Posts Tagged ‘1957

23
Feb
20

The Dell Trio “Cocktail Time”

I expected this to be one of those corny records, like “Music for…” (“Music for Dressing Deer,” “Music for Cleaning Game”) like you’ll find in the open-one-day-a-week antique stores in the North Woods, and are sometimes on the sound-system of supper clubs—but this isn’t corny at all, it’s just a great record. Since the record has no info on it whatsoever (except song titles, and ads for about 50 other Harmony (the label) records, I’ll just have to make up a bio: The Dell Trio consists of Grandma Eunice Dell on the church Hammond, local handyman Charlie Bill Pike on accordion, and Bob Flippen mixing the cocktails, occasional jug, and glass percussion. No, wait, there’s a guitar on there, too. I suspect that the organ is playing bass and also doing the percussion. But like I said, I just made that up—there are actual real people playing on this record, not fictional characters, and a real Dell Trio somewhere in the past. Or maybe they’re still together, playing in an early spot at this year’s Pitchfork Music Festival. But most likely they are elderly, not touring much, or passed on. I’m not even sure I’ll be able to find anything about them with the internet.

This is a really good record, though, and worth picking up if you see it in a thrift store. It’s got a racy album cover, what looks like a man’s legs and a woman’s legs protruding from a sofa, though we don’t see the rest of them, they’re out of frame, but we’re led to believe they’re making out. The room is over-lit by a hanging paper lamp, and there’s green and orange/pink pillows on the floor, suggesting bohemianism. A little table is holding two cocktails, a Martini and an Old-Fashioned, and there’s a standing ashtray with a cigarette that has gone out. There’s also a little clay-potted plant on the table—I don’t know what the plant is, but I think it’s supposed to suggest, but not advertise, marijuana. Songs include “Cocktails for Two” and “Stumbling” (never heard that one before!), two moon songs in a row, and also a couple of my favorites, “September Song” and “Laura”—nice versions. One could have a worse hobby than collecting all the recorded versions of “Laura”—there’s a lot, and they’re pretty much all good. I’m obsessed with that movie, if I haven’t mentioned that recently.

02
Feb
20

The George Shearing Quintet and Orchestra “Black Satin”

This George Shearing Quintet record is a little different than some others I have in that there is orchestra, arranged by Billy May. There’s something about it that I like almost better than any I’ve heard—it’s hard to say why. There’s something kind of odd about how that Shearing sound—his distinctive piano, coupled with vibes and guitar—sounds with the orchestra. Maybe it’s just that this was one of the records my parents had, and I heard it a lot as a kid. I don’t remember at this point exactly which Shearing records they did have, but pretty much every time I hear any of them, it takes me back to childhood more completely than anything—I can smell what the house smelled like, the carpet just after vacuuming, the late-afternoon sun coming in the west-facing picture window. There’s always something a little sad about it, but comforting, too. I could probably put this record on once a week for the rest of my life. No weak spots—but then there rarely is (that I’ve found) with Shearing. The drawing on the back cover, with the brief liner notes, is a formally dressed rich, young, white man and woman sitting on one of those round couches, like a plush couch wrapped around a post, like the ones in the lobby of the Hotel Breakers, in Sandusky. The joke here is: “Get a room,” because if you ever tried having sex on one of those round couches… what am I saying? No one’s tried that! The cover photo shows a young woman in a slim back dress with some kind of crazy beads draped around her neck that looks like a dead fish, if you squint. She’s reclining on, maybe partly under, what’s supposed to be, of course, “black satin”—but if you really look at it, it more resembles a photo-studio setup of black, plastic trash bags! I’m not sure this doesn’t represent a very bad day in a Capital records photo studio. The woman looks pretty great, like she’d just as soon kick your ass as make out—and if you use your imagination, you could comfortably put this cover photo on a movie poster about alien pod people or a punk rock album various artist collection called, “Straight Outta Da Trash.”

19
Jan
20

Lena Horne “Stormy Weather”

This is a record I imagine a lot of people having in their collections in the late 50s—it’s got a classy cover, a photo of Lena Horne spotlighted in the darkness, maybe next to a piano—what I’d imagine to be a studio photo replicating a concert setting, but I don’t know. She was a huge star—the liner notes on back talk about how she was a star of first name recognition, like Ella and Frank—and those two come to mind listening to this record of standards—as her singing is every bit as singular as theirs—though none of them sound remotely like each other. So I like to think about a time when this record was on the normal person’s turntable—it’s anything but a boring record. I wonder if younger people know her? I suppose when you say “Lena,” now, more people think of Lena Dunham. As familiar as she is, I know nothing about her really—she lived into her 90s, had a 70 year career, passed away 10 years ago. She was at some point married to Lennie Hayton, who was known to wear captain’s hats, and conducted the orchestra on this record. One wonders if they are an inspiration to the Captain & Tennille. This LP is beat to hell, yet it plays—and just takes me back to a time before I was born. The first song, “Tomorrow Mountain” (Duke Ellington/John Latouche) is spectacular—crazy lyrics—the first I’ve ever heard it. Some of my favorite songs are here, including “Summertime,” “Stormy Weather,” “I’ll Be Around,” and “Just One of Those Things.” All 11 songs are good—nothing bland here, actually—you can’t really call this easy listening—there’s nothing easy about it. It’s out there, it’s jazz, it’s art—even a little challenging. I guess I’m going to have to keep an eye out for other old Lena Horne records now—I’m certainly happy to open another door to the richness of the past.

27
Apr
19

Dave Brubeck and Paul Desmond “At Wilshire-Ebell”

I didn’t even know I had this record, and I don’t have very many records, but then I regularly lose notebooks, and it took me months to find a particular pair of socks once, and then it turned out they didn’t grant me the gift of invisibility anyway. You can pick up Dave Brubeck albums in cheap bins, I suppose, because they made a lot, and he doesn’t have the collector appeal of certain jazz legends whose records you never see, like Coltrane and Miles Davis. I mean, you see those at record shops where you have to pay for them. Sometimes I question my cheapie approach to cheap records—why not just spend the money on ones I really, really like? But if I start questioning that, I have to question my whole life, like why can’t I figure out how to make above poverty level wages. And just, generally, why do I suck so much? This thinking is a vicious cycle. It’s much better to just try to keep moving.

I picked a random card, Ace of Spades, lined it up to my random record picking system, and this one came up. It’s got a glossy cartoon cover, a drawing of a proscenium, presumably the Wilshire Ebell theater in Los Angeles, with some little cartoon musicians, white guys with glasses, Dave Brubeck at piano and Paul Desmond with an alto sax. The drawing is small enough to fit full-size on a cassette, without the theater that dwarfs them, of course, but then you’d lose the effect. The back cover is covered with words, not one but two sets of anonymously written liner notes. It’s a delight, if not particularly entertaining or weird. This 1957 record is on Fantasy, who seemed often to favor the red vinyl, so if nothing else, when you’re having a guest over, the visual of putting the records on will mix well with a well-mixed cocktail and mood lighting. This record, in spite of its live recording format, could function well in that setting. All good songs on here, standards that don’t sound enough like classic versions to put them in the forefront of your evening’s activities. The massive but polite applause at the end of each number sounds like someone briefly turning on a water faucet full blast.

For me, I’ll always associate Brubeck with his most famous composition, “Take Five,” (written by Paul Desmond) which, if you’re a certain age, you’ll not be able to disconnect from its use commercially here and there, now and then. I seem to remember some really corny TV stuff from my childhood that used either Dave Brubeck music or very similar stuff, but I can’t remember what exactly—nor do I particularly want to return to it, as I consider the bulk of my TV watching as a mild version of childhood trauma. Not to be negative—I love Dave Brubeck. Maybe I should just have a Brubeck marathon someday, with all my thrift-store vinyl, to try to shake overplayed associations. Really, I could spend weeks, or even a season, listening to nothing but scratchy old “Cool Jazz” records—though it would be best in hot weather, preferably while staying at a beach house, overlooking the vast Pacific.

07
Feb
19

Easy Williams “Easy Does It”

I never heard of “Easy Williams” but I saw this record in a thrift store and no way I was not going to buy it, based on the cover alone, which is a highly arranged portrait, set up in a studio, I guess (there’s no background). A woman (we’ll presume Easy Williams) is stretched out on her stomach on couch pillows, and just behind her, a young boy wearing what looks like a jockey uniform is fanning her with a huge fan made out of some kind of giant bird feathers. The whole setup is a reference to something, I guess, but I don’t know it, so I’m not getting it, I suppose. It’s possible it could all be highly offensive. But at face value, it’s just plain weird. And on the other hand, not really weird at all. She’s taking it easy, and a servant of some kind is fanning her. My favorite thing, though, are all the details in the set-up. The cushions she’s lying on are yellow, red, and blue—cleverly, the same colors as the letters on the “Dot” record label (one of my favorite labels)—though the blue might be green—but there is a blue one, too—these random, brightly colored cushions. She’s dressed casually, jeans, no shoes, though her jewelry might weigh several pounds. She’s sipping some champagne and looking off somewhere to the left. Theres’s also a bowl of fruit, and a lit cigarette in a long, long holder, resting across an opened box of chocolates. The red pillow is actually more of a queasy orange (unless the cover is faded) which matches pretty much the shimmering, satiny pants of the boy with the fan. Now that I look more closely, maybe it isn’t a boy after all, but perhaps a “little person”—possibly of some difficult to determine ethnicity. Maybe it is offensive, after all, but I’m sure it’s all in good fun. Though we’ve heard that before.

The record sounds a lot like you’d expect from the cover—12 vocal numbers with minimal jazz arrangements, some with guitar and vibes and flute. I know some of the songs, like the first one, “Easy Street,” which sounds like Julie London’s version, but even more sultry. “Mean To Me” is another of my favorites. “Easy Come, Easy Go” is also a killer, here, as well as “A Woman Needs So Little.” They’re all good—I prefer the slowest and the quietest ones. Her voice is great—they didn’t really need to drown you in reverb, but I guess that’s part of the “Easy Does It” feeling they’re going for. Looking quickly on the internet I don’t see anything about Easy Williams, so I’ll have to go with what’s here. The brief liner notes mention that it’s her debut. Where she went from here, I have no idea. It occurs to me that maybe there is no “Easy Williams”—I mean, there’s a fine singer here, singing, but not credited, and of another name. After all, would a woman in 1957 call herself “Easy” Williams? It’d be like, if you were a guy, going by something like “Martin Everhard.” Maybe this is one of those records made to exploit the young people with hi-fi lifestyles, like those mood music, “Music for…” records—(you know, “Music for Dining,” “Music for Cleaning,” etc.) I could see this going on the turntable at make-out time—just maybe keep that album cover hidden! Still, I want to believe there’s an Easy Williams out there somewhere—maybe someone will let me know.

01
Feb
19

The Chico Hamilton Quintet “Sweet Smell of Success”

This is a soundtrack record, more completely titled: The Chico Hamilton Quintet Plays Jazz Themes Recorded for the Soundtrack of the Motion Picture “Sweet Smell of Success” (and there’s an even longer version on the actual label, which sounds like someone’s Oscar acceptance speech). If you’ve never seen the movie Sweet Smell of Success (1957) you can keep reading, because I’m not going to talk about it, and also consider yourself lucky because it’s a great movie, even if it might take all your strength to get to the end, drama-wise. It’s grim! But it’s one of the most beautiful black and white movies you’ll ever see, and it’s got two of the most over-the-top performances, by two actors who probably would have paid to deliver what is some of the most over-the-top dialogue you’ll ever hear. It’s also got a great score, and in fact there are two soundtrack albums—one is Elmer Bernstein, and the other, this one, with music from the movie played by The Chico Hamilton Quintet—who actually appear in the movie, quite prominently, as the jazz band that one the characters (not one of the above two) plays guitar with. I knew nothing about Chico Hamilton before I saw this movie, and I still don’t know much, except he was a jazz drummer who then started this band that featured a cello. I’ve never heard any of their records, but if this one is any indication, they might definitely be worth picking up.

The album cover has a wallet-size picture of the band, but is mostly taken up by a big photo of Tony Curtis and Burt Lancaster (actors referred to, above) who both look like they’re on the verge of actually exploding. They don’t, literally, anyway, but they come as close as an actor can without special effects. There are extensive liner notes on back, nicely written, though anonymous, which is too bad, because the beginning of the third paragraph makes this statement: “Side Two is one of the most unusual recordings ever attempted.” Ever attempted! It goes on to elaborate, but I’m neither going to retype it nor paraphrase, here. I didn’t find it as such, on first listening, but then I think there are things going on here that I’m not yet attuned to, so hell yes, I’m going to put it on again. It could be a great record for painting abstract paintings, or writing, abstract or not, or even cooking a decidedly not abstract dinner, which is what I’m going to do right now.

12
May
18

Harpo Marx “Harpo”

This 1957 LP doesn’t know if it wants to be called “Harpo in Hi-Fi,” “Harpo featuring Harpo Marx,” or simply, “Harpo.” The cover is a zany photo of Harpo Marx peeking through strings of a harp, pulling them apart as if he’s parting curtains—as if we can’t see him fully through the harp strings, anyway. This album features a dozen excellent tracks with various instrumentation, all including Harpo Marx on harp. It almost seems too perfect that a person known for being one of the Marx brothers, named Harpo, would also be an accomplished harpist. But then, truth is stranger than fiction. And why wouldn’t it be.

The accompanying musicians belong to the Freddy Katz Orchestra, though some of the songs are arranged by Harpo’s son, Bill Marx, who went on to be a theater critic. There are some standards here, as well as a some of Harpo’s compositions. There’s a lot of variety, and a lot to pay attention to, though it’s all very lovely. I could listen to this record from the beginning of the day until twilight, each number throwing me into a different mood, from nostalgia to melancholy to romantic. I’m afraid if I let myself, even, I might be compelled to mix myself a cocktail and sit on the veranda, neither of which are healthy options for me, but are both sounding good right about now.

The other interesting thing about this record is that it’s intended as a Hi-Fi test or demonstration record, as Harpo apparently was a Hi-Fi buff—and so the liner notes, besides noting the composer of each track, also reveals the particular instrumentation (including Harpo whistling) so you can better assess how your system is preforming. There is even technical information about the recording process, including details about the studio and mics, which should delight the technical geek. But that doesn’t mean you can’t just sit back and enjoy this record, and I find it highly suitable for: romantic dinners, cocktails on the veranda, crafts, reading magazines, and making love. All of which I’ve tested, with the record, at least to some degree.




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