“You Go to My Head”
Composed by J. Fred Coots (music) and Haven Gillespie (lyric); arranged by Johnny Watson.
Recorded by Jan Savitt and His Top Hatters for RCA Bluebird in New York on August 25, 1938.
Jan Savitt, directing: Jack Hansen, first and solo trumpet; Harold “Buddy”Kearns, Charles “Chick” Jensen, trumpets; Al Leopold, first trombone; Maurice “Moe” Evans, trombone; James Schultz, Gabriel “Gabe” Gelinas, alto saxophones; Harry Roberts, Johnny Warrington, tenor saxophones; Irv Leshner, piano; Frank Rasmus, guitar; Howard Cook, bass; George White, drums; Carlotta Dale, vocal.
The music: “You Go to My Head” is a superb song, called a “minor masterpiece” by composer Alec Wilder in his definitive survey of American Popular Song. Here it is set in a deceptively simple but marvelously effective arrangement by Johnny Watson, one of the first arrangers to contribute to the Savitt band book of arrangements.The introduction is played by the Savitt saxophone quartet, always one of the best in the business, in a most sensuous manner.Lead trumpeter Jack Hansen then plays the melody with excellent musicianship using a Harmon mute, which gives his trumpet a rather acrid sound characteristic of that mute as it existed in the 1930s. Hansen’s solo is backed by prominently recorded high-hat cymbals played by drummer George White, and descending cup-muted brass.
The Harmon mute was first patented in 1865 [US patent 51,363] under a different name by John F. Stratton of New York. This patent called for plugging the trumpet’s bell with an adjustable tube that allowed a player to deaden the sound without throwing the instrument out of tune. About 60 years later, the device had become known by its brand name, the Harmon mute, and its tube, having acquired a small cup at the outer end for ‘wah-wah’ effects, was called a stem. This mute was used by trumpeters like Henry Busse and Clyde McCoy in the late 1920s and throughout the 1930s to create what today sounds like an old-fashioned sound. The Harmon mutes those soloists used, and which Jack Hansen used on this recording, I think, were made out of tin. That is why they have that idiosyncratic, dry sound. By the very early 1940s, Harmon mutes began to be made of aluminum, giving them a subtle buzzing sound. Aluminum Harmon mutes have played a major role in jazz trumpet performance ever since. For two examples of how aluminum Harmon mutes sound, check out Ray Nance’s first trumpet solo on Duke Ellington’s “Take the ‘A’ Train,” and Bob Burnet’s trumpet solo on Charlie Barnet’s “Harlem Speaks,” both of which are to be found elsewhere on this blog.(See the links at the bottom of this post.)
The vocal chorus, the centerpiece of this arrangement, spotlights the sophisticated and musical singing of 23 year old Carlotta Dale (real name: Charlotte Cloverdale, shown above left and at right). Like so many girl singers with big bands in the swing era,she was a beautiful woman with a marvelous figure. But unlike many of those singers, she really knew how to sing. She had a lovely contralto voice, a fine sense of pitch, and good range. She sang most relaxedly, but with a beat. She also knew how to “sell” a song, investing it with just the right amount of emotion. In this recording, all of those qualities are on display, as is the shuffle rhythm often used by Savitt, to give his band an identifying style.
I am constantly struck by the incredibly high standard of musicianship in the better bands of the swing era. This certainly included the band of Jan Savitt, and its female vocalist Carlotta Dale.
No bandleader in the swing era came to his work with better qualifications than Jan Savitt. Savitt was born in Shumsk, Russia on September 4, 1907 as Jacob Savetnick. His family emigrated to South Philadelphia in 1909, settling in the Orthodox Jewish community there. He began playing violin at age 6 in 1913.By 1924, he was a student at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia.Two years later, at age 19, he was playing violin in the Philadelphia Orchestra under the direction of Leopold Stokowski. This association lasted eight years. In 1932, Savitt formed a string quartet which was featured on radio station WCAU, the CBS network affiliate in Philadelphia. Shortly after, he organized and led a 35-piece symphonic jazz orchestra in the manner of Paul Whiteman on WCAU, and presented weekly on a program called “Fiddle-isms.” In 1934, at age 27, he became musical director at WCAU, and was featured on another radio program there built around him, “Savitt Serenade.” This program had Savitt and other talented Philadelphia musicians performing popular music.
By 1936, Savitt was a well-known musical personality in the Philadelphia area. Late in that year, he was lured away from WCAU to KYW in Philadelphia, one of the radio superstations of the 1930s, with a signal powerful enough to be heard clearly all over the eastern U.S., and well into Canada. It was at this time that he formed his first swing band dubbed Jan Savitt and His Top Hatters. The ongoing popularity Savitt had attained via the many broadcasts he had made from WCAU and KYW had created a strong demand for his band. He began playing gigs outside of Philadelphia starting in 1936, being booked then by Consolidated Radio Artists. The photo below documents a sold-out engagement the Savitt band had at the Steel Pier in Atlantic City, NJ in 1936.
The Top Hatters made their initial move from a successful territory band to national prominence when they made their first commercial records in February and March of 1937 for impresario Irving Mills’s Variety label. Appearing on these records with the Savitt band were vocalists Carlotta Dale, and George “Bon Bon” Tunnell. Both of these singers would prove themselves to be among the best vocalists of the swing era. Those records were followed by much more radio exposure over KYW in the summer of 1937, and limited touring throughout the area within a couple hundred mile radius of Philadelphia in 1937 and 1938.
Savitt was contractually tied to KYW until January of 1939. Until then, his base of operations remained in the City of Brotherly Love. He signed with the RCA-Bluebird record label in the fall of 1937, and began making records for that company in November of that year, and continued making records for them throughout 1938. After a hugely successful engagement in a large Philadelphia night club (the Arcadia Restaurant) at the end of 1938, the Top Hatters were poised to make their move into the big time.They opened at the Blue Room of Hotel Lincoln in New York on February 9, 1939, following the red-hot Artie Shaw band. Their stay at the Lincoln, with many NBC network radio broadcasts, would eventually stretch to November of that year.
Note: I am indebted to trombonist/historian Gary Letts for much if the information above.
Digital remastering and sonic restoration by Mike Zirpolo.
Links: For two different sounding uses of the Harmon mute, check these out: