"The very word 'elegance' may conjure up images of powdered wigs and courtiers parading about in eighteenth century garb with perhaps a harpsichord tinkling away somewhere in the background. But it has always been around if you look for it, in the Thirties, Forties - even today, in dress, design or - what concerns us here - music.
Sweet or hot, Freddy Gardner (1911-1950) had complete mastery of his instruments, be they saxophones (alto, tenor and baritone) or clarinet. In his tragically all-to-brief lifetime, he was in great demand and his brilliant, authoritative reedwork is fortunately evident on many records made from the 1930s to 1950. He recorded with the orchestras of Ray Noble and Jay Wilbur among many others, with small jazz oriented groups like the Six Swingers and the Rhythm Rascals, with visiting Americans Benny Carter and Buck and Bubbles - the list goes on. It is also a pleasure to find his playing leaping out at you in places where you would least expect it - in a Flanagan & Allen medley for example, or in the middle of a Jack Simpson xylophone record. Post-war, he recorded half a dozen glorious sides on alto saxophone with Peter Yorke & His Concert Orchestra, our examples here being I'm In The Mood For Love and I Only Have Eyes For You- it's difficult to imagine these performances being improved upon.
The stage musical 'Lady In The Dark' opened on Broadway on 23 January 1941 and marked Ira Gershwin's welcome return as lyricist for his first musical since the death of his brother George in 1937. With music by Kurt Weill, it ran for a healthy 467 performances and made a star of Danny Kaye. But leading lady Gertrude Lawrence as Liza Elliott carried off the top honours and we can enjoy a glimpse of her artistry in My Ship from the finale ('Childhood Dream' section).
Noël Coward ('The Master') is represented by two songs. The first, I Travel Alone, was a one-off, not written for any particular revue. In content it is tellingly autobiographical. I'm Old Fashioned is a rare example of Coward performing the work of another, in this case composer Jerome Kern and lyricist Johnny Mercer. It was introduced in the Hollywood musical 'You Were Never Lovelier' by the debonair Fred Astaire, partnered by Rita Hayworth. We have Fred Astaire himself in Dearly Beloved from the same 1942 film.
Ruth Etting (1896-1978) was the archetypal torch singer of her era. Here she sings, very stylishly, two songs recorded towards the end of her career, I Wished On The Moonand Life Is A Song. In one of the more credible Hollywood biopics, Doris Day played Ruth Etting and James Cagney Ruth's gangster husband Martin 'The Gimp' Snyder. The movie was entitled 'Love Me Or Leave Me' (1955). In real life Ruth obtained a divorce in 1937 from 'The Gimp' who shot her new love, pianist Myrl Alderman the following year. Fortunately he recovered and they enjoyed nearly thirty years as husband and wife.
Nature Boy was a million-selling record and a No.1 hit for Nat King Cole for eight weeks in 1948. Forsaking his usual trio setting, the warm voice of Nat is accompanied by a lush orchestra and it was this recording that catapulted him to international fame. The words and music of the song were written by a Brooklyn Yogi, Eden Ahbez, who reportedly left the song for Nat at the stage door of a California theatre where the star was appearing. The evergreen It's Only A Paper Moon shows Nat (vocal and piano) in his more intimate trio setting.
The post-war Belleville from the Quintet Of The Hot Club Of France so called, features only the principals from the pre-war aggregation - Stephane Grappelli and Django Reinhardt. It says much for the London based musicians present on this session (Jack Llewellyn and Alan Hodgkins, rhythm guitars and Coleridge Goode on bass) that they were able to blend in so well. This was almost the last QHCF recording in 'the great tradition' - the following year saw Django Reinhardt favouring the use of electric guitar and (very competently) absorbing the bop idiom along the way.
The urbane Turner Layton sings the charming Someday I'll Meet You Again from 'Passage To Marseilles', a 1944 film containing a star-studded cast headed by Humphrey Bogart and Michèle Morgan. Another film, this time British made, gives us two songs sung by Britain's first explicit post-war sex symbol, Christine Norden (1924-1988). As Molly Thornton, 'the schoolgirl soprano', she made her show business debut at the age of fifteen on a BBC radio broadcast. During the war, she toured the UK for eighteen months for ENSA and in June 1944 had the distinction of being the first female performer to land on the beaches of Normandy and entertain the Allied Forces after D-Day. An event in August 1945 which sounds more like something from a movie plot but in actual fact did happen was destined to change the direction of the entertainer's life. She was spotted in a film queue by three film executives who, taken by her striking appearance, brought to the attention of their boss, Hungarian movie mogul Sir Alexander Korda. He ordered an immediate screen test and signed her to a seven year contract with Metro Goldwyn Mayer and London Films. ""Your name, Molly Thornton, is terrible"", Korda told her."" You are cool, like crystal, and those high cheekbones look nordic. We will call you Christine Norden"". Korda introduced his new protégée to the screen in a highly dramatic and also leading musical role in the thriller 'Night Beat'. Norden recorded two of her three musical numbers for Columbia, the gentle beguine I'm Not In Love and the attractive When You Smile</em>. Five times married, Norden had an interesting and varied career in the UK and the United States and after her death she became the only British actress to have one of the craters of the planet Venus named after her in recognition of the fact that she had been ""the forerunner of the modern sex symbol"".
In July 1936 Jack Hylton returned to England after a nine month sojourn in the United States. He brought back with him the marvellous, ahead-of-their-time vocal quintet, The Swingtette, a group he had discovered in Kansas City. They remained in the UK for a year and one of the sides they cut was a very stylish version of Hoagy Carmichael's Rockin' Chair, accompanied by six hand-picked musicians from the Hylton band (including Tommy McQuater on muted trumpet).
Jessie Matthews was at a critical point in her life and career when she recorded the haunting Look For The Silver Lining from 'Wild Rose' (a West End revival of the 1921 musical comedy 'Sally'). A visit to New York at the end of the previous year, to star in the Broadway musical 'The Lady Comes Across' had ended in a devastating nervous breakdown and the show opening without her. It flopped after only three performances. The Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center in New York, where Jessie was hospitalized, reported to her husband Sonnie Hale that the star was ""on the edge of madness"", and she was advised by her doctors never to appear on the stage again. However, she triumphed in the six month run of 'Wild Rose' (at the Princes Theatre, London from August 1942), staged at the height of the German blitz on London which gave the lyrics of 'Look For The Silver Lining' a dramatic new relevance.
Hutch (Leslie A Hutchinson), the fondly remembered West Indian cabaret and stage performer was, at his best, a supreme interpreter of Cole Porter's compositions. In the Cole Porter Medley Hutch features (to a greater or lesser extent) twelve Porter songs in a slightly eccentric performance which nonetheless sounds spontaneous, fresh and unrehearsed. This scarce Parlophone recording is preferable to the rather hammy, over-the-top Porter medley which the entertainer made for HMV a couple of years later.
Long-term UK resident, though American born, is Elisabeth Welch who sings the uplifting And So Do I. Elisabeth was still making cabaret appearances until well in to her eighties but is now enjoying her retirement in a theatrical artists' home.
Chart success and the famous 'multi-track' recordings with Mary Ford were a few years off when electric guitarist Les Paul recorded the relaxed Dreamdust with his trio in 1945. Even so, he had been a professional musician for a few years by this time and his accomplished playing was in demand on Bing Crosby's radio programme and for work with Judy Garland. An obsessive dabbler in electronics, Les designed the first solid-body amplified guitar, 'the daddy of them all', marketed by Gibson from 1952.
Billy Ternent (1899-1977) was the most versatile of all the bandleaders. He joined the Jack Hylton organisation in 1927, staying as Jack's right-hand man for twelve years. Duties included that of arranger and deputy conductor and, being a multi-instrumentalist, filling in just about wherever there was a musician short in any section of the orchestra. Billy travelled with Jack on his nine month trip to the United States in the Autumn of 1935 and whilst there was particularly taken with the band of Hal Kemp and the staccato playing by the brass section of the band (a technique known as triple-tonguing). This influence can be heard to some extent in the first recording session Billy made under his own name with his Sweet Rhythm Orchestra and vocalist Sam Browne. Hear for yourself on the delightfully smooth If This Is Only The Beginning.
'The King Of Syncopation', Billy Mayerl burst on to the scene in the 1920s with a series of brilliantly original (and often very fast) piano pieces. Even so, they were astoundingly inventive and, for the most part, of very high quality. As the frantic Twenties gave way to the more sedate Thirties, Billy kept up his composing, in addition to running his own School Of Music. Here we have the prodigiously gifted Billy playing his lilting Sweet William (from 1938) impeccably.
After the tragic disappearance of Major Glenn Miller over the English Channel on 15 December 1944 (a fact not confirmed for over a week), the American Band of the AEF arrived in Paris on 18th December. Technical Sergeant Jerry Gray conducted the full band from now on most of its European appearances in France and Germany. On 12th August the band, now known as Major Glenn Miller's Army Air Forces Overseas Orchestra docked in New York and were soon granted a much-deserved 30-day recuperation holiday or 'furlough'. Johnny Desmond's mellifluous vocal on Symphony with this superb orchestra is taken from an 'I Sustain The Wings' broadcast. By the end of 1945, on General Eisenhower's instructions, the band was discharged and the AAF Base Unit was discontinued from mid January 1946.
The American born pianist/bandleader Carroll Gibbons lends his instantly recognizable magic touch to the Boy Friends track, Says My Heart (interpolating You Leave Me Breathless). These were both songs from the 1938 Hollywood musical 'Cocoanut Grove'.
Everything Happens To Me is from 'It's Time To Dance', the show which was destined to be the end of Jack Buchanan's musical comedy partnership with Elsie Randolph after twenty one years. Opening at the Winter Garden theatre in London on 22 July 1943, it was Jack's return to the West End stage after a period of seven years and as character actor Wilfrid Hyde-White recalled ""When he made his entrance, I timed it and the audience stood up and applauded for seven minutes...Certainly it was one of the greatest theatrical ovations I had ever heard.""
1999 HUGH PALMER