DERBY 793; APRIL 1952



Oh, c’mon now, surely THIS is one we can skip, can’t we?

I mean, do we really have to cover every side of every damn single released by a rock artist for seventy-six years (and counting)?

There has to be some songs that aren’t worth delving into and a non-charting and unmemorable rock version of a jazz standard by Glenn Miller by someone who has released dozens of similar stylistic remakes of old songs from different genres is as likely a candidate for omission as we’re going to find.

Nobody would even notice, let alone complain, if this didn’t appear. It’s taken us six months to just start getting into the fourth month of 1952 and with more rock records by more rock artists to cover this year than last, can’t we take some liberties and…

Are you even paying attention to me? Have you been listening to these reasons or are you already thumbing through your thesaurus looking for new words to describe the same old stuff for the umpeenth time?

Ahh, *#*$&@!… alright, go ahead and write it. It doesn’t mean anyone is actually gonna read it though.


Pearl Clutching
In case you haven’t caught on yet, this is definitely not an important record, but we’ve come this far with Freddie Mitchell and might as well go the full twelve rounds with him if we can.

Besides, it does give us a chance to compare and contrast the jazz and rock mindsets for those who came to class late and, rather surprisingly considering our position here, show why sometimes progress is not all it’s cracked up to be.

The original (A) String Of Pearls – an elegant dreamy title for rock to later desecrate – was issued back in 1941 in numerous versions, as was the case for that era and style, but the most popular of which (#1 for two weeks) came from Glenn Miller who was more popular than anybody in music at the time.

His popularity in fact dwarfs the peak years of Elvis Presley in the mid-late 50’s, The Beatles in the mid-1960’s and Michael Jackson in the early 1980’s, as Miller notched sixty-seven Top Ten hits between 1939 and 1942 including thirteen Number Ones. His career then stopped as he joined the Air Force – a little thing called World War Two for those who skipped history class – though in 1943 he managed one last chart topper.

He’d never get a chance to make a triumphant comeback as he died in December 1944 when his plane crashed on the way to France just as the Battle Of the Bulge started. Needless to say an era of music that was as big as anything to come along since that time, ended with his death.

But a decade later, another lifetime in musical terms, the song was revived by Freddie Mitchell who, if he’s going to get anything out of it, will have to radically overhaul it to meet the requirements of a new era and even then, if judging by his previous efforts, that still probably won’t be enough.

Diamonds And Pearls
Though a lot of the stale big band or even older standards that Freddie Mitchell had exhumed and tried to breathe some life into the decaying corpses were beyond the help of even Dr. Frankenstein, this song actually has some potential.

Written by Jerry Gray, who was Miller’s brilliant arranger, this is one record that could rather easily be transposed to a rock setting because of the steady rhythm of the original carried by just stand-up bass and light drums that anchor the entire song, which frankly is somewhat rare for the era that favored sweet melodies over everything else.

The Miller record has – get this – fourteen horns on it! Fourteen! Not even James Brown at his peak carried half that, yet it’s not overcrowded in the least because of Gray’s impeccible arrangement letting different instruments all get their say playing overlapping parts which rise and fall, enter and fade with such nimble dexterity that if you ever want to understand arranging as a specific skill, listen to this because it’s flawless.

Mitchell doesn’t have nearly as many instruments to worry about and since he should be even more focused on the rhythm in his field it stands to reason that he might be able to turn String of Pearls into even gaudier jewelry that has the right amount of bling for the rock era. Yet save for parts of his solos he actually may be further away from rock’s basic mindset than Miller!

His first mistake is to de-emphasize the bass and drum rhythm in favor of the piano, which true to form with him is far too heavy on the treble keys though at least it ventures further to the left on the keyboard than some of his past attempts. The other horns though are weak as can be playing a simple prancing line that somehow manages to replicate the melody while destroying the groove and effortless sway of the original by how heavy-handed they carry it out.

Things improve greatly when Mitchell arrives because he’s at least using his tenor sax in a way that none of the FIVE saxophones on Miller’s favored. His gritty tone alongside the suddenly more emphatic drumming, and even some decent piano work thrown in the cracks for good measure, pulls the entire record up by the hole in the middle and almost gets its head above water before Mitchell seems to run out of ideas, or maybe runs out of breath, and it sinks back under the surface before the midway point.

He does keep bobbing his head over the waves after that as the baritone sax tries lifting him up, but while they may not drown they’re all completely lost at sea for awhile, if we want to keep this man overboard theme going. The piano’s clever descent down the scale into a second Mitchell solo is enough to get them back on track and they take it to the close well enough to call it an acceptable record for rock, but with the potential the song itself had on paper to be muscled up and transformed into something truly special for a totally different genre, it still has to be viewed as a disappointment.

Costume Jewelry
Aside from getting to talk positively about Glenn Miller on a site where “Glenn” and “Miller” are both profanities, at least when used together, due to the nature of rock as the steamroller of past musical styles, this remake serves to sum up the eternal problem with Freddie Mitchell, not just as an artist but also an arranger, which let’s not forget he was being paid a regular salary to do for all of the acts on Derby Records for the last few years.

Mitchell was a good sax player… he had that dirty tone, good power and a strong sense of building up to something for a more explosive impact most of the time. What he had trouble with was framing that ability in a more favorable light.

We can see why he chose to go back into the Great American songbook so much, something we often – maybe mistakenly – felt was the decision of Derby Records alone. Mitchell knew that he needed a formidable melody to make his job easier and while he was able to rip off some nice solos on songs like String Of Pearls that would’ve sounded completely out of place on the Miller version (to Mitchell’s credit let it be said) he had no idea what to do beyond that, possibly because he seemed incapable of hiring musicians who shared the proper outlook for his line of work.

As a result he was creatively stuck. The once famous song titles held no interest to the younger rock audience and the supporting players were clunky and out of place, meaning all of the high points had to come from Mitchell himself. Maybe that shouldn’t be so unusual since he was the star, but then again so was Glenn Miller and his records showed how when everyone involved was on the same page it made for much more appealing music, regardless of the genre.

Let’s hope that wherever Mitchell lands next he’s got a more capable supporting cast and someone like Jerry Gray to handle the arrangements, otherwise we might just have to start a History Of Swing website to pick up the slack.


(Visit the Artist page of Freddie Mitchell for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)