and click on "Jolly Jo" – here.

"If I Ever Love Again" 8/29/49
"[E]ssentially like a retread of 'I'll Never Smile Again'" is how WF sees this material. I look at it more as a sequel, but I suppose that's only because I'm aware that Ruth Lowe, author of "Smile," wrote her big song after, and in reaction to, the death of her husband. I picture the protagonist of "If I Ever Love Again," (both songs incorporate again, you've noticed, I'm sure), in the process of moving beyond the grieving phase, thinking, If I feel able to give my heart again, it will be you to whom I give it: "If I ever love again, it will be you." Actually, I find the song itself by far superior to "Smile"; it was the Tommy Dorsey, with Sinatra and The Pipers, and later solo Jo interpretations that made "Smile" appear something special. Jo and the always superb Starlighters, backed by romantic reeds and brass, give a very pretty song the deluxe treatment. Jo applies vibrato very sparingly in her singing; when she does, as here, on the last two words of her sans Starlighters, "No one else's charms can fill my empty arms," the effect is powerful.

"Open Door, Open Arms" 12/21/49
This record could be seen as either a companion to Jo's folkie Capitol sides like "Red River Valley," "Smilin' Through" and "Goodnight, Irene" or something that presages the country terrain she explored during her Columbia stint that followed. Melodically and harmonically, the song itself doesn't sound terribly Continental, but WF calls it a "European import"; English words were added by Buddy Kaye, of "Till the End of Time" fame. In any case, Jo, supported by The Starlighters and very spare instrumentation, treats this rather slight piece respectfully, singing it with obvious sincerity.

"Pagan Love Song" 4/27/50
Jo may be widely labeled a "pop singer," but as this devilish disc – on which she is ably assisted by Paul Weston's Dixie Eight, which includes, among others, Bob Crosby-ites Eddie Miller and Matty Matlock and ex-Miller man, Clyde Hurley – attests, she is a very fine jazz singer, too. She really digs in on the Arthur Freed-Nacio Herb Brown warhorse. What a tone! I much prefer this sizzling B-side to the A with which it was paired, "Play a Simple Melody."

"Our Very Own" 7/13/50
This is one of those songs that I strongly suspect I wouldn't be able to take emanating from any other throat or what appears to be heart. Separating the song from this rendition, I find the Victor Young melody just OK and the lyrics downright drippy. Jo, with no help from Harold Mooney's Orchestra (Paul Weston had just left to work for Columbia; his future wife would follow him shortly), makes of the intrinsically lackluster "Our Very Own" something radiant and lovely.

"Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend" 12/21/49
WF is right – his point, in essense, being that this Leo Robin sparkler from Gentleman Prefer Blondes doesn't really seem like Stafford territory. Jo and Paul, indeed, can be found "trying gamely" with this statement of a golddigger's philosophy but, here, as they do elsewhere on occasion, they rely on their amusement rather than engagement with the material to do the work. I like Jo's street-wise "Yeah, but where can you hock it?" and the xylophone's downward glissando on the final word in "He's your guy, when stocks are high/But beware when they start to descend." The big-top accompaniment is kind of dorky but intentionally so, I imagine.

"Prisoner's Love Song" 12/19/47
Every bit as hilarious as Jo's first outing as hillbilly chantoosie Cinderella G. Stump, "Tim-tay-shun." Is this nasal neigher the same girl who makes you cry and your hair stand on end? Yup! Here, unlike on "Diamonds," she's totally immersed in character; with Red Ingle and His Natural Seven wheezing jauntily (they prove that such is possible) behind her, our gal's hollerin' about how she "can't ecscape." Probably not what crooner/"Prisoner of Love" co-author Russ Columbo had in mind, but I like to think he would have been amused.

"This is the Moment" 12/10/47
Well, I talked about this beautiful one before, but I'll add here that it's one of my favorite Jo records. Everyone who has yet to fall in love as well as all, cynical and hard, who believe they can't fall again, should hear this. ... And it's more than just the pretty Frederick Hollander tune and sweet Leo Robin lyrics – it's, most importantly, the voice, of understanding and reassurance, telling you not to pass up that true "moment"; you can't help but believe.

"The Stanley Steamer" 6/30/47
Never having seen Summer Holiday, the MGM Mickey Rooney-Gloria DeHaven-starring extravaganza from which the Harry Warren-Ralph Blane number comes, I just decided to check Amazon for a sound sample of the soundtrack version of "Steamer" – for comparative purposes. Well, I'm afraid I wasn't buoyed or made to smile by the DeHaven warbling – as I am by the Stafford-Starlighters belting. Too bad this absolutely terrific take on a very cute song wasn't in the film! Jo's always great on stuff with an old-fashioned theme, like this and "The Trolley Song."

"Candy" 12/6/44
I'm not quite sure what this Number 2 on the charts Mercer-Stafford-Pipers side, which has been available on Jo collections for years, is doing here, on a CD entitled "Rarities." ... Ah, who cares! This confectionary offering, which Mom told me you couldn't miss hearing if you stepped into a juke joint in '45, is something to be enjoyed slowly – like a chocolate-covered caramel. It's a hit that deserved to be a hit. I've always imagined that Johnny had kind of a musical crush on Jo; this is the record on which I first detected it.

"Tell Me Why" 12/31/47
Well, here we find another genuine rarity! This intended-as-but-never-issued-as-a-78 is showing up here for the first time! WF doesn't have a darn thing to say about either the record or the song itself, written by a team identified as "Gold/Alberts," so we're left to our own devices. This "Tell Me Why," unlike the better-known one which showed up seventeen years later in the groundbreaking musical, A Hard Day's Night, may not have a famous pedigree, namely "Lennon-McCartney," but it's, nevertheless, a very fine song. We could spend considerable time in talking about the two identically-titled ditties and treatments thereof! The Beatles' "Tell Me Why," from Ringo's first bomp of tom-toms, bashes you over the head, while the Stafford-Weston record takes a low-key song and, with orchestration and vocal interpretation, makes it yet more insinuating and subtle. John Lennon demands of his love a reason for shabby treatment, while Jo asks of hers an explanation for the joy-inducing effect he has on her. ... Stately and passionate seem odd words to apply to the same thing, but the mysteriously withheld Jo-Paul record is both simultaneously – potently so. Jo's final "Suddenly I'm feeling happy/So happy, I want to cry" is supernal. Here, on "Tell Me Why," is "that tone" I'm always talking about.

"White Christmas"
Well, I still think Bing owns the Berlin mega-standard, but I consider Jo my favorite among the song's many lessees. Somehow, this California girl, born and raised, makes you see the whole scene – the treetops glistening and the children listening ... and, of course, the snow – and makes you believe in the magic of Christmas. Even the Lyn Murray Singers can neither weigh her down nor yank her skyward: Jo, surrounded by drifts, we can imagine, and, tender and imperturbable, radiating good will, gifts us with a perfect reading of this homey, hope-inspiring hymn.

WF goofs in a couple of instances: neither "Give Me Something to Dream About" (available on "Stars of the Summer Night") or "White Christmas" (present on "Coming Back Like a Song") were previously unissued. ... And there are other Jo CD's, containing Capitol material, out there that I would consider more worthy – on the basis of including more of the genuine article, obscurities – of the description, "Rarities." Still, this latest effort toward transferring the Stafford recordings, in their entirety, to compact disc boasts both a wonderful sound and program and is a boon to collectors. Between you and me, it takes only one new Jo side to get me to buy.