16 December 2007

A Yuletide Frolic II : Sinners' Holiday

Greetings of the Season!

For this entry, it's all about music and imagery --- and we'll set aside observation, analysis and criticism for the long winter days ahead.

Some interesting items are planned for the coming weeks and months --- including a feature-length examination of the infamous and seemingly lost 1933 pre-code scorcher "Convention City," so stay tuned!

Don't try to explain the image at left --- I can't either! Likewise, for this free-form entry, don't try to connect up the images with the audio and commentary --- just let it roll over you and enjoy this holiday offering, dear readers!

We'll begin with two magnificent recordings by Ben Black & His Orchestra dating from August of 1927, the incredibly lush and melodic "Moonlit Waters" and an odd re-working of the solemn and familiar "Going Home" tricked up in evening clothes and appearing here as "Sailing On." The rustle of silk, highly scented floral arrangements, and the shuffle of feet across a polished ballroom floor countless evenings ago can be palpably felt in these two recordings.

"Moonlit Waters" (1927) Ben Black & His Orchestra

"Sailing On" (1927) Ben Black & His Orchestra

Similarly, the image that comes to mind in the following 1927 recording of "At Sundown" by Lynn Cowan's Loew's State Theater Orchestra is that of Mary Eaton as Gloria Hughes in Paramount's "Glorifying the American Girl" --- sitting at a dingy dressing room table between performances, eagerly opening a much battered and multi-labeled parcel from the boy she left behind in her quest for fame. The chirpy melody is heard on the film's soundtrack --- in stark contrast to the wistful and bittersweet expression that plays out on Eaton's face as she examines the simple gift of an inexpensive mirrored jewelry box.

"At Sundown" (1927) Lynn Cowan's Loew's State Theater Orchestra

I'm continually surprised by just how diverse the readers of these pages are --- an incredible cross-section of geographic locations, careers and specific interests, yet all sharing one common interest and somehow finding their way here for information and entertainment. Truly gratifying!

One such reader is Australian resident Phillip Sametz who, with his Sydney based dance band "The Mell-O-Tones," has an incredible knack for replicating period tunes and performing them via live, recorded and broadcast venues.

Performing vintage melodies "straight," with little or no elaboration and quite without the often horrendous touches that transform similar attempts into well-meaning but misdirected high camp, The Mell-O-Tones are a tonic.

"Mona" (Happy Days-1930) - Vocal by P. Sametz

Seeking more? Visit the Mell-O-Tones official CD link! Thanks to Phillip Sametz and Martin Buzzacot for allowing this worthwhile endorsement!

Rudy Vallee's 1928 rendition of "Let's Do It" (a tune inexplicably dropped from both stage and screen versions of Irene Bordoni's starring vehicle "Paris") is wonderful late jazz-age nonsense, so it's only appropriate that Vallee is given the equally nonsensical billing of "Frank Mater" on this Harmony 78rpm disc recording.

"Let's Do It" (1928) Frank Mater

And, now's as good a place as any to welcome in Frankie Marvin (Johnny's brother) and Ed Smalle for as fine a rendition of "Caressing You" as you're ever likely to hear --- anywhere, at any price. (Stock up now!)

"Caressing You" (1929)

An entire post could easily be devoted to Alice White --- and soon shall be --- ("Alice White Forges to Fore in Films Despite Hollywood's 'Anvil Chorus' That She's Dumb and Unable to Act!" screamed one August 1929 article, proving that public taste hasn't changed all that much) but in the meantime, let's gaze at Miss White as she gazes back at nothing in particular, and listen to one of the featured melodies from the sorely overlooked 1930 "Show Girl in Hollywood," performed here by Ed Lloyd & His Orchestra:

"I've Got My Eye On You" (1930)

Another familiar --- but somewhat more focused, female personality of the period, Zelma O'Neal, steps forward now... and it's best to let her have her way and offer a musical plea from the 1929 Radio film "Syncopation," otherwise known as:

"Do Something" (1929)

"Six hundred gorgeous costumes were designed and produced by the wardrobe department at MGM in less than a month for 'The Hollywood Revue,' by a force of 150 seamstresses."

"'Every costume for the revue was manufactured on our own lot within 30 days,' said Joseph Rapf, head of the wardrobe department. 'All the material was purchased here with the exception of a special, transparent rubberized material which could not be found on the coast.'"

Here's Teddy Joyce and his Penn State Recorders, boldly proclaiming --- despite Miss Crawford's gray shroud of a costume ---

"Gotta Feelin' For You" (1929)

--- and, while the microphone and glass tubes are suitably hot, here's Jesse Stafford and His Orchestra to more than do justice to a tune Helen Kane introduced in the 1929 Paramount film "Sweetie":

"The Prep Step" (1929)

Organist Milton Charles, a familiar name and dour face to these pages, provides the music in the next two 1928 covers of tunes featured in Jolson's "The Singing Fool," while the vocals are provided by Ned Miller --- and they so effortlessly transport the listener to a moment in time that the effect is somewhat startling:

"Sonny Boy" (1928) and "There's A Rainbow 'Round My Shoulder" (1928)

Call Davey Lee back to your knee before he scampers away to the witness stand to help convict you of murder (in "Say It With Songs")
Mr. Jolson, and instead let's have a go at another rendition of "Sonny Boy" that has a beautiful, Christmas-like motif about it. Our musicians are Bob Haring & His Velvetone Orchestra, folks:

"Sonny Boy" (1929)

There's something about the female vocalist on the next two recordings --- credited here as "Virginia Lee," which more than reminds me of the young lady ("Dottie Lewis") who performs "I Ain't That Kind of Baby" in the wonderful 1927 Vitaphone short "The Night Court." Hmm....

Here, Miss Lee performs two Vitaphone related melodies, "I'd Rather Be Blue Over You" (from "My Man") and "Who Wouldn't Be Jealous Of You?" which was deftly handled in a 1929 one-reel short by that wonder child herself, Baby Rose Marie.

"I'd Rather Be Blue Over You" (1929) Virginia Lee

"Who Wouldn't Be Jealous of You?" (1929) Virginia Lee

For those who can't get enough of "I'd Rather Be Blue," and don't mind a male vocalist in lieu of Fannie Brice or Virginia Lee, here's another perfectly adequate 1929 rendition by:

Vincent Richards and His Dance Orchestra

Harmony, close or otherwise, looms large in this next clutch of melodies! First, two selections pay homage to the legendary Ziegfeld stage production of "Whoopee!" --- featuring selections that, for a variety of sad and peculiar reasons, didn't make it into the 1930 Technicolor screen version.

The first, a so-lovely-it's-almost-painful rendition by Ruth Etting --- and then, Bob Haring's Velvetone Orchestra (The Colonial Club Orchestra in disguise) returns for a medley featuring "Makin' Whoopee," "I'm Bringing a Red, Red Rose," a mere flash of "Come West Little Girl" and then, the always magnificent Vaughn DeLeath puts over "Love Me Or Leave Me" before the roof is blown off by an orchestra reprise that apparently tossed the needle off the record too! Fine, fine stuff here...

"I'm Bringing A Red, Red Rose" (1928) Ruth Etting

Medley from "Whoopee!" (1928)

From early March of 1926, we have an early incarnation of The Revelers and a new recording technology that allowed for not only electrical recordings of superb fidelity, but also somewhat (35% to 50%!!) longer recording time. Here, we have Franklyn Baur, Ed Smalle, Elliott Shaw and Wilfred Glenn providing the vocals --- and, supplementing the Brunswick Orchestra, Frederic Fradkin and Rudy Wiedoeft.

"The Merrymaker's Carnival" (1926) - Side One
and Side Two

Included: "Schon Rosmarin," "Just One More Waltz With You," "Saxema," "My Bundle Of Love," "Lolly Pops," "The Prisoner's Song," "I Love My Baby" and "In My Gondola."

Let's maintain a pseudo high-brow motif for a moment longer, and usher in two similarly refined recordings before knocking over the crystal vase at our elbow and being forcibly removed:

"Deep Night" (1929) Bob Haring's Velvetone Orchestra

"My Love Parade" (1929) Smith Ballew & His Orchestra

The supremely melodic 1928 tune "Lila" may be familiar to early sound fans who've seen little Grace Rogers perform it in a Metrotone one-reel subject included on the DVD release of "The Broadway Melody," but if you've yet to discover it --- or have avoided it owing to Master of Ceremonies Harry Rose, here's something just as good (and less cringe inducing):

"Lila" (1928) Tony Young's Ramblers

Likewise, 1928's "I Just Roll Along" may forever be linked in the minds of readers with The Foy Family's Vitaphone short subject, but that doesn't mean the melody wasn't deftly handled elsewhere --- and here's Irving Kaufman (with The Okeh Melodians) to prove just that!

"I Just Roll Along" (1928) The Okeh Melodians

Did someone say "Ted Lewis?" No? I thought not. I'll send him away while we listen to two tunes from his lost 1929 Vitaphone feature "Is Everybody Happy," but you've got to back me up, guys... (I was about to say "he swings a mean cornet," but thought better of it. Ok, ok...)

"I'm The Medicine Man For the Blues" - The Yaban Radio Orchestra, vocal by Billy Murray

"Wouldn't It Be Wonderful?" - The LaPalina Broadcasters, vocal by Irving (yes!) Kaufman

Nothing says "Christmas" more than Al Jolson or Hawaiian guitars --- so while Lois Moran and Mr. Jolson busy themselves, we have two absolute corkers of early talkie tunes --- which defy logic and instead lend themselves beautifully to the plaintive strains of the Hawaiian guitar and unique interpretation of virtuoso King Benny Nawahi:

"Under A Texas Moon" (1930)

"Singing in the Bathtub" (1929)

If you sunburn easily and don't care for pineapple, here's The Paramount Rhythm Boys giving the first tune a skillful once-over (which was apparently lifted intact to serve as main title music for the 1930 Ruth Etting Vitaphone short "Roseland!")

"Under A Texas Moon" (1930) P.R.B.

To close out this holiday edition of "Vitaphone Varieties," --- four exceptional recordings.

"Dust," performed here by Bernie Cummins and The Hotel New Yorker Orchestra, is from the 1930 Metro film "Children of Pleasure," a perfectly wonderful and woefully overlooked showcase for actor Lawrence Gray who, himself, is rather wonderful and woefully overlooked, come to think of it.

"Dust" (1930)

Two unapologetically sentimental melodies --- one a standard, the other all but forgotten (from RKO's 1929 "The Vagabond Lover") --- but both mighty powerful.

"Together" (1928) Arnold Johnson & His Paramount Hotel Orchestra

"The One in the World" (1929) Ed Lloyd & His Orch.

And, lastly, we close with another rendition of the same tune that opened this frolic, "Moonlit Waters," performed here by an old friend to these pages --- Franklyn Baur, accompanied by The Columbians.

"Moonlit Waters" (1927)

"You're gone from me,
still in my memory,
we always will be together"

Until Next Time!
Happy Holidays!


The Mell-O-Tones
(Bandleader & Vocalist Phillip Sametz, 2nd from right - at piano.)

Bonus Audio:
"Here Comes Emily Brown" (1930)


Unknown said...

Thanks for all the wonderful work Jeff, and Happy Holidays to you and yours.
Love & Peace, Clarence

Joe Thompson said...

Jeff: Thanks for the holiday wishes and another enjoyable post. I thought about you this morning when I looked at the Sunday "San Francisco Chronicle" and found an article about the speakeasies of San Francisco. It included Coffee Dan's, which you wrote about back in June. I hope this url works:

I have heard rumors of modern places that try to recreate the speakeasy ambience, and the article confirms them. I have to find and visit a couple of these places.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you and yours,
Joe Thompson ;0)

William Ferry said...

Hi Jeff!
Yet another wonderful potpourri. Happy Holidays to you and yours. And do my eyes deceive me, or could that GLORIFYING poster be from my beloved Newton Theatre in Newton, NJ? (Still extant, by the way, albeit twinned. Happily though, with its balcony and pipe organ also intact!)
All the best,
William Ferry

Anonymous said...

Hi, Jeff,

Wonderful page with some great stuff. I feel like your proofreader. The Paramount Rhythm Boys link for Under A Texas Moon doesn't seem to be working. If you click on it you get a page not found error and if you right click (using Windows) to save as an MP3 your only option is to save as an HTML file. Everything else works fine. I haven't listened to all the clips yet but those I have heard are "cherce" as Spencer Tracy might say. Thanks again.

Jonas Nordin said...

Hi Jeff, Thank you for a very entertaining post indeed! I had never heard of The Mell-O-Tones before. Hot socks! What a band!
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from a cold Stockholm.


Stacia said...

As always, your entries are pure pleasure to read. Happy holidays, Jeff!

Jeff Cohen said...

Thanks one and all for the kind words and warm wishes --- ditto back at each and every one of you!

Ben, thanks for the heads-up on the mp3 glitch --- which is now fixed. Never fails, each post has at least one gremlin embedded somewhere within it just waiting to strike! Can't thank you enough for your quality control! :)