One of my favorite tunes to dance to has always been Don’t Be That Way. It’s often associated with Benny Goodman, since he is the one that brought it to the masses. The original, however, was composed by Edgar Sampson and first recorded by Chick Webb in 1934. I think (at least for me) part of the confusion on this tune came from an apocryphal scene in The Benny Goodman Story, a mediocre film from 1956 starring Steve Allen in the title role. At one point late in the movie, someone tells him they need to announce the title of the song they’re about to play. He replies (and I’m paraphrasing here) “Everyone’s always telling me, ‘Benny, don’t be that way,’ so that’s what I’m going to call this new tune.” I haven’t seen the film in years, but I remember thinking the delivery was robotic and I disbelieved the story immediately. What I didn’t realize was that it wasn’t even his tune.
The real story is that Edgar Sampson composed Don’t Be That Way for Rex Stewart’s band in 1933.¹ Unfortunately they did not record the tune, and that same year Sampson left Stewart to join Chick Webb’s band. This was a very prolific time for him; it was the same time period he composed such classics as Stompin’ at the Savoy, Let’s Get Together, and Blue Lou. Only later would Benny Goodman make Sampson’s creations worldwide hits.
Mitchell Parish, who also wrote the lyrics of Sweet Lorraine, Stars Fell on Alabama, and Stardust, put words to the tune a few years later in 1937 . There are relatively few recordings that include the lyrics, perhaps because the melody is somewhat difficult to sing.²
Here are some of my favorite recordings of Don’t Be That Way that showcase its versatility, through a number of styles and tempos.
Chick Webb And His Orchestra: Mario Bauza, Bobby Stark, Taft Jordan (tp), Sandy Williams, Claude Jones (tb), Pete Clark (cl,as), Edgar Sampson (as,arr), Elmer “Skippy” Williams (ts), Wayman Carver (ts,fl), Don Kirkpatrick (p), John Trueheart (bj,g), John Kirby (b,tu), Chick Webb (d); New York, September 10, 1934
The original recording has that characteristic Chick Webb stamp to it: snappy tempo, tight horns, and that rhythm that just makes you want to jump. I love the rhythm guitar by John Trueheart on the first B section, it almost makes you forget the trombones are even playing. Some signature Webb comes at the end with saxophone trills and a short drum solo. In all a solid recording, but fame would elude this tune for a few years.
Lionel Hampton and his Orchestra: Cootie Williams (tp), Johnny Hodges (as), Edgar Sampson (bar,arr), Lionel Hampton (vib,vcl), Jess Stacy (p), Allen Reuss (g), Billy Taylor, Sr. (b), Sonny Greer (d); New York, January 18, 1938
There were no studio recordings of the tune between the original and this one more than three years later by Lionel Hampton. Only three live recordings captured it in these interim years, so it is apparent the tune was not in high demand. All that was about to change, however. Just two days before this recording, Benny Goodman played Carnegie Hall and opened with Don’t Be That Way.
Hamp may have recognized that the tune would be instantly popular and rushed to record it before Goodman had the chance to, or perhaps it was just coincidence. At any rate, we have an exceptional gathering of musicians here: the composer himself taking the first B section on baritone saxophone, then the incomparable Johnny Hodges and Cootie Williams taking solos on the next chorus, respectively smooth and growling. Hamp changes just a couple notes here and there to let the melody take on a completely different feeling than Webb (or Goodman, for that matter) ever had.
Benny Goodman And His Orchestra: Harry James, Ziggy Elman, Chris Griffin (tp), Red Ballard, Vernon Brown (tb), Benny Goodman (cl), Hymie Schertzer, George Koenig (as), Arthur Rollini, Babe Russin (ts), Jess Stacy (p), Allen Reuss (g), Harry Goodman (b), Gene Krupa (d), Count Basie (arr); New York, February 16, 1938
The next month, Benny Goodman made it into the studio to record the tune along with One O’Clock Jump, which was also featured in the Carnegie Hall concert. The arrangement, by Count Basie, would become the standard that his big band would follow for years. The record was a huge hit for Goodman, and stayed at #1 on the Billboard charts for 5 weeks starting that April. I’ve chosen not to include the live Carnegie Hall performance, and not even the record pictured at the right. What you hear is Take 2 from the same session; I find it much more interesting than the recording that took the country by storm, and I like to think it is the way the musicians really wanted to play. To start, the trumpets are a little punchier and staccato. The big difference, though, comes in the solos from Goodman and James. Instead of trying to spell out the melody again for the listener, they let loose as if they were in a jam session. If you have this one at home, try listening to them back to back.
Teddy Wilson and his Orchestra: Bobby Hackett (cnt), Pee Wee Russell (cl), Tab Smith (as), Gene Sedric (ts), Teddy Wilson (p), Allen Reuss (g), Al Hall (b), Johnny Blowers (d); New York, March 23, 1938
Our next recording comes just one month after Goodman’s, and from none other than his piano player, Teddy Wilson. While Wilson didn’t play at Carnegie Hall, he knew a hit when he heard it. Again I am not including the commercially released take, but an alternate that is in my opinion superior. Wilson’s take on the melody’s rhythm and phrasing gives it an even livelier mood than before, especially with his playfully interwoven responses to the band on piano. Whenever I play this recording for friends for the first time, they tend to listen for a few seconds not knowing exactly what to expect, then say, “…Yeahhhhh!” out loud.
Ella and Louis Again: Louis Armstrong (vcl), Ella Fitzgerald (vcl), Oscar Peterson (p), Herb Ellis (g), Ray Brown (b), Louie Bellson (d); Los Angeles, August 13, 1957
We now fast forward two decades, where our tune has now achieved ‘standard’ status. It was one of the great anthems of the Swing Era, and now in 1957 it is a familiar and beloved melody. The songs in these sessions with Fitzgerald and Armstrong represent some of the best of classic American music, and Don’t Be That Way is right at home in the set list. This is our only example with the lyrics included, and the first noticeable difference is its drastically different tempo. They take on such a relaxed attitude that it is almost a different song from what we have heard before. Ella and Louis are both masters of singing ahead of and behind the beat, hitting each word early or late as they see fit. They do both here, and it is those late notes that make it feel even lazier and more dreamlike. This seems like worlds away from the first recording, and it must have been a great experience for Ella to put such a different spin on it since her days in Webb’s band.
Benny Goodman Live at the Rainbow Grill: Benny Goodman (cl) Joe Newman (tp) Zoot Sims (ts) Bernie Leighton (p) Attila Zoller (g) George Duvivier (b) Joe Marshall (d); “Rainbow Grill”, New York, June 28 & 29, 1967
Our last example, and the only live recording of the bunch, comes one decade later from the man who made the song famous, Benny Goodman. He keeps some pieces of the original arrangement, such as the staccato trumpet during the main theme, as a bit of an homage to the good old days. The player who really excels here though is Zoot Sims, whose driving tenor solo propels the song from the quaint intro to its rollicking finale.
These are just a few examples of the literally hundreds of times that Don’t Be That Way has been recorded. Write a comment below if I’ve missed your favorite!
¹ The Blackwell Guide to Recorded Jazz, pg. 101.
² American Popular Song: The Great Innovators, 1900-1950, pg. 496.Posted in Music
Since my post about E. Simms Campbell’s A Nightclub Map of Harlem, I’ve talked to many people about where the original might be, as well as other jazz maps that have been created over the years. The first one that popped into my head was a vague recollection of a jazz map of the United States, with cartoony drawings of all the old greats. For days I couldn’t remember where I had seen it, until I realized it was in a book that I own.
Drawn by Jim Flora, who is famous for his jazz album covers in the 40′s and 50′s, I found A Jazzman’s Map of the World in the accompanying book of one of Time-Life’s The Swing Era LP sets. These sets are actually pretty great for their books, if not for the music itself. This one comes from the 1938-1939 volume, titled “Where Swing Came From.” This drawing does a good job of showing just that: most of the bases are covered by Flora on jazz’s early influences. He did a pretty good job of reproportioning everything on his map of the world; it reminds me of the old drawing of a sensory homunculus, which represents a human with body parts resized according to how much space in the brain is concerned with its sensory perception. In our view of the world, we only perceive jazz, right?
The next two maps I came across are modern jazz maps, courtesy of Marc Miller at Ephemera Press. Marc was the curator of the Smithsonian’s Louis Armstrong: A Cultural Legacy exhibition that contained A Nightclub Map of Harlem in 1996, and was so inspired by it he had illustrator Tony Millionaire create two amazing maps centering on Manhattan and Queens, NY.
In Harlem Renaissance: One Hundred Years of History, Art, and Culture, Manhattan is represented in a map of Harlem with sidebars representing Broadway and downtown. This work is packed full of information, and while not as fanciful as Campbell’s drawing, it would definitely be more suitable for a walking tour of Harlem. In The Queens Jazz Trail, we see the homes of dozens of legendary jazz musicians with their exact addresses. It is similarly full of great information about the different neighborhoods in which they lived and looks appropriate for a driving tour of Queens. Both of these maps are posted with permission from Ephemera Press and can be ordered directly from their website.Posted in Music
1 April 2016: A small update for those interested.
I was at my friend Jojo‘s house about a year and a half ago, watching some old VHS tapes of dance stuff she had. Among the home movies she had was a taped documentary featuring Cab Calloway. He was checking out this amazing cartoon map of Harlem from back in the 30′s and remembering all the places. Since then I’ve been trying to find a readable copy of it. A while ago I found that the title is “A Nightclub Map of Harlem” and it was drawn in 1932 by E. Simms Campbell, a cartoonist who went on to great success with his drawings in Ebony Magazine. My searches for it turned up little that was actually legible — until this week. Check out the link to view a closeup on Flickr:
I love the great depictions of Harlemites and the little comments everywhere… “Specializes in fried chicken – and it’s really good!” … “Nothing happens before 2 a.m. Ask for Clarence.” Cab Calloway made a joking comment about what a deal those marijuana cigarettes seemed at the time of filming, “2 for $.25″.
Unfortunately it seems that every copy I’ve seen is cropped on every side so we are missing a portion of this great work. My new side project is to find the original drawing and get the rights to print it as a poster. It might even be in the public domain, depending on whether rights were renewed. How great would it be to have this framed up on your wall?
As far as I can tell, the last place the original was shown was at an exhibit at the Smithsonian in 1996. I’m hoping that it is still there; I’ll post updates if I make any progress!
This revered Canadian pianist, who left us only recently, had an amazingly prolific jazz career. His virtuosic solos have mesmerized generations of jazz fans and musicians alike. But I want to focus on a facet of Oscar Peterson that is almost always understated: his skill as an accompanist. In my opinion, he is the ultimate in what a singer could ever ask for: he’s always tasteful, always creative, never overpowering, and swings with such impeccable skill you’d swear he invented the sixteenth note. Through all of this he showcases the singer in what I can only describe as great generosity. He’s more concerned with complementing them than upstaging them, and it shows. Here are a few of my favorite recordings where Oscar and his boys back up singers:
Taking a Chance on Love (Vernon Duke, John Latouche & Ted Fetter) Anita Sings the Most with the Oscar Peterson Quartet: Anita O’Day (vcl), Oscar Peterson (p), Herb Ellis (g), Ray Brown (b), Jo Jones (d); Los Angeles, January 31, 1957
The intro is one of my most favorite ever. Simple and cute at first, then gives you something to chew on right before that gorgeous bass kicks in. Just listening to every perfect response OP has for each of Anita’s lines in the A sections gives me chills. This is one of those songs that I just can’t help but get mushy over.
You Are My Sunshine (Jimmie Davis & Charles Mitchell) Bill Henderson with the Oscar Peterson Trio: Bill Henderson (vcl), Oscar Peterson (p), Ray Brown (b), Ed Thigpen (d); February 1963
Sometimes I forget Peterson is playing on this one because Bill Henderson drives the song so directly for the whole performance. It’s really Peterson and his trio though who take the song, start it out, kick it into gear, kick it up even further, and bring it way way down at the end. I love how he is brimming with energy at the beginning of that second kick, but he starts calming the band down soon after for the ending. Classic.
Love Is Here To Stay (George & Ira Gershwin) Ella and Louis Again: Ella Fitzgerald (vcl), Louis Armstrong (tp,vcl), Oscar Peterson (p), Herb Ellis (g), Ray Brown (b), Louie Bellson (d); Los Angeles, July 23, 1957
I could write a whole post about how I think the Ella and Louis albums are the best examples of classic American music and how every American should own all three of them. Here we have one out of many classics, and who else could better compliment the royalty of jazz than the Oscar Peterson Quartet? It’s another perfect example of how Peterson knows how to stay understated and how to support the singers. I love how Ray Brown moves things into high gear during Satch’s trumpet solo.
That Old Feeling (Sammy Fain & Lew Brown) Louis Armstrong Meets Oscar Peterson: Louis Armstrong (tp,vcl) Oscar Peterson (p) Herb Ellis (g) Ray Brown (b) Louie Bellson (d); Hollywood, CA, October 14, 1957
Keeping it mellow again with Armstrong, Peterson and his quartet back him up as only they could. I love the interplay between Herb Ellis and Peterson on this one. Nothing too fancy on the guitar, but the way they dance around each other is perfect for this tune.When The Saints Go Marching In (traditional) The Complete Lionel Hampton Quartets and Quintets with Oscar Peterson on Verve : Lionel Hampton (vib) Oscar Peterson (p) Ray Brown (b, voc) Buddy Rich (d); New York City, September 13, 1954I had to end this post on a high note. Here Oscar backs up one of his own on vocals: yup, that’s Ray Brown singing, with the rest of the band egging him on. There’s actually way more instrument than voice here, but this fun rollicking session has the same great back-and-forth between the piano and singer that we’ve heard here before.
I’ve focused only on studio recordings here but there are also some examples of Peterson with vocalists in live settings. Comment if you have a favorite or if I’ve left out something essential. Probably the first thing that might shoot to mind is his album where he accompanies himself, but I purposely left out With Respect to Nat because there isn’t a relationship between two musicians there (and incidentally the vocals were recorded separately from the piano). It’d be a stretch to commend someone for not upstaging themself.
Many thanks to Colin for inexplicably giving up his ticket to see Al Green on the last night of the Rochester International Jazz Festival. Corinne and I went to see an amazing show, and I swear the man doesn’t sound a day older than he did in the 70′s. Hearing him sing the hits we know and love was amazing, but even moreso was the section of the set where he paid tribute to the music that inspired him. When he started singing “My Girl,” “I Can’t Help Myself,” “Sitting On The Dock Of The Bay,” and especially “Bring It On Home To Me,” I got goosebumps.
Here are two of my favorite Al Green songs that are less than famous but beyond wonderful.
I Want To Hold Your Hand (John Lennon – Paul McCartney), December 1968
When I first heard this song I played it non-stop on repeat for three days. I can’t get enough of it. Apparently this was not a big hit when it came out, but I daresay I like it better than the original.
Old Time Lovin’ (Al Green), 1971
A few years later we hear Al after he discovered his distinctive less-is-more style of singing. It’s no surprise that this was recorded in the same session as Let’s Stay Together.
In my pie-in-the-sky daydreaming I thought how awesome would it be for Al Green to play at Swing And Soul, but a quick approximation of how much money he made the night I saw him definitely puts that idea in the realm of next-to-impossible. I highly recommend catching a show of his if you get the chance.