I’m Crazy ’bout My Baby—T. Waller/A. Hill, 1927 (Recorded Jan. 31, 2011) This is a favorite Waller tune of mine, a top swinger up there with the best of ’em. Lots of people have recorded it, including Cab Calloway, Louis Armstrong, and Tom Waits. I sometimes play the tune very up-tempo, but I slowed this one down a smidgen. I’ve seen conflicting info about whether it was written in 1927, 1931 or 1935 but I’m going with ’27, since one particular source (Gale Contemporary Black Biography) states that Waller first sang the tune with the Ted Lewis band in that year. His best-known recording of the song was done in ’35, hence the discrepancy. If anybody knows anything different, please get in touch.
I Concentrate on You—Cole Porter, 1939 (Recorded Jan. 25, 2011) Written by Porter for the Fred Astaire-Eleanor Powell movie musical, Broadway Melody of 1940. In the film, Douglas McPhail sang the song dressed as a masked harlequin as Powell began to dance in a ballet sequence, to be joined later in the number by Astaire. As with most popular Cole Porter tunes, lots of singers and instrumentalists recorded this, including Chris Connor, Johnny Hartman, Frank Sinatra with Tom Jobim, Oscar Peterson, and Cal Tjader. The current version of this song is newly recorded as of Jan. 28. I thought the old one sub-par. Not that this one is super-par, but, uh, well…you know what I mean.
There’s a Cabin in the Pines—Billy Hill, C. 1936 (Recorded Jan. 28, 2011) Here’s a fine Western-style Tin Pan Alley tune written by the underappreciated Billy Hill. Hill was born and raised in Massachusetts but went west as a young man to experience the wide open spaces. His travels in Big Sky country led him to write many songs with a Western theme, among them the popular “Empty Saddles” and “The Last Roundup,” but his most-recorded song turned out to be the very un-cowboyesque “The Glory of Love.” I picked this tune up from a Bing Crosby recording, and Mildred Bailey waxed a nice version, too. Funny, but I recorded this over and over again, each attempt foiled by one mishap or another (cat meowing, dog coughing with a jingling collar, simple insufficiency on my part, pet tortoise making a racket [you’d be surprised at how much noise tortoises can make]). When I finally got what I thought was a near-perfect take, I looked down and noticed that I had cut the volume level down to zero for some reason and the effort was wasted. Aaahhh! After maybe 15 tries I finally got another acceptable track, and this is it.
Make My Cot Where the Cot-Cot-Cotton Grows—Le Soir/Doll/Klein, 1927 (Recorded Jan. 25, 2011) I cut this tune as a demo for a friend of mine who is going to acquire the Bruno banjo uke used in the recording. The California Ramblers did it, as did Red Nichols’ Stompers. More recently it was featured on the Chasin’ Rainbows album by R Crumb and His Cheap Suit Serenaders.
Life Is Just a Bowl of Cherries—B. DeSylva/L. Brown/R. Henderson, 1931 (Recorded Jan. 24, 2011) This is the quintessential song of theatrical revue performances. It premiered in George White’s Scandals of ’31, with a cast that included Ethel Merman introducing the tune, in addition to Ray Bolger, Alice Faye, and Rudy Vallee. Here, I do a slightly comic take on “Cherries” (the song always made me laugh), and I use the appropriate 1920s Epiphone banjo uke tuned up to “D,” bringing the pitch higher as I am having a bit of a hoarse throat today which has limited my lower singing range.
Don’t Worry ’bout Me—R. Bloom/T. Koehler, 1939 (recorded Jan. 21, 2011) This tune was introduced by Cab Calloway at the Cotton Club, and lots of artists recorded it subsequently, most notably Sinatra on his moody 1957 ballad album, Where Are You? I learned this tune years ago but I haven’t played it in ages, so for this recording I had to do quite a bit of brushing up. So far on all of these recordings I’ve used the Earnest Instruments “La Paula” uke, which has a new set of Aquila NylGut strings. Even though the uke is modeled after an electric guitar (a Les Paul, to be exact), it’s a hollow-bodied thing and has a nice acoustic sound.
A Bad Case of the Blues—Clyde Otis, 1956 (Recorded Jan. 20, 2011) Here’s a tune that I learned from a Dinah Washington recording. “The Queen of the Blues” really burned through life. Married seven times and dead at the age of 39, Washington was the powerhouse of mid-Century R&B. One of her purported lovers, Quincy Jones, said of her musical style, “[she] could take the melody in her hand, hold it like an egg, crack it open, fry it, let it sizzle, reconstruct it, put the egg back in the box and back in the refrigerator and you would’ve still understood every single syllable.” I love her and listen to her every chance I get.
Shake Down the Stars—J. Van Heusen/E. De Lange, 1940 (Recorded Jan. 19, 2011) During the late 1970s, as I was finalizing the transition of my musical interests from rock/pop to jazz/pop, I borrowed from the library a cassette tape (remember cassettes?) collection of the Sinatra/Dorsey sessions, and I promptly duped it and listened to it until the tape media wore out and fell apart. I learned many of my first ukulele numbers by listening to those early Sinatra hits, and “SDtS” was one of them. This song was first made popular by the Glenn Miller orchestra. Ella Fitzgerald also cut a side of it.
Hate to Talk About Myself—R. Whiting/L. Robin/R. Rainger, 1935 (Recorded Jan. 19, 2011) Here’s a novelty tune I learned from a recording by the great Fats Waller. Years ago I bought two 2-CD sets of Waller’s music on RCA-Bluebird, Fats Waller and His Rhythm, reissued and produced by Orrin Keepnews with informative annotations by Dan Morgenstern and Mike Lipskin. There were a number of other sets available at the time that delved into different time periods in Waller’s brief but prolific career, but my guess is that those discs are now out of print. I shall have to hunt them down on eBay one of these days.