Tags

No tags :(

Share it

SAVOY 686; FEBRUARY, 1949

 
 

 

ANOTHER ONE?!?! You mean you really want another of these crude pieces of… of… of garbage? Isn’t one enough? MORE than enough!

Just one more, Hal. These are hot now. I don’t like it any more than you but this is what’s selling. C’mon, just give us something moderately rollicking and then we’ll let you cut whatever high fallutin’ jazz you want… at least until we break for lunch.

ARGHHHH. Alright, alright. G*##@^*t!

What was that, Hal?

Nothing. Let’s get this over with.

[Engineer:] Did Hal just flip us off, Teddy?

No, no, of course not. He was just singling this was take one. Okay, ready everyone? Hal? Are you ready? Alright, this is One For Willie, take one… aaaand ROLLING!
 

 
TAKE ONE!
What do you do if you’re Hal Singer, a frustrated jazz saxophonist turned unwilling rock star, short of hawking your horn and joining the merchant marines? Producer Teddy Reig is imploring you to keep playing loud, crass and boisterous rock ‘n’ roll – in fact he even sketched this one out for you – and all you want to do is go back to the jazz world and be respected for what you play rather than embarrassed by it.

But it’s your job. In fact, it’s what brought you the notoriety you’re currently enjoying thanks to your Number One hit from last summer, the storming Cornbread. That in turn led you into forming your own band and brought you back in the studio for more of the same, at least being somewhat mollified by being paid leader scale for your efforts… all while you’d like to be earning half that by playing anonymously behind someone else, preferably in a better style of music.

But honk you do for the top side, Beef Stew, as you know that’ll be your follow-up record and something to further denigrate your name amongst the musical elite who now make jokes at your expense for selling out and playing unimaginably lowbrow music for the moronic masses. Ahh, but those moronic masses also have mucho moolah (big bucks that is) and so you play what they want to hear. All you hope is that from time to time you’re allowed to show off your true skills by cutting something with a little more class and maybe – as unlikely as it seems – THAT will be what draws somebody’s interest and gets you your next hit, validating your artistic tastes and leading you back to quality commercial music and a long career as a respected jazz master…
 

TAKE TWO!!
Hal! Hal, this isn’t cutting it. It’s not how I wrote it, you’re playing too laid back. You need to put more into it!

Put more WHAT into it?

More of THIS! [grabs his crotch]

Put your OWN into it, Teddy. The hell with this $hi+! I’m going home before I get VD!

HAL! I didn’t mean that… c’mon, we’re getting close. Just another take with a little more Oomph! and then we’ll wrap it up. Whadaya say?

Aww… F*%^ it! Alright, you win. Let’s get this mo+#erfu%^in’ session over with already so I can go get drunk and forget I’m playing this gawdawful crap for a living now!

That’s the spirit!
 
 

 

The Master Take
Whatever Singer’s true feelings towards all of this noise a few things are indisputable. The first is that Hal Singer was a helluva sax player – in any style. His heart may have been in the jazz world but he was more than capable of honking and squealing as he’d already shown behind the likes of Wynonie Harris as well as on his own with Cornbread, a torrid display of every crude gimmick known to man.

But we also know that there’s always a tricky balance between trying to appeal to a current movement that may not be around for long (still a possibility – though a diminishing one – with rock in the winter of 1949) while maintaining your artistic integrity in case that style’s popularity starts to wither in time and you need to look elsewhere to keep your career afloat.

So Hal Singer was in a bit of a bind. His options were basically to wholeheartedly throw himself into rock and give the hordes of mayhem seeking fans something to revel in while potentially doing long term damage to his own image, or he could pull back and deliver something that reasonably qualified as a rocker but probably didn’t have enough qualifications in that regard to ever fully satisfy the masses, thereby hurting his commercial appeal in the process while still being tainted by his mere association with the renegade form should he ever look to move back into something with more mainstream legitimacy.

You gotta feel almost sorry for him because it’s not an easy choice to make. Furthermore the types of instrumentals that were stirring the most interest were not exactly easy to conceive of and credibly execute even under the best of circumstances. Sometimes those giving in to their most outlandish urges came away with something that was suitably frantic enough, but poorly structured without a memorable hook or passage to connect to audiences and so all of that sweat found in those garish displays went for naught.

Thus with One For Willie it would appear that Singer decided to compromise just a little by keeping the main thrust squarely on the rock mindset while easing back on everything else, trying in vain to find some sense in the chaos to satisfy his more refined musical sensibilities.

It doesn’t quite work, but then again it doesn’t quite fail miserably either as if he completely abandoned the game plan and simply did what he damn well pleased, or turned in a lackadaisical half-hearted effort out of spite or frustration.

They certainly try their best here but it’s just that the stakes have been raised considerably over the past few months, in large part thanks to Singer’s work last summer, and now with the likes of Big Jay McNeely seizing the reins of the style and offering up the types of frenzied display you’ll need to aspire to from now on, the records like this which try and settle comfortably into a middle ground between manic and controlled won’t cut it unless the individual components are far more fine-tuned and sharpened than what’s found here.
 

Lost On The Way To Harlem
Though I haven’t seen any definitive word on the title, considering Savoy’s penchant for courting favor with disc jockey’s by naming their instrumentals in their honor I’m assuming One For Willie refers to Willie Bryant, a/k/a “The Mayor Of Harlem”, a former bandleader and singer in the 1930’s who in 1946 became the first black man to host a network radio show, albeit briefly, before settling into a local show in 1948 spinning black music for black listeners on WHOM in New York.

Though the music they played was generally a little more sophisticated than the rock ‘n’ roll that was springing up (though Bryant would embrace that too as time went on) the fact that it was such a popular show and attracted an audience that cut across cultural and generational lines meant that if anyone was actually deserving of a tribute it was surely Willie Bryant.

Maybe because of that the song can be granted a bit more leeway when it comes to how it’s structured, never ramping up the histrionics to full effect and trying to let a more swinging riff define it. Unfortunately the riff they chose to anchor the proceedings is the weakest aspect of the entire record, a repetitive and none-too-rousing pattern that goes on and on with absolutely no variation, no different textures, no sense of grit or urgency, nothing hypnotic unless you equate hypnotic with sleep-inducing which is exactly what this would result in if allowed to take even more time than the thirty seconds it takes to unwind in the first minute.

Thankfully before you nod off Singer stretches out after that giving you some reason for optimism, but he maintains the middling tempo for the most part until the midway point where – when the other horns chip in with a decent backdrop – he finally starts to cut loose a little more. What do you know, the drums even make a few appearances which is never a bad thing to convey a sense of excitement, something this record desperately needed by this point.

Maybe they rouse Singer in the process for at the two minute mark he contributes his best and most vibrant playing, a few scalding blasts of notes intended to kick-start your heart like a defibrillator, but once the body comes back to life it resumes its more stately refrains and droning riffs and you settle back into a state of mild sedation, the horns playing unobtrusively as you nod off.

Because they never play badly and because the objective here was well-conceived it’s hard to rip them too much for merely following the blueprint. Nothing is exactly missing from this, rather its best ideas are just not emphasized enough. Had they added a window rattling solo in the first half that aligned itself with the one found near the end it would’ve given it more of a sense of anticipation along the way as you waited for its return. Of course the primary riff needed to be stronger as well, perhaps using the other horns as a counterpoint, each contributing something slightly different to make it more captivating, or let the piano play off Singer’s parts to give it another feel. The theoretical concept throughout the song was fine, but the specific components they used simply undersold it.

But as instrumental B-sides go they don’t fare too poorly here, One For Willie is something that can be slotted to play alongside the rest of the rock output of the time and not sound woefully out of place. Then again it wouldn’t be something you’d likely put IN the playlist to keep the party going, even if you were Willie Bryant and it was presumably named for you.

In the end it was serviceable. Hardly a compliment but not altogether a criticism either.
 

That’s A Wrap!
How was that, Teddy?

Good, good, Hal. That was fine.

Do you want us to run through it again?

Ahhm… no, that’s okay, I think we got what we can use, Hal. It’s only a B-side after all.

You sure?

Yeah. Let’s wrap it up and go get lunch.

 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
(Visit the Artist page of Hal Singer for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)