Another Time, Another Place

One Way Passage, surrounded by lush dance music and revelers, before the bar of a Hong Kong nightclub, Joan Ames, played by the incomparable Kay Francis, and Dan Hardesty, played by suavity personified, William Powell, bump – literally – into each other. The attraction is immediate, intense – and as jarring as the bump. They share a few drops, those not spilled – in the bump – from Dan's glass, of an exotic concoction, romantically labeled a "Paradise Cocktail." Jarred, again, this time from paradise and back to reality, Joan asks if Dan would care to meet the people in her party; Dan demurs with a courtly, poetic and, we later discover, prophetic comment about the few drops of paradise allowed them by Fate. Smiling and gracious, Joan attempts a conventional good-bye; Dan counters with an exquisitely pronounced "Auf Wiedersehen," on which vocabularic premise the film's remaining sixty-some minutes proceed. It is a profoundly touching moment in one of Cinema's most poignant offerings.

Those of us who converse in English get the idea of auf Wiedersehen; absent the input of a certain German-born gentleman, a fellow web-journalist, I shall attempt an Americanized translation, aided by
The Free Dictionary's explanation: see/dig you later; so long. Auf translating to until and Wiedersehen to seeing again communicates a temporary, rather than a final, goodbye. In 1932, the year of release for One Way Passage, as the Great Depression was tightening its grip on the United States, songwriters Al Hoffman, Al Goodhart, Ed Nelson and Milton Ager offered a tender reassurance for a beaten populace that had found itself bidding, to concepts and possessions as well as to people, too many permanent goodbyes – the beautiful "Auf Wiedersehen, My Dear." Interestingly, the film that directly preceded One Way Passage for both William Powell and Kay Francis, the naughtily delightful Jewel Robbery – glaringly, gloriously Pre-Code, with its marijuana cigarettes (I'm shocked!) and casual attitude toward the bonds of matrimony – features prominently the lilting, lovely "Auf Wiedersehen, My Dear" amid the struttings of impudent and debonair jewel thief Powell and not fanatically married baroness Francis. Though One Way Passage employs the equally sentimental Al Dubin-Franke Harling "Where Was I?" as the love theme for doomed lovers Dan Hardesty and Joan Ames, Powell's delicate dropping of the German version of the French à bientôt is, we can be sure, a nod to "Auf Wiedersehen, My Dear" the popular song.

These last few days, with my recently purchased
Epiphone (OK, scoff, Gibson snobs) acoustic, I've been kicking "Auf Wiedersehen, My Dear" around the parlour. I love its melody – importunate but gentle. Though I don't croon the now sadly archaic, other-worldly words, "Come, let us stroll down Lover's Lane ..." I feel as if, in merely plucking the notes, I'm speaking in a foreign tongue. Does anyone relate to such sincere, sensitive sentiment today? I don't imagine many, if any, would care to hear my rubato renderings of '20's, '30's and '40's romantic ballads – so I don't take to the trail, guitar case in hand.

Italian-American crooner and musical prodigy (and, at the time of his death, fiance of Carole Lombard) Russ Columbo introduced me to "Auf Wiedersehen, My Dear." I've since heard no interpretation of this song to equal his. Dead, at 26, in 1934, Russ, like me, "Auf Wiedersehen, My Dear," William Powell, Kay Francis, Pre-Code Cinema ... and a lot of other things, belongs to another time and another place.

Auf Wiedersehen, My Dear
Music and Words by
Al Hoffman, Al Goodhart, Ed Nelson
Milton Ager

It happened in Vienna;
If you were there, you'd see
Two lovers in the moonlight,
Beneath a linden tree.

Sweet violins were playing;
And to his love, the lad was saying:

Come, let us stroll down Lover's Lane,
Once more to sing love's old refrain.
Soon we must say, "Auf Wiedersehen,
Auf Wiedersehen," my dear.

Here in your arms I can't remain,
So let me kiss you once again.
Soon we must say, "Auf Wiedersehen,
Auf Wiedersehen," my dear.

Your love will cling to me,
Through the lonely daytime.
Each night will bring to me
The magic memory of Maytime.

I know my heart won't beat again
Until the day we meet again.
Sweetheart, goodbye, auf Wiedersehen,
Auf Wiedersehen, my dear.

The Look ... and Lonely

Taking in my usual high quotient of late '40's flicks, I've run into the redoubtable team of Bogie and Bacall twice this week
– re-screening (yet again) two of my favorites, 1947's romantic noir, Dark Passage (spoken of, in Relative Esoterica, here), and the following year's gangster drama, Key Largo (discussed, in RE, here). Perhaps with solitariness – volitional or circumstantial – on the brain, I've found myself thinking about what struck me through these closely held viewings of the two films: Dubbed, upon her introduction to the world at large, "The Look" for her cool, in-control, eyes-at-half-mast gaze, Bacall, in her cinematic aspect, is a loner – and this is one of the chief reasons why she paired so exquisitely in celluloid with quintessential lone wolf Bogart. Yes, opposites, we know, attract – both each other in the real world and, projecting themselves from the make-believe of the silver screen, audiences. The same, though, can be said for sames.

In Dark Passage, when Bogart's escaped convict Vincent Parry, asks Bacall's artist-heiress Irene Jansen, "Don't you get lonely up here, all by yourself?" she – desirable and desired – responds, "I was born lonely, I guess." Through the actress' delivery, the character, clearly, is both resignedly lonely and at once naturally and preferentially a loner. Irene Jansen, despite the dissimilarity between her circumstances and Parry's (both those on display in the present and those we must imagine for the past leading to his incarceration), is just the right girl to come to the aid of a fleeing, emotionally beaten man who, for a chatty cabbie's benefit, comments on his own dislike for talk with a dry, matter-of-fact "Yup, that's why I don't have many friends." Irene and Vincent are star-crossed lovers – and loners.

In Key Largo, Captain Frank McLeod and Nora Temple are both just meeting and – through their connection, the now dead George Temple, Nora's husband and Frank's army buddy and underling well-acquainted. Seeing the quiet, hard-working young woman's current situation – companion to and caretaker for her father-in-law and proprietess of an island hotel, with no man in sight – Frank (echoing Vincent Parry) inquires "You're never lonely?" and Nora offers a slight and ambiguous shake of the head. Sketching her past, she follows with, "George tell you, I met him at a USO dance. He was lonesome, and he wanted company. I was working in a defense plant; I knew lots of people, but I was lonesome, too." Like Irene Jansen, Nora is both separated by her nature from the hordes and in need of the understanding of one person. Frank, another in a long line of Bogart rugged individualists, venturing that now, the War over, he might take to the sea as a "hand on a fishing boat," declares, "Life on land's become too complicated for my taste." Though Nora explains her sense of place and rootedness with "Now, I'm like one of these mangroves" and Frank, conversely, is, at this time, feeling footloose, having had enough of pre-War and War ties, roots and responsibilities, they are alike: lonesome loners. In a nice, twins-over-as-well-as-under-the-skin touch, they even wear matching white button-down shirts through the entire film.

Bacall, almost immediately iconic upon her mid-'40's slink to fame, was the perfect female counterpart to the great Bogart. The two, individually, were cool; as a screen team, bringing to mind the lyrics of the beautiful, noiresque "Alone Together," they were cooler.

Alone Together
Music by Arthur Schwartz, Words by Howard Dietz

Alone together, above the crowd;
Beyond the world, we're not too proud –
To cling together;
We're strong as long as we're together.

Alone together, the blinding rain,
The starless night were not in vain –
For we're together.
And what is there to fear together?

Our love is as deep as the sea;
Our love is as great as a love can be.

And we can weather the great unknown
If we're alone together.

"So begins another spring"

Well, today, this first day of spring, I think I'll follow yesterday's post about Donovan with ... another post about Donovan – and spring. Early this evening, somebody who has been stuck inside for a few days asked me how the weather was. Responding that it was in the upper '40's, I realized that it was March 21 – always an important date in my book, even if it takes me until late in the day to note its presence.

A few hours back, Nelson and I took our nightly stroll. It was 46 Fahrenheit, calm and, with daylight savings time coming earlier now, still light. Nelson, the boss, took us on our longest walk so far this year. It seems he, too, knew this is a special day. ... Much as I love music, I'm not one of those people to be found with a skinny black cord trailing from their ear and leading to an attached Walkman; when I leave the house, music is pouring from the speakers, as it is when I return – but while I'm outside, I want to hear the song of nature. As the lad and I made our way about, I thought, yet again, of the walks, of which I have read, of two people whose artistic efforts I admire: George Arliss and Daphne du Maurier. Each, it seems, loved to tramp, canine companion at heel (or running merrily ahead), England's countryside – changeless, we can romantically imagine, but by seasons. Sometimes Nelson and I go, in my mind, with George; sometimes with Daphne.

When my new Donovan CD's were trickling in, via the post, a few weeks ago, I fell in love with a song from what, in album form, was the second record, "For the Little Ones, " of the singer/songwriter/musician's two-part "A Gift from a Flower to a Garden." This celebration of the season of rebirth is called "The Lullaby of Spring." There is mystery in the minor chords – immaculately rendered, in this performance, by solo acoustic guitar – and wonder in the words, so richly evocative of the most magical time in the year.

The Lullaby of Spring
Music and Words by Donovan Leitch

Rain has showered far her drip;
Splash and trickle running.
Plant has flowered in the sand;
Shell and pebble sunning.

So begins another spring;
Green leaves and of berries.
Chiffchaff eggs are painted by.
Mother bird eating cherries.

In a misty tangled sky,
Fast a wind is blowing.
In a newborn rabbit's heart,
River life is flowing.

So begins another spring;
Green leaves and of berries.
Chiffchaff eggs are painted by
Mother bird eating cherries.

From the dark and whetted soil,
Petals are unfolding.
From the stoney village kirk
Easter bells of old ring.

So begins another spring;
Green leaves and of berries.
Chiffchaff eggs are painted by
Mother bird eating cherries.

Rain has showered far her drip;
Splash and trickle running.
Plant has flowered in the sand;
Shell and pebble sunning.

So begins another spring;
Green leaves and of berries.
Chiffchaff eggs are painted by
Mother bird eating cherries

Redigging Donovan

A few of months ago, if you had expressed interest, I could have told you about my fascination, occurring through my British '60's-obsessed teenage years, with Donovan. I would have talked about having heard the chart-toppers, by then not contemporary, when I was a small tot but not really becoming curious until I sat down, at thirteen or so, with my eldest sister's well-worn, oft-played LP copy of "Donovan's Greatest Hits" and tuned in. This is how it went:

I was enormously intrigued by the almost discordant -seeming, slightly disorienting "Epistle to Dippy," with its thudding electric guitar and bass opening, harpsichord, strings and hipster lyrics ("elevator in the brain hotel" particularly delighted me). "Sunshine Superman," "Season of the Witch" and "Wear Your Love like Heaven" transported me to the first past – in which I, born in 1966, was not a significant participant – that I idealized, the Psychedelic Era. The closing track, "Lalena," struck me as beautiful but almost unbearably poignant. Sitting in a corner of my basement, surrounded by my stereo equipment, records and, of course, guitar, I looked at the picture booklet included in the "open-out" album; seeing the shot (shown above) of the very young, pre-fame Donovan, parked at a piano but chording on a twelve-string guitar, his hair so closely-cropped that his trademark waves are not apparent ... and the one, now iconic, in which he, barefooted, clothed in a long gown and holding a peacock fan, gazes out to sea from where he reposes, enclosed front, back and above by a stone structure, I wondered What sort of person is this Hurdy Gurdy Man, who creates vivid and enticing pictures with his song poetry, sings sometimes in a reverb-simulating voice, and gently but not at all tentatively – just masterfully – strums and picks an acoustic?

For the next several years, still loyal to what can came from the British Isles in the '60's and can loosely be termed rock and folk, I listened to Donovan, as enchanted as ever by his imagery and the sort of trill, not at all precious, with which he often presented it. I bought copies of "Mellow Yellow" and "The Hurdy Gurdy Man" as well as an album representing his introductory period (in which he was labeled, by a label-obsessed press, "The British Bob Dylan"), which, I was to find, contained tracks from both his first, "What's Bin Did and What's Bin Hid" and second, "Fairytale" LP outings. The cover of a Shawn Phillips composition, "Little Tin Soldier," from the early collection made me sad; I listened least of all to the record on which it appeared, which I acquired last. I logged countless hours with "Mellow" and "Hurdy" – from the former, I especially loved "Writer in the Sun," "Sand and Foam," "House of Jansch" (I didn't know then who Jansch was; thanks, Tom, for enlightening me), "Young Girl Blues," "Hampstead Incident" and "Sunny South Kensington"; from the latter, the title track and "Get Thy Bearings."

In short, I could have told you much, composed of both minutiae and superficialities, about my long-held passion for Donovan – but I could not, in these more recent times, have expressed my intensity of feeling about his music, because it's all but impossible, perhaps genuinely impossible, to reheat, re-experience, and then accurately communicate an emotional response, even one sustained over a period of years. I can, though, tell you now about my present rediscovery of Donovan and my new interpretation of his music and its magic.

Last October, having been inspired by Will Hodgkinson's funny-as-heck, illuminating and "it's never too late"-themed Guitar Man, I returned to the six-string guitar (so much for this). A great deal had happened in my music listening life since I first was playing this instrument in earnest and digging Donovan. I had discovered jazz and swing! One of the reasons, in fact, that I had abandoned the guitar is that I felt unable to adapt myself to the greater demands of playing jazz after years of strumming harmonically simple barre chords in a rock setting. Anyway, all of a sudden back to my first love (and seemingly overnight in possession of some new guitars, bought with savings), I started thinking about what I wanted to do this time around with the six-string. I had realized in my tenor-playing days that I had a yen to become proficient as a solo guitarist in the chord melody style ... and also that I had no desire to sing (I'm not bad – I mean, I sing in tune ... but I'm no Jo Stafford.) Since being turned on to Davy Graham's staggeringly diverse music, I've been making an effort to expose myself to more ... stuff and people – to allow myself to be influenced as well as to enjoy that thrill of discovery. Sometimes, I've learned, discovery can actually be rediscovery. I found myself, in considering what can be done with one little ol' guitar, remembering the Donovan concert – just the man and his guitar – that I attended in ... oh, I guess it was '87, and how impressed I'd been by his ability both to suggest, with just that one guitar, some of the complex arrangements that were used for his records and breathe new life into songs he'd surely performed thousands of times. This, I understood now more deeply, was something by which to be inspired.

... Well, I can't say it was déjà vu all over again, as I'm no longer quite so starry-eyed about some of the aspects of the time in which the Scottish singer/songwriter/musician rose to fame, once very much caught up in my appreciation of his music, but I am, yet again – decades after I thought I was moving on to something else – an ardent admirer of the great Donovan. Funny thing is, I see now that way back when, before I was officially a jazz fan, I was grooving to the snazzy arrangements that John Cameron cooked up for Don's hits and album cuts, which contain elements, now unmistakable to me, of both jazz and swing. I hesitate to use the word, as it somehow seems to impart something much less, cheaper, than what I want it to, but Donovan, regarded at least at first primarily as a folkie and later as a prime exponent of psychedelic music (whatever that, technically, is), was "jazzy." ... Ah, I hate labels. It wasn't apparent to me when I was a young fan, as I knew nothing about jazz, but Donovan, I've realized in this rediscovery, dug jazz – I didn't need the confirmation I've found in reading up on the guy in these past weeks.

Donovan, both then was and now is, associated with a positive message – which might best be represented musically by major chords – but I've been pleased to note again all that minor chord melancholy – "Sand and Foam," "Young Girl Blues," "Hampstead Incident." I love those moody, ruminative minor chords, and Donovan employed them most effectively.

I've been on a regular Donovan buying spree lately, securing compact disc copies of
"Fairytale," "Sunshine Superman," "Mellow Yellow," "Donovan in Concert," "A Gift from a Flower to a Garden," "The Hurdy Gurdy Man" and "Barabajagal." The extremely familiar as well as the entirely new, which includes all those lovely, spare demo recordings that have been so generously included in the CD reissues, are thrilling me. I await the arrival of "Sunshine Superman – The Journey of Donovan," the three-hours-plus documentary of whose 2008 release I just learned. Whew ... much material to absorb. Last night, I watched my newly acquired copy of "Donovan Live in L.A. at the Kodak Theatre," which captures a master musician, singer and songwriter (in the company of a fine double-bassist and percussionist) nodding to a magical musical past that seemed to represent infinite possibilities; speaking, with total relevance, in the present and looking optimistically toward the future. Before launching into "Happiness Runs," for which he, as he had when I saw him over twenty years ago, instructed the "boys" and "girls" in their parts for the sing-a-long, Donovan made an acknowledgment of the song's use in a Cheerios commericial: He mentioned that the Wall Street Journal had (clearly chidingly) inquired if he was "selling-out" by leasing his song for the purpose of hawking something and then explained that he was "selling in" – "The songs must go to the largest audience," he succinctly put it .

Happiness runs in a circular motion.
Thought is like a little boat upon the sea.
Ev'rybody is a part of ev'rything, anyway.
You can have ev'rything if you let yourself be.

It's a good message – for ev'rybody.

Do watch Will Hodgkinson's excellent, probing interview with Donovan – begin here.

Fearsome Attraction

In the noir masterpiece, The Woman in the Window
, a middle-aged associate professor of psychology and a beautiful ... well, she's a courtesan, who have just met, converse over drinks at a local nightclub. The woman asks the man if he would care to take her home, so that he might view (in a variation on etchings) an artist's sketches of her. When the man shows reluctance, the woman, flirtatiously, incredulously and mock-innocently, asks "You mean you're afraid? Of me?"

See the scene (plus a little more at either end)

Are we not more often plagued by fear of those things and people with which we desire contact (of one kind or another) than those with which we do not?

Serenade for a Forgotten Maverick

The name Reginald Foresythe first came to my attention, in the relative infancy of my love affair with jazz and swing, as that belonging to the composer of a harmonically intriguing, amusingly titled song that was winningly rendered by Fats Waller and His Rhythm, "Serenade for a Wealthy Widow." The artist behind the unmistakably British handle remained, for several years, a man of mystery – until a few days ago, when I listened for the first time to the BVHAAST label's recently released "The New Music Of Reginald Foresythe" – which I purchased entirely on the strength of the fascination that the aforementioned "Serenade" held for me – and read its accompanying notes.

In 1934, as Reginald Foresythe's fame approached its height, his "Serenade for a Wealthy Widow" outdistanced the competition in sheet music sales (the cleverly constructed charmer, originally an instrumental piece, eventually received the additional pedigree of a Dorothy Fields lyric), then a more accurate indicator of song material popularity than record sales – and yet the pianist, composer, arranger and bandleader's artistic vision ultimately proved too avant garde for a Depression-era general public accustomed to more straightforward, easily categorizable music.

Born, in 1907, to an African father (a lawyer, from the Sierra Leonean community in Lagos, Nigeria) and an English mother of Scottish and German ancestry, Reginald Foresythe – his racially mixed background, alone ahead of its time, would give rise, among provincial fans, to confusion about his ethnicity, which the adult entertainer playfully did nothing to dispel in interviews – grew up in West London, where he received piano lessons as a child. Not yet fully grown, Foresythe got his professional start working dances as a member of the band of a neighbor, a veteran of the Boer War and composer of marches. The talented young pianist found himself in demand to play locally but, at this point, rather than attempting to make a career in music, chose to utilize his language skills under the employment of a translating bureau.

In 1929, Reginald Foresythe got his first substantial musical opportunity when he signed on to accompany blues singer Zaidee Jackson, popular among the day's chic set, for Paris engagements. The pianist then teamed with vocalist Walter Richardson and headed for Australia; though, owing to the light tenor's stylistic dissimilarity to the highly esteemed Paul Robeson, this sojourn proved less successful, the pair's eventual migration to California, via Hawaii, led to Foresythe's entrance into privileged musical circles. Intriguing with his accent and cultured background, the handsome musician was welcomed into black nightlife; he performed at smart soirees and dances and recorded with bandleader Paul Howard, whose aggregation included Lionel Hampton and future Ellingtonian, Lawrence Brown. In Hollywood, Foresythe thrived – meeting and then arranging for Duke Ellington himself; the two later would collaborate on material for a Cotton Club revue. Too, the pianist applied his emergent compositional skills to film, writing for, among other projects, D. W. Griffith's Abraham Lincoln.

Foresythe then moved on to the mid west's jazz mecca, Chicago, homebase to pianist Earl Hines; the two newly acquainted aces of the 88's cooked up the Hines Orchestra's moody theme song, "Deep Forest." The author of the BVHAAST CD's liner notes, Val Wilmer, believes that a musical exchange took place when Foresythe came to America, wherein the Englishman, now in jazz's homeland, absorbed the defining elements of our New Orleans-born improvisational music as well as influenced – through his admiration of, for example, Delius, and his knowledge of the classics – American pianists, such as Hines, Fats Waller and Teddy Wilson, who themselves were to exert tremendous influence.

In addition to arranging for Hines and Ellington, Foresythe provided charts for a big band led by Wild Bill Davison; unfortunately, these scores have not survived, but the cornettist himself fondly recalled "all that screaming brass and wonderful chords." Before ending his rewarding stay in the States and returning to England to launch his own bandleading venture, Foresythe met with smiling baton waver and shrewd judge of talent, Paul "King of Jazz" Whiteman, who commissioned new works from the pianist.

In 1933, Reginald Foresythe's New Music, featuring the uncommon lineup of saxophones, two clarinets and a bassoon in place of the more familiar brass-reed combination, opened at London's Café de la Paix. Ironically, though the orchestra's debut met with great anticipation, English audiences, finding Foresythe's music not conducive to dancing, revealed themselves not ready for Foresythe's outre ideas. Fortunately for future generations (a minute percentage of which might be enjoying the BVHAAST Foresythe disc today), listeners in the States received Foresythe's progressive sounds warmly and looked upon the sophisticated bandleader as an artist in the Ellington mould.

Foresythe returned to New York in 1934 to appear, as featured soloist, with Paul Whiteman's orchestra; given the segregation firmly in place both in and out of the entertainment industry of the times, the significance of this honor accorded the black musician cannot be overstated. The following year, Foresythe was back in America to record, as leader, in the company of future swing stars Benny Goodman, Gene Krupa and John Kirby, among others.

The mid-1930's was a period of high activity and visibility for Reginald Foresythe. In England, he accompanied singers (one of whom, Judy Shirley, rhapsodized, "[E]veryone knew he'd always make you sound good."), wrote for the theatre and films and recorded a series of duets, which garnered accolades, with the Scottish Arthur Young. In 1937, Foresythe was back in New York; he provided scores for a pioneering effort, a "Negro ballet," and attended white-tie affairs, at which he duetted with the formidable Fats Waller. As the decade wore down, so too did Foresythe's productivity; maintaining his creative momentum began to take a backseat to keeping up a frantic social pace. The Englishman, still admired by the musical cognoscenti but now drifting professionally, opted to drink and revel with friends in Harlem dives. After suffering a street-attack, he recuperated in Duke Ellington's apartment.

The Second World War having commenced, Foresythe was drafted into the RAF, with an officer's ranking. The Britisher served at remote Scottish air-bases and then, following VE Day, entertained troops throughout the Continent. Upon his return home, Reginald Foresythe was attached to an official film unit in the capacity of composer. The remainder of the 1940's saw the pianist touring Europe as a solo concert artist for the British Council, recording show tunes with a modernist quartet, working in Paris and, finally back at home, playing out the summer seasons at a West Country hotel.

On the eve of the Rock & Roll Era, Reginald Foresythe was living in London but belonged to the dead past. He worked for a music publisher and continued to compose music – but nothing of import; once musically ahead of the times, he had become something of an an anachronism, an artifact of a sophisticated day long gone. He spent the last of his all too small allotment of years suffering from heart trouble and existing in genteel poverty – according to Val Wilmer, to whose illuminating liner notes I am deeply indebted, "eking out a living" and "playing background music in seedy rooms barely deserving of the name 'clubs,'" for an audience undoubtedly ignorant of his past accomplishments. Reginald Foresythe died, at the close of 1958, at the age of 51.

As might be expected, the CD, "The New Music of Reginald Foresythe" is made up entirely of performances of compositions of the forward-thinking Foresythe. The first fifteen tracks come from the bandleader's own The New Music of Reginald Foresythe, the self-explanatory name he gave to the instrumentationally unusual outfits he captained in the 1930's. The remaining eleven tracks present various '30's interpretations of Foresythe songs; the bands of Lew Stone, Fats Waller and Paul Whiteman in turn take on "Serenade for a Wealthy Widow"; Hines delivers his signature, "Deep Forest"; and the King of Jazz, leading a '35 crew that includes Jack Teagarden and Frank Trumbauer, offers, in addition to "Widow," fine readings of the Hines theme and "Dodging a Divorcee," "The Duke Insists," and "Garden of Weed." In my opinion, most conventional – though dramatically and effectively delivered by Louis Armstrong – is "Mississippi Basin," with a South-extolling lyric by Fats Waller's most frequent collaborator, Andy Razaf. Apart from the Waller recording, it is the New Music sides that really interest me. This, I must say, is not the sort of stuff I'd put in the car's CD player or use as a background to light conversation; the Forseythe records are, in my little world, for library listening. There are the shifting moods of "Berceuse for an Unwanted Child" (Foresythe's witty titling pre-dated Raymond Scott's whimsy by a few years); the mysterious atmosphere of one of my favorites, the enigmatically named "Bit" and the sad stateliness of "The Autocrat Before Breakfast." Most beautiful of all, perhaps, is the piano solo "Because It's Love," a song Foresythe dedicated to his friend, the American singer, Elizabeth Welch. The last four New Music sides, recorded at the beginning of 1935, are obscure must-hear's for swing aficionados: Benny Goodman and Gene Krupa lend their unmistakable sounds to the Foresythe's sonic pallette. It could be said that Reginald Foresythe was an Impressionist, using soft hues, in a landscape of Realists.

Of Lamplighters

Having finally gotten 'round to reading Niven Busch's 1948 novel, The Furies (my copy of which came with
Criterion's DVD release of the film by the same title, starring the great Barbara Stanwyck and Walter Huston), a few days ago, as I neared the book's conclusion, I happened upon an especially pleasing paragraph:

In the street the lamplighter was going from pole to pole, turning on the gaslights; fog rolled in from the harbor, shrouding each light in a soiled halo and wrapping the home-going crowds in mystery.

In reading Busch's painterly passage, I was instantly reminded of Paul Francis Webster's poignant lyrics for "The Lamplighter's Serenade," which were set to Hoagy Carmichael's wistful melody.

The Lamplighter's Serenade
Music by Hoagy Carmichael,
Words by Paul Francis Webster

My, how times goes flying back;
It's eighteen ninety-three.
As from a one-horse open hack,
There steps a grand old memory.

A moment after dark, around the park,
An old-fashioned gent comes parading.
Dressed in funny clothes, but singing as he goes
"The Lamplighter's Serenade."

The old boy loves to talk with couples on the walk;
But when it's half after love time,
He reaches for his sticks and from his bag of tricks,
He lights ev'ry star in the sky.

And if a lady or a beau should answer, "No,"

He sprinkles their hearts with his magic.
Then he steals away to sing another day,
"The Lamplighter's Serenade."

This morning, remembering that today, this first day of March, is the one hundred and fifth anniversary of the birth of bandleader, arranger and trombonist Glenn Miller, I thought again of the beautifully nostalgic Carmichael-Webster collaboration; the Glenn Miller Orchestra, that Swing Era aggregation which, perhaps more than any other, brings to vivid life, through its recordings, a somewhat distant past, produced my favorite version of "The Lamplighter's Serenade." The appropriately slow and dreamy side ranks easily among my favorites by Miller. In my travels, upon printed page and through cyberspace, I haven't been able to locate an arranger credit, but I want to attribute this lovely chart to Bill Finegan, an immensely talented chap who did his painting with black dots. I love the Ray Eberle and Modernaires vocals; particularly nifty, I think, is the way in which, in the introduction and coda, the quartet, anticipating doo-wop, echoes the trombone choir's figure.

In one way, Glenn Miller, like the lamplighter, is part of a time capsule, someone enclosed and suspended in an irretrievable past. In another, he is – again through his recordings – a part of a perpetual now.

Speaking of the continuing relevance and power of popular music recordings of one period in the 20th century, the ever-opinionated Artie Shaw had this to say, in an interview for George Simon's
The Big Bands:

[...] But then, take the energy and ferocity of what was going on in the late thirties and early forties. That's hard to beat. It's hard to top what a Basie does or an Ellington does at his peak. It's hard to top what I was doing at my peak, or what Benny [Goodman] was doing at his peak, or Tommy [Dorsey] at his. You see, I didn't mention Glenn [Miller], because Glenn, too, was the recipient of an enormous amount of mass publicity—the fact that he died in the mysterious circumstances that he died in, and all that. But musically, his was essentially ground-out music—ground-out like so many sausages. [...]

Sausages. Hmmm ... Well, that's one way of looking at it. If this were so, however, I don't believe we'd be talking today about Miller's late '30's-early '40's recordings any more than we would about last Thursday's pot roast. When I hear Glenn Miller's music, I think not of sausages, to be ingested, digested and forgotten, but both of lamplighters and their gas lights, icons illuminating the past – and the timelessness of the romantic emotions that this music stirs.