Eugene David
...The One-Minute Pundit

Sunday, January 30, 2011

We have fallen hopelessly in love with yet another jazz vocal group. This one, organized by that supreme eccentric Blossom Dearie in the early fifties, recorded two or possibly three albums before disbanding and reorganizing as the Swingle Singers. Les Blue Stars showed that French and jazz have surprisingly many things in common. I first heard of them through that superlative blogger "Buster" and a download of four songs, one of which was the immortal "Amour, Castagnettes et Tango." Love, castanets and tango! What could be a better title than that? (And far better than the American version -- "Hernando's Hideaway".) We were ready to dismiss them as a charming novelty group but through another blog downloaded one of their albums, an affair released in '57 stateside by Mercury. (Which album we have since bought -- see, musical "piracy" isn't always unprofitable.) "Small Talk" (no relation to another song from The Pajama Game) is a swingful first-rate jazz arrangement, but what really makes it tick are those French accents; the peculiar intonations give it a certain suavity that might be missing if the group were white-bread American.

And then there is "Please Be Kind". I have five other versions lurking in my digital music collection and they're all blah; Ol' Blue (in a session tape with Count Basie I downloaded from another source) almost audibly clicks his fingers, and when you sense that you know he really didn't care how he was singing it -- although you'd gather with Sammy Cahn having written the lyrics he might have been more thoughtful -- and only Ella Fitzgerald comes close to what's possible with this. What's possible with this is a poignancy approaching tragedy. In his book American Popular Song Alec Wilder wrote that most people can't discern the difference among arrangements. I can -- and there is a vast difference between Benny Goodman or Bob Crosby's Bobcats phoning it in and something that has made me cry all three or four times I've heard it. This is music in the Glenn Miller mode -- and while we're expected to razz this alleged Lawrence Welk he was one of the few jazzmen who understood the value of drama in his charts, and this is Miller in spades, modernized and improved, and the Stars sing it totally without guile, and that's why I cry.

There's a reason God made flies more common than butterflies, and there were radiant butterflies in the jazz years, and they all died off, yet their colors somehow live on, even as we must never stop fending off musical flies.

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