Between 2000 and 2005 John recorded 8 albums for the venerable jazz/swing/dance band label Vocalion. Whereas four months ago I had none, I now have 6 of them. I have that awful Orchestral Jazz he did with Richard Rodney Bennett; his 2 albums of Angela Morley’s work; his Paul Weston and his Geraldo (see “Geraldo Among the Filipinos, 1963” below); and I just ordered Dance Date.
There are two more albums I haven’t gotten yet: One is with a pleasant but unimaginative crooner named Gary Williams (who I suspect was the guy who enabled John to increase the size of his orchestra—”He just turned up one day at my door with a pot of money and said, ‘Will you put together a great big orchestra for me to sing to?’ And that was the start of it,” said my blinky winsome John in a 2011 interview—and somebody, bear me out on this story) but it doesn’t sound interesting enough to drop fifteen bucks on.
But this one, Lessons In Love, sounds perfectly gorgeous, the little I heard—it’s classic Songbook stuff—and I’m dying to have it. It’s Lance Ellington’s strong clear vocals and fundamental John Wilson Orchestra through and through. Trouble is, it apparently went through a limited pressing so available copies run from 115 American bucks upward. How can a record only 13 years old be a collector’s item already???
Lance Ellington is the son of English bandleader/singer Ray Ellington, who I know only as that weird singer on The Goon Show who mangled my favorite Charles Trenet song, “Boum”, even though I yelled at him not to do it through my computer screen. Lance is great, though. He teamed up with John and Orchestra for their 2014 Cole Porter album doing the song “Now You Has Jazz” and that album won the Echo Klassik Music Without Borders Prize. (John’s big smile at 4:23.)
…which we know, of course, as “If You Are But a Dream” (1942, Moe Jaffe, Jack Fulton and Nat Bonx, composers, “from Rubenstein’s Romance“).
Could you say no to this boy?
From legendary San Francisco journalist Herb Caen‘s column, 1995:
Fast forward through World War II to Al Williams’ Papagayo Room in the Fairmont Hotel. It’s 2 a.m. Al’s place is the hangout on the late shift. Mexican food in the middle of the night? We were young and indestructible. Frank was on his own now and headlining at (again) the Golden Gate. The critics weren’t impressed with “Frankie,” as they called him, to his disgust, but the schoolgirls were cutting classes to catch his shows and I was giving him sincere plugs. At the Papagayo Room on his closing night, a burly broken-nosed guy in a polo coat came to my table and said, “You Caen?” When I nodded warily, he slipped me a small package, said, “Frank says t’anks” and disappeared. The package contained a solid gold Dunhill lighter. It was the first but not the last time I would be reminded of Sinatra’s penchant for extravagant gifts…
Co-composer Blaine once said that he’d been glancing at a picture book he’d found at the Beverly Hills Public Library, landed on a page about early streetcars captioned “Clang, Clang, Clang, Went the Trolley”, and bang was off to the races. The song’s unusual structure, which Martin based on 19th century tunes, was a showcase for Garland’s strong voice. “The Trolley Song” was nominated for a 1944 Academy Award for Best Original Song.
Orchestrator for this song—as well as the entire MGM musical Meet Me in St Louis—was Conrad Salinger. “He had a very individual, sophisticated sense of harmony,” said our John in a 2013 interview. “It was those very subtle and exclusive touches that he gave to those numbers that set him apart… Little touches of instrumentation, like alto flutes and French horns, that gave those pictures a sound world all their own. His specialty was that high-class production number, the theatrical presentation of a popular song, or a balletic development of a number. In the hands of Salinger, you could be listening to Debussy or Ravel. He’s never going to be a household name, but that doesn’t diminish his stature.”
Orchestrator/arranger/conductor Jack Campey pointed to this clip highlighting Salinger’s orchestration, sans vocals. Cheers, Jack.
Listen to the orchestration—it’s Conrad Salinger’s! Yes, thank you, John, thank you thank you thank you for reconstructing his lost score and folding it into the repertoire.
You are the promised kiss of springtime
That makes the lonely winter seem long.
You are the breathless hush of evening
That trembles on the brink of a lovely song.
You are the angel glow that lights a star,
The dearest things I know are what you are.
High culture and nothing less. The most beautiful song ever written (at 49:28), sung in the classiest concert in the world, conducted by the sweetest musical theater restorer/preservationist who ever lived (John McGlinn, who died too young at 55), hosted by the most glamorous hostess in New York, Kitty Carlisle Hart. Orchestration of this Jerome Kern classic by Robert Russell Bennett. Milton Babbitt, that champion of musical theater and Stephen Sondheim’s teacher, wrote an analysis of this song having to do with tritones and inverted fifths which I was never able to entirely grasp, but you’re welcome to take a crack at it here.
In 1944, Frank Loesser wrote “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” for his wife, Lynn Garland, and himself (Loesser often introduced himself as the “evil of two Loessers”) to sing at a housewarming party in New York City at the Navarro Hotel. They sang the song to indicate to guests that it was time to leave.
Garland wrote that after the first performance, “We become instant parlor room stars. We got invited to all the best parties for years on the basis of ‘Baby.’ It was our ticket to caviar and truffles. Parties were built around our being the closing act.” In 1948, after years of performing the song, Loesser sold it to MGM for the 1949 romantic comedy Neptune’s Daughter. Garland was furious. She wrote, “I felt as betrayed as if I’d caught him in bed with another woman.”
In the film “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” was sung by Esther Williams and Ricardo Montalbán, then by Betty Garrett and Red Skelton, who reversed the roles. The song won the 1949 Academy Award.
Not my favorite version of all the R&H Cinderellas (this is my favorite version—I mean come on, it’s Julie Andrews) but this one boasts, as I mentioned, the gorgeous Paolo Montalban as well as the queen of Broadway Bernadette Peters, singing and singing great another interpolated Rodgers song, “Falling in Love with Love“. Exceptional orchestration by Doug Besterman.