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UNTIL THE REAL THING COMES ALONG
Myoho Records 1987
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UNTIL THE REAL THING COMES ALONG
- Until The Real Thing Comes Along
- My Ideal
- Out Of This World
- If I Were A Bell
- I Never Has Seen Snow
- Pick Yourself Up
- The Lamp Is Low
- A Kiss To Build A Dream On
- Ill Wind
- A Hundred Years From Today
- Blame It On My Youth
- I Won't Dance
UNTIL THE REAL THING COMES ALONG
wesla whitfield: vocals
mike greensill: piano / Clarinet / arranger
Paul breslin: bass
Jim Putman: Guitar
Mike & Weslia Greensill: producers
UNTIL THE REAL THING COMES ALONG
It's been a long, tough ere for women singers of popular songs – call it the “rock era”, the TV era, the post-big band era, whatever.
The days of being a big band thrush are long gone; supperclubs have nearly vanished, nightclubs likewise – and what has become of the world of “cabaret” (an uncomfortable term at best) has for years been cluttered by veterans of the 1940’s and ‘50’s who, naturally, sing what they’ve always sung – the traditional songs associated with Broadway and Hollywood.
Other singers, and I am happy to note there seem to be more all the time, have discovered that there is a wealth of material from America’s popular music past – superb ballads, catchy and complex novelties, songs that were ingrained in dance band repertoires, tunes that were featured by pre-pop jazz ensembles – just waiting to reenter the mainstream of American popular music.
Wesla Whitfield is one of those adventurous artists, anxious to sing songs probably “new” to her listeners, just as they were new to her at first. Her renditions of such material glow with the enthusiasm of one who has discovered an elusive treasure – like a book, record or antique collector who has found a sought-after item.
A few months before the 12 selections contained in this collection were committed to tape, Wesla performed most of them during a stint at San Francisco’s Plush Room, a lovely cabaret setting.
In reviewing her show, with much praise, one observer questioned, “Where did she find all these songs – they’re mostly new to me.”
She “found them by looking, listening, and searching; and some she was introduced to by her pianist/arranger, husband Mike Greensill. Greensill has played solo piano all his adult life. No musician becomes more familiar with a broad scope of popular music than the lonely saloon pianist, whose barroom listeners treat him like a human jukebox or player-piano, requesting anything that comes to mind – assuming he’ll know it.*
Greensill, whose clarinet playing also occasionally graces this splendid dozen songs, has a bent toward jazz also – thus Wesla has had a quite specialized area of song opened to her.
I’m talking here about songs associated with jazz performances, not renditions whish have – in the name of jazz – mangled some splendidly composed songs.
As it happens, “Until the Real Thing Comes Along” has both pop music and jazz associations – jazz played by a black Kansas City orchestra and sung by one of the grandest vocal stylists of the 1930’s.The hit record, in 1936, of “Until The Real Thing Comes Along” was on the relatively new 35 cent Decca label – recorded by Andy Kirk and his clouds of Joy with the inimitable Pha Terrell singing the refrain in his elegant high tenor tones. (Terrell’s style was quite similar to that of Bill Kenny lead tenor for the Ink Spots, who also joined Decca records in 1936).
Until The Real Thing Comes Along was, perhaps, the first “hit” record of a pop tune by a black orchestra – it preceded, for instance, Chick Webb’s “A Tisket a Tasket” (with Ella Fitzgerald, vocal) by two years. I know that everyone who sang “Until the Real Thing…,” male or female, imitated Terrell, which Whitfield does not – by the way. The arrangement here, is a nice introduction to the accompanying “quartet” – Greensill’s piano is both singing and sprightly, a bit Wallerish at the end; his clarinet (overdubbed) is as smooth as Terrell’s voice was – rich, elegant Goodman sound. Bassist Paul Breslin and guitarist Jim Putman on this, as most tracks, provide string rhythm base and noticeably enlarge the harmonic support for Whitfield’s voice. The Kirk band’s 1936 arrangement, by the way, was by the piano player, May Lou Williams.
Whitfield digs ‘way back for My Ideal. Although most of us think of it as Margaret Whiting’s tune from the World War II days, “My Ideal” was written by Maggie’s father, Richard, in 1930 as a vehicle for Maurice Chevalier to sing in a film. Papa Richard died in 1938, four years before his daughter had her first record with the tune.
I didn’t suggest writing these comments until I’d heard a few of the renditions from a “raw” master – therefore I feel no qualms in saying that I think Whitfield’s version of “My Ideal” is the best I have ever heard, by anyone, bar none. The slow pace, the rich rendering of the verse, the loving caresses of the lyrics – and the delicate instrumental support (especially the guitar) – make this a treasured performance.
Out Of This World comes from the Hollywood days when Johnny Mercer and Harold Arlen were occasional collaborators. Bing Crosby recorded this one, making its sound even more like the somewhat earlier (1942) Mercer-Arlen collaboration, “That Old Black Magic” than does Whitfield. The murky, minor-key mood also enables Whitfield to display another facet of her vocal abilities.
It’s nice, isn’t it to hear If I Were a Bell introduced by a bell like voice rather than a clanging “Trolley Song” sort of noise. Whitfield and Greensill eventually double the tempo and the bell swings. This is a fairly familiar “cabaret” number, drawn back from Frank Loesser’s famed “Guys And Dolls” score.
Diahann Carroll introduced I Never Has Seen Snow (Truman Capote/Harold Arlen) in 1954 in her “House of Flowers” Broadway debut. A very difficult vehicle – long lyric lines, sustained harmonies, a slow but steady meter. Whitfield’s strong voice and dramatic rendition are splendid.
If you are an old film buff (take it either way) you’ll recall that Pick Yourself Up comes from “Swing Time,” an early Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers film (1936). Composed by Jerome Kern; the lyrics are by the wonderful Dorothy Fields. Benny Goodman’s recorded version, strangely, had no vocal chorus – per his singer? In recent years, “Pick Yourself Up” has been featured by a number of singers, notable Mel Torme. Wesla and Mike have a lot of fun picking up on one another.
The Lamp Is Low is another one of those long-line melodies, the kind that demand proper breathing and the ability to hold a note on pitch for something longer than a couple of bars. Peter De Rose and Bert Shefter adapted Maurice Ravel’s “Pavane pour une Infante defunte” for the melody of this moderately successful 1939 song – the indefatigable Mitchell Parish added words and (as I remember) Dorothy Lamour of sarong and “Road” film fame made a record of it. Whitfield carries off this sort of number quite marvelously – and, again, note Putman’s guitar.
Oscar Hammerstein and Harry Ruby wrote A Kiss To Build A Dream On in 1935 – 16 years later it was resurrected for a forgotten Hollywood film titled “The Strip,” which (I am afraid) referred not to a burlesque routine but to the then-famous Hollywood Sunset Blvd. nightlife zone. Mickey Rooney starred in the thing and in the midst of the “plot” Kay Brown joined Louis Armstrong in singing “A Kiss To Build a Dream On”. Satchmo incorporated it into his nightclub/concert act (singing it with Velma Middleton) and had a mini-hit with his Decca recording. Louie kept the song in his act as well into his last decade, the 1960’s. I don’t think anyone ever thought of doing it straight, the way Whitfield does – at a slow, sensuous tempo, too. Nice piano, here, also – and a change-of-key ending.
Ill Wind (another of Harold Arlen’s tunes) comes from a Cotton Club revue, in which it was featured by the magnificent singer Adelaide Hall – who shortly afterwards left for England where she became a music hall star. Hall had carved her niche in jazz history by singing the vocal obbligato on Duke Ellington’s “Creole Love Call” recording six years before the 1934 “Ill Wind”, Whitfield fills out his smooth tune nicely, with Greensill on both piano and clarinet.
A Hundred Years From Today written by the great Victor Young had two of our finest vocalists record it in its year of publication – Jack Teagarden and Ethel Waters. Teagarden continued to sing and play it for the rest of his career. (The 1933 record session in which Big T sang, by the way, was the same one that produced Billie Holiday’s first recorded vocal – “Your Mother’s Son In Law,” with Benny Goodman’s studio band.) This is one of my all-time favorite songs – Whitfield does it proud.
Blame It On My Youth was written by the 28 year old Oscar Levant, in 1934. Structurally it is most complex for a Depression era pop song. Here, Putman accompanies Whitfield – she, in turn, lays out Edward Heyman’s lyrics beautifully. Taken at a slow, easy meter, the lyrics have an often overlooked poignancy.
I Won’t Dance is another composition by the master, Jerome Kern, who scored it according to the wishes of dancer Fred Astaire. A major set-piece in the 1935 RKO film, “Roberts,” Astaire had already choreographed his dance routine and instructed Kern in its rhythmic devises. Otto Harbach wrote the lyrics, Fred sang (and danced) it to Ginger, in a pouty way, and history of a sort was made. Whitfield captures the semi-narrative style of delivery that Astaire required. Was Kern a “master”? Note his compositions for “Roberts,” alone – “I Won’t Dance,” “Lovely To Look At,” “Yesterdays,” “The Touch Of Your Hand,” and “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes,” among others Eat your heart out, Mr. Webber.
*The writer knows well the loneliness of the saloon or lounge pianist. He attempted, unsuccessfully, to earn a meager student’s income by tickling the ivories in what now seems like prehistoric times.
-- Philip Elwood
San Francisco Examiner