Wednesday, July 1, 2009

To Be In Love

Seger Ellis
Recorded June 4, 1929
Track Time 3:06
Written by Fred Ahlert and Roy Turk
Recorded in New York City
Seger Ellis, vocal; Louis Armstrong, trumpet; Tommy Dorsey, trombone; Jimmy Dorsey,clarinet; Harry Hoffman, violin; Justin Ring, piano; Stan King, drums
Originally released on OKeh 41255
Currently available on CD: It's on volume five of Columbia’s old chronological series of Armstrong’s OKeh recordings, Louis in New York
Available on Itunes? Yes, on the same set

Last week, I tackled Seger Ellis's 1929 recording of "S'posin'" in this space, a request from the great jazz historian/trombonist David Sager. I was pretty harsh on Ellis, which prompted Sager to write me personally, saying, "I feel I must gently take you to task in regards to Seger E's artistry. Now, mind you I am not a fan of his style of singing. But there is something intrinsically musical there--intentionally musical--that I feel is absent, big time, in Rudy V's singing. Ellis is a phraser while Rudy tends to sing flat--not pitch wise, but without nuance. that is why I cannot understand why he was such a rage w the females of those days. Perhaps the flat presentation represented a kind of standoffishness, a coolness, aloofness? In comparison Seger (which by the way was pronounced like my last name, with a long "A" sound) had some passion in his phrasing."

All good points. I hammered Ellis's vocal quality but I did note that his phrasing was improved after Armstrong's trumpet solo. I've decided to give Ellis another shot today with a look at the other recording made that same June day in 1929, "To Be in Love" (for the specifics on the session and its personnel, check out the "S'posin'" entry) .

"To Be in Love" came from the prolific team of Fred Ahlert and Roy Turk, responsible for chestnuts such as "Mean to Me," "I Don't Know Why," "I'll Get By" and a few other songs Pops tackled including "Walkin' My Baby Back Home" and "Love, You Funny Thing." The original sheet music of "To Be in Love" added the phrase "Espesh'lly With You" to the title and that's how it was recorded on May 22, 1929 by Waring's Pennsylvanians for the Victor label. Courtesy of the Red Hot Jazz archive, here's how Waring tackled it, with a vocal by Tom Waring (and dig that hot trumpet solo!).

Around the same time, "Whispering" Jack Smith, a pretty original singer of the period who balanced his tenor voice with a partially spoken style of singing, recorded his own version of the tune...with yet another muted trumpet solo. Here 'tis, courtesy of YouTube:

As usual, Columbia had to respond by having their in-house tenor, Seger Ellis, record a version of the pop tune. As discussed previously, Ellis knew how to get the best musicians to his parties and this mixed band, complete with the Dorsey Brothers and Louis Armstrong, featured some of the finest cats on the New York scene. Here's how it came out:


(I should note that David Sager thought that "S'posin'" sounded a little flat. Indeed, I checked the pitch on "To Be in Love" and as it was transferred by Columbia, it's in the key of E...what is this a rock group? Thus, it was probably really done in F but this is only version I have. I'll check and see if any others are floating around out in MP3 land in the right key.)

It's hard not be cheered by the sound of Jimmy Dorsey's peppy clarinet immediately starting the record over Stan King's press rolls (though pianist Justin Ring seems to rush a bit). Regarding Stan King, David wrote to me, "I am glad you pointed out Stan King's press rolls. What a player he was! Years ago I was in San Francisco, playing at the St. Francis Hotel. I was sitting in the lobby and there was an elderly man w whom I struck up a conversation. He was an old-time drummer who nearly shouted when he said, 'Stan King had the best press roll in the business!'" Amen.

Harry Hoffman's violin bursts through and kind of reestablishes the tempo before a neat bit featuring two-bar cameos from Hoffman, Tommy Dorsey and Pops. Ellis then starts in with the verse....that first line, "I'm so topsy-turvy" is pretty much how my mind always conjures up Ellis's voice. Like "S'posin'," there's a bit of chaos behind Ellis's vocal when he gets to the chorus as it seems like everyone wants to play collectively instead of taking turns and passing around the obbligato (Hoffman seems especially pushy). But again--like "S'posin'"--Pops breaks up the anarchy with a bubbling break leading to a terrific solo, backed by more King press rolls. Armstrong's playing is very melodic, with a couple of double-timed runs thrown in for good measure. I think my favorite part occurs in his first eight bars when he keeps repeating that D--the sixth, a favorite of Lester Young--right through the turnaround and into the next A section.

Tommy Dorsey takes a good bridge before Pops swoops back in, pounding home some high concert A's. He kind of muffs the downward run he attempts, but I'll forgive him considering what just occurred. Then Ellis comes back for another chorus and as Sager pointed out, shows his innate musicality in the way he rephrases the melody, repeating the word "Love" on a series of different pitches, a nice touch. The band keeps things hot behind him and everyone swings out to a joyous conclusion. A good record.

So anyone else care to weigh in on ol' Seger Ellis? I'm not quite through with him yet as he'll be back later this month for my 80th anniversary posting on "Ain't Misbehavin'." But until then, feel free to leave a comment on the subject.

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In other news, I want to alert my New York friends that I'll be spending the next three Tuesdays discussing Pops at the National Jazz Museum in Harlem. Each event will be part of the museum's "Jazz for Curious Listeners" series, taking place at the Museum's Visitors Center (104 E. 126th St, Suite 2C) from 7 til 8:30 p.m. On July 7, I'll be joined by the great Loren Schoenberg, discussing Pops's work in the 1920s. I'll be flying solo on July 14 and July 21, discussing Armstrong's 1930s and 1940s recordings respectively. For more information, click here. Hope to see some of you there!


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And finally, my pal David Ostwald finally launched his own website. Dig it by clicking here and don't forget to catch David's group at Birdland, celebrating Pops's music every Wednesday from 5:30 til 7:15.

2 comments:

Uwe Zänisch said...

For me the recording is also interesting because it contains the only solo exchange with Tommy Dorsey that I know (except A'int Misbehavin' with Seeger Ellis, but I haven't heard this since years and can't remember the solo part).

Very remarkable: the rhythm section change to a very static approach when Tommy begins but change to more relaxing when Pops comes back.

Uwe (from Germany)

Anonymous said...

I actually like Seger Ellis' voice better than Rudy Vallee or Jack Smith's, and most of the effeminate crooners...I don't agree with your "Kermit the Frog" reference in the earlier Ellis post, it seems Ellis was more swinging than most any white dudes but Bing and had a decently pretty tone too.