“I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm”
Composed by Irving Berlin; arranged by Skip Martin.
Recorded by Les Brown and His Orchestra for Columbia on September 16, 1946 in Hollywood.
Les Brown, directing: Don Paladino, Al Muller, Bob Higgins, Jimmy Zito and Ray Linn, trumpets; Don Boyd, Ray Klein, Dick Gould, Warren “Stumpy” Brown, trombones; Steve Madrick, Mark Douglas, Ted Nash, Eddie Scherr, Butch Stone, saxophones; Jeff Clarkson, piano; Tony Rizzi, guitar; Bob Leininger, bass; Dick Shanahan, drums.
I have always regarded Irving Berlin (1888-1989) and Jerome Kern (1885-1945) as the founding fathers of American Popular Song. They were writing great songs before Gershwin, and Porter, and Arlen, There is no doubt that these two men both contributed enormously to the musical culture of the USA. But great as Kern was, Berlin’s continuing influence in American music even today, seems larger, more pervasive. Berlin, after all, gave us “God Bless America.” He gave us “White Christmas.” “Gave” perhaps is not the most accurate word to use in this regard. Irving Berlin was “Always” (another great Berlin song), totally aware of the monetary value of his work in the marketplace, and insisted on receiving it.
When tastes in American popular music were changing in the 1950s, and songs like those written by Irving Berlin began to fall out of favor in the pop song market, many of the great craftsmen from the golden age of American Popular Song were still relatively young men who wanted to continue to create great songs. But no one was buying. This caused widespread depression among these composers and lyricists. No one was more depressed about this than the great lyricist (and sometimes composer of music also) Johnny Mercer. Mercer decided to create an organization of American songwriters, to function as a networking opportunity for people who were professional songwriters. He called Irving Berlin, whom he revered, and asked him to be the founding president of this organization. After Berlin listened to Mercer describe the organization, he said, “Well John, as you have describe this organization, there will essentially be only two members, Cole Porter and me, because we are the only two songwriters (who write both words and music) I know.” Mercer thanked Berlin and went on to lead this organization himself.
Irving Berlin (pictured at right) worked extensively over many years providing music for Hollywood films. “I’ve Got My Lover to Keep Me Warm” was written for the 1937 Fox film On the Avenue, starring Dick Powell (on loan from Warners), Alice Faye and Madeline Carroll. The song had fair popularity early on with a number of recordings of it by vocal artists. Then, Les Brown recorded it in 1946 as an instrumental. He later recalled: “We started on the (Bob) Hope (radio) show in September of ’47. We’d do Hope’s theme, “Thanks for the Memory,” then he did the monologue, then there was a band number, a skit, a commercial, a song with a guest, another short skit, a five or six minute sketch, theme song and out. For our band number one night, we played “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm,” truncated because they allowed us only two minutes. The chart was by Skip Martin. The first chorus was in and so were the piano solo and the last chorus.”
Soon after that “…I got a telegram from the sales manager at Columbia Records (for which the Brown band was then recording), …’Heard “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm” on the Hope show. Go in and record it tomorrow, even if you only do one tune. I want to put it out right away.’ I called him and said ‘Hey schmuck, we recorded that two years ago, in 1946, while we were at the Palladium. Now look for it!'” (*)
Columbia soon issued the Brown recording in late 1948, and by the next year it was a big hit. By 1949, big instrumental hits by swing bands were a rarity. Vocalists and vocal groups were then the primary focus of the mainstream recording industry. Indeed, after this recording became a hit, many vocalists rushed to record “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm,” and it became a standard.
Skip Martin was an excellent lead alto saxophone player during the swing era, who also wrote fine arrangements. He played and wrote for Charlie Barnet and Benny Goodman, submitted arrangements to Count Basie, and played lead alto for (but did not write) for Glenn Miller. After the swing era, he migrated to Hollywood, where he worked in films (the musical sequence in “Royal Wedding” where Fred Astaire dances on the walls and ceiling is his), and with many vocalists, including Bing Crosby.
Skip Martin’s arrangement of “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm,” is a superb exposition of how to blend melody and rhythm. The tempo, in that insinuating zone Louis Armstrong used to call “half-fast,” is perfect for swing. Martin’s deft use of the four sections of the band, trumpets, trombones, saxophones and rhythm, both discretely and at various times together, playing the melody, the harmony and clever counter-melodies, and the Brown band’s impeccable perfomance, results in one of the greatest recordings of the swing era. The solos are by tenor saxist Ted Nash, pianist Jeff Clarkson, and trumpeter Jimmy Zito. (Skip Martin at right in the early 1950s.)
Ted Nash was one of the young lions of the tenor sax of the 1940s who possessed unlimited technique, including the ability to play in the tenor’s upper register, indeed “off the horn,” jazz terminology for playing notes that are beyond the instrument’s normal range. He went on from the Brown band to have a long and successful career as a studio musician in Hollywood, and retired to Carmel, California, where he was neighbors with another former Brown band member, vocalist Doris Day. Ted’s younger brother, the trombone virtuoso Dick Nash, also had a great career as a Hollywood session player. He is the father of Ted Nash, the wonderful jazz tenor saxophonist who is one of the top musicians in New York today. (Ted Nash-L and Dick Nash are shown at left.)
(*) These quotes were taken from Gene Lees’s interview with Les Brown, which appears in Lees’s book Arranging the Score.
This recording was digitally remastered by Mike Zirpolo.