Tag Archives: Jazz

Doris Day – Singer

Yesterday was Doris Day’s birthday – were she just discovered she is truly 95 and not 93 as she had thought – and in honor of her birthday, Love Letters to Old Hollywood has hosted “The Doris Day Blogathon,” which I am delighted to participate in with this tribute to Doris Day as singer.

I’ve always loved Doris Day as an actress, but one of the remarkable things about her is that even if she had never been an actress, she would have deserved to be remembered as a great singer, one of the most popular of her era. She was singing number one hits on the chart before she had even become an actress (click here for a look at her chart hits and discography).

Doris Day originally intended to be a dancer, but when an accident left her temporarily disabled, she turned to singing. She would listen to Ella Fitzgerald and try, as she said, “to catch the subtle ways she shaded her voice, the casual yet clean way she sang the words.” Her teacher taught her to sing as if she were singing into the ear of one person. The result is that she developed one of the most intimate styles of singing that I have ever heard.

She envelopes you in her warm vibrato. She had perfect diction, a beautifully fresh tone, that could also be suggestive, and spellbinding phrasing. But she’s an understated performer, which I believe has led to her being underappreciated. It sounds easy. Her singing has even been called easy listening, but there is nothing easy about it.

Check out her phrasing in “My One and Only Love.” Listen to the way she sings the first line “The very thought of you/makes my heart sing.” She sings it as one phrase, pausing after “you,” but not breathing, only to swoop up vocally on “makes my heart sing.” Such phrasing is only possible with perfect breath control and technique. I tried imitating her, which only increased my appreciation of her.

She was also a mesmerizing performer and no one could put across a song quite like her. When showing the movie Love Me or Leave Me to my cousin, she remarked on how the camera rarely moved while Doris Day was singing. As she said, it didn’t have to. Doris Day draws you in, just sitting there singing, and anything else would be a distraction (listen to “It All Depends on You for an example”). She demonstrates the exact same thing in her version of “The Way We Were.” Her ability, without histrionics, without much movement, to tell a story and convey feeling is marvelous. But this subtly has also, I think, contributed to her sometimes being underappreciated as a singer (as well as the way people association her with more upbeat song).

Although primarily known for singing popular music, Doris Day was also a fine jazz singer and it has been remarked be a number of people that she could have been one of the greatest female jazz singers if she had pursued that path. Here is a jazzier song from her discography, called “You’re Just Too Marvelous,” which she sang in the film Young Man With a Horn. The trumpet player is Harry James.

Of course, in a pinch she could also belt out a song Broadway style, as she proved in Pajama Game.

Absolutely stunning singer! I never get tired of listening to her.

Thanks so much to Love Letters to Old Hollywood for hosting! And Be sure to check out all the other posts about her life and career and films.


Posted by on April 4, 2017 in Music


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“My Funny Valentine”

My Funny Valentine” was written by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart for the musical “Babes in Arms” in 1937. Oddly enough, the song did not make it into the 1938 film adaptation with Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney (they passed up having Judy Garland sing that song!), but has since become a standard. And since today is Valentine’s Day, here are a number of interpretations of this lovely song.

Ella Fitzgerald

Barbra Streisand

Chet Baker

Miles Davis


Posted by on February 14, 2017 in Movies


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The Five Pennies (1959)

the-five-pennies-movie-poster-1959-1020197132Who knew Danny Kaye could act? I shouldn’t have been surprised (as if doing comedy isn’t really acting), but I am so used to him in full-out zany mode that I was surprised. But he’s more than plausible in a dramatic role, so much so that periodic reversions to his previous comedic shtick is actually mildly irritating.

The Five Pennies is a biopic of cornet player and band leader Loring Red Nichols (Danny Kaye). He arrives in New York from Ogden, Utah, during the 1920s, full of confidence that one day all the best musicians (white musicians, anyway) will be working for him. He’s confident, a bit of a loose cannon, a bit moody and totally in love with his cornet. But chanteuse Willa Stutsman (Babara Bel Geddes) can’t resist him and they marry. But just as Red is beginning to finally make a name for himself as a bandleader (which includes future bandleaders Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, and Glenn Miller), Willia realizes she is pregnant.

Red toys with the idea of settling down so they can raise their daughter, but in his heart he wants to keep up with his band, so they opt instead to bring their baby, Dorothy, with them on tour, until Willa finally puts her foot down. At six years old, Dorothy has only lived in hotels, knows how to play poker and goes to bed at two in the morning. But Red doesn’t want to settle down quite so soon and sends Dorothy to a boarding school while he finishes his contract touring.

But when Dorothy contracts polio at school, Red is guilt-stricken. He is sure it is his fault, his neglect that caused it and when the doctors tell him that Dorothy will probably never walk again, he tosses his cornet away (literally, into the San Francisco Bay), takes a job at a shipyard and devotes his time to helping his daughter walk again.

I have to admit, I was impressed by Kaye’s performance, especially during the most dramatic scenes involving his daughter dealing with polio. He is naturalistic and never histrionic, playing a man who is far from perfect. It’s an interesting contrast to his very over-the-top comedic style. But unlike some people, when they depart from their usual persona, I did not feel he was a pale shadow of himself. I could have actually used less of the comedic-patter moments or bits of Danny Kaye style comedy (though I enjoy many of his out-right comedies, like The Court Jester).

tumblr_n58kf9xxrl1qg1naao1_500Barbara Bel Geddes as Red’s wife, Willa, is also very good, a fine, naturalistic actor also not prone to histrionics. I’ve only seen her in two films (this and Vertigo), but she’s an actress I would like to see more of. Whereas a Bette Davis would avail herself of the opportunity to demonstrate how much her character is suffering, Bel Geddes and Kaye keep the focus of their grief squarely on its cause, which is their daughter.

Bel Geddes also makes for one of the most adult and knowing romantic interests for Danny Kaye that I’ve seen. Usually, he’s a bit of a man-child, hopelessly in love with a bombshell (usually Virginia Mayo), but in The Five Pennie, he’s more of a real character and she meets him on his own level and they are a very plausible couple…a word I don’t usually find myself using in reference to films.

Perhaps it is partly how they spend years together working to help Dorothy walk again, spend time as a family, which doesn’t feel excessively mawkish –  and I enjoyed that aspect of the film very much. It’s not a perfect film, but it was surprisingly moving.

And of course there is a lot of music! Sylvia Fine (Danny Kaye’s wife) wrote several songs for Danny Kaye to sing. There is a fair amount of band music…and two exciting appearances by Louis Armstrong. Red Nichols was not a band leader I was previously aware of, but he really did found a band that at one point or another included Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, and Gene Krupa. He formed his band in the 1920s in the Dixieland style (hot jazz), which originated in New Orleans. His band, Red Nichols and the Five Pennies, was meant to reference the fact that there were five pennies in a nickel, though he often had more than five men in his band.

One thing that made Nichols unique was that he could actually read and arrange music and sight read, which not all jazz musicians could do – many of them were self-taught. His father was a college music professor and Nichols learned early. Though as a result of his formal training, he was a bit more formal in his playing, though he could still improvise quite well.

But his bands were fairly small and during the 1930s, when swing became popular, he fell out of favor (he was apparently over-valued during the ’20s and undervalued during the ’30s). Swing bands were much larger, more formalized and a bit less focused on improvisation (though Duke Ellington always balanced individual improvisation with ensemble playing) and it was not the style of music Nichols preferred to play. However, Dixieland was revived after WWII and Red Nichols formed his own band, which enjoyed great popularity. That is even him we hear in The Five Pennies whenever Danny Kaye “plays” the cornet, though Kaye worked hard to make it look good.

This was my contribution to the Darlin’ Dallasers Blogathon, hosted by Realweegiemidget Reviews, in honor of the many actors who appeared in the long successful TV series Dallas. Barbara Bel Geddes was Miss Ellie Ewing, the matriarch of the family, and appeared in 300 episodes. She had a remarkably diverse and successful career: movies (which include Hitchcock, noir, musicals, dramas), stage (she appeared in the original Cat on a Hot Tin Roof) and television. Which is an impressive resume. She brings a lot of dignity, warmth and a firm anchor to The Five Pennies that could otherwise have felt a bit un-moored.

Be sure to read all the rest of the posts on celebration of Dallas and it’s many actors!


And here’s a few bonus video. The very great Louis Armstrong makes three appearances in the film. In the last half of the video, he and Red perform “When the Saints Go Marching In” together. In the beginning, Barbara Bel Geddes keeps giving Kaye more alcohol (in a teacup, to fool any police who might raid?) after he boasted that he’s very used to drinking up in Ogden, Utah. He gets drunk, but makes a comeback to play with Armstrong.

Barbara Bel Geddes does not do her own singing in the film, though she does a fair amount of lip syncing, since her character sings for Red’s band.

Here is the real Red Nichols and his Five Pennies in 1929. Notice the size of the band, much smaller than the bands of the swing era, and which emphasized more improvisation as a group.


Posted by on September 23, 2016 in Movies


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