Saturday, May 4, 2013

Torch, Arlen Style

Helen O'Connell photo Helen_OConnell_zpsc9275494.jpg Eva Cassidy photo Eva-Cassidy_zps66634c11.jpg
Dinah Washington photo dinah_washington_zps230b73f0.jpg Aretha Franklin photo Aretha_Franklin_zps0752392e.jpg
Clockwise: Helen O'Connell; Eva Cassidy; Aretha Franklin; and Dinah Washington.

Tonight I am inspired by the music of the great Harold Arlen. Truthfully, it started this morning when a song come to mind, and I just kept humming it. But first, more about the man. In 1905, Arlen was born Hyman Arluck, in Buffalo, New York, United States, the child of a Jewish cantor. He took piano lessons as a child, became a popular act in the Buffalo area. In his twenties, he made his way to New York City, and soon changed his name to Harold Arlen. In the 1930s, he and lyricist Ted Koehler worked together often, and had a regular gig writing songs to be performed at the popular Harlem nightclub, The Cotton Club. Arlen also began writing music for both Broadway and Hollywood musicals, as well as for popular singers of the day. This brings me back to my inspiration for this post, that song that kept playing in my head. While I will admit it was the Barbra Streisand version, it was "When The Sun Comes Out" that was playing loud and clear. The song was written by Arlen in 1941 with Ted Koehler, and originally sung by Helen O'Connell with the Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra. And so I picked that version to play here, for it is really wonderful.

Arlen also worked with other lyricists, some of the best around. In 1941, he was writing with Johnny Mercer on a film with the working title 'Hot Nocturne'. They wrote a great song, introduced in the movie by William Gillespie. That song was "Blues In The Night", and soon the movie title was changed to match the song. And the song quickly became a standard, a part of the Great American Songbook, and recorded by some of the biggest names in the music business. I picked a version that was recorded in 1997, by the late Eva Cassidy. Cassidy, who passed away the year before, was working on the album at the time of her death. Eva had a magical way to blend her acoustic Pop and Blues roots to make amazing music, and loved taking on some of the iconic music. Here is her recording of "Blues In The Night".

In 1954, Arlen released another project written for the great Judy Garland. He had, of course, worked with her earlier, when he worked on a little film named 'The Wizard of Oz'. So when he began working on the film 'A Star Is Born' with lyricist Ira Gershwin, everyone had to know magic was bound to happen. And it most certainly did. I still remember quite vividly the scene in 'A Star Is Born' when Esther Blodgett, played by Judy, is jamming with some studio musicians and she sings "The Man That Got Away". It was magnificent. But I've had Judy singing the song on the blog before, and decided to try something a little different, so here is a lovely version by Dinah Washington, recorded for her 1962 album 'Drinking Again'.

And, if I was covering the music of Harold Arlen, I couldn't ignore the great song written, according to lore, in front of a drug store in Hollywood in 1938, could I? Legend has it while driving up Sunset Boulevard after a rain, Arlen noticed a rainbow over the iconic Schwab's Drug Store, and it inspired a song for the project he was working on. He was writing the music for the musical 'The Wizard of Oz' with E. Y. Harburg, which became a huge hit in 1939. That would include the song sung by Judy Garland, "Over The Rainbow". And once again, I have posted Judy singing it before, so I tried to find something new, and was thrilled when I found this version by Aretha Franklin, which is truly wonderful. Enjoy.

Have a great weekend!


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