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Sophistication : Songs Of The Thirties


"Sophistication is a terrific collection, beautifully produced, as indeed are all the CDs in this series." Hubert Gregg, BBC Radio 2

Carroll Gibbons: Top Hat, White Tie And Tails
Fred Astaire: Things Are Looking Up; The Way You Look Tonight Hildegarde: The Touch Of Your Lips; Darling, Je Vous Aime Beaucoup
Noel Coward: Just Let Me Look At You;
Where Are The Songs We Sung? << sound clip
Gertrude Lawrence: Limehouse Blues/ You Were Meant For Me/ Do Do Do/ Someone To Watch Over Me/ Cup Of Coffee, A Sandwich, And You/ WiId Thyme/ Experiment
Benny Carter: Nightfall << sound clip
Greta Keller: So Little Time
Hutch: I Poured My Heart Into A Song
Marlene Dietrich: You Do Something To Me;
Falling In Love Again << sound clip
Jack Buchanan: Dancing Honeymoon/ And Her Mother Came Too/ Fancy Our Meeting/ Who/ Two Little Bluebirds/ Goodnight Vienna/ It's Not You/ There's Always Tomorrow
Elisabeth Welch: Drop In Next Time You're Passing
Jessie Matthews: One Little Kiss From You/ Let Me Give My Happiness To You/ When You' ve Got A Little Springtime In Your Heart/ Over My Shoulder/ I Nearly Let Love Go Slipping Through My Fingers/ Got To Dance My Way To Heaven/ Everything's In Rhythm With My Heart/ Can Wiggle My Ears

The roaring Twenties, the era of the Charleston, flappers, vamps and sweet young things yielded to a less frenetic decade of popular music. Night club entertainers like Hutch and top bandleaders like Ambrose now began appearing 'on the halls' instead of largely confining themselves to exclusive (and expensive) nightspots and hotels. As a result, their popularity and record sales soared. This collection of 1930s offerings covers a wide range of artists of stage and screen with one common ingredient - sophistication.

Carroll Gibbons was born in Clinton, Massachusetts in 1903. He made his debut as a pianist when he was ten years old before going on to study at the Boston Conservatory. In 1924 he came to England, and joined a relief orchestra at the Savoy Hotel in London, and three years later became leader of the Savoy Orpheans. When they disbanded the following year, HMV Records appointed him as musical director; at the same time he also led the New Mayfair Orchestra. After a short spell back in America, he returned to London to lead the Savoy Hotel Orpheans. In 1950 he was appointed the Savoy Group of Hotels Director of Entertainments, a position he held until his untimely death four years later. Well known on radio in the Thirties and Forties, Carroll Gibbons And His Boy Friends here play the lively Top Hat, White Tie And Tails. You will probably recognise, too, the presence of his magic touch when he accompanies a number of singers on this compilation - Noel Coward, Hildegarde and Gertrude Lawrence.

The opening number serves as an apt introduction for our next artist who introduced it in his film 'Top Hat'. In this he was elegance personified. Fred Astaire (1899-1987), dancer, singer, actor and composer, started entertaining when he was five years old and from 1916 until 1932 he and his sister Adele co-starred in a number of shows, singing and dancing to the delight of Broadway and London audiences. After his sister's marriage, he appeared briefly with other partners until, in late 1933, he teamed up with the then unknown Ginger Rogers. The rest, as they say, is history. The film songs Things Are Looking Up and The Way You Look Tonight are, as one would expect from such an exceptional dancer, highly rhythmic. The clever rhyming brings these songs and this polished performer well into the realms of' 'sophistication'.

Wisconsin-born Hildegarde Loretta Sell started life as a pianist, until she was discovered by impresario Gus Edwards, who shortened her name to Hildegarde (born 1906). A year later she was singing at the Cafe de Paris in London - not entirely successfully. It was enough to make her study cabaret technique in Paris so that when she returned to London, she triumphed with her newly polished act. Carroll Gibbons and his Boy Friends accompany her in the singing of The Touch Of Your Lips and Darling, Je Vous Aime Beaucoup, where the mixed up languages, together with the laugh in her voice are typical of this talented singer's work. As a cabaret artist she used various eye-catching gambits - primly playing the piano wearing gloves, then saucily calling men from the tables to dance with her.

Although he had no formal musical education, Noel Coward (1899-1973) was born into a musical family. As a small child his innate sense of rhythm meant that he had to be restrained from dancing in church to the more lively hymn tunes. He won a prize for singing at a seaside concert when he was ten, and was regularly composing by the time he was fifteen, gradually moving towards the revue style that was so popular in the Twenties and Thirties. The two Coward selections show a rare, wistful and subdued side to his considerable talents, and they contrast with the pithy, gently mocking style we normally associate with this artist. Unusually, in Just Let Me Look At You he sings a song written not by himself, but by Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields.

Having appeared as a child dancer in pantomime at Brixton when she was twelve, Gertrude Lawrence (1898-1952) went on to become the most popular British star to appear on Broadway. Her rise to fame coincided with that of her contemporary and friend Noel Coward. Together and apart they reached the summit of their profession. The medley presented on this collection shows off her talents to the full. From the sadness of Limehouse Blues, switching to the clear-toned sentimentality of You Were Meant For Me, the cheeky Do Do Do then back to the sentimental with Someone To Watch Over Me, the innocent singing of Wild Thyme followed by Experiment we get some idea of the versatility of this accomplished actress and singer's wide range.

One of the most versatile and greatest jazz musicians of all time, Benny Carter (born 1907) is a saxophonist, trumpeter, composer, arranger and bandleader. He led his own bands for short periods, but he is best known as a peerless, enormously influential alto saxophone player. In London he became staff arranger to the BBC Dance Orchestra led by Henry Hall. Later he appeared in some films, and wrote for others, including 'An American In Paris'. He is represented on this collection with his London based orchestra playing one of his own compositions, Nightfall.

It was in Vienna, her native town, that Greta Keller (1913-1977) was first called 'The Great Lady Of Chanson'. This title followed her to London and America, where she was a very popular cabaret artist. She returned to Europe, but the political climate forced her to go back to the States. In Hollywood in 1943 tragedy struck when her husband was murdered. It took her some time to rebuild her life, but eventually she restarted her career in Switzerland, then on to Vienna, Berlin and back to New York. Greta's greatest strength was in her adaptability to suit the song, and the caress in her voice gives So Little Time exceptional charm.

Popular, attractive, handsome, well-dressed and unfailingly courteous - this was Leslie Hutchinson, known to everyone simply as Hutch (1900-1969). Amongst his friends he numbered the Windsors, Princess Margaret, and Princess Alexandra, and many far less exalted people saved up to buy his records. Born in Grenada, he was sent to New York as a sixteen year old to study medicine, and supplemented his allowance by playing piano. He soon found that he was more interested in music than in medicine, and let his studies slide - which is fortunate for us!

Anyone who has seen the film 'The Blue Angel' will remember Falling In Love Again sung in Marlene Dietrich's (1901-92) sultry voice. This was like the lady herself, slinky, mysterious, aloof and beautifully sensuous. You Do Something To Me is another fine example of Marlene's incomparable way with a song, instantly recognisable. At the age of fifty-three Marlene started a second career in cabaret and Noel Coward introduced her to the Cafe de Paris audience with one of his witty rhymes. After breaking her thigh in a fall from the stage in Australia she spent the remaining sixteen years of her life as a recluse in Paris, completely shunning publicity.

Jack Buchanan (1891-1957) was an aristocratic-looking British gentleman and when he appeared dressed in top hat and tails, he was the last person you would expect to sing and dance to perfection. In his laid-back voice, he drawls out the songs on this medley. The love songs are touched lightly, and And Her Mother Came Too is sung in an understated fashion. Jack paid sundry visits to America where he appeared on Broadway and in films - 'Paris', 'Monte Carlo', 'This'll Make You Whistle', and many others. He and Fred Astaire worked together in the 1953 Hollywood musical 'The Band Wagon'. He is still very popular today, the epitome of the debonair, man-about-town.

Quintessentially British, singer, dancer and actress Jessie Matthews (1907-81) found herself catapulted to fame in the New York production of 'Andre Charlot's London Revue of 1924'. She had taken over the lead from Gertrude Lawrence who had fallen ill. For the rest of the decade she starred in high profile Andre Charlot and Charles B Cochran productions and established herself as a film star in the Thirties. With her captivating charm, she sang and danced her way through ten film musicals and became the only British musical star to score success on both sides of the Atlantic. A film partnership with Fred Astaire was mooted, but alas never came to fruition. Here we have Jessie endearingly singing a selection from her films ranging from 'The Midshipmaid' (1932) through to 'Its Love Again' (1936).

With a father of mixed American Indian and African ancestry, and a mother who was Scots/Irish, Elisabeth Welch (born 1909), who was born in the Manhattan street where Benny Carter lived, has a most interesting background. She sang 'Charleston' in 'Runnin' Wild' when she was fourteen and this brought her into the public eye. Appearing in 'Blackbirds Of 1928', she went on to Paris with the show and then returned to America in 'The New Yorkers'. Benny Carter saw her picture in a London publisher's office after she had settled in London, and seeking her out, asked her to record with him. Drop In Next Time You're Passing is an example of this partnership.

These charming and clever numbers will always have great appeal, and their ability to evoke an age of elegance and wit remains undiminished; for the many people who already know and love this music, as well as those coming to it for the first time, the sounds of the Thirties always manage to conjure up a time of supreme refinement - a world of sophistication.


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