The first Valentine’s Day where I had a proper boyfriend was in ninth grade. I was at an all-girls school at the time, and the chilly Boston Brahmin headmistress had arranged a very civilized, very fifties-era way for us to feel courted by the opposite sex: through a “rose exchange” where our lacrosse-playing make out partners could send flowers –
from one to a dozen, depending on how much said lacrosse-playing gentleman liked you (or, for that certain kind of free-loving gal, a few from several), with an optional little note. I’d been delivered a set of twelve peach ones from Alex, which made me blush and also gloat, and then turn nauseated when I read an inscription on a pink piece of cardboard: “I love you.” Oh. I was a freshman. I loved “Sunflower Sutra” and my Sony Discman and a red sweater with stripes on it and Charleston Chews and Led Zeppelin III. I did not know how to deal with that. I broke up with him soon after by playing him the Samples “Nothing Lasts For Long,” probably while wearing that red sweater and eating a Charleston Chew. I wasn’t cold-hearted; I just hadn’t listened to enough Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday and Nina Simone. And, as I grew, I had better Valentine’s Days, where bouquets weren’t greeted with breakups, and I-love-yous were met with tender ballads, not odes to passing tides.
And this Valentine’s Day – February 14th, for those not keeping track – Caitlin Rose will pay tribute to our greatest of love songs at Cannery Ballroom with her first-annual Red Violet Valentine’s bash, pulling jewels from the thirties to fifties alongside a full orchestra band and a score of special guests including Derek Hoke, Tristen and Justin Collins. There will be dinner and dancing, but the night’s gravitational center will be one of our most favorite modern interpreters of song, Ms. Rose, who both sings her own lyrical poetry and spins brilliant takes on everyone from Vampire Weekend to the National. Part of the surprise will be just what romantic odes she chooses – but for her Nashville Five, we had her talk about five of her favorites. They won’t all be played, but either the tune or the vocalist will be represented throughout the night…and guessing game of, sorts. You’ll just have to show up and see.
Tickets can be purchased here. And for those of you who tend to react to “I love you’s” in the same fashion as freshman-year me, well, this is the night for you, too – listen to enough of these magical songs and maybe you’ll learn how to say it right back.
Composed by Cy Coleman with lyrics by Carolyn Leigh, this song is a perfect storm of greatness. The Chairman and the Count are a perfect pairing under Quincy Jones’ direction. Frank always had flair for a staggered vocal and you can see it take form like an old Swooner Crooner cartoon under this giant build up of a horn arrangement. It’s spectacular, but still somehow manages to play it cool.
There’s this arrogance in the lyric/delivery that really makes it. It’s like a love letter wrapped in a smirk.
A 1942 “popular song” with music by Jule Styne and lyrics by Sammy Cahn. I recently just heard this song for the first time. Funnily enough, Harry James was the first “name band” to hire Sinatra as a singer. They were seven months into a year-long contract in ’39 before Frank left to sing with Tommy Dorsey. This song is sung by another one of James’ featured singers, Helen Forrest. Of the big band singers, she’s definitely my favorite. She brings a certain dream-like element to everything she sings, especially when that’s the main theme of the composition. There is also an instantly recognizable charm in her voice and a friendliness. I love a voice with its own personality.
This is another one I hadn’t heard until recently. This whole project has given me more insight into a time in music I have always loved very much and am now basically living inside of. Aside from anticipation for the actual night, it’s stumbling on previously unheard gems like this that has made the work fun for me. The only thing that pops up in a search for this is a youtube video so I don’t know that there’s much available information, but it’s definitely one I’ll be trying to find more about. Reminds me of the perfect father/daughter dance.
Published as a piano composition in 1933 by Peter DeRose, Deep Purple was scored in 1934 for the Paul Whiteman band with whom it became so popular in sheet music sales that Mitchell Parish added lyrics in 1938. The original melody is so intoxicating and deceivingly complex it can give any singer a run for their money. While I lived out my love affair with the song, collecting copies of the sheet music (it’s my favorite sheet music art ever) and performing the Artie Shaw/Helen Forrest version at a Chubby & The Dots New Years show, I happened to pick up Lauren Bacall’s biography By Myself and right in the first chapter was this
“Already there was one boy who had a fantastic crush on me. I went out with him because there was no one else, and I tried to make him part of my romantic dream. He’d kiss me goodnight. He was sweet to me, he was boring, but he did call — I’d better be nice to him. It was soon Christmas, then New Year’s, and I didn’t want to be alone New Year’s Eve — not when my friends had dates — so I went to a party with him on New Year’s Eve — just sixteen, sweet sixteen — and we danced to ‘Deep Purple’ while I pretended he was Leslie Howard.”
I was immediately shocked to see it in context of anything besides my own obsession. It’s like getting a whiff of some long forgotten dead-stock perfume you must have been wearing in a past life or century. These songs, with their evocative titles and perfect melodies can seem instantly familiar to you and create this sense of possession or belonging. Whether it’s the song to you or you to the song. This Duke Ellington recording really takes its time to accentuate the precision of that original composition while still taking its own fabulous trip on the tune.
Hoagy Carmichael is one of my all time favorite singers for this rare vocal performance of one of this own compositions. This is a standard that defined an era of music and is so widely recorded it’s practically impossible to have a favorite, but this is mine. The first time I heard him sing was actually in “To Have and Have Not”, my favorite Bogey and Bacall flick, singing another one of his compositions “Am I Blue” along with Lauren Bacall in a cramped, smokey bar and this scattered band of musicians kind of falling into it with them. There’s a creeping mischievousness and this wonderful quiet confidence. He practically whispers the whole thing. As if he knows that despite whatever action is taking place, as soon one of these masterpieces begins everyone will just somehow swoon into place. What else can you say about it? Tons. It’s pure perfection right down to that cat call of a whistle solo. It’s just like Bacall in the film, making it all sound so easy. “You know how to whistle, don’tcha, Steve? You just put your lips together and blow.”