In ancient Greece, Sophists were a group who pursued and communicated knowledge - people that we would call intellectuals today. For the sophisticated, educated palate, the best of wine and food, of literature and music. There have always been entertainers of great talent, grace and wit. Our programme offers popular music for the discerning listener, performed by a truly all-star line-up.
Carroll Gibbons, the elegant, soft spoken pianist, bandleader and composer, for thirty years was an important part of the British dance band scene. Long resident at the Savoy Hotel in London, Gibbons hailed from Clinton, Massachusetts and first came to Britain in 1924. Except for a short period back in America when he dallied with motion pictures, Carroll Gibbons was a prolific performer in Britain who made frequent gramophone recordings and broadcasts through where his distinctive piano playing proved highly popular. On the Air was his signature tune. I Double Dare You was a popular hit of 1937.
Fred Astaire was the greatest dancer and one of the finest interpreters of a song to grace the silver screen. He was born Frederick Austerlitz in Omaha, Nebraska and was originally part of a brother and sister act. Adele Astaire later retired when she married into the English aristocracy. Her brother moved with ease from stage to screen, making a classic series of musicals opposite Ginger Rogers. The songs introduced by and often written for Fred Astaire are amongst the greatest songs ever written. A Fine Romance is just one standard from the fertile pens of Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields and was introduced in 'Swing Time'. One of Cole Porter's very greatest songs, Night and Day was introduced by Astaire in the Broadway and London stage success 'The Gay Divorce' and he repeated his triumph in the film version 'The Gay Divorcee'.
Greta Keller was born in Vienna and was a top actress, cabaret and recording star in German speaking countries before moving to London and thence to the United States in the 1930s where she duplicated her continental success. Although she returned briefly to Germany in the thirties, the rapidly deteriorating political situation found Greta Keller returning to the United States where she remained. Hers was the unnamed voice singing the song 'Married' in the film of 'Cabaret'. You're A Sweetheart is the title song from a 1937 musical which starred Alice Faye and George Murphy.
Noel Coward, from Twickenham, was one of the most versatile and accomplished entertainers of the 20th century. A charismatic actor, a distinctive singer, a good lyricist and a memorable composer, Coward also directed, and performed in cabaret. Throughout the twenties, thirties, forties and fifties he produced a stream of successful melodies which were introduced in revues and musical comedies. Here's a selection of them, including gems from 'Bitter Sweet', 'Private Lives', from Andre Charlot's Revues, 'On with the Dance', and 'This Year of Grace'.
One of Noel Coward's closest friends and the ideal leading lady for many of his plays was the former Gertrud Alexandra Dagmar Lawrence-Klasen. As Gertrude Lawrence she was one of the brightest stars of the London stage, enjoying parallel success in the United States, where she eventually took up residence. Before that, she scored a personal success in a show written for her by Cole Porter, 'Nymph Errant'. Although only presented in London, the score was full of wonderful songs - including the plaintive and charming How Could We Be Wrong?
Jean Sablon, the charismatic and talented French singer, came from a musical family; his father was a composer of operettas, who was conductor at a prominent Paris theatre. From the age of sixteen, Jean Sablon was a performer in music halls, cabarets and theatres. His association with the jazz guitar genius Django Reinhardt produced some excellent music. Sablon was influential in bringing Swing to France. His versions of La Chanson des Rues and Vous qui passez sans me voir remain classics of the French chanson, to this day.
Although widely believed to be of European origin, Hildegarde (Hildegarde Loretta Sell) was born in Adell, Wisconsin, and raised in Milwaukee. After a stint as a pianist in silent cinema, she toured as an accompanist and eventually began to sing professionally. Soon her elegant singing brought Hildegarde engagements in night clubs and cabarets both in America and also in Britain, where she worked from 1933 to 1936. In our collection are two songs I've Got My Love To Keep Me Warm an Irving Berlin classic, which was introduced in 'On The Avenue' by Dick Powell; The Blue Room came from an early Rodgers and Hart musical comedy 'The Girl Friend'.
Benny Carter has been an important jazz performer for over seventy years. As an alto saxophone player, arranger and composer he has been much in demand the world over. After appearing with Fletcher Henderson and McKinney's Cotton Pickers in America he was lured to Europe to arrange for Henry Hall and the BBC Orchestra. He subsequently performed with Django Reinhardt, the noted French jazz guitarist. Back in America he formed his own big band and continued to perform well into the 1990s. Melancholy Lullaby is typical of the style and grace of one of the giants of jazz.
The adorable Jessie Matthews, born in the heart of London's Soho, was an international stage and screen star whose long and successful career saw her finally taking over the lead in the long running radio serial 'Mrs Dale's Diary'. In her singing and dancing heyday Jessie Matthews made many songs memorable, just by singing them. From 'First A Girl' comes Say The Word And It's Yours. The plot of a girl impersonating a male impersonator was subsequently successfully recycled for a Julie Andrews screen and stage musical 'Victor/Victoria'. Another Matthews screen success was 'Gangway' released in 1937, which gives us a further selection - Moon Or No Moon.
Al Bowlly was the most popular and distinctive dance band singer of the thirties. Originally from Mozambique, Bowlly soon found his way to London and appeared with the bands of Roy Fox and subsequently Lew Stone. In addition, he regularly recorded with the studio band of Ray Noble, and followed that bandleader to America. Finding that uncongenial he soon returned to London to continue his career. Say When is typical of the high quality of the more than 600 sides that Al Bowlly recorded in Britain. The Very Thought Of You is one of the great songs written by Ray Noble himself. No-one sings it better than Al Bowlly.
Very, very few continental entertainers sustained a successful career in Hollywood. Maria Magdalene Dietrich was one. Her immense allure glimpsed in the German film 'The Blue Angel' developed well in Hollywood as she played the definitive femme fatale in so many memorable films. 'Destry Rides Again' found her as a blonde saloon bar hostess in a classic western. James Stewart was the hero, a new sheriff who came to clean up the town, without the use of a gun. Frederick Hollander and Frank Loesser came up with some fine songs for the sultry songstress. Here are two: You've Got That Look and I've Been In Love Before.
Leslie A. Hutchinson, known as Hutch, was one of the finest cabaret entertainers to grace the London night-club scene. Born in Grenada, he came to London by way of Paris, and was befriended by composer Cole Porter. Hutch proved an incomparable interpreter of fine songs. These Foolish Things was a 1936 song by Holt Marvell (Eric Maschwitz) and Jack Strachey. It was introduced by Dorothy Dickson in the show 'Spread It Abroad'. Miss Dickson never recorded the song. Luckily for us, Hutch did ....
Elisabeth Welch is one of the enduring legends of popular music. She first appeared on Broadway singing 'Charleston' and subsequently came to London by way of Paris. Ivor Novello and Cole Porter, among many others, wrote songs in their shows for her. In her eighties the wonderful Miss Welch was still appearing in cabarets, on television and in concerts. For us she sings When Lights Are Low, originally a hit in the 1920s but a timeless classic today.
British musician Freddy Gardner played the smoothest, most limpid saxophone of all. Although he participated in a number of distinguished jazz records, another claim to fame is as a principal soloist of a legendary series of light orchestral recordings. Stardust is perhaps the most sophisticated popular song every written. The melody came to its composer, Hoagy Carmichael when a student crossing the campus at Indiana University. The words were added subsequently by Mitchell Parish.
Jack Buchanan was the debonair top hat, white tie and tails singer and dancer - a matinee idol in Britain from the twenties through to the fifties. Helensburgh born Buchanan was originally Jack Hulbert's understudy but rapidly became a major international star in his own right. I'm Still Dreaming comes from one of his film successes 'When Knights Were Bold' made in 1936.
Michael P Kennedy 1995