Ken Lelen

Ken Lelen
Ken Lelen sings ragtime, jazz & swing and plays vintage acoustic guitars.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

MidAtlantic Concerts  —  Sept, Oct & Nov 2014
Juke Joint Jive  —  In The Mood  —  Legendary Love Songs  —  When Love Was Nifty  —  Ragtime Rascals
© 2015 Kenneth Lelen — All Rights Reserved
Last fall I performed Vintage Music Concerts for residents of 15 retirement villages in Connecticut, near Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, both Carolinas and Virginia, for library patrons in two northern New Jersey communities, and a cheery bunch of volunteers from a senior center in central New Jersey. Here's a recap with pictorials about the concerts, venues (linked), programs and music.

Juke Joint Jive
Juke Joint Jive concerts were held Sept 24 at Arbors of Hop Brook in Manchester CT east of Hartford, Oct 16 at Sherwood Oaks in Cranberry PA north of Pittsburgh and Oct 9 at Wellington in West Chester PA east of Philadelphia.
     This program features some of the most upbeat and danceable tunes of the 1930s and 1940s. Back in the day this toe-tappin' juke joint music was all the rage with young people, known by the following jive monikers: lindy hoppers, bobby soxers, stage door johnnies, swing shift maisies, drugstore cowboys, zoot suiters and — gasp! — even the jitter buggers shown here.
     Juke Joint Jive concerts can include such songs as:
     The Lady Is A Tramp — Rodgers and Hart's thumb-in-the-eye jesture to high society saw its first performance in 1937 sung by Mitzi Green in Broadway's Babes In Arms.
     Bye Bye Blues — First aired in the 1930s by Bing Crosby (1903 - 1977) on the radio to help end Depression-era sadness, it was a hit record for Cab Calloway and orchestra in 1941, Benny Goodman (1909 - 1986) in 1948, and guitarist Les Paul and vocalist Mary Ford in 1952.
                                                                Photo: Kelley Noble 
Ken Lelen at Sherwood Oaks, Cranberry PA in Oct 2014
     Jeepers Creepers — Music by Harry Warren, words by Johnny Mercer (1909 - 1976), it was premiered by Louis "Satchmo" Armstrong (1901 - 1971) in a 1938 musical comedy film, "Going Places," in which plays his cornet and playfully sings the tune to a horse.
     Paper Doll — Written in 1915 by piano-playing musician and part-time pugilist Johnny Black (1891 - 1936) after a former girlfriend ran off with another boxer. The tune was revived by the Mills Brothers, whose record sold 10 million copies and topped Billboard's charts for four weeks in January, 1944.
     Don't Get Around Much Anymore — Originally written in 1940 without words and called "Never No Lament" by big-band leader Edward "Duke" Ellington (1899 - 1974), this tune gained a new title and words by Bob Russell in 1942. Immortality with lindy hoppers and jitter buggers was assured when the Ink Spots, Duke's own band and saxophonist Glen Gray's Casa Loma Orchestra had simultaneous hit records with the song during 1943.

Rita Hayworth in 1944 movie "Cover Girl"
In The Mood
In The Mood concerts were played Sept 25 at Overlook Community in Charlton MA south of Worcester and Oct 20 at Lakewood Manor in Richmond VA west of downtown. 
     This program features hit tunes that reflect some of the ways World War II and the music business changed popular tastes in the 1940s. Composers of the day found new ways to inject ever-deeper emotions into the tunes they wrote for society orchestras, jazz combos, big bands, records, juke boxes and radio, a musical trend that resonated with folks on the Home Front and Front Lines.
     In The Mood concerts can include such songs as:
     Moonglow — Music by Will Hudson, words by Eddie Delange, this foxtrot was played by Joe Venuti and his orchestra, Ethel Waters, Benny Goodman, Thomas "Fats" Waller (1904 - 1943) and the Boswell Sisters. Still, in my opinion the best-known recording is the slow tempo, lush wordless jazz standard produced in 1941 by clarinetist-band leader Artie Shaw (1910 - 2004). 
     Dream — Written in 1944 by Johnny Mercer as a theme for his Hollywood-based radio program, this jazz and pop standard became a smooth hit record for the Pied Pipers quartet in 1945.
     I'll Be Seeing You — Music by Sammy Fain, words by Irving Kahal, this 1938 song was inserted into Right This Way, a Broadway play that lasted all of 15 performances. It became a hit recording, however, for Bing Crosby from late 1944 to May 1945, when WWII ended in Europe.
     It's Been A Long, Long Time — Music by Jule Styne, words by Sammy Cahn, this tune was extremely popular just as WWI ended in the Pacific. From fall of 1945 until spring of 1946, six competing recordings of this song hit the Billboard charts, including Harry James and vocalist Kitty Kallen, Bing Crosby with the Les Paul Trio, Charlie Spivak and vocalist Irene Daye, and Stan Kenton with vocalist June Christy.

Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers hoofing it to
Irving Berlin's Cheek To Cheek in 1935 movie "Top Hat"
Legendary Love Songs
Legendary Love Songs were on the program presented Oct 9 at Beaver Brook Country Club in Annandale NJ at a brunch to honor more than 90 volunteers who assist patrons and residents at Hunterdon County Senior Center in Flemington NJ.
     This show features songs from the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s with memorable melodies and coy lyrics that evoke romantic affairs, old flames and moonlit nights. Even the One Who Got Away shows up.
     Legendary Love Songs concerts tap a bottomless well of amorous standards, though the best include:
     These Foolish Things — Written in 1936 with music by Jack Strachey, words by Eric Maschwitz, it's a favorite of many who appreciate its musical rendition of wistful remembrances. The best version of this song, however, comes to us from Billie Holiday and Teddy Wilson's orchestra. It also was played in the 1949 movie, "Tokyo Joe," with Humphrey Bogart.
     Stardust — Hands down, the best jazz tune ever written in 1927 by an Indiana college student, Hoagland Carmichael (1899 - 1981). He went on to compose a few other love songs — Georgia On My Mind, The Nearness Of You, Heart And Soul among others — on his day off. Covered by everyone, the words to Hoagy's wandering melody were added in 1929 by Mitchell Parrish (lyricist of Deep Purple), who helped make it the bittersweet lament we know and love. I've seen people well up with tears when they hear this song about a song about love.
     As Time Goes By — Written in 1931 by Herman Hupfeld for a play, "Everybody's Welcome," which ran six months on Broadway in 1931. Few recall Hupfeld or his play, but the song became the signature tune of "Casablanca," a 1942 romantic drama starring the star-crossed lovers Ingrid Bergman and Humphrey Bogart.

1949 Chevrolet 2-door Deluxe Coupe
When Love Was Nifty
When Love Was Nifty songs were offered at the Cypress in Raleigh NC on Oct 22. It includes the hits between 1945 and 1954, when Elvis and his rowdy friends arrived and changed everything. It scans an often overlooked era in American culture when pop music was evolving to reflect both youthful passions and adult interests.
     When Love Was Nifty shows can include such songs as:
     There! I've Said It Again — Written by Redd Evans and David Mann, the song was popularized by trumpeter, baritone and big-band leader Vaughn Monroe (1911 - 1973) in 1945. Every time I visit the Boston area people remind me Monroe owned the Meadows, a once-popular restaurant and night club on Route 9 in Framingham. Built in 1940, he hosted the Camel Caravan radio program from the site in 1946. Alas, the building burned down in 1980 and today an office building occupies the site.
     Route 66 — In 1946 the Nat King Cole Trio had a hit with this song, which was written by Bobby Troup and his wife, Cynthia, on their honeymoon. The pair took a 10-day journey from Chicago to Los Angeles, hitting some of the hot spots you hear in the song. Once in L.A., the newlyweds put a recording of the song in Cole's hands. The rest, as they say, was history.
                                        Photo: Brian Strausbaugh
Ken Lelen at the Cypress, Raleigh NC in Oct 2014
     You Belong To Me — After WW II, "G.I. Jo" Stafford and the Pied Pipers helped place this romantic song of exotic locales and the constancy of love on record charts for 24 weeks in 1952. Written by Pee Wee King, Chilton Price and Redd Stewart, it also was a hit record for Sue Thompson, Patti Page and Dean Martin in 1952 as well as the Duprees in 1958.
     On A Slow Boat To China — This pop ballad, published by Frank Loesser in 1948, was a hit for five big-band leaders in 1948 as well as Rosemary Clooney (1928 - 2002) and Bing Crosby in the early 1950s.
     According to Wikipedia, Loesser's daughter Susan said her father knew the phrase "I'd like to get you on a slow boat to China" as well-known among poker players, referring to a person who steadily lost big money. "My father turned it into a romantic song, placing the title in the mainstream of catch-phrases in 1947," she said in her 1993 biography of her father, A Most Remarkable Fella

Barbara Stanwyck as Ziegfeld girl — c. 1924
Ragtime Rascals
Ragtime Rascals tunes were presented on Oct 26 at the Dorothy Henry Library during its month-long commemoration of the centennial of World War I.
     Based on the hot, sweet songs of 1919 to 1929, the music features the clever lyrics, syncopated rhythms and memorable melodies favored by flappers, crooners, doughboys, molls, stage door johnnies, bootleggers and speakeasy denizens in the 1920s.
     The rascals who produced this music include such luminaries as: Al Jolson, Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey, Gene Austin, Ethel Waters, Rudy Vallee, Fats Waller, Sophie Tucker, Nick Lucas, Cliff Edwards, Alberta Hunter, Lonnie Johnson, Mildred Bailey, Ruth Etting, Paul Whiteman, Irving Berlin and Isham Jones. 
     In this esteemed list we should not leave out singer-songwriter Victoria Spivey (1906 - 1976) and her Chicago Four. Nor jazz pianist-arranger Lil Hardin Armstrong (1898 - 1971) and her Hot Five recordings with Satchmo.
     There is no shortage of good songs from this period, which encompasses the late ragtime and early jazz eras, including:
     Sheik Of Araby was composed in 1921 by Harry Smith and Francis Wheeler, with music by Ted Snyder, in response to the popularity of Rudolph Valentino in the movie of the same name. It is said that New Orleans jazz artists were first to put the song in their repertoire, insuring its longevity.
     Oh, Lady Be Good! was composed by George and Ira Gerswhin for the 1924 musical, Lady, Be Good! The play featured the premier appearance of the brother-sister dance team, Fred and Adele Astaire, and ran on Broadway for 330 performances.
     The Gerswhin tune spawned a host of hit recordings by such artists as Paul Whiteman and his orchestra (1924), Cliff "Ukelele Ike" Edwards (1925), Jack Hylton and his orchestra (1926), and Buddy Lee with the Gilt-Edge Four (1926). In the 1930s the song was a hit for jazz artists Benny Goodman, Slim & Slam, Artie Shaw and Count Basie. And by 1947 Ella Fitzgerald's hit recording of the song was notable for her scatting, while her recording of the song 12 years later famously honored its place in the Gerswhin Songbook.
     Nobody Knows You When You're Down And Out was composed by Jimmie Cox in 1923 and popularized with Bessie Smith's recording, which was released in September, 1929 — a few weeks before the Stock Market Crash.
     The ragtime-era song bemoans the vicissitudes of fortune and fickleness of friends amidst hard times. Nobody Knows You became a standard with jazz and blues artists, including Sidney Bechet (1938), Leadbelly (1948) and Scrapper Blackwell (1959). Most recently, it was a hit for British guitarist Eric Clapton on his deceptive-labeled Unplugged album in 1992.
                                                                        Photo: Eleanore O'Mara
Ken Lelen at the Dorothy Henry Library, Vernon NJ in Oct 2014
     Legend has it that Ain't Misbehavin' was composed in 1929 by Thomas "Fats" Waller (1904 - 1943) in 45 minutes on a child's piano while he was "lodging" in alimony prison. Luckily, he had deals with music publishers to pay him for each song he wrote, so he was able to earn enough to get out of jail.
     But Fats never earned another dime on the song. Pop recordings by singing star and actress Ruth Etting (1897 - 1978), crooner Gene Austin (1900 - 1972), band leader Leo Reisman (1897 - 1961) and three other artists, were all issued in 1929.
     That year the song was also performed in a musical revue, Hot Chocolates, by Louis Armstrong at Connie's Inn, a Harlem speakeasy frequented by gangsters, molls, rum runners and bathtub bootleggers. Like its rival, the Cotton Club, Connie's Inn featured black performers in the music pit and dance floor, but audience members were limited to white patrons. 
     While this ragtime and jazz early popularity was lubricated by access to bootleg liquor, it also spread on the proliferation of 78-rpm records and the rise of radio, Broadway shows, talkies and tin-lizzie autos. Indeed, while a college boy in Indiana, Hoagy Carmichael would often travel to Chicago, Miami, Los Angeles and New York to just see, hear and soak up all that jazz.
      In the end, ragtime and jazz upended the social and sexual mores of the day. Today, we know the period from 1919 to 1929 as America's first post-War period, the Roaring Twenties and the Lost Generation.

© 2015 Kenneth Lelen — All Rights Reserved