Saturday, June 13, 2009

Moon, June, Spoon #3

It’s Moon June Spoon time, folks, & today’s list has some interesting selections, including a couple of real old time songs by the Fabulous Heftones, an obscure but haunting piano piece by Mary Lou Williams, & a blues qua dark night of the soul by the great Reverend Gary Davis. Check ‘em out!

In the Moonlight: As I’ve said in this space before, the Fabulous Heftones are very good at playing to their strengths—no small achievement, & one that I believe is particularly crucial for a duo—in some ways, I think the most difficult musical configuration of all in terms of finding a “sound.” “In the Moonlight” is a sweet love song, & the Fabulous Heftones keep it pure & lovely. Vocals on this & “In the Valley of Moon” are handled by Lynn Hefferan, who also handles the intriguing bass banjo called a Heftone. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the band, Brian Hefferan is a very fine uke player & singer. The Fabulous Heftones: Moon June Spoon (Heftone Records)

In the Valley of the Moon: This tune dates back to 1913 & was written by one Jeff Branen—obscure to me at least. It’s another lilting tune, & it rhymes “moon” & “June”—very much to our purpose—at the beginning of the chorus: “In the Valley of the Moon, where I met you one night in June.” There’s no follow-up on “spoon” or even “croon,” but rather “While I passed you by, thought I heard you sigh, while the nightbirds were in tune.” You can hear an mp3 of the Fabulous Heftones playing these tunes on their site here. The Fabulous Heftones: Moon June Spoon (Heftone Records)

It's Only a Paper Moon: Oh I do love this song—I do it myself, resonator guitar & all, & it’s great fun—for me at the very least! There are of course scads of recordings of this song about a belief that love will make everything “real.” One of my favorites is by the great Cliff Edwards, AKA Ukulele Ike (also AKA Jiminy Cricket in the 1940 Disney Pinocchio, & as such the voice behind “When You Wish Upon a Star.”) The version I refer to of Ukulele Ike’s is actually a bit more ballad-like than his version in the clip below, but both are top-notch. & the other versions I happen to have aren’t too shabby either! Cliff Ukulele Ike Edwards: Singin' in the Rain (Living Era), Ella Fitzgerald: The Harold Arlen Songbook, vol. 2, Grappelli-Kessel: Stephane Grappelli Meets Barney Kessel (1201 Music),
Oscar Peterson: Oscar Peterson Plays the Harold Arlen Songbook, Django Rheinhardt: Djangology 49 (Bluebird)

Moon: It’s an undeniable fact that Mary Lou Williams was a musical genius; she was a genius as a composer, as a pianist, & as an arranger—Duke Ellington’s various combos benefited a lot from her arranging talents. Williams came up as a stride piano player in the real hardscrabble days of early jazz & continued to evolve her chops from the 30s thru the 70s. It is a crime that she’s not recognized for what she is: one of the jazz world’s true shining lights. This song is one of her originals—by turns moody & atmospheric but with a playful touch constantly bringing the music back into a casual feel. As with most Williams’ compositions, the rhythms & harmonies are complex; “Moon” is played with Williams on piano & an upright bass. These Chronological Classics CDs seem to be getting harder to come by, but it is available on Amazon & the songs are also available as mp3 downloads. Mary Lou Williams: 1944-1945 (Chronological Classics)

Moon Country: This is a delightful song about the (mythic) old south where, as Johnny Mercer states in the lyric, they cook things “that melt in your mouth.” Listening to this particular album the other day, it was sad to consider that Hoagy as a performer (at least in the 20s & 30s) was uncomfortably close to the blackface tradition, with his use of “dialect” on tunes like “Rockin’ Chair” & “Washboard Blues.” Still, to my mind Carmichael’s melodies & harmonies are as fine as any written during the golden age of the Great American Songbook, & his best songs are really timeless. Of course, Mercer was as good as lyricists came during that era as well. Hoagy Carmichael: Stardust, And Much More (Bluebird)

Moon Dreams: Here’s another tune Johnny Mercer had a hand in, tho this version is instrumental. Of course, Birth of the Cool is a seminal recording, & check out the line-up for the 1950 session that produced "Moon Dreams" & three other takes: Davis on trumpet; JJ Johnson on trombone; Gunther Scheller on French horn (!); John Barber, tuba; Lee Konitz, alto sax; Gerry Mulligan, baritone sax; Al McKibbon, bass; & Max Roach on drums. What a line-up…. & they play up to their reputations (just being formed at this time). The ensemble playing is superb on this haunting melody. Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool (Capitol Jazz)

Moon Goes Down: Who can take a guitar & make it sound as if it’s being played by a top-notch rag piano player while at the same time always sounding like a guitar? Reverend Gary Davis is one of the few. If you’ve never heard the Reverend, you’re missing some of the finest guitar playing I know of—& I’m not limiting that to a given genre—it’s just some of the best period. One thing about Reverend Gary Davis—besides his uncanny musicality & playing ability, he layed it all on the line vocally & instrumentally each & every time. Actually the guitar part on this is subdued by his standards, & this song is a bit more traditionally “bluesy” than much of his material. Reverend Gary Davis: Pure Religion & Bad Company (Smithsonian-Folkways)

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  1. LOL - I'll have to listen a bit later, but I have to say that whenever you say "Moon, June, Spoon", I hear my mother's voice. It always makes me smile.

  2. Hi Sandra:

    Yes, I think you mentioned your mother's opinion of "Moon June Spoon" recently! Hope you enjoy the clip when you have time to listen.

  3. That was great. Lynn Hefferan's voice reminds me of my older sister's - and Paper Moon is fabulous. I really enjoyed this version. Are you a Grapelli fan? I love everything I've ever heard him play.

  4. Cliff Edwards' rendition is sweet. I don't think I've heard that before.

  5. Hi Jacqueline:

    As you may know, Edwards was very popular in his day, & yes, he had a great tenor voice, & some really great uke chops--not on display here, but he came by the "Ukulele Ike" moniker honestly. One of his very big hits was "Singin' in the Rain" back in the 20s when it was written. He also introduced a humber of Gershwin songs including "Lady Be Good" & "Somebody Loves Me."


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