“Bolero in Blue”
Composed and arranged by Larry Clinton.
Recorded by Larry Clinton and His Orchestra for RCA Victor on May 28, 1956 in New York.
Larry Clinton, directing: Jimmy Maxwell, first trumpet; Gordon “Chris” Griffin, Jimmy Nottingham, Carl Hilding “Doc” Severinsen, trumpets; Urban Clifford “Urbie” Green, Robert L. “Lou” McGarity, Larry Altpeter, trombones; Sid Cooper, first alto saxophone and clarinet; Michael “Peanuts” Hucko, alto saxophone and clarinet; Abraham Samuel “Boomie” Richman and Hank Ross, tenor saxophones and clarinets; Stanley Webb, baritone saxophone; Harold “Buddy” Weed, piano; Alexander Emil “Al” Caiola, guitar; Eddie Safranski, bass; Jimmy “Craw” Crawford, drums.
The number of musical performances I have attended in Manhattan since the mid-1970s is surely in the hundreds. My preference is to listen to music by bands and combos, though I have also been fortunate enough over the years to attend performances by the Metropolitan Opera, the New York Philharmonic, and various Broadway shows. Within the last several years, I also attended a marvelous performance by the great pop music diva Barbra Streisand in Brooklyn, her home town. To say that she was great would be an understatement.
When the last revival of Porgy and Bess was on Broadway, I attended a memorable performance of it with my two children, both of whom live in Manhattan. Being adventurous, we decided to wait until the day of the performance to buy tickets. My son Matt and I walked over to the Times Square ticket sale facility (tkts) on a rainy Sunday morning at about 9 o’clock. Much to our surprise, there were already hundreds of people standing on line to get to the various teller windows where the tickets are sold. While Matt stood on line about about 75 people away from the teller windows, I walked up to the row of teller windows, which has ten separate windows, and noticed that nine of the tellers were selling tickets as fast as they possibly could to keep the line of ticket buyers moving. The teller at the tenth window was reading a book. There was no line at his window. I walked up to his window, and he looked up from his book. “May I help you?” he said. I replied, “yes, I would like three tickets for Porgy and Bess.” He said, “you will have to get in line to buy those tickets.” I then said, “why can’t I buy them from you”? “Because I am selling tickets for dramas, not musicals.”
At that moment, I learned a big lesson about the business of Broadway: Musicals sell lots of tickets; dramas don’t.
We did get tickets to Porgy and Bess, and the performance was splendid. The talent of the people in that production, and of the orchestra accompanying them, was enormous. I found myself brushing tears from my eyes more than once as I heard Gershwin’s evocative music being played and sung.
It will come as no surprise to visitors of this blog that I prefer revivals of the great musical shows of the past to newly created musicals. Invariably, the revivals are performed by brilliant performers whose musical talent is great. The music they present is memorable. The newly created musicals often include wonderful performers, but the music they are performing is usually not my cup of tea.
Anyone familiar with Broadway musicals will know of the mammoth success of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats. It premiered on Broadway at the Winter Garden Theater on October 7, 1982. There was a huge amount of hype around that production. Busloads of people from within 500 miles of Manhattan were constantly plying the narrow Manhattan streets in the theater district, disgorging folks from much of the eastern USA (and elsewhere) at the theater where Cats was playing. The Broadway production ran for 18 years and 7,485 performances. It has grossed literally billions of dollars.
At some point in the early 1980s, I was with a group of friends at a house party who were enthusing over Cats. I was largely oblivious. In the course of this scene, someone played a record having some music from Cats on it. When the song “Memory” started to play, I innocently (and ignorantly) said, “that’s Larry Clinton’s ‘Bolero in Blue.'” My friends looked at me like I was bonkers, and then started laughing. “Really, Mike” they chortled. I quickly headed for the bar and had a bit more Jameson on the rocks.
The music: Larry Clinton composed the music for “Bolero in Blue” in 1940. A lyric was added a bit later by the male vocalist in the Clinton band then, Terry Allen. Clinton recorded “Bolero in Blue,” with Terry Allen singing, for RCA Bluebird on August 7, 1940. (Clinton had previously recorded it without any vocal for Associated Transcriptions in the spring of 1940.) I have tried to find a complete recording of Clinton’s Bluebird version of “Bolero in Blue,” without success. (If anyone has one or can find one, and sends it to me, I will post it here, and give full credit to the tune sleuth who found it. See links and comments below.)
In this post, I present Larry Clinton’s excellent 1956 Hi-Fi recording of “Bolero in Blue,” recorded by a group of Manhattan studio musicians. I will let you decide if “Memory” sounds like “Bolero in Blue.”
It is clear from the small amount of Larry Clinton’s 1940 recording of “Bolero in Blue” that I have heard that he revised the original arrangement for this 1956 recording. This performance starts with an eight-bar introduction which spots a subdued blast of muted trumpets, then oo-ah trombones, and finally a soft chord played by a choir of clarinets. All if this is played against Eddie Safranski’s active bass line, and Jimmy Crawford’s brushed high-hat cymbals.
Larry Clinton (at right), enjoying some promotional activity with fellow bandleaders Charlie Barnet, at left, and Benny Goodman at promoter Monte Prosser’s mammoth dance bash held in Madison Square Garden in New York in the late May – early June of 1941. It is unclear what Benny is doing with the lovely young lady, perhaps “crowning” her “queen” of the event.
The first chorus has Clinton’s melody (sound familiar?) carried by the Harmon-muted trumpets, with the rhythmic oo-ah trombones behind them, for the first eight bars. The next eight bars has the reeds, with clarinets out front, voiced somewhat in the Glenn Miller style. On the bridge, the brass are open and rhythmic, then playing subtle colorful counterlines. The final eight bars of the first chorus has the reeds playing the melody in a lower register, backed by the oo-ah brass. Notice how Clinton has drummer Jimmy Crawford adding bolero rhythms here and there.
The second chorus is preceded by a rhythmic brass interlude. Trumpeter Doc Severinsen (shown a few years after this recording was made, with Johnny Carson) enters his solo through a tasty one-bar break (hear drummer Crawford’s mastery behind him here), then plays the melody on his Harmon-muted horn for the first eight-bar sequence, with gently riffing saxophones as his cushion. In the second eight, he embellishes Clinton’s melody a bit, adding a touch of soul here and there. The rhythm behind Severinsen is a swinging 4/4. The ensemble plays the bridge with warm open brass on top and the saxophone quintet providing a flowing counterline.
The final half-chorus reprises the first chorus, then leads to a flourishing finale. (At right: Larry Clinton in 1941.)
The recording presented with this post was digitally remastered by Mike Zirpolo.
Links and notes:
Here is a link to Larry Clinton’s 1940 Bluebird recording of “Bolero in Blue.” This link was kindly provided by Joseph Rubin, a very talented musician and conductor in New York who, like me, grew up in Canton, Ohio.
Here is a link to some other Clinton music: https://swingandbeyond.com/2018/07/21/in-a-persian-market-1939-larry-clinton-and-1971-billy-may-and-the-swing-era-orchestra/