Red Norvo

1938-1939

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AllMusic Review by

This is the fourth volume in the chronologically reissued recordings of Red Norvo on Classics. Norvo was married to Mildred Bailey from 1933-1939, and they made a lot of records together. Every side that appeared under her own name has been brought out in a parallel series, while all those originally issued under the heading of the Red Norvo Orchestra are woven into the Norvo chronology. That is why there are several volumes in the Red Norvo story that feel a lot like chapters in the life and times of Mildred Bailey. This feisty little woman was at her best when singing wistful songs of love and longing in her rather small, warmly pleasant voice. She would also dig right into a hot swing number and could occasionally be heard encouraging the band with little energetic exclamations, slightly off-mike. With one exception, all of her performances on this disc have merit. Unable to shake an apparent penchant for topical inanities caricaturing ethnic minorities, Norvo and Bailey opted for something called "Wigwammin'." Recorded in June 1938, this trite piece of rubbish trivializes life on an Indian reservation with stupid lyrics and periodic choruses of Hollywood-style "Indian" war whoops from the band. Bailey sings on 11 out of 23 tracks, and thankfully the rest of her thematic choices were more dignified. "Put Your Heart in a Song" and "The Sunny Side of Things" constitute a pair of optimistic essays brimming with good advice. "Jump Jump's Here" is a smart strut, sounding like one of Lil Hardin Armstrong's enthusiastic routines. "Cuckoo in the Clock" and "A-Tisket, A-Tasket" typify Bailey's approach to the silly novelty genre. Fats Waller's version of Ella Fitzgerald's "Tasket" tune, recorded in London exactly one month to the day after Mildred's, would out-swing everybody else's renditions, including Ella's original. Harry Warren and Johnny Mercer's "You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby," introduced in the 1938 motion picture Jezebel, comes across like a charmingly antiquated piece of vaudeville, maybe even a throwback to the Paul Whiteman orchestra where Norvo and Bailey first met. This apparently deliberate spoof of older-styled entertainment features a rather funny, stilted vocal by "the Three Ickkies" -- Norvo, Bailey, and a guy by the name of Terry Allen. An ickkey, of course, was the official hep-talk tag for an un-hip individual. Speaking of ickkies, Norvo chose to sacrifice six entire tunes to Terry Allen, a morbidly tepid vocalist when left to his own designs. Only the band and the leader's xylophone solos redeem those ill-starred selections. Each of the five instrumental tracks are solidly swung, with the two Charlie Shavers compositions -- "Undecided" and "Rehearsin' for a Nervous Breakdown" -- sounding exceptionally fine. [Note that the enclosed discography contains a factual error, something relatively uncommon for the Classics label. Although personnel on the session dated September 29, 1938, lists essentially the John Kirby Sextet plus Red Norvo, this cannot be the case, as the Norvo big band is clearly audible, trombones and all.] The Norvo orchestra's personnel began to change, and irreversible damage was sustained when clarinetist Hank D'Amico left during the spring of 1939 to join Richard Himber. By June of that year, Norvo's orchestra would dissolve, paving the way for an entirely new phase of his career.

Track Listing

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
1 2:52
2 2:51
3 2:46
4 2:37
5 2:55
6 2:55
7 2:56
8 2:48
9 3:03
10 2:54
11 3:04
12 2:47
13 3:06
14 2:47
15 3:00
16 3:01
17 3:01
18 2:59
19 2:49
20 2:42
21 2:43
22 3:08
23 2:54
blue highlight denotes track pick