“Temptation” (1940) Artie Shaw with Les Robinson and Nick Fatool

“Temptation”

Composed by Nacio Herb Brown; arranged by Lennie Hayton.

Recorded by Artie Shaw and His Orchestra for Victor on September 7, 1940 in Hollywood.

Artie Shaw, clarinet, directing: Charles William “Billy” Butterfield, first trumpet; George “Jumbo” Wendt, Jimmy (Jack) Cathcart, trumpets; Truman Eliot “Jack” Jenney and Vernon “Red” Brown, trombones; Les Robinson, first alto saxophone;  Neely Plumb, alto saxophone; Clarence “Bus” Bassey and Jerry Jerome, tenor saxophones; John A. “Johnny” Guarnieri, piano; Alton Reynolds “Al” Hendrickson, guitar; Jud De Naut, bass; Nicholas “Nick” Fatool, drums; Truman Boardman, Ted Klages, Bill Brower, Bob Morrow, Alex Beller, Eugene Lamas, violins; Allen Harshman and Keith Collins, violas; Fred Goerner, cello.

The story:

The summer of 1940 was the time of the beginning of Artie Shaw’s second great band. The major reason why Shaw organized that band was to play and be featured on the very popular and high-profile George Burns and Gracie Allen radio show. That half-hour show was a top-line production having a sponsor, and was broadcast weekly over the NBC radio network. It was analogous to a sponsored weekly network television show in later years. The promotional potential for Shaw’s name and music as a result of him appearing on that show was great. It is clear that Artie understood that completely, and operated this band in a way to maximize the publicity he would get from the radio show to help him sell what was to become a remarkable series of Victor recordings made in the span from September of 1940 through January of 1941. (1)

The first appearance of Shaw on the Burns and Allen radio show occurred on July 1, 1940. It appears that many of the musicians he used on that show were Los Angeles free-lances. It is my informed speculation that Shaw had by then begun gathering the musicians who would become members of his standing band, probably including trumpeters Billy Butterfield, George Wendt and Jack Cathcart; trombonist Bruce Squires; saxophonist Neely Plumb; bassist Jud DeNaut, and most of the strings. It is also possible that pianist Johnny Guarnieri had joined Shaw by then.

A photo of Artie Shaw and some of the musicians in his band taken during the production of the Paramount film Second Chorus. L-R: trumpeter Jack Cathcart, tenor saxophonist Jerry Jerome, trombonist Bruce Squires, Shaw, alto saxophonist Neely Plumb, trumpeter Billy Butterfield, trombonist Vernon Brown and alto saxophonist Les Robinson.

In early July, there was considerable talk among the musicians in Benny Goodman’s band, which was then playing in the Casino Ballroom on Catalina Island south of Los Angeles, that Benny’s chronic back problem had become so severe that he was going to have to have major surgery to correct it. Shaw had been in continuing contact with Les Robinson, who had been the lead alto saxophonist in his 1937-1939 band, who had been in Goodman’s band since early 1940, and Artie was well aware of what was going on in Benny’s band. Although it is unclear exactly what Shaw did in those first few days of July vis-a-vis Benny Goodman (he may have actually appeared with the Goodman band then while Benny was incapacitated), what is known for sure is that Benny left his band on July 10 to go to the Mayo Clinic to have surgery. The Casino Ballroom gig ended on July 13. It has been reported that Shaw and bandleader Kay Kyser appeared on separate evenings with the Goodman band, which was probably led by Ziggy Elman, at some point during those four nights. After that, the following musicians from Goodman’s band joined Shaw immediately: Les Robinson, tenor saxophonists Jerry Jerome and Bus Bassey; trombonist Vernon Brown; and drummer Nick Fatool.

At approximately the same time, Shaw’s agents secured for him a role in a feature film, Second Chorus, to be produced by Paramount, starring Fred Astaire, Paulette Goddard and Burgess Meredith. I am sure that it was stipulated in Shaw’s contract to work on that film that whatever was required of him and his band during its production, it would not in any way interfere with Shaw’s weekly commitment to the Burns and Allen radio show. The work of Shaw and his musicians on that film started on July 26, 1940 and ended on approximately August 16, 1940. Artie was very well compensated for his and his band’s appearance in that film, which involved three weeks of work. (Above left: Shaw and Paulette Goddard in Second Chorus.)

Despite the ongoing demands of promoters all over the country, Shaw adamantly refused to tour with this orchestra. His commitment to the Burns and Allen radio show required his presence in Hollywood only on Mondays, the day the show was rehearsed and then broadcast. On most or all of the other six days of the week through the second half of August, Shaw and his musicians rehearsed what was essentially a new repertoire of music for his big band, and began working on several tunes which would feature a small group that Shaw dubbed the Gramercy Five, after one of the romantic sounding telephone exchange names that were then used in New Your City. This process of developing the new band’s book of music continued from mid-August until September 3, when the first Gramercy Five recordings were made for Victor. Four titles were recorded. On the evening of September 7, Shaw took his full orchestra into Victor’s Hollywood studio to make its first recordings. At that session, four more titles, including “Temptation,” were recorded. (Above right: Victor’s Hollywood studio in the 1940s.)

On Thursday September 12, 1940, Shaw and his orchestra opened at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco, for what would eventually become an almost three-month stand, which would end on December 1. (Les Robinson told me that the time the Shaw orchestra spent in San Francisco in 1940 was “idyllic.”) They returned each week to Los Angeles for their Monday Burns and Allen commitment. After they played on the Burns and Allen radio show on October 7, they entered the Victor studio in Hollywood, and recorded five tunes, including “Star Dust.” This would be their only Victor recording date during the Palace Hotel engagement.

Artie Shaw gets up-close and personal with his audience at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco in the autumn of 1940.

The music:

The song “Temptation” was composed by Nacio Herb Brown (music) and Arthur Freed (lyric) for the 1933 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film Going Hollywood. That film starred Marion Davies and Bing Crosby. Bing sang the song most effectively in this pre-Code film, and then made a successful commercial recording of it for Brunswick backed by an orchestra led by Lennie Hayton on October 22, 1933. That recording became a hit.

A link to Crosby singing “Temptation” in the film Going Hollywood can be found at the bottom of this post. (2)

After Artie Shaw returned to Los Angeles in January of 1940, he soon encountered Lennie Hayton. Shaw had known Hayton since probably the mid-1930s as a result of both of their involvements in radio in New York, Hayton as an incredibly busy conductor/arranger, and Shaw as a top-notch free-lance studio musician. Shaw himself stated that Hayton was a visitor at his Summit Ridge Drive house in Los Angeles on a number of occasions in early 1940. I think it likely that one of the first people Shaw discussed his musical ambitions with then was Lennie Hayton. Hayton had recently gone Hollywood himself, exchanging the world of New York radio for what would turn out to be a long and productive musical relationship with M-G-M.

It is also significant that Lennie Hayton (like William Grant Still), had worked in Paul Whiteman’s orchestra at the end of the 1920s. Artie Shaw, like many young musicians in 1940, understood Whiteman’s large role in the development of American popular music, and he admired Whiteman’s savvy as a showman and successful businessman over many years. He also had grown up listening to Whiteman’s music, much of which he did not like. But what he did like about Whiteman’s musical policy was that it was broad enough to encompass a bit of jazz on the one side, pop music in the middle, and a bit of concert music on the other side. Lennie Hayton also understood all of this. Shaw, in his own way and always reflecting a strong swing sensibility, began following a musical policy that over the next two years would parallel to some extent Whiteman’s. Lennie Hayton, William Grant Still, Ray Conniff and Paul Jordan, among other arrangers, would provide the orchestral frameworks to support Shaw’s diverse musical ambitions through this period. 

It is my informed speculation that when Artie Shaw and Lennie Hayton began their discussions about which tunes to use in the new book of arrangements for Shaw’s new band in mid-1940, Hayton may well have suggested “Temptation.” His excellent, strongly swinging arrangement of “Temptation” was among the first  batch of charts this Shaw orchestra began rehearsing soon after the basic orchestra personnel was in place in mid-July. They first performed it publicly on the Burns and Allen radio show on July 29, 1940.(Above right: Lennie Hayton’s 1940 Selective Service registration card. The research that unearthed this document was done by Harold Mitchell.)

The attention-getting tom-tom/brass/tremolo strings introduction Lennie Hayton created for Artie Shaw’s version of “Temptation” sets the stage perfectly for what would follow. Shaw’s agile clarinet, backed by drummer Nick Fatool playing his tom-toms, and the undulating saxophones, paraphrases the melody through the first sixteen bar sequence. The saxophone quartet and the syncopated oo-ah brass (an effect achieved by the brass players waving their derby mutes in front of the bells of their horns), swing through the eight-bar bridge. Maestro Shaw returns to finish the first chorus. (At left: Nick Fatool and Shaw pictured in a Gretsch drums ad – 1940.)

The second chorus starts with the straight-muted brass playing the melody against the saxophones at first, and then reeds take over, playing against the strings, with tom-toms underneath.

The transitional passage sets up the inspired alto saxophone solo played by Les Robinson. Robinson’s main job with Shaw was always to lead the saxophone section, something he did with verve and distinction. But in this band, Artie started to give him a few solos, and Les usually delivered strong performances. Here, Robinson plays sixteen improvised bars against a background of oo-ah brass. The strings carry the melody through the bridge, playing against fluid saxophones. Then Robinson returns to the climactic last eight bars of the chorus.(Above right: Les Robinson takes a solo with Artie Shaw’s band – Jerry Jerome and Nick Fatool are in the background.)

The open brass take it from there, led brilliantly by Billy Butterfield. Hear how Shaw re-enters: it is like lightning striking. Then he plays a bit of melody before vaulting via a big glissando into his altissimo register for a patented (and effective) high-note ending.

“Temptation” was originally issued on the “B” side of Victor record 27230. On the “A” side was “Star Dust.” This was a blockbuster hit record for Artie Shaw and Victor. Shaw was flying very high as 1940 ended and 1941 began.

The recording presented with this post was digitally remastered by Mike Zirpolo.

Notes and links:

(1) The recordings Shaw made for Victor from September of 1940 through January of 1941 sold extremely well. This was not coincidence. It was a direct result of the great publicity Artie Shaw was receiving weekly on the Burns and Allen radio show. Among those recordings were “Star Dust,” “Temptation,” and “Dancing in the Dark,” all of which eventually became multi-million sellers. In addition, Shaw’s recording of “Frenesi,” made earlier in 1940, was also a million-plus seller, and Artie’s Gramercy Five recording titled “Summit Ridge Drive”  went gold during World War II.

(2) Here is a link to Bing Crosby singing “Temptation” in the film Going Hollywood: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N9cB1zYex4E

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4 Comments

  1. If I were asked to pick the record that I find most evocative of Golden Age Hollywood glamour, I would name Shaw’s “Temptation” without hesitation. In its every aspect, this long-term favourite of mine not merely suggests but shouts the outsized drama, romance, sophistication, sheen and high style of the home of then thriving dream factories. First off, we could hardly ask for more conducive material than the hit song (and eventual standard) of an MGM “A” picture starring the by then colossal Bing Crosby (whom Artie himself deemed “the first hip white person born in the United States”), written by the studio’s great staff writers, composer Nacio Herb Brown and lyricist Arthur Freed (the latter of whom would rise to higher power at MGM as a producer).

    We might imagine that Lennie Hayton’s experience at MGM served as a lesson in how to establish atmosphere with an economy of space, as the arresting intro concisely conveys both the mood of the song and the cinematic manner in which the band will address this material. In listening to Nick Fatool’s tom-tom tattoo, it’s interesting to remember that on gigs in his recent stint with the Goodman band, the drummer had been called upon to relinquish his seat at the kit to Lionel Hampton for “Sing, Sing, Sing,” for which the leader demanded flash. On “Temptation,” we hear no ferocious pounding à la Krupa or the Shaw band’s last regular master of the traps,, Buddy Rich, but instead just solid and responsive swinging from an always excellent though underrated drummer.

    Les Robinson, whom probably most of us know best as the lead altoist who gave the saxophone section of Artie’s first successful orchestra its smooth, singing sound, delivers an expressive two-part solo that accentuates the mounting tension in the Hayton arrangement. Throughout the side, the brass, especially in the derby-muted passages, seems to hint at some of the grittiness of the behind-the-scenes Hollywood, of which we must imagine the average film attendee of the day was blissfully unaware.

    In a beautifully paced narrative that weaves throughout the side, Artie, who we know could be verbally very eloquent, conveys through notes and tone everything in Freed’s lyrics, ending with a high concert G that seems to say “I can’t take it anymore!” The band catches up to the leader and Nick’s closing cymbal splash serves as an arc light, as on a Cedric Gibbons set.

    It’s not difficult to understand Shaw’s artistic restlessness. Despite the fact that his band (along with Ellington’s) consistently recorded by far the highest percentage of quality material, he still had to deal with often inattentive rowdy jitterbugs, whom he famously labeled “morons.” This had to have been disheartening for an artist of his creativity and discernment. As fine and fearsome an outfit as the ’38–39 band was, I feel that a certain sameness, particularly on the vocal sides, had crept into its sound by the time Artie unceremoniously walked. It’s funny, I’ve never found the arrangements for Hayton’s ’37-’38 Decca records, whether they were all his work or a mix of his and others, to be terribly interesting or nuanced, but I think his writing for Artie’s band is extraordinarily lovely, and exquisitely detailed. In addition to his well-known charts of this period, including this one; “Moonglow”; “Dancing in the Dark”; “I Cover the Waterfront”; “Alone Together”; “It Had to Be You,” there was the lush “An Old, Old Castle in Scotland,” which nobody seems to mention. I rather suspect that Artie wasn’t too crazy about the song, but I love Lennie’s beautiful chart and the band’s performance. Hayton, Ray Conniff, William Grant Still, Fred Norman and Paul Jordan, with each writer in charge of his own stylistic specialty, created a very distinctive sound for Artie’s second band with strings, the one that became a success. I’ve never been able to discover who was responsible for the superb chart for “Take Your Shoes Off, Baby,” the wonderful vocal feature for the great Hot Lips Page, but that’s a big favorite of mine, too.

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