Learnin' the Blues. Back in July and August 2008, I posted here and here about Learnin' the Blues, a pop-jazz song with a colorful past. Credited to Philadelphia songwriter Dolores Vicki Silvers [pictured], the song was first recorded in late 1954 as a demo by Joe Valino, a local singer and friend of Silvers. Valino was backed by a group of neighborhood musicians that included trumpeter Joe Techner, a veteran of the Elliot Lawrence band.
In early 1955, Valino [pictured] took the demo to music publishers at New York's Brill Building with hopes of kick-starting his pop vocal career. One of the executives Valino met with was Stanley Cooper of Barton Music Corp. Stanley told me in an interview in August that he loved the song but thought Valino sounded too much like Frank Sinatra, one of Barton Music's biggest clients. After Valino departed, Cooper traveled to Philadelphia and signed Silvers, the song's credited writer. The deal gave Barton Music the right to offer the song to singers and Silvers a share of royalties from record and sheet-music sales, and radio air play.
With Silvers signed, the Valino demo was turned over to Frank Military, a Sinatra aide, who sent it along with other Barton Music songs to Sinatra for consideration. Learnin' the Blues reportedly was the only one in that day's package that Sinatra liked. In March 1955, Sinatra recorded the song, and the single became his only No. 1 hit in the 1950s.
But the story doesn't end there. For one, Sinatra's interpretation sounds remarkably close to Valino's demo, causing some to wonder whether Sinatra was influenced by Valino's version. (You can hear Valino's here.) For another, some have questioned whether Silvers was the song's sole writer or whether there was a co-author who was elbowed aside.
The beauty of the web, of course, is that stories like this can continue to come into focus as more facts become known. Last week I heard from Janet Silvers, the daughter of Dolores Vicki Silvers (who died in 2007). I also heard from Edward Marshall, the writer of the 1959 pop hit Venus and long-time friend of Vicki Silvers and singer Valino.
From Janet Silvers:
From Edward Marshall:
"Any suggestion that anyone but Dolores Vicki Silvers wrote Learnin' The Blues is nonsense. I met Joe Valino in February 1952, and we remained close friends for decades. Joe was a great singer and a fine musician, but he was not a songwriter and never made a serious attempt to be one. Joe introduced me to Dolores Silvers within months after we met, and Dolores and I remained dear friends for the rest of her life. Joe always referred to Learnin' the Blues as Dolores' song, and never once in all the years we were friends did he ever suggest that he or anyone else had anything to do with composing of it."
As always at JazzWax, to be continued...
Buddy DeFranco. Following my interview with clarinetist Buddy DeFranco last week on the historic "Metronome All-Stars 1948-49" session recorded 60 years ago, I received the following email from Terry Teachout, the Wall Street Journal critic and author of a forthcoming biography of Louis Armstrong:
"I've always loved that Metronome session ever since I heard it on an ancient RCA Vintage LP back when I was in high school. You might want to mention that both tunes are contrafacts: Overtime is Love Me or Leave Me and Victory Ball is 'S Wonderful."
[Editor's note: If you want a treat, dig Terry's "Sightings" column here from yesterday's Wall Street Journal on the death of artist Andrew Wyeth. If you can't access the essay, get a taste from Terry's blog here. Terry's insights and analysis again confirm why he is America's most important arts critic.]
From JazzWax reader Don Frese:
"Overtime was a re-tread. It originally was in Stan Kenton's book as Three Mothers (I suppose they needed a response to Woody's Four Brothers anthem of the time), and it featured Art Pepper, Conte Candoli and Bob Cooper. The song was never commercially recorded because of the 1948 recording ban. But it has appeared on several collections of Stan's radio broadcasts from 1948, including Revelations, a 4 CD set here."
Paris sites. Days after my return from Paris, my vacation there with family seems all but a blur. I certainly recall that the weather was bitter cold (it's a damp deep-freeze that easily penetrates layers of clothing). I also recall that everyone in the city was gracious, including the many French JazzWax readers who emailed me with restaurant and music tips. [Photo: Marc Myers]
Here's what lingers on in my memory:
Mustard. The scorching Dijon mustard in Paris roars through your nostrils like rocket fuel. The condiment comes to the table innocently enough in a small white ceramic vessel and tiny wooden spoon. But this mustard has the kick of a mule, and once you've adjusted to its strength, you wind up putting the addictive substance on virtually everything you eat. The best application? Slathered on a croque monsieur (fancy talk for a melted ham and cheese sandwich).
Shampoo. Pharmacies in Paris aren't pharmacies as we know them here. Marked by bright green neon plus signs, the white-tile stores are designed to reproduce the feel of a crisp, spotless spa. And all feature smartly packaged bath and beauty products. The best items are the wide range of shampoos that smell delicate and distinctly European rather than heavy or mass-produced. An inexpensive way to bring Paris home with you.
Steak. If Paris kitchens can do only one thing right, it's cook meat to perfection. You haven't lived until a plate of broiled chicken, steak or beef stew arrives at your table. One memorable restaurant was Le Relais de l'Entrecote. My wife's find, the eatery offers no menu to speak of. After you're seated, the waitress asks you how you want your meat cooked, which she proceeds to write in pencil on the paper tablecloth.
Then a salad with an electrifying mustard vinaigrette dressing appears, followed by sliced steak covered in a provocative horseradish-tarragon sauce. The plate's remaining space is piled high with pencil-thin fries. When your plate is clear, the waitress comes by with a platter and refills it. This can go on for as long as you wish, and for the same single price. Sounds like a bogus Red Lobster thing, but trust me, it's one of the best-tasting deals in town.
Subways. My daughter says she prefers the New York subway system to the Paris Metro. But I find the French version far more charming. While New York's subway system is menacing, and trains have a hard, metallic sound, the Metro is softer. Cars seem to whoosh along on rubber wheels. You even get to open the doors yourself using a latch when the train pulls into a station. Best of all were the station announcements clearly spoken by an automated female voice. I found myself riding the Metro just to hear the stops perfectly pronounced. [Photo: Marc Myers]
Eyes. The eyes of French women aren't easily forgotten. Centuries of passed-along fashion and grooming skills have resulted in an entire population of perfectly made-up lashes, lids and brows—no matter the age.
Johnny Hodges. John, a JazzWax reader, sent along the following link, which features a famous photo of comedian Milton Berle in a clownish zoot suit and baton. After a careful view of the photo, John believes he has spotted a few mystery jazz guests in the background, including alto saxophonist Johnny Hodges.
Gil Evans. Bill Kirchner shared a Grammy in 1996 for his part in superb liner notes to Columbia Records' Miles Davis & Gil Evans: The Complete Studio Recordings. Tonight, WBGO-FM in New York is replaying an hour-long show Bill hosted on Gil Evans last year, featuring the arranger's recordings made between 1957 and 1971. Showtime: 11 p.m. to midnight (New York City time). Listen live: You can access the show from anywhere in the world on your computer here.