I’ve added song number ninety-eight to my repertoire!
“Do Nothing till You Hear from Me” is a song with music by Duke Ellington and lyrics by Bob Russell. It began life as a 1940 instrumental (“Concerto for Cootie”) that was designed to highlight the virtuoso playing of Ellington’s lead trumpeter, Cootie Williams, with Russell adding words three years later.
Over the years it’s been recorded by artists as diverse as Louis Armstrong, Nat King Cole, Phil Collins, Ella Fitzgerald,and Robert Palmer.
In a career that lasted over fifty years Duke Ellington wrote over a thousand works. He, perhaps more than any of his contemporaries, helped to raise the popular perception of jazz to an art form on a par with other musical forms. Such was his influence he was awarded a posthumous Pulitzer Prize for music in 1999.
Although you’ve probably never heard of him (and I admit that I hadn’t until I began researching this post) Bob Russell was also highly regarded in his field. In 1970 (the year of his death) he was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame and in 2004 he was posthumously awarded the ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers) lifetime achievement award in the pop category.
As well as “Do Nothing” he wrote the words for “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother” in 1969 (with music by Bobby Scott). I would never, in a million years, have connected the two songs. I love it when my work throws up obscure little connections like that!
The enduring popularity of “Do Nothing” is testament to the skill and craft of the two men who created it over seventy years ago. I’m delighted to have finally added it to my repertoire!
One of the unfathomable, magical properties of music is its ability to transport the listener to another time and place.
This happened to me recently when I heard “When I Was a Boy”, the first track from “Alone in the Universe”, the new album by Jeff Lynne’s ELO. The song’s (presumably autobiographical) lyric has Lynne describing his childhood self lying in bed listening to music and dreaming of playing music for a living instead of getting a conventional job.
I was instantly transported back to my own childhood where I would lie for hours in my bunkbed listening to my beloved orange Philips transistor radio either through a single, tinny earphone or with the speaker pressed to the side of my head.
(This isn’t it, by the way. My radio is long gone and, to be honest, I probably hadn’t given it a thought in thirty years or more, but hearing the song brought the memory rushing back and finding this picture online has made me dearly wish I still had it).
I can also clearly remember the thrill of sitting in in our living room listening to LPs that I had borrowed from my local library (two concepts that younger readers may need a grown up’s help with!). I’d listen on headphones, but they weren’t your modern, diminuitive “ear bud” things, these babies were the size of soup bowls and seemed to enclose most of my juvenile head along with my ears. The result was an immersive, all-consuming experience.
And did I dream of playing music for a living? You bet. I had this fantasy of driving around in a Bedford Rascal van loaded with all my equipment, singing and playing songs to adoring fans all over the country.
Although I never reached the dizzy heights of owning a Rascal (it’s still on my wishlist of things I’ll buy when I make my first million) my dream came true – music is now my full-time job.
I drive around in what is, more or less, a van packed with equipment. I travel all over the UK to sing at events and although the people I perform for might not always be classed as “adoring fans” the important thing is that all these years down the line I am making a living from music.
Perhaps the most delightful irony in all of this is that one of the borrowed LPs I most vividly remember listening to on those gargantuan headphones is “Discovery” by ELO.
Funny how things turn out sometimes, isn’t it?
(PS. If you haven’t heard it, here’s “When I Was a Boy”. It’s excellent).
“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”
So says Juliet in Shakespeare’s play, “Romeo and Juliet”. But here are a baker’s dozen of my favourite Hollywood icons who, for whatever reasons, ditched their birth names on the road to fame.
FREDERICK AUSTERLITZ – Fred Astaire
ARCHIBALD LEACH – Cary Grant
DORIS KAPPELHOFF – Doris Day
FRANCES GUMM – Judy Garland
AUDREY RUSTON – Audrey Hepburn
VIRGINIA McMATH – Ginger Rogers
JOE YULE Jr – Mickey Rooney
BERNARD SCHWARTZ – Tony Curtis
BETTY PERSKE – Lauren Bacall
DAVID KAMINSKY – Danny Kaye
MARY SLATON – Dorothy Lamour
NATALIA ZAKHARENKO – Natalie Wood
LUCILLE LeSUEUR – Joan Crawford
Once upon a time the idea of being booked to sing in a pub would have filled an entertainer with unease if not downright dread. But the public house has moved on a good deal since those dark, sawdust-floored days and The County Arms in the London borough of Wandsworth is a shining example of what the modern inn can be when flair an imagination are put to work.
I was booked to sing during the wedding breakfast of Nick and Michelle which was held in the pub’s light and welcoming downstairs function room.
The room was beautifully decorated and I particularly liked this bunting made from prints of vintage sheet music:
There was a whole table full of sweet treats including these delicious (yes, I was allowed one once I had finished!) macarons:
An intmate wedding ceremony in the room upstairs was followed by a drinks reception in the pub’s charming beer garden after which the guests sat down to dine with myself for musical accompaniment.
Nick and Michelle’s wedding cake topper was absolutely wonderful. Made for them by their friend and cake topper creator extraordinaire Laura Hambleton it (literally) topped the wedding breakfast off perfectly.
Congratulations to Nick and Michelle – I wish you every happiness for the future. Thanks for letting me be part of such a wonderful day!
Find out more about how I can add some elegant live music to your wedding or event by visting my website www.simonpartridge.com
PICTURE CREDIT: Some of the photos in this post (the five decent ones!) were taken by Jordan of Michelle Lindsell Photography. My thanks for letting me use the shots.
It’s that time of year when I sally forth, Wenceslas-like, through cold December nights to sing wonderful Christmas songs from years gone by at parties across the country.
I’m contractually bound, of course, to say that there really is no substitute for live music when it comes to creating the perfect Yuletide atmosphere, but I can’t be everywhere at once so if you’re in need of some festive sounds then here, in no particular order, are the albums I simply wouldn’t be without at Christmas.
1. “Ella Wishes You a Swinging Christmas” – Ella Fitzgerald
My first choice finds the legendary Ella Fitzgerald swinging her way through a dozen festive favourites under the baton of Frank de Vol and his orchestra. From the sheer joy of tracks like “Jingle Bells” and “Let it Snow!” to the gentler introspection of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?” this is one of popular music’s greatest voices pulling out all the stops. The CD reissue by Verve is nicely packaged and features bonus tracks.
In a Nutshell: More swing than you can shake a jingle bell at.
2. “A Christmas Gift For You” – Phil Spector
Long before his spectacular fall from grace in 2009 Phil Spector produced what for many is the definitive Christmas album and fifty-one years on it still packs a punch few can match. Spector’s legendary “wall of sound” is the perfect vehicle for creating a lush Christmas sound and the album rattles along at a breathless pace with some truly outstanding vocal turns along the way – particulary Darlene Love who delivers “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” as if her life truly depended on it.
In a Nutshell: Sheer joy to fill up your silent nights.
3. “The Christmas Album” – Doris Day (1964)
Released the year after Phil Spector’s bombastic masterpiece, Doris Day’s Christmas offering is an altogether more traditional album and is none the worse for that.
Day’s voice is pure Christmas, with all the warmth of a festive fireside scenes, but with none of the kitsch. She includes all the songs you’d expect (“The Christmas Song”, “Winter Wonderland”, ” White Christmas “) but also includes a few less well-known numbers such as “Be a Child at Christmas Time” and “Toyland” which add some welcome variety.
In a Nutshell: Smoother than eggnog and twice as festive.
4. “Cool Yule” – Bette Midler
Doris may have avoided the kitsch, but my next festive essential positive revels in it. The cover of Bette Midler’s 2006 Christmas album, “Cool Yule”, gives fair warning of its contents and while many of the tracks have their tongues firmly in their cheeks (notably the title song and an utterly glorious version of the Hawaiian-themed “Mele Kalikimaka”) there are some wonderfully restrained numbers too (“I’ll Be Home For Christmas” and “What are You Doing New Year’s Eve?” are especially touching). There’s a beautiful rendition of the carol “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” too.
I have one gripe about the album and that’s the whiff of autotune about Midler’s vocals, but given the quality of the arrangements and excellent song selection it’s a minor complaint.
In a Nutshell: Camp as Christmas with a heart of gold.
5. “What a Wonderful Christmas” – Louis Armstrong and Friends
Louis Armstrong’s voice is like bottled sunshine and when he gets his musical chops on a song like “Zat You Santa Claus?” you can’t help but grin from ear to ear. Unbelievably, in a career that spanned five decades Louis Armstrong only recorded six Christmas songs which accounts for the “friends” included on this album, but there are far worse fillers than Duke Ellington’s take on “Jingle Bells”.
In a Nutshell: Musical sunshine on a cold Christmas Day.
6. “Sweet Bells” – Kate Rusby
My final festive essential is something of a departure from the others. Barnsley-born Kate Rusby is a folk singer who, in 2009, released this gem of an album.
Before those pesky, order-loving Victorians got their hands on the hymn book and introduced a one-hymn-one-tune regime hymns and carols often had numerous accompaniments. Different regions would have their own tunes, particularly for Christmas carols, and there would even be variations from village to village. Rusby’s native Yorkshire has a strong tradition of this and for her album she uses a range of regional tunes to accompany well-known and obscure carols.
The title track is a special favourite of mine. It’s essentially “While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks by Night”, but with a chorus added between the verses. With a brass section culled from the might Grimethorpe Colliery Band the result is a sound that is at once reassuringly familiar and startlingly new.
In a Nutshell: A joyful folk-fusion of the traditional and the contemporary.
So there you have my personal pick of the hundreds of festive albums available. Of course if you ever fancy some real live Christmas music you can find out all about my act on my website www.simonpartridge.com
I’ve shared the bill with some interesting fellow artistes over the years (The White Hart Morris Men spring to mind – read my blog about the wedding we both performed at here), but last weekend was the first time I’ve (knowingly!) worked alongside a group of murder suspects.
It was all in the name of entertainment, of course, with the suspects being played by members of Big Adventures Theatre Company as part of a vintage afternoon tea.
Big Adventures were there to perform one of their excellent murder mystery shows, “Murder at the Redfriars Reunion”. The venue was Fairlawns Hotel in Aldridge.
The mystery, set in the 1930s, revolved around group of old pupils from Redfriars School one of whom had been horribly murdered after the previous night’s reunion dinner.
Guests took on the role of detective and had to use their best sleuthing skills to work out “whodunit”. My job was to keep everyone entertained between scenes while the suspects mingled with the guests to answer questions. My songs from the 1920s, 30s and 40s fitted in perfectly with the Agatha Christie murder mystery theme and created the ideal atmosphere for all the budding Poirots present.
Our hosts for the afternoon, Phil and Diana, had taken great pains with their decoration including floral table centres which incorporated school geometry equipment and an “old school tie”…
…and a chocolate pistol for each guest!
I’ve known Caroline and Dave from Big Adventures for over fifteen years now and have worked with them countless times acting in many of their theatre shows and murder mysteries. I’ve even performed in “Murder at the Redfriars Reunion” on many, many occasions playing the part of the vicar, Reverend Chaste. It was strange watching the story unfold as a spectator rather than an actor, but hugely entertaining.
The afternoon was a great success and the guests had a wonderful time attempting to solve the mystery. Host Phil said afterwards, “The drama, along with Simon’s elegant vocals, made everyone’s day”. They’re already planning another such event for next year.
And if you’re wondering who the guilty party turned out be I’m afraid my lips are sealed. You’ll just have to book Big Adventures for your own murder mystery evening to find out!
Find out more about Big Adventures by visiting www.bigadventures.biz
Find out more about my act of songs from the 1920s, 30s and 40s by visiting www.simonpartridge.com
Ella Fitzgerald once said, “The only thing better than singing is more singing”. She was absolutely right which is why adding a new song to my repertoire is always such a thrill.
My latest addition is the wonderful ballad, “My One and Only Love”, written by Guy Wood and lyrics by Robert Mellin. Essentially it’s a case of “one song to the tune of another” since Guy Wood’s melody was originally composed in 1947 for a song called “Music from Beyond the Moon” with lyrics by Jack Lawrence. The song was recorded by Vic Damone in 1948, but wasn’t a hit.
It’s a pleasant enough song, but it’s main problem is that the refrain sits rather clumsily in the tune. It wasn’t until Robert Mellin added new words in 1952 that anyone really took any notice. The first major recording of the new composition was by Frank Sinatra who released it in 1953 with Nelson Riddle producing a typically splendid arrangement.
It has since been recorded by numerous artists including the aforementioned Ms Fitzgerald in 1962 (another Riddle arrangement) and even Sting in 1995 (for the film “Leaving Las Vegas”). My personal introduction to the song was through Doris Day’s wonderful recording with the Andre Previn Trio for her 1962 album, “Duet”.
Strictly speaking, of course, the song only has half a claim (ie. the tune) to its place in my repertoire of songs from the 1902s, 30s and 40s, but it’s such a beautiful number and an absolute joy to sing so it’s staying!
And here’s a clip of me performing it:
(If you can’t see or hear the clip you can listen to it on my Soundcloud profile www.soundcloud.com/simon-partridge)
I hope you agree it’s an excellent addition to my repertoire.
To learn more about other songs I sing search for posts in the “Songs and Songwriters” category in the right-hand menu. You can see a complete list of my repertoire on my website www.simonpartridge.com