The great American poet, Langston Hughes, recorded a concise, History of Jazz, that was released on 10″ vinyl by Folkways Records in 1954. The record was meant for children and was a companion piece to his, First Book of Jazz. If you’re a Jazz aficionado, you are not likely going to learn anything here, but it has been a nice introduction to the genre and it’s origins, for nearly 70 years. In 1987, The Smithsonian Institute, acquired all of the Folkways recordings. It remains in print to this day, which is a testament to it’s content. Below are two videos, which capture each side of the original record.
This documentary on Northern Soul is exceptionally long and exceptionally well done. They gathered many of the original artists to lip sync their old tunes, in between telling the Northern Soul story. Only for those that are seriously interested in the topic, as it’s 4 hours long. I watched it in hunks.
This would get my vote for the most unusual concert video ever. In 1978, pyschobilly band, The Cramps performed at the Napa State Mental Hospital, something that would never be allowed today. Was it exploitative to video tape it? Indeed, it was, but I would counter that this was probably one of the best days of many of these patients lives. They crashed the stage, danced, hugged band members, stole the mic from time to time and sang along. The Cramps just rolled with it. The video quality is primitive. The only surviving member of this iteration of the band is Poison Ivy.
Papa Lightfoot – When The Saints Go Marching In. I wanted to close out Episode 2 with this phenomenal tune, but it’s not available on Spotify, so here ya go!
Bunny Briggs was known as a first rate dancer, but fewer know that he was a first rate Scat singer. I’ll get to the singing in a moment, but first some info on the man. He was born in Harlem in 1922 and taught himself how to dance. He danced on the streets of New York for change that he passed on to his mother. Bunny first appeared on film at age 10 in 1932. He eventually danced in front of many famous orchestras during the Big band era including those of Duke Ellington, Lionel Hampton and Charlie Barnet. Briggs appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show and Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show on many occasions. He appeared on Broadway and in the 1989 film “Tap”. In 2006, Briggs was inducted into the Tap Dancing Hall of Fame. It was with Charlie Barnet’s band that he sang on several records, most famously on “East Side West Side” which was made into a movie short in 1949. In it, Briggs delivers a singing telegram to Barnet on stage. Briggs scats and Barnet intently nods, perfectly understanding every word of nonsense! In Barnet’s autobiography, he states that Briggs could have been a bigger star but that he had a controlling mother that was ashamed that he was in Show Business. She told Barnet that she’d rather he was running an elevator than doing what he was. Barnet added that because of this, Briggs had difficulties being on the road (I’m sure there were other road difficulties, too). Audiences, though, loved Bunny. According to Barnet, “It didn’t matter whether we were at the Apollo or the Paramount, before a black or white audience, Bunny broke up every show and was always a smash hit”. Below are two videos, the first is the Charlie Barnet short, which also features a 21 year old Doc Severinsen on trumpet. He’s the second trumpeter shown and has the big solo. The second video shows Briggs performing with the Benny Carter Orchestra.
The band, Madness, had great success in the US with their song “Our House”. It peaked at #7 back in 1983. They also had 2 other songs that charted in the States and as a huge fan of the band, I think it’s a shame that they are not better known here. They were a prolific band in the 80’s and, amazingly, had 14 Top 10 hits in the UK in a 4 year period. Their 5th released single was “Embarressment”. The music, composed by the band’s keyboardist and frequent tunesmith, Mike Barson, is an upbeat and bouncy, Motown-like melody. The lyrics, on the other hand, paint a much different mood, a “serious matter”, if you will. They were written by the band’s saxophonist, Lee Thompson. His sister Tracy became pregnant out of wedlock. In 1980, this was a big taboo. On top of this, it was an interracial relationship, double taboo. Lee composed this song based on the things his family were saying and thinking. The Greatest Generation were, indeed, great but they had their flaws, too. Appearances and what others thought mattered greatly. Like most stories of this kind, once the baby came, those feelings were washed away. Thompson, today, does think he was a bit harsh toward his elders with his lyrics but his sister thinks he was spot on. “Embarressment” went Gold and made it to #4 in the UK. Below are two videos. The first shows Madness performing the song for TV and the second features a grown up Haley Richards, the baby in question, discussing the song with her Mom and Uncle Lee. It’s quite good.