In this segment of the Red Norvo story, the xylophonist's collaborations with his wife, Mildred Bailey, predominate. This was a fine jazz orchestra with excellent soloists. One great and glowing jewel in the band was clarinetist Hank D'Amico, and Norvo's sparkling percussive passages are always a delight. Each of the five instrumental tracks resound with that fascinating combination of xylophone and big band, tidy brass over solidly arranged reeds, and -- beginning in January of 1938 -- precision drumming by George Wettling, that mainstay of Eddie Condon and his Commodore jam bands. With 16 out of 24 tracks serving as features for Bailey's pleasant vocals, this package will satisfy anyone who has a taste for her style and personality. As always, most of her material deals with romance or heartbreak. She sounds quite pleasant during a handsome treatment of George Gershwin's "Love Is Here to Stay," but if you scratch beneath the surface of Tin Pan Alley, things don't always look so rosy. Johnny Mercer's catchy "Weekend of a Private Secretary" seems at first like a cute description of a naughty vacation, but the lyrics, penned by Nebraska native Bernie Hanighen, reveal the mottled underbelly of old-fashioned North American bigotry. As Bailey shrewdly pronounces the phrase "Cuban gent," the song quickly evolves into a flippant essay on Caucasian infatuation with The Exotic Other. Ultimately, she presents a crude list of social stereotypes that a working girl would be likely to encounter while seeking out male companionship. These include a slicker, a hick, a Reuben -- this was originally a carnival or circus term for a rustic rube -- and even that time-honored American racial epithet, "darky." The band is tight, maracas and all, and Norvo's xylophone sounds great surrounded by Caribbean rhythm effects, but rancid social undercurrents leave an odd taste in the mouth. Further ethical/ethnic discomfiture may be experienced while listening to "There's a Boy in Harlem," which must be the most racist opus ever contrived by the otherwise admirable songwriting team of Rodgers & Hart. While accurately admitting that "all the writers copy" an unidentified Afro-American composer, lyricist Larry Hart describes the "boy" as sloppily dressed (!) and even paraphrases a nasty figure of speech by referring to him as "this person in the woodpile." The fact that "Mr. and Mrs. Swing" elected to record these vulgar songs speaks volumes about the prevailing social climate during the 1930s and momentarily sheds an unseemly light on their respective careers.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by arwulf arwulf