The man with the monocle

There was a time before microphones. Think about what that meant for a singer. You had to stand on stage in front of an orchestra, and your unaided voice had to reach the far corner of the hall. It is an astonishing thing: to sing with pitch, control, feeling, as well as power and volume. It requires talent, dedication and training, and technique.

OGt-TauberTopper

Richard Tauber in his dapper prime

Microphones changed singing. From the 1930s on, it was possible to front a band and sing, and let the microphone do the heavy lifting. You could focus on timing, timbre and expression. Paradox: the electronically amplified singer can sound more natural.

So to modern ears, operatic singing is a bit of an acquired taste. The power and volume of the natural, trained classical voice seems a bit odd, stylised, artificial. It is worth making the effort, though. Before the microphone, classical singing was singing. This was how it was done, how music sounded.

One of the early superstars of recorded music was Richard Tauber. He wore a monocle. Along with a silk top hat, it was his trademark. He did not need the lens to see. In fact – well-kept secret – monocles are completely useless for helping vision. They were only ever a silly fashion item. But Tauber had a squint in one eye, and the monocle disguised that, and made him look dapper besides.

More to the point, Tauber could sing. A measure of his popularity is that long after he died (of lung cancer, in 1948), when superior recording techniques allowed other tenors to share their art, Richard Tauber’s work continued to be reissued.

I have not been able to determine when this track – one of more than 720 he recorded – was released on shellac. Guessing mid-1930s? Nor do I know when the vinyl EP reissue, with this and three other songs, came out. Guessing late 1950s? All that matters: here is a voice than has pitch, control and feeling, as and can reach the far corner of the hall. Just listen!

  • Artist: Richard Tauber
  • EP Title: Richard Tauber Favorites Vol. 1
  • Track: A2 “Liebestraum” (Liszt)
  • Format: 7”, 45 rpm, vinyl, mono
  • Label: Parlophone
  • Made in: Australia
  • Catalogue: REPO 7501
  • Year: Unknown

Many of the records featured on this blog, and hundreds of others, are for sale via Discogs

 

 

 

 

Our Glad

She was HUGE. Her first name all you needed. That was her, the famous singer, the Australian girl who had gone to England and become a star.

It was the 1930s, when Australia was self-consciously claiming its place in the world. We loved an international champion. There was our great aviator, Charles Kingsford-Smith; our great cricketer, Don Bradman; our great racehorse, Pharlap. And there was “Our Glad”.

Who? Her star has faded, but Gladys Moncrieff, “Australia’s Queen of Song” was the Kylie Minogue of her day. Born in Bundaberg, Queensland, in 1892, she became the top leading lady in Australian musical theatre. A critic wrote of an early performance:

It was good to hear a crowded Australian audience acclaim the success of a slim, straight young Australian girl … It was a personal triumph in which hard work, talent and youth bore fine fruit.

By the mid-1920 she was earning 150 pounds a week, making her the highest paid entertainer in Australia. In 1926 she sailed to England, and after a few false starts again broke through: “Before the night concluded” wrote a reviewer, “even the dullest critic must have realized that a new star of amazing brilliance had climbed above London’s theatrical horizon”.

old spinning wheelShe also recorded nearly 100 gramophone records, and was the first Australian artist to regularly outsell recordings from abroad. This is one, her version of “The Old Spinning Wheel”, written by the great American songwriter Billy Hill.

She could really sing, our Glad.

 

  • Artist: Gladys Moncrieff with orchestra Conducted by Gil Dech
  • A side: The Old Spinning Wheel
  • Format: 10”, 78 rpm, shellac, mono
  • Label: Regal Zonophone
  • Made in: Australia
  • Catalogue: G22098
  • Year: Unknown (c. 1934)

Many of the records featured on this blog, and hundreds of others, are for sale via Discogs

Liquorice stick

On Sunday, my wife and I saw a jazz band, Sandra Tulty’s Swing Quartet. Australians all, and all stellar musicians: one of those jaw-dropping jazz ensembles, which sing, play multiple instruments, and take on solos without so much as raising a sweat. I was particularly impressed by the clarinettist, Michael McQuaid. He moved in and out of the music, soloing with extraordinary power and dexterity.

It reminded me of the great Artie Shaw – one of those musicians I have discovered through Planet Vinyl. Shaw was a contemporary of Benny Goodman, and they were built up as rivals, though the two men liked and respected each other. They were both Jewish (Shaw was an anglicization of Arshawsky) and they both took the jazz clarinet, the “liquorice stick” as it was called, into aural spaces no one had ever even thought of.

IMG_2241This is Artie Shaw’s recording of “Begin the Beguine”, released in 1938. The record has been played so often that the label is hard to read, but it once belonged to someone called Dawson. Whoever that was, they took good care of their records – the shellac still plays well, letting the smooth, sinuous clarinet sound shine.

  • Artist: Artie Shaw And His Orchestra,
  • Track: “Beguine the Beguine”
  • Format: 10”, 78 rpm, shellac
  • Label: His Master’s Voice
  • Manufactured in: Australia
  • Catalogue: EA 2369
  • Year: 1938

Many of the records featured on this blog, and hundreds of others, are for sale via Discogs

 

 

 

 

Hear the real Maria

Sound of Music tragics, of whom there are many, will tell you that there is a scene early on in the film in which Maria, played by Julie Andrews, passes through an archway, and you see an old lady in the background. That, so I have heard, is the real Maria von Trapp. A fellow blogger has gone to the trouble of capturing the frame – thank you!

real maria

In a strange way, The Sound of Music is a bit like Macbeth. A piece of theatre is based on real people. The show is a huge success, such that the real people fade, are forever seen through the lens of the fiction. You can forget there really was a king of Scotland called Macbeth, and he never said “Is this a dagger I see before me?”. You can forget that there really was a Trapp family, and that they became refugees who managed to make a living from their music.

The Trapp Family Choir sang and played complex interwoven harmonies, mostly arrangements of traditional German songs. Like in the musical? Not really. There is a hint of similarity, here and there. Rogers and Hammerstein clearly took some songs as starting ideas. “Wohlauf ihr lieben Gaste (Now Then, Dear Guests)”, is a party wind-up song, and identifiable as the distant ancestor of “So Long, Farewell”.

This track was one of a dozen the Trapp family recorded in December 1938, not long after they had left Austria. It is a traditional Christmas song, “Maria Durch Ein Dornwald Ging”, which means roughly “Mary Walked through a Thorny Wood”. The family must have felt they were in a thorny wood of their own. A rousing show tune it ain’t, but the singing is quite lovely. Forget what you know, and listen to the real Maria.

  • Artist: The Trapp Family Choir
  • LP Title: The Sound of Folk Music of Many Lands
  • Track: A2 “Maria Durch Ein Dornwald Ging”
  • Label: RCA Camden
  • Catalogue: CAS-904
  • Manufactured in: Australia
  • Year: 1965 (song recorded 22 Dec 1938).

 

A man of appetite

A man of appetite, was Fats Waller. Like many a sensualist, he was the son of a preacher man, born in 1904 in New York State.

Astonishingly gifted, he was playing piano and organ in churches by the age of ten, and worked as a professional cinema organist while in his teens. He moved into jazz and vaudeville, and during the Roaring Twenties he roared. He composed for and played with the cream of Black American music: Bessie Smith, Louis Armstrong, Sara Martin, everyone. He hit the big time himself in the mid-1930s, performing as Fats Waller and His Rhythm. In the course of eight years, the ensemble recorded more than 150 78rpm records.

3059-aThe mix of high-class jazz musicianship and Waller’s exuberant vocals produced a string of massive hits such as “Ain’t Misbehavin’”, “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter”, “My Very Good Friend the Milkman”, “The Joint is Jumping,” “Honeysuckle Rose” … so many more it is hard to know where to start and end.

Along with the Rhythm records, Waller also recorded a huge output of piano and organ solos and maintained a punishing touring schedule.

How did he do it? The short answer is, at great cost. He died in 1943, aged only 39, of pneumonia. Colin Larkin’s Encylopedia of Popular Music paints the picture:

His life has been one of excess. Enormous amounts of food and liquor meant that his weight varied between 285 and 310 lbs – ‘a girthful of the blues’. Days of carousing were followed by equal amounts of sleeping, not necessarily alone.

(For those more familiar with the metric system, he weighed as much as 141 kg.)

This track was released in Australia in the 1950s, and was recorded in about 1939. It is a lyrical lightweight, but listen to the piano (the signature “Harlem Stride” of the left hand, melding with solos from both himself and others) and the warmth and charisma of the vocal. This was all, remember, done in one take.

Fats Waller was, shall we say, no lifestyle coach. But he is one of the great composers and performers of jazz and popular music. Maybe even any music.

  • Artist: Fats Waller and His Rhythm
  • Title: You meet the Nicest People in Your Dreams / Honey Hush
  • Format: 10” shellac disc, 78rpm
  • Label: Regal Zonophone
  • Catalogue: G24220
  • Manufactured in: Australia
  • Year: unknown (released mid-1950s, recorded c. 1939)

Many of the records featured on this blog, and hundreds of others, are for sale via Discogs

Jealous rage in musical form

Arthur Fiedler was one of the great popularisers. He hated the notion that classical and orchestral music were seen as the preserve of a moneyed, snobbish elite. He wanted the music he loved made available to everyone, and as director the Boston Pops Orchestra, that is exactly what he did. He took charge of the orchestra in 1930, as America slid into the Great Depression, and under his guidance the orchestra toured all over, giving low cost and free concerts, with a mix of lighter classics and orchestrations of popular tunes.

bpo-aPurists frowned, because that is what purists do to show their purity, but Fiedler’s program gave work for hundreds of musicians, and brought orchestral music to many thousands of people who would otherwise never have heard it. Actually, make that millions of people, because Fiedler also pioneered orchestral recording, making the first recordings of many light classical and orchestrated popular works.

Among them was this, the first ever recording of the tango “Jalousie”, made in 1935. Dramatic, powerful, explosive – a jealous rage in musical form – the disc sold more than one million copies. That is a lot of records, even now. Back then, for an orchestra, an astonishing feat.

In America, the Boston Pops recorded for RCA Victor. This is a British release, on His Master’s Voice, and the name used is Boston Promenade Orchestra. Perhaps “pops” was thought lacking in dignity for an HMV release? Whatever: this is a recording which is (rare mix) both  historic and sublime. Put on a red dress, clutch a rose between your teeth, and hit play.

  • Artist: Boston Promenade Orchestra [Boston Pops Orchestra], conducted by Arthur Fiedler
  • Title: Jealousy / Entry of The Boyards
  • Format: 12” shellac disc, 78rpm
  • Label: His Master’s Voice
  • Catalogue: C. 2861
  • Manufactured in: Great Britain
  • Year: c. 1935

Many of the records featured on this blog, and hundreds of others, are for sale via Discogs

Chopin does the tango

The world is so full of strange coincidence that I should stop being surprised. But still. The shuttle which lands on Planet Vinyl is programmed to be random but different. If yesterday we heard a 7-inch 45 rpm playing eighties synth-pop, the only certainty about today is that it will NOT be a synth-pop single from the eighties.

Yesterday, we heard a 7-inch, 33⅓ rpm EP recorded in the sixties, a lovely performance by Vlado Perlemuter of a classical piano piece by Frederic Chopin, “Étude Op. 10, No. 3”.

Today, we have a 10-inch, 78 rpm shellac disc from 1939, the work of the great British band leader, Joe Loss, with his orchestra. I listened to both sides and decided to go with the B-side, a Latin-tinged, dramatic dance number.3044 b

I had no idea when I heard it – the very possibility did not occur to me – but this piece of 1930s swing, “So Deep is the Night” is an inventive dance arrangement of a song, which in turn was an adaptation of a tune for solo piano, written a century earlier, under the name “Étude Op. 10, No. 3”, by Frederic Chopin.

Once you know to listen for it, you can recognise the connection. Maybe, on some sub-conscious level, that was the tune appealed to me? I don’t know.

Sometimes we travel a very long way to discover ourselves back in the same place.

  •    Artist: Joe Loss and His Band
  •    Title: Begin the Beguine / So Deep is the Night
  •    Track: B side, “So Deep is the Night”
  •    Format: 10” shellac disc, 78rpm
  •    Label: Regal Zonophone, G23862
  •    Manufactured in: Australia
  •    Year: 1939

Many of the records featured on this blog, and hundreds of others, are for sale via Discogs.