Instruments for voices

27 02 2009

Listening to Jo Stafford you are reminded how beautiful these jazz singers voices were. Brought up in the music of the Beatles, Stones and Dylan, I focused so much on the writing and the content of songs that I didn’t realize that the singers of these older songs had instruments for voices.





THE LIVES OF DEAD JAZZ SINGERS: Jo Stafford

27 02 2009

THE LIVES OF DEAD JAZZ SINGERS:
Jo Stafford
The Chesterfield Supper Club. Radio Show. Some singing. Some jokes. A lot of coughing. Jo Stafford. Perfect pitch. She could have played for the Yankees. Outside in the alley three wise men were singing in the rain. Pounding at her door. Not lovers. Messengers. Crooners dying of loneliness. A letter in the vanity. You belong to me. A paramour stood in her closet. Feeling foolish and alone. Sinatra stood at the open door. Smiling. Stockings over his shoulders. She threw an ashtray at him. We didn’t get married and he’s dead now. I hear it every time I tear up. Because I never stopped loving him. Frank smiled. Moments later Jo died at age 90. But not yet. Watch the moon set over the harbour. Let’s all say goodbye. And Sinatra stood at the mike. A cigarette in his fingers. Fingers that fade away. Old sailors no longer get their pants pressed. And the fleet is in moth balls. The dust has settled. The war was won. And the retirement homes are run by government men. Dying of congestive heart failure. And Jo Stafford leans her cheek against the moon outside the window pain. Now, its time to say goodbye.
jo-stafford
watch?v=6x24oxzwNwY





THE LIVES OF DEAD JAZZ SINGERS: Maxine Sullivan

26 02 2009

THE LIVES OF DEAD JAZZ SINGERS:
Maxine Sullivan

Daddy cut hair. As the world did a couple of twirls. Maxine Sullivan of Twelfth Street. Next to the newspaper stand. Happy as a peach. Detroit losses jobs. War in Europe. News of the World. But no one in Pittsburgh cared. If the Pirates weren’t on the front page then it was September. A long while from April. And all that hope for love. Maxine went to New York one weekend. And did not return. Loch Lomond. An odd song for a little black girl to make a career upon. She was “Going Places” in the twentieth century. And then one day she stood up. And stepped off the stage. What is the point to all of this? There was a daughter. To raise. Out of the limelight. In an attic. A Rembrandt of a photograph gathered dust. A street in Harlem with nappy haired boys sitting on the curb. And behind them. Charles Mingus . Thelonious Monk . Count Basie . Gene Krupa . Coleman Hawkins . Lester Young . Gerry Mulligan . Art Blakey . Buck Clayton . Bill Crump . Roy Eldridge… and the list kept going on. Her son pointed to a shy little lady that was Maxine Sullivan standing on the sidewalk of the photograph. Next to the newspaper stand. And said – That lady is my mom.

maxine-sullivan-1
great-day-in-harlem
watch?v=chax4x0o2Ck





A thought on the Andrew Sisters

25 02 2009

The Andrew Sisters have to be one of the most infectious sounds you hear. If you listen to one of their hits more than once it gets inside you and you can’t forget that jump. The poem is not an altogether positive view of their music. It seemed to me that careers were made in the entertainment business during the WW2 while many young men died and suffered great hardships. But I still love their music. And I can’t find a CD of their’s anywhere. And I did like Christina Aguilera’s tribute to that music. She brings some of the same energy. I don’t think its fair to compare the two.





THE LIVES OF DEAD JAZZ SINGERS: The Andrew Sisters

25 02 2009

THE LIVES OF DEAD JAZZ SINGERS:
The Andrew Sisters

Daddy was Greek. Momma was a Viking. They met in a little village on the Mediterranean where the peaches were so big they were mistaken for grapefruit. The shadows of the crusaders castles rolled across the hills of grapes and olives. Wasn’t life sweet in Minnesota? And then along came three little girls. Knees bopping like apples. Lungs like trumpets. In the fresh April breeze. Singing at full volume. La Verne played piano at the Silent Movie Hall for the man with the copper snake tie. Maxene and Patty took tap. The girls won a talent contest at the Orpheum Theatre. Sweethearts of the Armed Forces Radio Service. Sang about pineapple. Sang about chewing gum. Sang about coca cola for those boys in their boats, in their tents, in their tanks. Brushing their teeth. Eating that grub. Sinking those subs. Bei Mir Bist Du Schon became the favourite of the Nazis. And the inmates of the concentration camp. I can’t stand being with you all of the time. Each girl said to her sister. And the war raged on. I can’t tell if I’m happy or all of this will be over… too soon. Patty married Marty. Laverne got hitched up with Little Lou. Big Lou nestled up to Maxene. All the girls were fulfilled. Life is so… wonderful. And the war raged on. Singing songs for Wrigley’s Chewing Gum, Doles’ Pineapple. Never forgetting Franco-American. Promised to meet those service boys. When the war ended. In the soda shop. Dance and sing. Make them laugh. But on that day of reveille, not all the uniforms showed up.
Bugle Boy
andrew-sisters-1





THE LIVES OF DEAD JAZZ SINGERS: Sarah Vaughan

24 02 2009

THE LIVES OF DEAD JAZZ SINGERS:
Sarah Vaughan
Chu chu sha na say so say scat as she came out of her mother’s mouth. Asked for a cigarette. And a piano. Let those cats scream in the alley. Its time for you and me to conversate. Stood in that hole of shadows at Harlem’s Apollo Theatre. Little shy girl standing at the bottom of the stairs. Listening to the band playing in the attic. Never make your lover your banker. Oh little girl in the yellow smoke. Afraid to look up. To look around. Afraid. Finger snapping. Toe tapping. Two lips with one desire. Bells led to sadness. Oh, lets dance through the cool misty morning. In the high grass. In our bare feet. A sultry voice. How sultry do you want it? Sweat running out of her tears. Maybe there were days filled with laughter friends and joy. Maybe there were rainy afternoons with nothing much to do. Another cigarette. An umbrella. Another ring. Dieing of lung cancer. Chemotherapy. And other jazz standards.
watch?v=dntaJEqH9IM
sarah-vaughan-2





THE LIVES OF DEAD JAZZ SINGERS: Anita O’Day

22 02 2009

THE LIVES OF DEAD JAZZ SINGERS:
Anita O’Day

Tough times under a hot sky. Oh, that sacred heat. All the flat heads preaching redemption. Bread lines. What’s a poor girl supposed to do? Sing for dough. O’Day. Pig latin for dough. The doctors slit open her throat. Don’t put anything else in my mouth. Tonsilitis. Short notes and a rhymic drive. Too many buses. Too many stops. Too many men with dark glasses. Empty hearts. And wallets between your thighs. Stockings over chairs. Too many hangers dripping. Too many office buildings after hours. Too much talk about nothing. Too many miles going nowhere. Staring aimlessly into a mirror. Breakdown. You got to keep it moving. Too many cloudy mirrors. Too many dairy queen facials. Too many walls for company. The girl who couldn’t say no. Raped in a gas station washroom. Or was it a police station? Or was it a church? In 1966, she nearly died of a heroin overdose in a bathroom in a Los Angeles office building. She’d gone there to buy life insurance. Bums used to beat her for a song. In the early 1970s, she was living in a $3-a-night hotel in Los Angeles. Died of alcohol dementia. Her autobiography was dedicated to her dog.

watch?v=xuzWegDm2HY





THE LIVES OF DEAD JAZZ SINGERS: Peggy Lee

20 02 2009

THE LIVES OF DEAD JAZZ SINGERS
Peggy Lee
Eyes can be beautiful. Fill the heart with glee. But Peggy’s step-mother had eyes like knives. A slit across her cheeks. See the blood trickle down her pink skin. Do what I tell you! And don’t pout. Off key. You’re so useless. Don’t think your daddy is going to save you now. Peggy joined the long line of dreamers. Some headed into bottles. Some into heartache. Peggy headed west. To the City of Angels. Sang for her meal. In small joints. With fast cooks. And red necks. Can you smell that bacon sing? Customers wanted a little pink in their steak. A little fuzz from this peach. Of a kid. With a voice that purred. In smoke filled rooms. And the man with the pea sized eyes at The Ambassador Hotel West cleaned his glasses. Sat cross-legged. At a table for two. I need that girl. Peggy became the voice of his band. But all the members of the band stood upright. Could not sleep. Thinking about her. She married the guitarist. He had such funny fingers. Each blister had a history. Oh Peggy. My sweet Peggy. Kept getting knocked down. Like she was a chump and never the champ. Almost died in a fall in a New York hotel. Got up. In a second fall, she was tripped at the top of a set of stairs leading to the underground. By a man with no legs. She kept getting up. And learned a secret. Don’t be in such a rush. Peggy took it slow. The quieter she sang, the quieter the room became. Her voice simmered. Everyone in the room leaned forward. The waiters hesitated to wait. No one dared slam a door. In the kitchen. Or in the parking lot. In the hotel rooms, lovers held their breath. Sang in a wheelchair. I like men. And the men lined up. And she whispered something… sinful in each of their ears. Don’t ask what it was. That’s none of your business.
watch?v=JGb5IweiYG8&feature=related





THE LIVES OF DEAD JAZZ SINGERS: Ivie Anderson

19 02 2009

THE LIVES OF DEAD JAZZ SINGERS
Ivie Anderson

Studied music. All-black girls finishing school. St. Mary’s Convent. And the nuns watched with folded hands. Sang in the glee club. The choral society. Sick the day they took pictures. Oh, sister, they won’t miss me. Traveled. In small towns. In small bands. No one remembered. But it was a little money. When money was so precious. The big break. Joined Duke Ellington’s band. Ivie became the lyrics. Sat on a stool to one side of the band. Like any one of the instruments. Until the Duke turned her way. And it was the turn of her voice to play… Oh Ivie was crazy about the movies. Moved to Hollywood. Appeared as a washerwoman. In A Day at the Races. Groucho’s eyebrows noticed. Her sad bewildered eyes. Harpo blew his horn. Chased Ivie around the set. She laughed so hard, her voice broke all their hearts… The Duke nodded her way. She stood up. Stepped up to the mike. Like the piano keys. Or the horns. Her voice so clear and light. Like champagne. And those eyes. Sassy. Moving those hip – slowly. She made you feel you were in love. For the first time. But time passes. Love fades. Asthma intrudes. The voice of the Duke was returned to its case. She was only 43.
watch?v=Uqvh_qZ_0EM&feature=related





THE LIVES OF DEAD JAZZ SINGERS: Kay Starr

17 02 2009

THE LIVES OF DEAD JAZZ SINGERS:
Kay Starr
Sometimes you could see those dark clouds gathering. Ain’t no rain in those clouds, daddy would say. Just the future. That the white man planted a long time ago. And the transients passed her doorsteps. And talked of revolution and the old days when times were good. So sweetly, little Katie found her own audience. The chickens in the coop loved to hear her voice. Made them forget the foxes in the woodlot. And the wolves in the hills. Her aunt arranged for her to sing on a Dallas radio station. A little kid and that big mike. Made folks think that no all was lost. Look at that tiny child with the big voice. Song contests. So many song contests. She soon had her own show. Moved to Tennessee. At 15 she was singing with the Joe Venuti orchestra. Up and down endless dusty roads. Listen to the little stones under the wheels hitting the floor boards. Sometimes I could scream with the boredom. Singing for all the boys in their immaculate little uniforms. So proud of being so tidy. Town to town. Hall to hall. Performing is a kind of prison. Exhausted. Can’t stop singing. The snow must… Heading off to God knows where. Or Canada. And wasn’t she what they were all fighting for. Kay Starr and her big girl voice. And the boys came back. Most of them. Although some parts were missing. And she fell ill. And her voice disappeared in a hole. Chasing a rabbit. Oh God, what a relief. No longer to have to sing. It could have been heaven to be mute. Marry big Harry and have little mute children. Her voice came back. And she stepped back into the ongoing never ending career. Its such a long long time when you’re never allowed to remember.
watch?v=AhZx5vq3yJU&feature=related