CARMICHAEL, Hoagy: Riverboat Shuffle (1927-1938) (Naxos: 8.120767)
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HOAGY CARMICHAEL Vol.2
'Riverboat Shuffle' Original Recordings 1927-1938
The image of Hoagy Carmichael is one of the mostindelible in show business. Hunched over a rinkydinkpiano, Hoagy's unsmiling face peers out at thecamera, his brow wrinkled, fedora pushed up highon his forehead, sleeves rolled up, with an everpresentcigarette dangling from his mouth. Hiscasual, laconic visage implies an 'I've-seen-it-all'attitude; cool and knowing, dry as the Indianaheartland he came from. The songs associated withCarmichael were just as lackadaisical; \Star Dust,""Lazy River", "Georgia On My Mind", "LazyBones", and "Rockin' Chair" all helped define hislonesome saloon singer image. Although these arehis most famous compositions, there was a lotmore to Hoagy Carmichael's songwriting brilliance,as this disc will endeavour to show.
Hoagland Howard Carmichael (1899-1981)was one of the most gifted songwriters Americahas ever produced. His life story was encapsulatedin the notes to Volume 1 in this series (Mr MusicMaster - Naxos 8.120574) and detailed in RichardSudhalter's biography, Stardust Melody (OxfordUniversity Press, 2002). Whereas Volume 1stressed Hoagy's genius as a songwriter, on thisdisc we hear Carmichael the jazz icon, pallingaround with the likes of Bix Beiderbecke, JoeVenuti, and Eddie Lang, playing piano, andrecording with his own orchestra.
The 1929 recording by Irving Mills' HotsyTotsy Gang of Carmichael's immortal Star Dust isa sprightly dance tune interrupted only by Hoagy'swistful piano interlude. The song's famous lyrics,crafted by Mitchell Parish, one of Irving Mills' staffwriters, had not yet been added and Mills'musicians were still thinking of it in terms of its jazzorigins rather than as the sentimental favourite itwould soon become.
Originally issued on a 12-inch 78, WashboardBlues is a study in weariness, a common theme inCarmichael compositions. The lyrics were writtenin vernacular dialect by Fred Callaghan, agravestone cutter and part-time poet who painteda portrait of despondency from the point of view ofa weary black woman washing clothes. With itscomplex structure and constantly changingtempos, Paul Whiteman's version of "WashboardBlues" was far ahead of its time, a sophisticatedmini-suite in the midst of an era steeped intraditional Tin Pan Alley platitudes. Carmichaelmakes his only appearance with the Whitemanorchestra in this version, which was the firstarranged by Bill Challis. This is also BixBeiderbecke's debut with Whiteman, leading a hotquartet break featuring Tommy (trombone) andJimmy (clarinet) Dorsey and Steve Brown (bass).
Rampart Street Blues is by the Cotton Pickers,a New York pickup group featuring stalwarts fromRed Nichols' stable of standout jazz soloists,including the Dorsey Brothers, Glenn Miller, ArthurSchutt, Perry Botkin, Joe Tarto, and Stan King.
Hoagy sings a rare duet with dance band mainstayHarold "Scrappy" Lambert.
March of the Hoodlums, based on thechanges to "Tiger Rag," is a manic dixieland marchplayed by Hoagy's fellow Indiana University friends,and is highlighted by a spirited alto sax chorusplayed by nineteen-year-old Kerval Goodwin.
It has been suggested that the zany sessionthat produced Jet Black Blues was a 'just-forlaughs'afterthought featuring Hoagy on'percussion' (possibly beating on an empty packingcrate) and scat vocal ?â?á la "West End Blues". Butsince he was supposedly en route from Indianapolisto Hollywood at this time, his presence remainscloudy. Nevertheless, this whacked-out track ishighlighted by the eighteen strings of LonnieJohnson (twelve) and Eddie Lang (six), with thelabel crediting Lang as 'Blind Willie Dunn' in anattempt to attract race record buyers.
Another Irving Mills track features Hoagydoubling on piano and celeste. The subject ofHarvey is a parent's 'pride and joy', a predecessorto 'Leave it to Beaver's' Eddie Haskell, politearound grown-ups but when they weren't looking,'always tight, in a fight, shooting craps and out allnight'. Hoagy apparently had a soft spot for"Harvey", later naming a pet canary Harvey II anda monkey Harvey III.
The version of Rockin' Chair we have includedis not the earliest one of the song, but it is one ofthe best, with Carmichael leading a hand-pickedgroup that includes such luminaries as TommyDorsey, Benny Goodman, Joe Venuti, a recoveringBix Beiderbecke, and trumpeter Bubber Miley,exiled from Duke Ellington's orchestra the previousyear. Hoagy carries on a pseudo-Amos & Andydialogue with Irving Brodsky.
Bix delivers a jaunty jazz interlude in the midstof Barnacle Bill the Sailor, which is otherwisenoteworthy for the famous 'did-he-or-didn't-he'prank played by Joe Venuti in not exactly singingthe proper words in the band's vocal answers inthe second chorus. Hoagy shares the vocal dutieswith the song's co-writer, country music's crustycurmudgeon Carson Robison.
Bessie Couldn't Help It, recorded15 September 1930, is noteworthy for being thelast recording ever made by Bix Beiderbecke.
Carmichael idolized Bix's innate genius; theirfriendship would influence Carmichael'ssongwriting for the rest of his life. He would latername his oldest son Hoagy Bix Carmichael after hislate tormented friend and even carried Bix'smouthpiece in his pocket until he died. In 1979,Carmichael told biographer Richard Sudhalter thathe wished he had given Bix more to play on thetrack other than a lively opening and leading therideout chorus.
Lazy River is a perfect example of theprototypical Carmichael lyric; an idealized view ofsmall-town America, the innocent world in whichHoagy grew up. The Dorsey Brothers introduce thesong, followed by Hoagy's languid vocal, followedby Joe Venuti's violin break, imitating the breezewafting through the trees.
Snowball had made its debut on record at thehands of Louis Armstrong earlier in the year, butHoagy's September 1933 solo recording is one ofhis most charming. Carmichael was never a greatsinger, but was at his best in interpreting his ownmaterial in intimate circumstances. It's unfortunatethis song isn't performed today, due to the nowpolitically incorrect comparison of the black childin Johnny Mercer's lyrics to food items (chocolatebars and apple dumplins).
Recorded the same day is Lazy Bones, one ofCarmichael's masterpieces, and the high point ofhis brief collaboration with lyricist Johnny Mercer.
Carmichael and Mercer understood each other,and their songs show a shared affinity for writingmusical still-lifes of an idealized American South.
Again, food images play a big role in the lyrics:chicken gravy on rice, watermelon, and 'taters allbeing mentioned. The song became one of thebiggest hits of the Depression. Also by Carmichaeland Mercer is Moon Country, which exhibitsfeelings of pastoral nostalgia for home and'cooking things that melt in your mouth',prompting Meredith Willson to call it 'our folkmusic of tomorrow'.
Like Johnny Mercer, Hoagy Carmichael wrotevividly of the South, although he spent very littletime there during his life. New Orleans wasanother example of a southern locale Carmichaelhad no personal knowledge of; the jazz-flavouredversion from 1938 features Hoagy sharing thevocals with Scottish-born Broadway star EllaLogan. From the same session comes Hoagy's firstsuccess, Riverboat Shuffle, first published in 1925as an instrumental but, by 1938, featuring a rarelyheard lyric written by Mitchell Parish (the wordylyrics anachronistically referring to tenor greatColeman Hawkins, not one normally associatedwith New Orleans jazz or riverboats for thatmatter!)One Morning in May was Carmichael'spersonal favourite of all his compositions, andfeatured a lyric by "Star Dust" co-writer MitchellParish. The lively 1933 recording, made as aninstrumental, featured a quintet