About a month and a half ago, Rob was bitten; not by a radioactive spider but by an idea to post a weekly article about a few songs that he really likes. There are so many possibilities that the series could go on forever, and so Saturday Jams was born.
I was starting off the weekend in an oppressed mood, but something seems to have lightened it up and I’ve changed my plan for Saturday Jams. Never fear, though, I’ll save that for another week – spin it positive when I’m in a mood to do so. After all, one man’s Requiem is another man’s Ode to Joy, right?
So what lightened the mood? Well, I’m glad you asked. The wife went out to see some lady’s clothes because she’s getting rid of them for cheap, leaving my wonderful and sleep-resistant daughter with me. I love trying to entertain my daughter and thirst for the challenge of avoiding a massive fail at that task. Today I decided to put on some big band jazz – bam, bad mood gone. Seriously? Oh yeah. I love it so much, and as we’re listening I’m dancing with her in my arms (normally she might dance on her own but as I sort of indicated already, she was über tired and trying to stay awake) and I’m narrating the music on Pandora with ‘this is this instrument this is that instrument’ and yadda yadda yadda. I’m no expert, but definitely an enthusiast. So get in this way-back machine with me and catch a few of those swingin’ tunes from the big band era, when musicians were so professional they wore suits and played in groups. Don’t worry, I’ll be your tour guide.
Our first selection. . .
is a classic not because everyone knows it; but everyone knows it because it’s just brilliant. Brilliant like brass horns, you might say. The following clip is from a movie called Sun Valley Serenade, from 1941 and features Glenn Miller’s In The Mood. The uploader was kind enough to include some facts about the “pretty actress” at the end of the clip, but what he doesn’t tell you is that Glenn Miller is in the movie and the clip – he’s the guy up front with the eyeglasses and trombone. Spiffy, huh? He’s a main character in the film, even. The variation the band plays on the ubiquitous track is cool, but I love the original – the hi hats’ swing beat; the call-and-response of the saxophone duet; the flat brass precision of the trumpet solo, the false ending. For that version, click the linked song title above to hear it on Spotify. I tested it and I think you don’t have to have an account to listen to it. If that’s the case, I’ll start using that instead of Soundcloud, whose widgets may have caused the Independence Day mobile access debacle. Let me know if you have any problems playing Spotify links! [Edit: never mind, if you don’t have a Spotify account you probably can’t access them. However, it’s free. Consider joining.]
Our second selection. . .
is another tune you may have heard, it’s got a tribal boom boom boom of the toms; a raucous chorus interspersed with bright, whimsical verses; a delightfully menacing bridge that transports us to the dim, smoky night clubs of yesteryear where people danced frenetically. This is Benny Goodman’s recording of Sing, Sing, Sing – originally titled first Sing, Bing, Sing; then Sing, Sing, Sing (With a Swing) by its writer Louis Prima, who first recorded it in 1936 with lyrics meant for Bing Crosby. The Benny Goodman Orchestra earned the right to change the name after two years of improvisational evolution of the song made their version somewhat unique.
Benny Goodman is the “King of Swing”, irreplaceable as of 1986. Why? He made jazz music respectable, bringing it into the mainstream when his band played Carnegie Hall in ’36. His bands were the beginning for a lot of big-time jazz musicians. He didn’t listen to no segregationists, because music has no color. He was the big kahuna of jazz clarinetists.
To listen to the full 8+ minute version, click the Spotify link on the song name above, or you can watch the video below. I usually like finding actual videos of the artists, but this one is from the 1993 movie Swing Kids, which makes for a great music video, in my opinion.
Our final selection. . .
is a little different. This artist is a personal favorite of mine, and I know plenty about him. He’s got a very interesting history, and I could do an entire post just on him and his achievements. Did you know that electronic music was pioneered by an old tyme jazz musician? Raymond Scott was the Nikola Tesla of jazz, a man whose musical passages were so descriptive, his themes so unique that critics referred to them distastefully as “novelty music”. He was educated in music and yet he got out of the gate and ran wild – his compositions made by ear, his bands free to improvise during development and then required to memorize the finished compositions.
He was so picky about his sound that he began to fiddle with the equipment itself, and proceeded to invent several electronic instruments including the Clavivox and the keyboard theremin. He invented the sequencer. He invented the synthesizer. He started a company called Manhattan Research that made futuristic music that (mostly) found its market in television commercials. He worked with Bob Moog, Berry Gordy, Jean-Jacques Perrey, and Jim Henson. You might recognize his music, however, from Looney Tunes. His tune Powerhouse was made the signature theme for the Cartoon Network, although I don’t know if it still is. We lost him a year after Benny Goodman, in 1987; he died in obscurity of a stroke. That’s just not fair; I think we should remember him.
Here’s a video of his song Oil Gusher so you can see what it looks like to play. This is Steve Bartek and Ego Plum playing, but it’s pretty accurate.
If you have the time, listen to some of these:
Twilight in Turkey
The Toy Trumpet
Dinner Music for a Pack of Hungry Cannibals
Remember: when you’re in the way-back machine, the best stuff is still found outside of the mainstream. 🙂
Man, im so drawn to this genre from a child it had me.
Thanks for this! My friends jazz esque band covered moon river ..so good ..ill try to find a copy.
I remember you mentioning it in a post now. Yeah I’m a huge fan of all instrumental music and this is definitely a pet genre. I did a presentation on Raymond Scott in music appreciation class and was stunned both by the very small number of sources and the insane amount of innovation he did that isn’t common knowledge. When doing that report is when I first made the parallel to Tesla.