~ Posted by Charles Nevin, January 10th 2013
You must recognise it: that driving drum beat, that wailing wall of horn: "Sing, Sing, Sing", one of the top jazz tunes of the 1930s, has now become almost completely inescapable. Since it was resurrected by Bob Fosse in 1979 for his film "All That Jazz", it has featured in no fewer than 22 movies, including three Woody Allens, and, perhaps most penetratingly, "The Artist", the French Oscar-winning silent tribute to swing, sound, hard times and triumphant come-backs. Here in Britain, "Sing, Sing, Sing" has just finished an insistent stint in the BBC's Christmas television ident; no sooner had that departed than the main opposition, ITV, began using it for the trailers of its big new show, "Mr Selfridge", Wisconsin's own department-store purveyor of goods and high jinks on both sides of the Atlantic. Enough for now, surely.
Still, before we agree to give it a rest, I recommend some final listens to its finest and most famous incarnation, the full Benny Goodman version, featuring the remarkable Gene Krupa on drums, Harry James on trumpet and Goodman on clarinet, performed at the first ever jazz concert at the Carnegie Hall, 75 years ago this month.
There have been objections to "Sing, Sing, Sing" because it owes its beat to the excruciatingly entitled genre of "Jungle Music" that Duke Ellington and others were forced to play under to white audiences at the equally screeching Plantation and Cotton night clubs: Goodman's adoption of it has been dismissed as "the nadir of white jungle music". But that seems ridiculously over-sensitive and more than effectively dissipated by the influence of its writer, the blissfully unique Sicilian-American, Louis Prima (also and splendidly, as it happens, the voice of King Louie in Disney's "Jungle Book"). And by Goodman himself, a pioneer of jazz desegregation, who injects his trademark Jewish rhythms into this rich mix. Unsurprisingly, given its title, there are words, but Goodman was right to leave them out, even as sung by Prima, in favour of promoting a swing that defies you not to move at least a small body part, even in public.
Listen too for the mesmerising piano solo from Jess Stacy, improvised from the moment Goodman unexpectedly nodded to him, and the one that convinced music snobs that this sort of music might belong in the Carnegie Hall after all. Stacy never really cracked the fame thing, spending time after that working, among many other things, as a salesman for Max Factor. His departure from the stage is instructive for those who would do these great songs—or any others—to death. It came abruptly in the Los Angeles piano bar he had been reduced to, after a drunken woman requested "Beer Barrel Polka" for the third time, and spilt her drink in his lap. Respect.
Charles Nevin is a freelance journalist and author of "The Books of Jacks"