“These Foolish Things”
Composed by Eric Maschwitz (Holt Marvel), lyric; Jack Strachey and Harry Link, music. Arranged by Ray Conniff.
Recorded by Artie Shaw and His Orchestra on June 8, 1945 for RCA Victor in Hollywood.
Artie Shaw, clarinet, directing: Bernie Glow, first trumpet; Stan Fishelson, George Schwartz, Roy Eldridge, trumpets; Ollie Wilson, first trombone; Agostino Ischia (Gus Dixon), Bob Swift, Harry Rodgers, trombones; Lou Prisby, first alto saxophone; Rudy Tanza, alto saxophone; Jon Walton, Ralph Rosenlund, tenor saxophones; Chuck Gentry, baritone saxophone; Dodo Marmarosa, piano, Barney Kessel, guitar; Morris Rayman, bass: Lou Fromm, drums.
Artie Shaw returned to San Francisco with his Navy band on November 11, 1943. The many months of non-stop touring he and his band had done throughout 1943 in the battle zones of the Pacific Theater of war left him in extremely poor condition. The band had very often been in actual combat situations, albeit as non-combatants. Travel, food, and lodging had been haphazard. Explosions from bombs and artillery were a part of the Shaw band’s day-to-day existence during those months. Shaw lost the hearing in one ear as a result of such an explosion. He also absorbed the additional frustrations of trying to accomplish his mission, which was to bring live music to fighting men, while often being thwarted by middle-rank Navy officers who envied him and resented the attention that he, a mere enlisted man (he was a chief petty officer), was getting from music-starved GI’s, and the top Navy brass. Shaw suffered what was then called a “nervous breakdown” (today called post-traumatic stress syndrome), while he was in the Pacific, but he continued to tour with his band.
By the time he returned to San Francisco, he was in a “…malaise that had stricken him on Guadalcanal…His migraine headaches recurred, he felt deeply depressed, and he drifted into a near psychotic stupor.”[i] He was admitted to the Oak Knoll Navy Hospital just outside Oakland, California. Although he was allowed to leave the hospital around Christmas, 1943, to visit his wife Betty Kern (daughter of composer Jerome Kern), and their tiny son Steven in Beverly Hills, he returned to Oak Knoll shortly thereafter, where he remained until he was given a medical discharge in March of 1944. He then commenced psychotherapy with Dr. May Romm in Beverly Hills. Shortly thereafter, he and Betty Kern were divorced.
For approximately the first six months of 1944, Shaw had absolutely no desire to reenter the music business. In addition to his physical and emotional problems, one large reason why he did not want to resume his career as a bandleader was that the continuing deadlock between the American Federation of Musicians (AFM, the musicians’ union), and the recording companies. That resulted in a prohibition that had kept all bands from recording since August 1,1942, and would prevent him from recording any band he might have wanted to put together. Although the AFM had come to an agreement with the Decca Records in September of 1943, and with upstart Capitol Records in October of 1943, Victor (for whom Shaw recorded), and Columbia continued to hold out until November of 1944. Their strategy (which enabled Capitol to grab substantial chunks of market-share), along with the lingering effects of the prewar ASCAP-network radio imbroglio, was undercutting the popularity of big dance bands by the day, not that any of the bandleaders then operating realized it. They were too busy appearing in movies, and touring the nation playing for audiences whose pockets were full of money, the result of the homefront wartime economic boom. Shaw, whose prewar recordings were still selling very well, had every reason to believe that whenever he was ready to resume operations, he would pick up where he left off in early 1942 with SRO audiences everywhere he appeared. So he bided his time and worked his way back to health.
He also met and eventually invited the young movie starlet Ava Gardner to live with him in his Tudor mansion, complete with swimming pool and tennis court, located at 906 North Bedford Drive in Beverly Hills. She readily accepted. In addition to being an incredibly beautiful woman, Ava was outgoing and fun to be with, and she loved jazz. She often came around the band, and far from being a distraction, she was, as Roy Eldridge told me in 1979: “a delight, an inspiration, a friend. I still see her now and then.” Her role in helping Shaw to regain his emotional health has been vastly underappreciated.
In the summer of 1944, knowledgeable people within the music business were predicting that the Union recording ban for Victor and Columbia would be over by around Halloween.[ii] This, and a new one-year contract with Victor Records, impelled Shaw, now restless and in need of money, to assemble another band, starting in August. He decided this band would not have strings. Forming a band always stimulated Shaw. He greatly enjoyed “casting” the various roles he knew would be important in any of his bands. He began carefully approaching various star trumpet players to fill the role of “sparkplug.” After having discussions with Hot Lips Page, Roy Eldridge, and Dizzy Gillespie, he came to an agreement with Eldridge. As it turned out, Eldridge and the band fit together like hand-in-glove. The other jazz soloists Shaw hired were pianist Michael “Dodo” Marmarosa, guitarist Barney Kessel, tenor saxophonists Herbie Steward and Jon Walton, and trombonist Ray Conniff. The section players he chose were a mixture of youngsters and veterans. His road manager was Benny Goodman’s brother Freddy.
Shaw, like Benny Goodman, was always very picky about drummers. His ideal drummer was Dave Tough, who laid down a solid foundation, added coloration and intensity when and where appropriate, and otherwise stayed out of the way. For this band, Shaw hired the twenty-five year old drummer Lou Fromm. Fromm was experienced, having played with a number of top big bands prior to his stint with Shaw. He was also an excellent ensemble drummer, exactly what Shaw wanted. Unfortunately, he was also a heroin addict, something Shaw did not know when he hired Fromm. Fromm played splendidly for Shaw right from the start, was utterly punctual, and otherwise professional, and gave Shaw no difficulty. Eventually, Shaw did discover Fromm’s addiction.This, along with many other situations he would soon encounter, was new to Shaw. But he had long since come to terms with the sometimes addictive behavior of some of his fellow musicians and sidemen, as it related to alcohol and marijuana. His unvarying method of dealing with it was to talk with the musician involved, and explain that as long as he played well and behaved as a professional, Shaw would give him no grief. Shaw and Fromm had such a talk, and Fromm continued to play well and behave professionally throughout his association with Shaw, and had no problems with his very demanding leader. [iii]
Before Shaw began gathering the musicians who would be in his band, he contacted the veteran trombonist/arranger Harry Rodgers, who had worked in his 1937-1939 band, and had spent most of the time since working for Harry James. Rodgers was a member of a small but extremely versatile group of swing era musicians [iv] who could not only play in the band, but who could also copy out arrangements from an arranger’s score, alter or modify existing arrangements, or when necessary, write completely new arrangements. Shaw had Rodgers revise a number of his more popular arrangements from the 1940-1942 period which had been written to include substantial parts for string sections of varying sizes. These revised charts (and those of Shaw’s hit recordings) would be the core of this new band’s “book.”
All top swing bands had to constantly have new arrangements to keep their music fresh.Those arrangements usually fell into three categories: first, and of great importance to audiences, current pop tunes that were then being played on radio or in films; second, standards that had continuing popularity from year to year, including any top band’s recorded hits; and third, original compositions that were often jazz-oriented. The man Artie Shaw tapped to be the chief arranger for his new band in the autumn of 1944 was Ray Conniff. Artie had been greatly impressed by Conniff’s skill writing arrangements for his two pre-war string orchestras, in which Conniff also played trombone. Conniff spent 1942 and 1943 as a sideman with small jazz groups led by cornetist Bobby Hackett, and pianist Art Hodes. He also kept active during this time writing arrangements principally for Glen Gray’s big band. Conniff’s job with Shaw would be to make arrangements on standards, and to continue to provide more of the original compositions that had proved so successful in previous Shaw bands. In addition, he would play trombone in the new band, taking the solos that were called for on that instrument. (Shaw contracted with a number of other very talented arrangers to chart the current pop tunes. They included Dick Jones, Johnny Thompson, Harry Rodgers, Jean Stevenson, and George Schwartz, who also played trumpet in the band. Artie also contracted with jazz-based arrangers Jimmy Mundy and Buster Harding to provide a few jazz originals.Shaw’s musical relationship with the avant-garde arranger Eddie Sauter in 1945 also resulted in some extraordinary music, including Sauter’s brilliant arrangement on George Gershwin’s “Summertime,” which is posted elsewhere on this blog. A link to it is at the bottom of this post.)
But of greater importance, Conniff was now the arranger through whom Shaw would implement the new ideas he had for the sound of this band. Together they would create the sonic identity for Shaw’s new band. Artie had developed some very specific concepts as to how this new band was going to sound. He was completely aware of the rather rapid development that had occurred in trumpet technique during World War II.The accepted top range of the instrument had expanded significantly, as did the ability of trumpeters to cleanly articulate long strings of notes with great speed. Accordingly, Shaw chose young trumpet lions to support that old tiger Roy Eldridge in the trumpet section.
But, as strong as this four-man trumpet section was, and it could blast when necessary, Shaw’s main interest was to add a new color to the trumpet section parts that would appear in many of the new arrangements he would commission for this band. He and Conniff settled upon often using the four trumpets fitted with Harmon mutes having the stems in the center of the mute cup removed. This device would appear in many of the arrangements that would be written by Conniff and others for and played by this band over its 13 or 14 months of life. But it is so subtly and musically employed that even a critical listener never has the feeling that it is obtruding on the music. Jazz trumpeters and arrangers became somewhat fixated with this sound for much of the next twenty years.
Shaw also resolved for the first time to employ four tenor trombones that would, in addition to laying down sumptuous background chords, be featured as a section. In this area, Conniff, a very fine trombonist himself, immediately grasped the musical possibilities. He began experimenting with various voicings for the four trombones, seeking the warm, sensuous sonority that Shaw told him he was after. The eventual result was one of the most opulent musical sounds to emerge from the big band era, that of a perfectly blended trombone quartet.[v]
An ideal example of what Shaw and Conniff were after is the arrangement of “These Foolish Things,” which was recorded on June 8, 1945 in a flawless performance.
Gunther Schuller, whose monumental book The Swing Era – The Development of Jazz 1930-1945, was one of Shaw’s harshest critics.The mention of his name to Shaw after publication of The Swing Era in 1989 almost always caused a vitriolic explosion. Although Schuller was less than rigorous in his historical scholarship, I have found that his perception and lucid explanations of musical matters were often exemplary. Schuller totally failed to understand the close musical relationship and rapport between Shaw and Conniff, but he nevertheless completely understood the musical quality of Conniff’s arrangements for this Shaw band.“Conniff’s arrangements were characterized by a deep, rich orchestral sound, finely balanced, set in spicily chromatic harmonies and voicings, and above all by a structural clarity that consistently avoided congestion and permitted soloists and sections to develop a deep, spacious, laid-back swing. Moreover his arrangements revealed a keen sense of the need for a balanced variety. Conniff’s work was filled with surprises, and was rarely repetitious or redundant.” [vi]
Although many of the arrangements Ray Conniff wrote for this band were recorded, a good many were not. Those coming into the Shaw book in the period from August through October, 1944 included: “Lament” (previously known as “Rabbi”/”Nostalgia”/”In a Low Down Mood”); “Stop Pushing” aka “The Hop”; “Lazy Blues”; “The Stomperoo”; “Kasbah” aka “Native War Dance”/”Tom Tom”; “Jumpin’ On the Merry-Go-Round” aka “Pickin’ a Chicken”; “Down Under” aka “Chandu”; “Good For Nothin’ Blues”; “Kangaroo” aka “Way Down Under”; “S’Wonderful”; “I’ll Never Be the Same”; “These Foolish Things”; “Yours Sincerely”; “Limehouse Blues”; and “Tabby the Cat.”
Unfortunately for fans of the music of Shaw’s 1944-1945 band, Ray Conniff was called into the military in early 1945, just as his musical partnership with Artie Shaw involving his current band was beginning to flower. They would never work together again.
In this performance, which evokes a feeling of longing just like the lyric for “These Foolish Things,” all of the singing is done by Artie Shaw and the members of his band, on their instruments. The young man who replaced Ray Conniff, Ollie Wilson, possessor of a lovely, silken sound on trombone and quicksilver technique, takes a romantic turn as he plays the 16-bar introduction Conniff composed, to begin this classic recording. Note the kaleidoscopic use of the sections of the band (including the saxophones and the Harmon-muted trumpets), behind Wilson’s open trombone solo. The shifting instrumental textures create a dreamy, introspective mood. Shaw follows, in the lower register of his clarinet, playing and gently embellishing the melody for eight bars. At first he is supported only by the rhythm, and then by the reeds, Harmon-muted trumpets, and the trombones, which are open and remain open throughout this performance. Shaw’s next eight bars are improvised and played at first with just the rhythm, and then against a chorded saxophone cushion. The reed quintet takes the bridge, with baritone saxophone master Chuck Gentry providing a sonorous voice at the bottom of the reeds, balanced at the top by lead alto player Lou Prisby. Tenor saxophonist Ralph Rosenlund plays a very warm half-chorus solo, at first with only the rhythm, and then against the open trombones. (See comments below.)
The sumptuous-sounding trombone quartet playing the secondary (bridge) melody, beautifully harmonized under Ollie Wilson’s velvety lead, is heard next. Dodo Marmarosa sprinkles glistening piano notes on the trombones while they play, then the saxophones take the music into its next phase. Shaw returns to improvise, backed by the reeds. The final part of this performance, a cadenza, has Shaw improvising against a kaleidoscopic background of saxophones, open trombones and open trumpets.
This is a superb performance of a brilliant arrangement, spotting excellent solos, especially by Artie Shaw himself. It is also timeless music. Not a note has become dated in the seven-plus decades since it was recorded.
“These Foolish Things (Remind Me of You)” is one of the greatest ballads in the American Popular Music songbook. Nevertheless, it was not written by a great American songwriter or an American songwriting team. Indeed, it was not written by an American, though an alternate bridge, which has become standard, was composed by an American, Harry Link. The lyric of “These Foolish Things” came first. It was written by Englishman Eric Maschwitz, whose pen name was Holt Marvel. Maschwitz wrote all of the lyrics for the song’s verse and three choruses, in one sitting in London, probably in the autumn of 1935. Maschwitz said later that those words were inspired by actress Anna May Wong, with whom he had a relationship while he was in Hollywood shortly before. Maschwitz collaborated with another Englishman, Jack Strachey, on the evocative music, which fits the words perfectly. The song was copyrighted in 1936, but didn’t catch on immediately in America, despite good recordings of it by Benny Goodman and Helen Ward, and Teddy Wilson and Billie Holiday, both in 1936.
[i] See Middle-Aged Man Without a Horn, by Robert Palmer, in The New Yorker, May 19, 1962, pages 47 et seq.
[ii] The AFM recording ban ended for Victor Records in early November 1944. There has been some uncertainty about Shaw’s contractual relationship with RCA Victor during the recording ban. It is my informed speculation that he had no contract with Victor from early 1942 until he signed a new agreement with them on approximately August 1, 1944. It was quite common for even the biggest names in the music business to have contracts that were for a one-year term. Sometimes, options to extend those contracts were included in the one-year agreement, but these were exercisable by the company, not the artist.
[iii] Unfortunately, after Lou Fromm’s tenure with Shaw (when very often his playing was under-recorded by Victor’s engineers), his behavior became more erratic, and desperate. He was arrested on a number of occasions for theft offenses, and suffered a number of hospitalizations and failed attempts at rehabilitation. After the late 1940s, he completely vanished from the jazz scene. The many attempts by journalists and historians since then to find him have been completely unsuccessful.
[iv] Others in this exclusive fraternity included Freddie Stulce and Carmen Mastren, who worked for Tommy Dorsey; Al Avola, who had worked for Shaw and with a number of other leaders, including Tony Pastor. Musicians like Eddie Sauter, George Siravo, Fred Norman, Ray Conniff, Billy May, Nelson Riddle, and many others, who started out as instrument-playing sidemen who arranged on occasion, later became full-time arrangers.
[v] Prior to Shaw and Conniff working with a section of four tenor trombones, and featuring them as a section, both Tommy Dorsey and Glenn Miller had dabbled in this. Later, Stan Kenton and Pete Rugolo took this idea further. Rugolo’s lovely composition “Interlude” (written for the Kenton band) is one of many examples.
[vi] The Swing Era – The Development of Jazz, 1930-1945, by Gunther Schuller, Oxford University Press (1989), page 711.
(#) Photo: Ralph Rosenlund.
This recording was digitally remastered by Mike Zirpolo.