Hutch (Leslie Hutchinson) is synonymous with the songs of Cole Porter and we are proud to present his almost complete oeuvre here (a Cole Porter medley is to be found on another Past Perfect album - 'Elegance'). Cole Porter and Hutch enjoyed a special friendship - they both lived in Paris awhile during the 1920s - and Hutch later recalled that he 'played double piano with Cole Porter and he taught me how to play his songs as he wanted them sung.'
Born on 7 March 1900 on the West Indian island of Grenada, Leslie Arthur Julien Hutchinson seized the opportunity of sailing to New York at the age of sixteen and escaped from his somewhat humdrum existence. Arriving, as he recollected 'with a few dollars and a lot of ambition', employment proved hard to come by, so he offered his services as a pianist at private parties to supplement his income. Slowly he managed to build up a reputation and earn a living in music as an accompanist and later as a member of a band led by Elmer Snowden. But an unnerving racial incident involving the band members and the Ku Klux Klan was enough to make Hutch decide to leave America.
Life in Paris suited Hutch down to the ground. He blossomed, his confidence grew and he began appearing at the top nightclubs, becoming 'the rage of the boulevards and the talk of private soirees'. In 1926 he visited London for the first time, at the invitation of Lady Mountbatten and Lady Gibbons, to perform at a huge private party at Carlton House. Hutch sang and played Cole Porter's Two Little Babes In The Wood and was, in his own words, 'discovered'.
Leading impresario C B Cochran engaged Hutch to play in the orchestra pit for his forthcoming Rodgers and Hart revue 'One Dam' Thing After Another'. This previewed in Manchester from March 1927, opening at the London Pavilion on May 20th. Hutch was fortunate in accompanying the new twenty year old star Jessie Matthews in her big hit number 'My Heart Stood Still'. While crossing the theatre stage one night after a performance, Jessie heard Hutch singing and playing for his own amusement. Totally captivated, she went over to the piano and spent four hours convincing a far from sure Hutch to try his hand at the West End cabaret scene. The rest, as they say, is history - and Hutch always credited Jessie as being the catalyst who kick-started his career.
Between 1928 and 1930 Hutch played in four more revues - Noel Coward's 'This Year Of Grace', 'Good News', Cole Porter's 'Wake Up And Dream' and 'Cochran's 1930 Revue'. Alongside all of this were his burgeoning nightclub appearances and performances at debutante dances. Recordings were made for Brunswick in late 1927 and early 1928 and, rather tantalizingly, some unissued sides for HMV in 1928 where Hutch was partnered by Carroll Gibbons and visiting American, Noble Sissle. Parlophone signed him up, and he began a fruitful and prolific liaison with this label from December 1928 until 1940 when he switched within the EMI group to the HMV label. There he remained until September 1948.
From Cole Porter's 'Wake Up And Dream' we have four numbers, preceded by a non-vocal selection from the show where Hutch is accompanied by an unnamed concert orchestra. This scarce recording may have benefited from a little more rehearsal or further 'takes', but it is included because of its historical interest and for the sake of completeness. Let's Do It (which had first been introduced in the American revue 'Paris' the previous year) immediately became a staple ingredient of Hutch's repertoire for the forty years remaining to him. The late jazz singer Beryl Bryden recalled sharing the floor-show with Hutch in the 1950s at the elegant West-End niterie 'The Blue Angel'. She recollected that 'Every night he seemed to find some new verses for Cole Porter's Let's Do It and enraptured an often young and well-dressed audience'. Fifteen different Cole Porter songs, from revues, musicals and films feature on this collection. Begin The Beguine is Hutch's second recording of this standard, originally introduced in the musical 'Jubilee' (1935) but not destined to become a hit until Artie Shaw's recording from three years later.
Alongside Porter, Berlin, Kern and Rodgers, George Gershwin ranks as one of the 'big five' in twentieth century American popular song. So it is fitting, and convenient, that the remainder of this compilation should be devoted to him. Warner Brothers' inaccurate 1945 biopic of George Gershwin, entitled 'Rhapsody In Blue', starred Robert Alda (father of 'Mash' star Alan) as the composer. But it gave the excuse for Hutch to record an enjoyable selection of Gershwin evergreens which were featured in the film. For the rest we have two rare but accomplished piano solos recorded in 1927 from the musical 'Oh, Kay!' and from 'Funny Face' two delightfully fresh sounding numbers waxed in the first month of Hutch's new Parlophone record contract. They Can't Take That Away From Me was ironically recorded just four days before George Gershwin's early death at the age of thirty-eight. This and A Foggy Day were introduced to cinemagoers by the suave Fred Astaire. 'The Goldwyn Follies' was the last musical score George Gershwin worked on and his haunting Love Walked In as sensitively portrayed by Hutch provides a fitting end to this collection.
During the Thirties, Hutch started touring the Halls in addition to his other activities. As a consequence his
popularity, and record sales, rocketed. An intelligent and conscientious entertainer, he always prided himself in including the verses of his songs (often obscure) before leading into the frequently familiar refrains. He often sung behind the beat and, at his best, produced performances of pure magic. At the peak of his powers from the late Twenties to the Forties (the period covered by this compilation), he was a greater artist than many people gave him credit for.
Hutch tirelessly gave concerts for the troops during the War, and in March 1942, after a break of over a decade, re-appeared in revue. This was 'Happidrome', a stage adaptation of the popular BBC Radio series which had run for over a year. In 1943 he appeared in the screen version and in the same year participated in the variety spectacular 'Seventy Years Of Song' at the Royal Albert Hall, put on by C. B. Cochran for the benefit of the Toc H War Relief Fund.
Between September 1948 and 1954 Hutch made no recordings; in fact his elegant and sophisticated act seemed to be out of fashion in post-war Britain. A popular target for mimics, the now defunct publication 'The Performer' published a notice in 1946 which read: 'Artists please note: No impersonations of 'Hutch' (Leslie A Hutchinson) are permitted without obtaining approval and permission.'
Of imposing demeanour, he was always immaculately dressed and usually sported a red carnation in his buttonhole. The mopping of his handsome brow throughout his act with a white handkerchief quickly established itself as a Hutch trademark - this action caused many a female heart to flutter - but Hutch always insisted it was not a gimmick. Offstage, Hutch was a fairly reserved individual who took a great interest in cricket - during the summer he was often to be found at The Oval or Lords. Another passion was horseracing and he had a share in a gelding called Kabul.
The Fifties and Sixties saw Hutch continuing to perform, largely on the London nightclub scene interspersed with occasional trips overseas. He died in hospital in Hampstead on 18 August 1969 ' 'the maestro of nostalgia' had become a part of it.
2001 HUGH PALMER
Charlotte Breese, Hutch (Bloomsbury, 1999; paperback edition 2001)
Stephen Bourne, Black in the British Frame - The Black Experience in British Film and Television (Continuum, 2001)
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