With the stage and tables situated on its former tennis lawn, the historic Filoli Estate and Gardens south of San Francisco provides a romantic setting for this week's Riverwalk Jazz broadcast, titled Sweet Ballads and Red Hot Pianos. Piano legend Dick Hyman and jazz vocalist Stephanie Nakasian join The Jim Cullum Jazz Band for an outdoor concert including a set of songs by composer Walter Donaldson. From "My Blue Heaven" to "You're Driving Me Crazy" and "Love Me or Leave Me," Walter Donaldson composed a string of hits with enduring appeal for both jazz musicians audiences. Donaldson's songs have been favorites with the lyricists who collaborated with him, including the golden-era great Johnny Mercer. Donaldson's songwriting career spanned three decades, and he wrote hundreds of tunes for stage and screen, and for singing stars Al Jolson, Eddie Cantor, and Ruth Etting. He composed the eternal pop hits “My Buddy,” “Makin’ Whoopee” and "How Ya Gonna Keep 'Em Down on the Farm?"
Broadway’s ‘Sweetheart of Song' Ruth Etting, had the initial hit record on "Love Me Or Leave Me" in 1928. With a lyric by Donaldson's frequent collaborator Gus Kahn, it was later recorded by Count Basie, Bob Crosby, Miles Davis, Lester Young and Mel Tormé. Fats Waller recorded a masterful solo piano version on the Bluebird label, also in 1928. Here, Stephanie Nakasian takes the vocals on a pair of Donaldson's torch songs "Love Me Or Leave Me" and "At Sundown." Composed in 1927 "At Sundown" has been recorded by a wide variety of jazz artists from cornetist Muggsy Spanier, to the World's Greatest Jazz Band and bandleader and clarinet virtuoso Artie Shaw. Donaldson wrote "You're Driving Me Crazy" in 1930, and later that year Louis Armstrong made a highly entertaining recording of it. Other notable rendtions of "Crazy" are by Josephine Baker and Django Reinhardt. Like many Walter Donaldson compositions, it remains a jam session favorite among jazz musicians. On this broadacst, Stephanie Nakasian gives a rave up performance of "You're Driving Me Crazy" with The Jim Cullum Jazz Band taking flight behind her.
Broadcast highlights on Riverwalk Jazz this week include pianist Dick Hyman's recreation of the piano roll version of "'Taint No Sin (to Take Off Your Skin and Dance Around in your Bones)" which he remembers hearing as boy at home. Stephanie Nakasian performs a song made famous by blues singer Helen Humes, "Million Dollar Secret," and The Jim Cullum Jazz Band clarinetist Ron Hockett is featured soloist on "The Sheik of Araby."
Photo credit for home page teaser image: "My Blue Heaven" sheet music, 1928. Image courtesy jazzage1920s.com.
Text based on Riverwalk Jazz script by Margaret Moos Pick ©2006