David Allyn (1919-2012), whose singing career began at about the same time as Frank Sinatra's but won audiences' hearts with a more intimate and vulnerable style—unusual for male vocalists at the time—died on November 21 at the Veterans Administration Hospital in West Haven, Conn. He was 93.
David's appeal rested with his ability to sift unrestrained sensitivity with modern voicings—making little-known ballads and swingers sound heartfelt and hip. By rubbing the two together, David was able to keep his interpretations from sounding too heavy or too cool.
During my conversations with David, he said his emotional transparency owed much to his early work with trombonist Jack Teagarden, who taught him how to cry. In other words, Teagarden's wailing trombone helped David embrace his natural emotional core rather than mask it. [Pictured above: David Allyn and Jack Teagarden]
I saw David last in 2010, when he was present at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola in New York. Johnny Mandel was conducting the DIVA Jazz Orchestra. During our conversation at the performance, David was spry and animated, and he became even more so when he and Johnny conversed near the bandstand after the first show. Both had been in Boyd Raeburn's band in the mid-40s and had remained friends through the years. [Pictured above: David Allyn and Johnny Mandel in 2010]
David's desire to succeed commercially was undercut by years of addiction in the late 1940s and early 1950s, which ultimately led to a multiyear prison term mid-decade.
Many people were unaware that David's addiction began as he grappled with the psychological effects of serving in World War II. Deployed to North Africa in 1943 as part of the Big Red One, David survived nerve-splitting attacks by German forces at the Kasserine Pass in Tunisia, only to be injured in the Battle of El Guettar and then sent home. As David told me, "I tried to hold myself together the best I could."
As David recalled, he could get on the bandstand after the war and sing, but socially he was reclusive. "I couldn’t stand people because of the war," he said. In the years after the war—before the development of medication to treat post-traumatic stress disorder—many veterans with psychological issues self-medicated with illegal narcotics.
By the time David emerged from prison in the late 1950s, he had kicked his habit but remained a highly tender but largely unknown recording artist and performer. His prison period had deprived him of crucial recording years—missing out on key opportunities to establish his name and reputation.
When the music business changed in the early 1960s, David, like vocalist Jackie Paris, was largely a club nostalgia act whose skills were appreciated more by musicians and audiences in the know than the mass market. Nevertheless, David throughout his life remained a highly admired and respected artist, able to hold his own with West Coast big bands and East Coast artists including pianist Barry Harris.
Paul Cammarata, a friend of David's who in 1990 encouraged him to emerge from semi-retirement to lead his big band at New York's Red Blazer, just posted Pleasant Dreams, a rare single written by David with Steve Allen and recorded in 1959...
Wall Street Journal. In case you missed yesterday's Wall Street Journal, I had two pieces in the paper. One was an anatomy of "Oh Happy Day," a 1969 hit by the Edwin Hawkins Singers (go here). The other was a conversation with architect Frank Gehry on his home (go here).
Oliver Nelson in Hollywood. Soprano saxophonist Bill Kirchner sent along this video clip from the Longstreet TV series, featuring a score by Oliver Nelson...
Whyd unveiled. Whyd is a free social music platform designed for music lovers to keep, play and share all of the music they find online. The company describes itself as the missing link between places where people post streaming music—like YouTube and Soundcloud—and places where people share music, like Facebook and Twitter. Whyd's player allows you to listen to all of your music without interruption. You also can listen to anyone's playlist or find any song you wish. For more information, go here.
JazzWax Holiday Album Hall of Fame. On Monday I'll name this year's classic addition to the JazzWax Holiday Album Hall of Fame from Decembers past. Previous inductees include June Christy's This Time of Year (1961) and Urbie Green's Cool Yuletide (1954).
CD discoveries of the week. Saxophonist Eric Person's Thoughts on God (Distinction) isn't quite what you'd think. Instead of a heavy hymn workout, this is an inspirational album with soaring jazz originals and tight arrangements by Person. The 12-track suite is dedicated to the Lord, but the music by this 13-piece band is secular and universal in appeal. Sample Back to Center and The Lighted Way. A deeply moving album in the spirit of John Coltrane and Mary Lou Williams.
For the People (Origin), by trumpeter Pharez Whitted, has an ambitious, wide-body sound that seems to move on you from all sides. The current director of jazz studies at Chicago State University, Whitted composed all of the album's tracks, which assume a percussive, sighing mood. On all tracks, Whitted dances delicately on solo lines, preferring to seduce with invented melodies rather than sheer heat. The album's best moments are Whitted's musical conversations with guitarist Bobby Broom. Sample the title track, Venture and Hope Springs Eternal. A rigorous and tightly arranged ensemble working through songs that adore melody lines.
In addition to being a superb jazz pianist, Bruce Barth is quite the musical director. On LaVerne Butler's Love Lost and Found Again (HighNote), Bruce frames the singer with a sultry accompaniment that includes tenor saxophonist Houston Person. For example, On Any Place I Hang My Hat Is Home, Bruce's arrangement and piano is just enough to provide support but never steals the show. The tracks tastefully chosen here by Bruce and Butler include I've Told Every Little Star, Travelin' Light, That's All and the brilliant Everybody's Somebody's Fool. In each case Bruce is a nimble collaborator, and Butler soars. A jazz vocal album that fully understands the ingredients needed to be more than just another Tin Pan Alley dishrack.
When Patsy Cline's plane went down over Camden, Tenn., in 1963, America lost one of its most sincere and controlled country vocalists. On the Air: Patsy Cline's Greatest TV Performances (Universal) is a collection of hits that she delivered on a variety of broadcasts. What's remarkable is that the results are as good and as taut as her studio work, which is a testament to her craft and power. Best of all, this set's tracks are crisp and clear—free from the common crackle and lost generation of on-air sound. In addition to jukebox bait Crazy, I Fall to Pieces and Leavin' on Your Mind, there also are superb renditions of She's Got You, Strange, When I Get Through With You and So Wrong. More spun gold from the balladeer belle, this time in a live setting.
Back in the mid-1960s, when the Velvet Underground was pioneering a new independent rock concept sound in New York and The Doors were doing the same in Los Angeles, the Moving Staircases were taking their own garage risks in Houston. The Moving who? Exactly. Today, the psychedelic proto-arena band is virtually unknown, except for giving ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons his start. Now Moving Sidewalks: The Complete Collection (Rock Beat) documents the band's relatively small output—one album, a handful of singles and a bunch of unreleased and alternate takes. But what exists is indisputably cutting-edge. Sample 99th Floor, Flashback, You Make Me Shake, Crimson Witch and a metal I Want to Hold Your Hand from 1968. An acid-washed rock band that was ahead of its time but unable to go the distance. More on the band and the ZZ Top connection at YouTube here and here, courtesy of David Perrine.
Oddball album cover of the week.
One look at this cover and you can almost hear the art director with a megaphone yelling at country guitarist Don Gibson: "Need you to look more dejected Don. A little more. A little more. Really sad, Don, like you lost everything and don't know why. That's it—now hold it."