We never know when life will throw a curve ball our way, especially when it comes to matters of the heart. If love turns sour, it can seem as if the whole world’s gone wrong. In times like these, if we’re lucky, a song comes along to change our mood and rescue us from the blues. From the very earliest beginnings of America’s popular music, composers and lyricists invented bluesy, funny or irreverent love songs to help the lovelorn ‘pick themselves up, dust themselves off and start all over again.’
This edition of Riverwalk Jazz offers a wry look at love gone wrong with classic songs about losing love and getting even, or at least getting the last word.
Jazz singer Rebecca Kilgore opens the show with The Jim Cullum Jazz Band on the title track “Goody Goody,“ showcasing its scorching lyric by Johnny Mercer. Rebecca follows it up with “Hard-Hearted Hannah,“ a 1924 Tin Pan Alley tune about the killer ‘vamp from Savannah.’ A notable jazz version by Ella Fitzgerald can be heard in the 1955 movie Pete Kelly’s Blues with Dragnet’s Jack Webb in a starring role. New York-based trumpeter Jon-Erik Kellso sits in with the Band.
“I Gotta Right to Sing the Blues“ by the stellar songwriting team of Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer features New Orleans trumpeter Nicholas Payton, noted for his Grammy Award-winning collaboration with classic jazz legend Doc Cheatham. Here Payton guests with Jim Cullum and his band. Elsewhere Louis Armstrong recorded a memorable jazz version of “I Gotta Right to Sing the Blues,” as did Texas trombone man Jack Teagarden.
“Someday Sweetheart,“ composed in 1919 by the Los Angeles-based Spikes brothers, has been associated with the self-proclaimed inventor of jazz and blues, Jelly Roll Morton, ever since his heyday in Chicago in the early 1920s. The version heard here features vocals by Broadway’s Vernel Bagneris, an Obie Award-winner for his portrayal of the jazzman in his original show Jelly Roll!
Australian songbird Nina Ferro offers her interpretation of “After You've Gone,“ a standard first made famous in 1918 on the vaudeville stage by the 'last of the red-hot mommas,' Sophie Tucker. Nina follows up with another Arlen and Mercer standard, “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea“ from the 1931 Cotton Club revue, Rhyth-Mania.
Next up The Jim Cullum Jazz Band presents a set of instrumentals beginning with “Of All the Wrongs You've Done to Me (They’re Bound to Come Back to You),“ a 1920s tune with a clear message that it’s ‘payback time!’ The Band follows it up with another number with a title that says it all, “There Ain't No Sweet Man Worth the Salt of My Tears,” a performance that recalls Jazz Age cornet genius Bix Beiderbecke’s highly-regarded 1927 recording.
Broadway and film star Carol Woods (Across the Universe, Chicago, The Goodbye Girl) sits in with Jim Cullum’s band to interpret one more enduring hit from the storied Arlen/Mercer collaboration, “Blues in the Night.“
Actor and singer Terry Burrell takes center stage for a tune that the fits the genre perfectly—Jelly Roll Morton’s “I Hate a Man Like You.“ This performance, captured live at Kaufmann Hall at New York’s 92nd Y, features the duo piano accompaniment of John Sheridan and Dick Hyman. Hyman follows this number with a spectacular solo piano version of “Sobbin' Blues," a tune from 1923 favored by early jazz bands in Chicago.
“You Been a Good Old Wagon, But You Done Broke Down” goes all the way back to 1895. New Orleans jazz and gospel singer Topsy Chapman takes on this venerable tune written by Ben Harney and famously recorded by the fabled ‘Empress of the Blues’ Bessie Smith in 1925.
To wrap up our concert devoted to songs of love gone wrong, The Jim Cullum Jazz Band plays a melancholy tune often heard as the last song of the night at The Landing Jazz Club in San Antonio, “When Your Lover Has Gone.”
Photo credit for Home Page: "When Your Lover Has Gone" sheet music courtesy of songbook.wordpress.
Text based on Riverwalk Jazz script by Margaret Moos Pick ©2002