NOTE: With this post, swingandbeyond.com inaugurates a small celebration of the music of Rodgers and Hart. Subsequent posts will continue this joyous presentation of the music of one of the greatest song writing teams in the history of American popular music.
The story: The hits of the songwriting team of Richard Rodgers (1902-1979) and Lorenz Hart (1895-1943) are numerous. People familiar with what has been called “American Popular Song” since publication of the seminal work by Alec Wilder entitled: American Popular Song: The Great innovators – 1900-1950 in 1972, are fondly aware of the charms of “Manhattan,” “With a Song in My Heart,” “The Blue Room,” “Dancing on the Ceiling,” “Isn’t It Romantic,” “Blue Moon,” “It’s Easy to Remember,” “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World,” “My Romance,” “Lover,” “There’s a Small Hotel,” “The Lady is a Tramp,” “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” “My Funny Valentine,” “Where of When,” “Falling in Love with Love,” “This Can’t Be Love,” and “I Didn’t Know What Time it Was.” These Rodgers and Hart songs were ubiquitous in the golden age of American Popular Song, when they were sung from the Broadway stage, in Hollywood films, on network radio, and by singers with the great dance bands that endlessly toured the nation. Consequently, they became embedded in the musical consciousness (and subconscious) of a significant part of the American populace in the years 1925-1950, and beyond.
In addition to these hits, all of which have considerable musical merit (thank you Mr. Rodgers) and lyrical merit (thank you Mr. Hart), there are many other Rodgers and Hart songs of great worth. These include: “Mountain Greenery,” “This Funny World,” “Thou Swell,” “My Heart Stood Still,” “You Took Advantage of Me,” “A Ship Without a Sail,” “He Was Too Good to Me,” “Ten Cents a Dance,” “”Spring is Here,” ”You Are Too Beautiful,” “Little Girl Blue,” “Glad to be Unhappy,” “Quiet Night,” “Have You Met Miss Jones?” “My Own,” “It Never Entered My Mind,” “I Could Write a Book,” and “Wait ‘Till You See Her.” The songs of Rodgers and Hart have transcended the purposes for which they were created and are now a part of the fabric of American culture.
I have always been struck by the poetic sensibility of many of the lyrics of Lorenz Hart. From what human experiences, I have often wondered, did this lyric come?
“I’m wild again, beguiled again, A simpering, whimpering child again, Bewitched, bothered and bewildered am I.”
“Vexed again, perplexed again, thank God I can be oversexed again…”
Some years ago, I wrote a review for the biography of Lorenz Hart written by Gary Marmorstein. In that book, one can get the life story of the brilliant but deeply troubled Mr. Hart. You can read my review by clicking here: Review of A Ship Without a Sail
As extraordinary as Lorenz Hart was as a lyricist, Richard Rodgers was a perfect musical collaborator with him. The greatness of so much of their work together is not only a Broadway landmark, it is something that has drawn the best singers to their music for over ninety years.
For our first Rodgers and Hart song, we present “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” from the Broadway play Pal Joey, which debuted in 1940. In the liner notes for the Smithsonian Collection of recordings of Rodgers and Hart in its American Songbook Series (1992), historian Dwight Blocker Bowers wrote: “The Pal Joey score, arguably Rodgers and Hart’s finest, brought a new level of dramatic frankness to the American musical theater. Among the show’s funny, often ribald numbers, the standout is ‘Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered,’ the heroine’s lusty statement of infatuation with the title character.” The title character in the original play, Joey Evans, was played by a young dancer from Pittsburgh who went on to a major career in Hollywood films, Gene Kelly.
There is an excellent analysis of Pal Joey both in its first incarnation on Broadway, and through later theatrical productions posted at Wikipedia. Here is a bit of that analysis: “Pal Joey is a musical with a book by John O’Hara and music and lyrics by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart. The musical is based on a character and situations O’Hara created in a series of short stories published in The New Yorker, which were later published in novel form. The title character, Joey Evans, is a manipulative small-time nightclub performer whose ambitions lead him into an affair with the wealthy, middle-aged and married Vera Simpson. It includes two songs that have become standards: “I Could Write a Book” and “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered.”
In 1957 an excellent film version of Pal Joey was made starring Frank Sinatra as Joey, Rita Hayworth as Vera and Kim Novak as Linda English, the young dancer in a small chorus line in a cheap nightclub who catches Sinatra’s eye. (Who is the mouse with the built? he asks swing era bandleader and arranger Bobby Sherwood who plays the bandleader Ned Galvin.) The film, which was directed by George Sidney and photographed brilliantly by Harold Lipstein, is enlivened by Sinatra singing a number of Rodgers and Hart songs brilliantly, and by him using his borderline vulgar “Rat Pack” persona very effectively to animate Joey’s disreputable character. For anyone who enjoys Sinatra’s singing, I recommend this film. He is at the absolute peak of his considerable powers as one of the greatest interpreters of great American Popular Song in Pal Joey. And the arrangements of many Rodgers and Hart songs in that film were done by Sinatra’s most felicitous collaborator, Nelson Riddle. They are terrific examples of his sophisticated style. One of the bonuses one receives by watching this film is hearing a number of Rodgers and Hart songs that are great, but were not in the score of the original stage production of Pal Joey. These include “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was,” “The Lady is a Tramp,’ and the sublime “My Funny Valentine.”
Against this background, we present Ella Fitzgerald’s recording of “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered.” Ms. Fitzgerald was without question one of the most talented singers of the twentieth century. Her career started in the mid 1930s when she was discovered at a talent contest at Harlem’s Apollo Theater by bandleader Chick Webb, and then featured with his band. After Webb’s premature death in 1939, Fitzgerald, whose singing with the Webb band had become a powerful audience draw, continued leading the Webb band as her own for a few years. Through the years of World War II and into the 1950s, Fitzgerald worked in a variety of musical settings, none of which really provided her with a very effective performance showcase.
In the middle 1950s, she began her long and extremely successful professional partnership with impressario Norman Granz, one of the most bold and canny businessmen who ever involved himself with jazz artists. In 1956, when the recording presented here was made, the ever-alert Granz was well aware that Columbia Pictures was beginning production of the film version of Pal Joey discussed above. He therefore had Ella Fitzgerald record a number of songs that would appear in that film, so that those recordings could be pulled into greater marketplace exposure as a result of all of the activity and promotion surrounding the film.
“Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered”
Composed by Richard Rodgers (music) and Lorenz Hart (lyric).
Recorded on August 29, 1956 by Ella Fitzgerald for Verve in Los Angeles.
Ella Fitzgerald, vocal, with: Paul Smith, piano; Barney Kessel, guitar; Joe Mondragon, bass; Alvin Stoller, drums.
The music: (This version of “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” presents the lyrics of two different verses and three different choruses, a veritable feast for fans of Lorenz Hart.) One is immediately struck by the rich quality of Ella Fitzgerald’s voice, her effortless movement between registers, and Paul Smith’s marvelously colorful yet never intrusive piano accompaniment. As Ms. Fitzgerald begins the first chorus, the other musicians join her providing rhythmic support, quietly. Ella’s singing here is warm yet ironic. She never lost the joy of singing, even though her career spanned some sixty years. As she sings the second verse, she is once again supported only by Paul Smith’s elegantly out-of-tempo (rubato) piano, making the entry of the guitar, bass and drums in tempo as the second chorus begins very effective.(The bridge of this second chorus contains one of Hart’s most witty lines: “horizontally speaking, he’s at his very best.” This was very racy stuff in 1940 when married couples in Hollywood movies slept in separate beds.) Paul Smith’s playing at the end of this chorus is bluesy and wry, a perfect foil for Ella’s crystal clear voice tones and Hart’s suggestive lyric at that point. The lyric of third and final chorus is one of mock resignation: “Romance, fini, your chance, fini, those ants that invaded my pants…fini…”
As a bonus, I am also posting a terrific recording by Artie Shaw’s Gramercy Five of “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered.” This recording was made by Shaw’s last working band, the small group he headed in 1953 and 1954.
“Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered”
Recorded privately by Artie Shaw’s Gramercy Five in June of 1954 in Los Angeles, California.
Artie Shaw, clarinet, directing: Hank Jones, piano; Joe Puma, guitar; Tommy Potter, bass; and Irv Kluger, drums.
The story: By the time these recordings were made, Artie Shaw was thoroughly tired of leading this wonderful jazz group, that had evolved from its immediate predecessor, which had included Tal Farlow on guitar and Joe Roland on vibraphone. Shaw formed the group in New York in the late summer of 1953. He had been approached by Ralph Watkins, who previously operated Bop City in Manhattan, to assemble a small group that would play stimulating jazz, but generally at lower volumes, for his new, elegant supper club called The Embers, which was located at 161 East 54th Street. Shaw selected the musicians he wanted to use, rehearsed them, and put together a “book,” of musical selections that they would play. (It appears this book existed only in the minds of the musicians.) They opened at The Embers on October 5, and had a very successful run there, closing on December 5. After that, the group toured, but returned for a shorter stay at The Embers in late February-early March 1954. On several nights after finishing work at The Embers, Shaw took this group into the Fine Sound Studio, 711 Fifth Avenue, and recorded much of its repertiore at his own expense. By the end of March, Shaw resumed touring, but with the personnel listed above, as Tal Farlow and Joe Roland elected to stay in New York.
Shaw’s slightly smaller Gramercy Five toured once again, moving in a generally westward direction, until they opened at the new Sahara Hotel in Las Vegas on April 21, 1954. At this venue, they played for four weeks in the Sahara’s Casbar Lounge, not in the hotel’s main showroom. The money was good however, and the gig was successful. After closing at the Sahara on May 17, Shaw moved into the Downbeat Room in San Francisco from May 19 through June 1. He then took the group to Los Angeles, where he once again recorded them at his own expense. Shaw returned to the Sahara in Las Vegas for a time in June, and then disbanded.
The music: Shaw starts this performance without playing either the verse or introduction: he goes directly to the main melody. One is immediately struck by his lovely clarinet sound here, as well as his beautifully subdued use of vibrato. Shaw is singing this great melody on his clarinet. His playing throughout the entire first chorus, including the bridge, is intensely melodic and lyrical. One of Shaw’s greatest abilities was his skill at paraphrasing a melody, something he perfected in his days as a house musician at CBS in New York in the early 1930s. In his first chorus playing here, he uses that skill brilliantly. At about the time Shaw made this recording, he wrote an article that was published in See magazine in September of 1954. In it he said this: “I find that audiences will listen to complex jazz if they are (first)given a simple melodic framework upon which to base their understanding.” Shaw follows that dictum in “Bewitched.”
Another interesting sidelight to consider is how Shaw, the master of melodic embellishment (and/or reduction), deals with the repeated notes in Rodgers’s melody. Without getting too esoteric here, I will point out that Rodgers intentionally used in “Bewitched” a compositional tool that eventually became a stylistic device “…that of returning to a series of notes, usually two,while building another design with other notes. …In this case, his two anchored notes are B and E.” (*) I am certain that Rodgers did this to help move whatever was going on onstage in Pal Joey while this song was being sung from point A to point B. But when a musical mind like Artie Shaw’s encountered these repeated notes, as we hear in this performance, he plays the melody mostly as it was written in the first eight bar exposition, but from there on, he begins the process of melodic and rhythmic adjustment. The result is a far less repetitive melody in terms of the notes he plays, and the syncopation he uses. Consequently, any hint of redundancy evaporates and the music takes flight.
This process of Shavian wizardry continues through the bridge and on into the last eight bar melodic sequence of the first chorus. From there on, the other musicians play jazz solos where they make only passing reference to Rodgers’s melody. Those solos are by Joe Puma on guitar, then Hank Jones on piano. Shaw returns to improvise on the tune’s bridge after Jones. Then he interpolates his one-time father-in-law Jerome Kern’s “The Song is You” for a few bars as he begins the final reprise of the main strain of Rodgers’s melody.
This great song is a classic example of the best music from American musical theater.
(*) American Popular Song, by Alec Wilder (1972), pages 169 and 216.
These recordings were digitally remastered by Mike Zirpolo.