Friday, January 21, 2011
THE EARLY JAZZ SIDE OF BING
Here is an article I wrote, nearly 10 years ago! It appeared in IN TUNE INTERNATIONAL MAGAZINE in March of 2001... THE EARLY JAZZ SIDE OF BING CROSBY - by David Lobosco In the fifty years that Bing Crosby made records, he recorded just about every conceivable genre of music from cowboy songs to sacred hymns. Bing was comfortable singing any type of song, but he seemed to be most at home singing jazz. Growing up in Spokane, Washington he was a long way from the sights and sounds of New Orleans. However, during Bing's formative years he soaked up the music of Kid Ory, Jelly Roll Morton, and Louis Armstrong. His early efforts showed how Bing had absorbed the jazz atmosphere that he found so musically stimulating. Those early efforts on vinyl included his stint with the Paul Whiteman orchestra. The Whiteman organization contained some of jazz's foremost pioneers like: the Dorseys, Eddie Lang, Joe Venuti, and Bix Biederbecke. Bing especially followed the cornet stylings of Biederbecke, and Bix not only became an idol of Bing's but also a drinking buddy during their time with Whiteman. Bing's first recording with the band was in late 1926, but it wasn't until March of 1927 that he got to record his first solo vocal on vinyl. The song, MUDDY WATER, is now considered a jazz classic, but to most Crosby fans it bears little distinction. For pure historic reason alone it should be highly valued. Whiteman gave the song to Bing after being impressed with Bing's work. For the next couple of years however, Bing mostly just waxed discs as a part of the Rhythm Boys and not much on his own. That would change though in January of 1929 when Bing was loaned out to the newly formed Dorsey Brothers Orchestra to record a few songs. One song that brought the young Crosby wider recognition was MY KINDA LOVE. Arranged by a very young Glenn Miller, the song was unexceptional. Fortunately, the Crosby vocal does the song more than justice. Later that year, Bing recorded one of the best records with Whiteman and the Rhythm Boys. Written by Leo Robin and Richard Whiting, the song is practically a theme song for French singer Maurice Chevalier. However, LOUISE is undoubtedly the Rhythm Boys' at their wild best. If Bing takes centre stage, his two colleagues also have very good parts and it amply demonstrates all the different facets of Bing's emerging personality - scat, comedy, harmony, and masterful solo singing. In mid 1930, the Rhythm Boys left the Whiteman organization and latched on to the popular Gus Arnheim orchestra. The trio made a few records with the band before it became obvious that Bing was emerging as the star. The trio broke up in 1931, and Bing stayed on with Arnheim as a solo singer. Bing made two very good recordings while he was with Arnheim. The first recording was the jaunty ONE MORE TIME. The opening bars are a true indication of what follows. The orchestra announces their presence and Crosby almost literally bursts upon the scene with his best solo jazz vocal to date. The other recording is not as well recorded, but I'M GONNA GET YOU bears recognition since it marks his last recording as a band vocalist. The limited range of the song seems to irk Bing into thrusting beyond its restraints, and Bing's final note is almost inaudible. In June of 1931, Bing recorded the highly popular song I FOUND A MILLION DOLLAR BABY for the first time with a studio orchestra. The significance of the recording has never truly been realized. This recording marks his first up-tempo song as a solo artist. The song is a joyful departure from Bing's early solo efforts such as JUST A GIGOLO, which were mournful and sad and not as upbeat as Bing could naturally sing. Soon after embarking on a solo recording career, Bing also found himself the star of radio and movies as well. For his first feature role in 1932, Bing recorded the jazz classic DINAH. It also marked the first pairing of Bing and the Mills Brothers. It is hard to come up with enough adjectives to describe this jazz masterpiece. It is a gem polished to near perfection by the singers and orchestra alike. The version Bing sang in "The Big Broadcast'' with lone accompaniment by guitarist Eddie Lang is equally good with Bing really digging his teeth into the scat singing part of the song. Bing returned to singing with a great jazz orchestra when he lent his vocals to Duke Ellington's rendition of ST. LOUIS BLUES. This recording with the Duke is an early example of Bing's ability to sing jazz convincingly. He fits into the Ellington scene as if he had been part of the band for years. Bing's next great jazz rendering is his take on the Sophie Tucker theme SOME OF THESE DAYS. Crosby sings the enjoyable ditty with the Lennie Hayton orchestra, and the recording featured a great solo by Crosby favourite Eddie Lang. The song was written by Shelton Brooks in 1910 specifically for Tucker. However, the recording made by Bing is the one that is frequently quoted as an example of Bing's ability to sing jazz. In 1933, Bing teamed up with the now forgotten Jimmy Grier band to record the Gordon Jenkins composition BLUE PRELUDE. All the sentiments of pain and anguish are expressed by Bing's magnificent phrasing, and Bing turns it into more of a blues number than a jazz one. Bing would go on to record over half a dozen songs with the Grier organization, like: LEARN TO CROON, DOWN THE OLD OX ROAD, and THANKS, but none of his other recordings had as much of a jazz feel as BLUE PRELUDE did. By 1935, Bing Crosby was taking matters into his own hands. He left Brunswick records to become one of the charter recording stars of the newly formed Decca Records. Under the direction of its founder Jack Kapp, Bing recorded less jazz oriented numbers. However, throughout the decades he would record with some of the greats of jazz like Connee Boswell, Lee Wiley, Jack Teagarden, and Louis Jordan. However, that is for another story...another article!