If the Art Deco style, at its height in the 1930s, could be put into words and music then the artists on this collection would come closest to symbolising it. And what a wealth of popular songs and melodies they had to choose from! Many of the best compositions (of this genre) emanated from Hollywood musicals and Broadway shows, though there were quite a few world class British numbers also from the pens of Noel Coward and Vivian Ellis, to name only two.
A Vivian Ellis composition (words and music) opens our compilation. Sung by Frances Day (1907-1984), How Do You Do, Mr Right?' comes from the musical 'The Fleet's Lit Up' which enjoyed a run of 199 performances at the London Hippodrome, closing in February 1939. A well established star by this time, Frances introduced the Cole Porter number 'It's De-Lovely' in the same show. If you're patient a little longer, you will be treated to this song by Hutch of whom more anon. Did You Ever See A Dream Walking?' was the best of a batch of songs written by Mack Gordon and Harry Revel for the rather forgettable Paramount movie 'Sitting Pretty' (1933). Frances' career waned post-war though she did continue to appear in plays and on TV throughout the Fifties and Sixties. Her last stage appearance was opposite Bob Monkhouse in 'The Gulls' (December 1965).
Change Partners' by the suave and elegant Fred Astaire came from the 1938 Astaire/Rogers film 'Carefree' which boasted a score by Irving Berlin. This was the penultimate film to feature the couple in their 'golden' partnership from 1933-1939. The rather corny plot centres round Fred as a psychiatrist who has hypnotised Ginger into believing she's not in love with him; but then Fred realises he's in love with her... Needless to say it all ends happily ever after. Cole Porter's musical 'Gay Divorce' opened on Broadway in November 1932 and in London nearly a year later. Both productions starred Fred who sung the thought-provoking After You, Who?' By the time the show made the screen, with Fred and Ginger, the title was changed to 'The Gay Divorcee' and the only Cole Porter song remaining was 'Night And Day'. Ah well, that's Hollywood. Dolores Del Rio and Gene Raymond were billed above Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in the latter pair's first screen partnership, but their dancing of 'The Carioca' in Flying Down To Rio' stole the show and as we know paved the way for greater successes to come. In London, whilst appearing in 'Gay Divorce', Fred recorded the catchy title song from the film, Flying Down To Rio'.
It's no mistake that the name of Carroll Gibbons features more on this set than that of anyone else. Aside from the six tracks with his Boy Friends we find Massachusetts born Carroll as conductor and/or pianist on sides with Jessie Matthews, Noel Coward, Al Bowlly (where he's moonlighting to Decca) and Hildegarde. That alone speaks volumes, but we can enjoy his special magical and personal keyboard style in all its glory on the solo Boy Friends tracks. They are not jazz, nor are they just wallpaper or cocktail music but a series of cleverly arranged sparkling small group vignettes with Carroll leading a group of musicians hand-picked from the Savoy Hotel Orpheans. They are a sheer delight. With the exception of With Thee I Swing', all the Boy Friends tracks are from mid-Thirties Hollywood musicals. Carroll's long musical association with the Savoy Hotel ended with his untimely death in 1954 at the age of 51. The strains of 'Dear Old Southland' can be heard before he launches into tempo and the jaunty It's An Old Southern Custom' from 'George White's Scandals Of 1935'. Vocal honours are taken by the deep-voiced Australian Marjorie Stedeford (1909-1959), a very popular freelance vocalist who enhanced many a British dance band and small group recording during her four year stay in the UK from 1935.
Sultry-voiced Greta Keller had an intimate style. She was described as possessing 'a perfect microphone voice'. Listen especially to her spoken introduction preceding the song Lamplight'. Unlike many popular singers, Greta's beginnings were in cabaret and not as a dance band vocalist. Pre-war she had a considerable international career and recorded prolifically in Europe and America. By the onset of World War II she had taken out American citizenship and in 1947 opened her own club, 'Chez Greta' in St Moritz. Thereafter, almost until her death in 1977 she spent her working time between Vienna, Berlin and New York.
Leslie Arthur Julien Hutchinson, otherwise known as Hutch, epitomises the sophisticated and stylish era of the Thirties as much as anyone. Then at the peak of his powers, we can savour his half dozen melodic tracks, starting with Cole Porter's It's De-Lovely'. This was introduced to British audiences by the aforementioned Frances Day - except that she frequently got the lyrics wrong and substituted her own, much to the annoyance of the composer! But Hutch had a special affinity with the music of Cole Porter and his friendship with him dated back to the 1920s. May I Have The Next Romance With You?' was introduced by Jessie Matthews in the 1937 Gaumont British film 'Head Over Heels'. Ten years before, Jessie and Hutch had appeared together in C B Cochran's revue 'One Dam Thing After Another' where Jessie sang 'My Heart Stood Still' to Hutch's piano accompaniment. In Down By The River' from the film 'Mississippi' and Don't Blame Me' we can admire Hutch's considerable prowess as a pianist in the syncopated passages, and the way he sings behind the beat, but gets away with it every time. In the 1937 standard Remember Me?' from the film 'Mr Dodd Takes The Air', Hutch is joined by a small, unbilled instrumental group which includes (I'm almost sure) the violin of Oscar Grasso whose distinctive sound became synonymous with Victor Silvester and his Ballroom Orchestra. Hutch was once described as 'The Maestro Of Nostalgia', but that could be taken as a bit of a misnomer for at the same time his recordings have a timeless quality which appeals now as much as sixty years ago. In closing our collection, after a long piano introduction, he intones I Still Love To Kiss You Goodnight' from the film '52nd Street' - irresistible? yes!
Two of Jessie Matthews' best recordings were issued back to back in 1932 when she was at her most relaxed, even understated. Not from any show or film, the songs (one British and one American) were By The Fireside' and One More Kiss'. I expect Ray Noble, the composer of the former, could have kicked himself for not taking time to write the lyrics for 'By The Fireside' too, instead of splitting the royalties three ways with his publishers! In an interview he admitted to feeling that way about his 'Goodnight Sweetheart'. From just over two years later we have Jessie's Dancing On The Ceiling' from the 1934 film 'Evergreen'. This Rodgers and Hart song (originally written as 'He Dances On My Ceiling') had been given by the composers to Florenz Ziegfeld for his 1930 Broadway musical 'Simple Simon', but the impresario rejected it on the grounds that it was "too complicated". So they came up with 'Ten Cents A Dance' instead. As 'Dancing On The Ceiling' Rodgers and Hart offered the number to C B Cochran for his musical show 'Ever Green'; Cochran wisely accepted and Jessie and Sonnie Hale introduced the number at the newly opened Adelphi Theatre on 3 December 1930. The production was very expensive and lavish and was the first in London to use a revolving stage and had an upside down chandelier as the setting. The BBC banned the song from being broadcast at this time because it mentioned the word 'bed' twice, but Jessie always claimed the ban was directed at her in view of the notorious divorce case between Evelyn Laye and Sonnie Hale where Jessie was cited as co-respondent (Sonnie and Jessie married in January 1931). But that is another story. By 1934 when 'Evergreen' (one word by this time) was filmed, Jessie had become a huge star as a result of appearing opposite John Gielgud in the 1933 film of J B Priestley's 'The Good Companions'. The long and spectacular 'Dancing On The Ceiling' routine, choreographed by Jessie and Buddy Bradley, started with Jessie playing the first notes on a piano then dancing with tremendous high kicks through the rooms of an Art Deco house. Gaumont British had hoped to sign Fred Astaire, then appearing in London in 'Gay Divorce', to appear opposite Jessie but missed out as Fred had just signed a contract with RKO. Three more times Jessie missed appearing with Fred Astaire, the last being in 1979 for a television movie (Fred appeared with Helen Hayes instead). Obviously it was not meant to be. 'Evergreen', produced by Michael Balcon and directed by Victor Saville, was probably Jessie's best film. When asked to describe her appeal, Victor Saville said simply 'She had a heart. It photographed'.
South African born Al Bowlly arrived in England in 1928 and over the next thirteen years recorded copiously both as a dance band vocalist (often uncredited) and under his own name. Gradually, he built up a good reputation and a loyal following and has achieved something of a cult status since his death in the Blitz in April 1941. He was bandleader Ray Noble's preferred vocalist on the sides Noble cut for HMV between 1930 and 1934. On the earlier discs the band was just billed as the New Mayfair Dance Orchestra with vocal chorus; it was only after the Americans started taking notice that Ray Noble became billed. In September 1934 Noble left the UK to direct a band in New York, taking Al Bowlly and his drummer Bill Harty with him. It's one of Ray and Al's American recordings that we have first, Roll Along, Prairie Moon from the film 'Here Comes The Band'. After a couple of years in the USA, Al returned to England and picked up the threads of his career. The remaining three songs feature Al firstly in two songs by British composers made either side of his American sojourn - the popular South Of The Border from 1939 and Max Kester and Ray Noble's own Love Locked Out. Finally we hear him in Everything I Have Is Yours from the film 'Dancing Lady'. Al's sincerity is something which unquestionably comes across in his intimate recordings. Ray Noble himself paid tribute to this by saying 'After he sang a sentimental song, I've seen him turn away from the microphone with tears in his eyes'.
Europe was honoured to have two American jazz titans in its midst during the Thirties when Benny and The Hawk were 'on the loose' for a few years. These were tenor saxophone player Coleman Hawkins and alto sax player, trumpeter, arranger and composer et al. Benny Carter. Coleman died in 1969, but happily Benny is very much with us, still going strong at 91. We catch up with Coleman one year into his sojourn when he teamed up with The Ramblers in The Hague, gliding over the competent backing with supreme confidence in I Wish I Were Twins. Benny's long stay in Europe began in July 1935 when he travelled to Paris to accept an offer by Willie Lewis to join his band. He came to London in March the following year to take up the post of arranger for Henry Hall and the BBC Dance Orchestra. Whilst here, playing (officially at any rate) was out of the question due to unfortunate newly implemented restrictions imposed by the British Musicians' Union on American jazz musicians. This did not include recording, and the beautifully laid-back When Day Is Done was one of the sides Benny put down with his British recording band. Benny is to be heard early in the proceedings with 32 bars of muted trumpet followed - after Buddy Featherstonhaugh's great breathy tenor sax solo and Andy McDevitt's clarinet - by Benny's wonderful 32 bars on alto.
It's difficult to imagine the urbane Turner Layton (1894-1978) as the composer (with Henry Creamer) of the all-time great jazz standards 'After You've Gone' and 'Way Down Yonder In New Orleans'. That was before he teamed up with Clarence Johnstone to form the hugely popular singing duo of Layton & Johnstone (1922-35). The elegant Turner always provided the piano accompaniment and a solo career was only foisted on him after his partner had eloped to the USA with the wife of violinist Albert Sandler. After Clarence Johnstone's rather abrupt departure, Layton carried on as a successful solo act, rivalling Hutch, into the early 1960s. Turner's first number is Deep Purple, a big hit in 1939, and his second offering is Heaven Can Wait from the same year. Unusually, he forsakes the piano for this recording, leaving the accompaniment to the twin pianos of Charles Zwar and Ruby Duncan. From earlier days we can enjoy the bill-topping team of Layton & Johnstone in their scintillating version of the title song from Gracie Fields' 1932 movie Looking On The Bright Side.
Two ladies who are still with us but, in their nineties enjoying their well-earned retirements, are Elisabeth Welch and Hildegarde. Both are American born, though Elisabeth has been domiciled in or near London since 1933. Elisabeth sings The Girl I Knew from Ivor Novello's 'Glamorous Night' which ran for 243 performances at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane from 2 May 1935. As a film star, Elisabeth's most important screen roles were opposite the great Paul Robeson. 'Big Fella' (1937) was the second of these and was a cheerful little tale with the Marseilles waterfront as its setting. The catchy Harlem In My Heart was one of Elisabeth's numbers. Born in Wisconsin, Hildegarde only retired in 1995. Her last London appearance was an unforgettable two week engagement at London's Pizza on the Park in October 1992. Capture if you will her sophisticated charm at work on I Believe In Miracles and The Glory Of Love.
Unlike Jessie Matthews, the debonair Jack Buchanan did get the chance to star alongside Fred Astaire in a musical film, although not until quite late in his career (1953 in 'The Band Wagon'). Here, Jack sings three songs from three different British musical films released between 1932 and 1935. First is Leave A Little For Me from 'Yes, Mr Brown' (set in Vienna) then I Think I Can from 'Brewster's Millions'. Finally we have the lively Living In Clover from 'Goodnight Vienna' (also set in...you've guessed it). Despite its somewhat outmoded plot, this is the one which probably ranks as the best of Jack's British musical films.
The renowned Quintet Of The Hot Club Of France flourished from 1934 until the outbreak of war. Most interestingly the music making was one of the few original jazz styles to evolve outside of the United States and the group became so popular that visiting American artists flocked to appear and record with them. The pivotal musicians were gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt (1910-1953) and violinist Stephane Grappelli (1908-1997). The group Stephane Grappelli & His Hot Four featuring Django Reinhardt has essentially the same line-up as the QHCF. When called for they could swing like the clappers with the best of them, but we find them in a more relaxed mood on Moonglow and Smoke Rings, delivered with a distinctly Parisian flavour.
Noel Coward ('The Master'), composer, librettist, playwright, actor and director, almost invariably recorded his own works. Just occasionally, as here, we have a rare insight into his idiosyncratic interpretations of the songs of others. Love In Bloom from the Hollywood musical 'She Loves Me Not' was a best selling record for the film's star, Bing Crosby. We Were So Young was one of two new songs written by Oscar Hammerstein II and Jerome Kern for the 1935 film musical version of their Broadway show 'Sweet Adeline'.
Synonymous with the elegant Fred Astaire was of course his ideal dancing partner Ginger Rogers (1911-1995). Ginger came to fame in the Gershwins' Broadway musical 'Girl Crazy' in 1930 and appeared in a handful of early Hollywood musicals before the innovative '42nd Street' (1933). After the success of Irving Berlin's 'Top Hat' (1935), the composer was called upon again to provide a score for the Astaire/Rogers partnership and he came up with another great clutch of songs for 'Follow The Fleet' (1936). We needn't concern ourselves overmuch about the plot, just wallow in the music and enjoy a couple of reminders from Ginger, Let Yourself Go and I'm Putting All My Eggs In One Basket.
The sylph-like Marion Harris (1896-1944) was a popular favourite on the American cabaret and vaudeville circuits before she settled in London and in turn triumphed at the elegant Cafe de Paris and Monseigneur Restaurant nightspots. Listen to her stylish delivery in the cheeky Would You Like To Take A Walk?
Raie Da Costa (1905-1934) hailed from Cape Town but moved to London at 19 with a view to pursuing a career as a concert pianist. Success eluded her however so she diversified into the world of popular piano, more specifically syncopation. In 1928 she made her first records and later in the year began appearing in variety; she had definitely arrived. From 1930 she recorded for the prestigious HMV label and we have a sparkling example here, A Thousand Goodnights, recorded only three months before her early demise. Unusually, she vocalises on this track and there's the added bonus of short solos from Freddy Gardner on saxophone and Nat Gonella on trumpet at the close of the song. A friendly rival of Raie's was the 'King Of Syncopation', Billy Mayerl, although this style was on the wane by the time Billy cut Heart And Soul in 1938. His playing, as ever, is first class and very authoritative and he's joined by Dorothy Carless who provides a fetching vocal. At this period in her life, Dorothy often appeared as one of Billy Mayerl's 'Claviers' (a four piano act) but it was to be as a singer, particularly with Geraldo in the 1940s, that she is best remembered.
Transatlantic Lullaby is a world class song introduced in 'The Gate Revue' at the Ambassadors Theatre in London in March 1939. Our recording is by the instantly recognisable warm voice of Adelaide Hall (1901-1993), who had come to London the previous year to star in C B Cochran's melodrama 'The Sun Never Sets'. Fortunately for us she stayed for the remainder of her long life.
1998 HUGH PALMER