I is for Ivie Anderson. Ivie is best known for her work with the Duke Ellington Orchestra. But she also appeared in several musical shorts and a few feature films including the Marx Brothers “A Day At The Races.” Ivie developed chronic athsma in 1942 which cut her career and her life tragically short but she did leave a decade’s worth of fantastic music. Here’s a Duke Ellington soundie featuring Ivie singing “I’ve Got It Bad And That Ain’t Good.”
When Ivie contracted athsma, she quit singing and opened a chicken restaurant. I noticed that quite a few women on this list opened small businesses after WWII when the demand for female musicians fell sharply. I learned, in order to encourage women to leave factory jobs, there was quite a push in some states for women to open small businesses that capitalized on their “domestic skills.” This is just one more example of why it’s good I wasn’t born in the olden days. My domestic skills would have been way too advanced for the so-called “greatest generation.” For example, my “Complaining While Bilious” business plan is clearly more suited for the Facebook age. Please contribute generously to my Kickstart page.
Have I mentioned how much I love soundies? Okay fine, but have I mentioned it today? This one is from 1942 and it features singer-dancers Marie Bryant and Paul White performing the song “Bli-Blip.” It was written by Duke Ellington and Sid Kuller for the musical review “Jump For Joy” which was aimed at breaking down African-American racial stereotypes which were prevalent in the entertainment industry at the time. Bryant and White starred in the show.
I checked the internet to see if restaurants with singing waitstaff exist any more. It turns out there is a place in Studio City, CA called Vitello’s Italian Restaurant where they do still sing! It’s mostly showtunes apparently so I’m not sure if they swing. They do have live jazz there though so that’s bound to count for something. I guess the one drawback to the place is that most customer reviews say the food is awful. My favorite quote was ” it’s Chef Boyardee nasty!” Perhaps it’s a good thing that most restaurants aren’t quite as musical these days. I guess at some point in our recent past we, as a nation cried out “more service, less swing!” Now our restaurant music may be canned but at least our ravioli isn’t.
Duke Ellington and Irving Mills wrote “Prelude To A Kiss” in 1938 but this Billie Holiday version was recorded in 1955. If you compare this recording to the one in my previous post, you can clearly hear what time, illness, and addiction had done to her voice. If you ask me though, the superb command she has over her frail instrument and the depth of feeling she pours into this tune make this the superior kiss song.
Somewhere near the beginning of this blog I talked about the awesome power of early 20th century woo. This song is the perfect example. With repeated exposure to beautiful melodies and heart stopping lyrics like these no wonder “The Greatest Generation” went on to have so many babies! Nowadays the preludes to our kisses often arrive via email exchange. There’s absolutely no poetry or passion it’s true, but at least the communication is clearer. It’s probably best that we’ve dialed down the woo factor anyway. With modern fertility medicine, woo could result in a baby boom that would give China a run for it’s money! By the way, just what the heck are they putting in the love songs over there??
In 1905 Ferdinand Joseph LaMothe aka Jelly Roll Morton wrote “The Jelly Roll Blues” and in 1915 it became the first jazz song ever published.
And here’s his historic song:
Over the next century some absolutely amazing things happened in the world of jazz. All of which, one year ago today, led to me having something to write about in this blog!
A chat with a jazz loving friend led me to post… a video that’s no longer available but here’s something similar:
At the beginning of that first post I explained that I wanted to share some of awesome tunes culled from conversations and then, get this, at the bottom of the page I typed absolutely nothing! Can you believe it?? I continued to say nothing for three full days before I started turning this into the “Me Show” that we all know and love. It was a full three weeks before the transformation was complete. I don’t know about you but I call that remarkable restraint for an ego the size of mine!
Since then readers have been forced to plumb the depths of my clearly disturbed psyche in order to enjoy music from some of the most talented artists ever to walk the planet. I guess you’d have to decide if it’s been worth it. All I know is I’m having a blast writing this thing and as long as the soundtrack keeps coming (from people more clever than me), I will continue to perform my one woman show. (I really should be charging you people.)
Let’s swing it into year two with Sir Duke!
Long before music videos completely disappeared from MTV’s line-up and even before Debbie Reynolds’ unholy hammer swinging alliance with Scopitone, there were the soundies. Soundies were a series of (mostly) musical short films made to be played on Panoram visual jukeboxes. More than 1800 were released between 1940 and 1947 and if you love them as much as I do, you can view many of them on archive.org.
“C Jam Blues,” the song featured in this 1942 soundie, was written by Ellington and recorded during what is known as the band’s Blanton-Webster period. Double bassist Jimmy Blanton and saxophonist Ben Webster were only in The Duke Ellington Orchestra from 1940-1942 but many people call those two years the orchestra’s golden age. This film names almost every musician individually which was almost unheard of at the time but these men were all famous enough to warrant it. Sadly, the unnamed bassist featured in this video is not Blanton. He was probably either very ill or already dead by the time this was filmed. He contracted tuberculosis and died in July of 1942. He was 23. Ben Webster left the band the following year. Apparently there was an ugly fight where Webster cut up one of Ellington’s suits! (So says Wikipedia with a cautious  thereafter)
I posted on Facebook today that my daughter cannot tell the difference between Batman and Spiderman which makes me a failure as a nerd mom. BUT today we went to see “Toy Story 3” finally and she turned up her nose at the hip-hop tunes they were playing before the show. When we got home and I cranked up “C Jam Blues” she said “Oh cool I love this song!” So as a jazz loving mom, it appears I’m doing something right! I shall end now and carefully omit the part where I confess that she also really really loves the song “Achy Breaky Heart.” *sigh* I have got to get this child out of “Mayberry!”
Saxaphonist Ben Webster and bassist Jimmy Blanton both played with the Duke Ellington Orchestra during the period between 1940-1942. Most critics call these years “the golden era” for the orchestra. The video is a 1942 soundie of “C Jam Blues.” The bassist is uncredited in this video. He’s hard to see but I doubt it’s Blanton who died of tuberculosis in July of that year.
I love Ellington’s soundies! I love soundies in general but he made some particularly fine ones. Duke Ellington also did quite a few feature films. He was in “Cabin In The Sky” with Ethel Waters, Eddie “Rochester” Anderson, and Lena Horne to name a few. I haven’t seen it in years but I remember it being full of the stereotypes you expect from a movie of that era. But it also had some fantastic performances by an amazing all star cast. Now that I’ve been reminded of it, I think I’ll buy that one along with “Stormy Weather” which I love and which was released the same year.
Ethel Waters is also in that little clip of young Sammy Davis I put up a few posts ago. While I was reading up on Duke I took a bit of a tangent to locate the source of that clip. It’s from a 1933 short film called “Rufus Jones For President.” In it Sammy plays Rufus, a young boy who falls asleep and dreams he is president. That tap numer you see is his first act in office. I watched this one last night and all I could say was “wow!” Mainstream Hollywood movies of this era almost always contain offensive stereotypes but… “WOW!” This thing is hilariously offensive. They actually appoint ministers of fried chicken and watermelon and then it REALLY gets rude! The only non-insulting moments in the whole thing are the musical numbers. During the height of the civil rights movement people used to get really angry about the stereotypes perpetuated in films like this one. Personally I think in 1933 when many Americans were out of work and struggling, a cast of 20 or so Black actors and heaven knows how many crew members got to take home a paycheck. They created a film that features 3 great Ethel Waters songs and a song and dance by young Sammy Davis who, at that point, had already been working in show business more than half his life. If I ever find this one on DVD I will pick it up too for the great music and for the historical significance.
PS I may get disbarred from the Fraternal Order Of Black People for saying this, but a lot of Black people, myself included, really do enjoy fried chicken and watermelon. Sue me for spilling the secret but that’s just dang good eatin’ right there!