Monday, January 25, 2016

Leon Redbone - Flying By

Leon Redbone (photo courtesy
Recently I found out that the incomparable troubadour and pre-World War II ragtime, jazz, blues and Vaudeville stylist Leon Redbone has retired from both public appearances and recording last year. The official website, however, does not give many details of the reason for his retirement, but only states "(...) that his health has been a matter of concern for some time.  It has become too challenging for him to continue the full range of professional activities.". The music scene has indeed become poorer since this official announcement of Leon Redbone's retirement hit the news. Fortunately, we still have access to his records (- approximately fifteen single releases on LP and/or CD), further there are uploaded many recordings of live-performances at YouTube to fill in the missing of new releases and concert performances. - Below I'll focus on Leon Redbone's latest - and last - studio recording, the CD titled Flying By released in January 2014.

The Flying By CD was released after a hiatus of thirteen years when no new studio recordings were made, the previous studio recorded CD by Leon Redbone was Any Time from 2001. In the interim, however, a couple of CDs featuring live performances from the 1980s and 1990s were released. Asked about the reason for this long pause in his recording career, Leon Redbone answered the question in an interview  by simply stating “Things take time.” The answer indicates the seriousness and carefulness of a true artist, the material and conditions for the recording of a new studio album 
are not a haphazard affair but rely on the right moment and the perfect setting. According to the mentioned interview the actual recording of the CD further met practical obstacles and had to use more studio locations before the material was ready for release in January 2014. - The CD has a rather short playing time (c.35 min.) and contains twelve tracks. Leon Redbone is featured as a vocalist on all tracks, he accompanies himself on acoustic guitar but is also supported by a small combo featuring clarinet, cornet, piano and rhythm in several tracks and two tracks have accompaniment by Vince Giordano and The Nighthawks big band. Mr. Redbone's regular pianist is Paul Asaro, who participates in all tracks. The material chosen for the CD is eclectic, several of the recorded tunes do not belong to the often heard songs even if you are collector of pre-WW II jazz, blues and sentimental recordings.Firstly, there are two songs originally recorded by female vocalist Lee Morse  for Columbia in 1928, 'Just You And I' and 'Main Street', and Leon Redbone explains the reason for this choice in the mentioned interview, quote "She was a unique individual - everything about her was unique, ... you hear [a Morse] recording one time and it stays with you."

Just You And I opens the CD, the audio of this as well as the other tracks on the CD has been uploaded at YouTube, here.  Below is inserted Leon Redbone's version of the tune, and if you like to hear the original recording by Lee Morse, it's available here  

According to the mentioned interview, band leader of The Nighthawks big band, Vince Giordano, wanted to cut a version of the tune Wanna Go Back Again Blues with Redbone singing the lyrics in an arrangement similar to a recording made by Duke Ellington and his Orchestra in 1926 for Gennett, available here  
Here is Leon Redbone's version of Wanna Go Back Again Blues accompanied by Vince Giordano and The Nighthawks

There is also featured a blues by ragtime guitarist and vocalist Blind Blake, Police Dog Blues, here in a 1920s small combo  arrangement featuring Vince Giordano on bass sax

Also featured are Leon Redbone's version of Jelly Roll Morton's Mr Jelly Lord with the lyrics known from the famous Library of Congress 1938 recordings, sentimental Tin Pan Alley tunes like Baby Won't You Please Come Home (Marion Harris, Bessie Smith and McKinney's Cotton Pickers a.o. recorded this), the Isham Jones 1924 hit I'll See You In My Dreams, Get Out Get Under The Moon ( recorded by Anette Hanshaw a.o.), Save Your Sorrow (Gene Austin a.o. had a hit with this) and the CD ends with a seldom heard or recorded song composed by Irving Berlin But Where Are You. The song was originally sung In the 1936 Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers movie classic Follow the Fleet by Harriet Hilliard - you can hear it and watch Harriet Hilliard singing the song in the movie here  - Here is Leon Redbone's version accompanied by pianist Paul Asaro and violin

There seems to be a preponderance of sentimental songs on the CD, and according to the mentioned interview with Mr. Redbone there is a good reason for that, quote: "Sentimentality in music, suggests Redbone, has “evaporated". It’s just noise volume level, with no sentimentality at all,” he says of contemporary music. “It didn’t get better over the years, which is unfortunate. Maybe a slight jog in the planets might make it get better!" It's my impression that Leon Redbone has put down his foot in a satisfactory way to achieve a slight jog in the planet Earth with the Flying By CD release. I highly recommend it to other fans of the great man as well as newcomers. The CD is available for purchase here

It's a pity that Leon Redbone has retired, but Lorne Michaels is preparing a documentary with the title Please Don't Talk About Me When I'm Gone: The Search for Leon Redbone. A short promo has been uploaded at YouTube, here. - I don't know, if the documentary has been finished by now, but it's certainly worth waiting for. To end this, here is Leon Redbone in a live performance of Please Don't Talk About Me When I'm Gone

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1 comment:

  1. Thanks for writing up this piece on Leon Redbone. It was a great thrill and fun to work with him over the last 40 years or so: touring, Saturday Night Live, recording [on his albums and for Boardwalk Empire]. Occasionally he would drop by the Iguana in NYC on a Monday or Tuesday night [our weekly gig] to sing a song or two with my band The Nighthawks ! Leon has kept a form of old time jazz, blues, vaudeville,and hokum alive and introduced it to many young folks who would have never found out about it otherwise. Thank you Leon ! Vince Giordano (Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks)