Two Fine Ralphs – Blane and Sharon: “An Occasional Man” and “My Dream is Yours” (2001)

“An Occasional Man”

Composed by Ralph Blane and Hugh Martin; arranged by Ralph Sharon.

Recorded by the Ralph Sharon Quartet for DRG Records on August 14, 2001 in New York.

Ralph Sharon, piano, Gray Sargent, guitar; Paul Langosch, bass; Clayton Cameron, drums.

The story:

The composer Ralph Blane (1914-1995) is not as well-known as the giants of American Popular Song, Jerome Kern, Irving Berlin, Richard Rodgers, Cole Porter and George Gershwin. Nevertheless, he had a very successful career as a songwriter. Blane was born Ralph Uriah Hunsecker in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. He found his way to New York City where he studied singing with Estelle Liebling in the early 1930s. He began his career as a radio singer on NBC in the 1930s before turning to the Broadway theater. He was featured in New Faces of 1936 (1936), Hurray for What (1937), and Louisiana Purchase (1940) on Broadway. In 1940 he formed a vocal quartet (“The Martins”) with his friend Hugh Martin, which performed on radio and in nightclubs.

Martin and Blane also formed a songwriting partnership. Together they wrote music and lyrics the films Best Foot Forward (1941) and Three Wishes for Jamie (1952). The duo penned several songs that would become standards for the stage and for M-G-M musicals, including most notably, Meet Me in St. Louis (1944). The team’s best-known songs including “The Boy Next Door,” “The Trolley Song,” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” one of the truly great Christmas songs. Those three were written for that extremely popular M-G-M film.

Facing the challenge of writing a song about a trolley for inclusion in Meet Me in St. Louis, Martin and Blane visited a public library, and in a book found the caption “clang, clang, clang went the trolley,” which became the “hook”  for the lyric for “The Trolley Song,” which earned them their first Oscar nomination. (Their second was for “Pass That Peace Pipe,” written in collaboration with Roger Edens for the 1947 M-G-M film Good News.) Meet Me in St. Louis was adapted in 1989 for a Broadway musical of the same name. (Above left: Ralph Blane and Hugh Martin in the 1940s.)

Ralph Blane also collaborated with composers Harry Warren, Harold Arlen, Kay Thompson, among others. (1)

Ralph Simon Sharon (1923–2015) was an English-American jazz pianist and arranger. He is best known for his work with singer Tony Bennett as his accompanist on many recordings and live performances over a period of several decades, starting in 1958.

Sharon was born in London, England to an English mother and Latvian father. He emigrated to the United States in 1954, and became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1959.

By the late 1950s, Ralph Sharon was working very often with Tony Bennett, his skill as an accompanist and arranger being key assets in Bennett’s then-increasing popular success. Their musical collaboration led to many Grammy Award winning studio recordings, and successful tours.

Sharon found the song “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” at least a year before he and Bennett began perfoming it. He placed the sheet music for it in a bureau and forgot about it. Sharon stumbled across the music while packing for a tour that included San Francisco. While Bennett and Sharon liked the song, they were convinced it would only be a local hit. Instead, the tune became Bennett’s biggest hit and his signature song. (Above right: Ralph Sharon and Tony Bennett in 1960.)

Although Ralph Sharon was a capable jazz pianist who recorded a series of his own albums, he was best known as a sensitive, supportive accompanist for popular singers. In addition to Tony Bennett, Sharon accompanied Robert Goulet, Chris Connor and many others.

Sharon retired to Boulder, Colorado in 1994, but continued to perform in Denver and environs until shortly before his death. He died from natural causes on March 31, 2015. (Above left: Ralph Sharon in 2000.)

The music:

The song “An Occasional Man” was composed for the 1955 Paramount film The Girl Rush, which starred Rosalind Russell, Fernando Lamas, Eddie Albert and Gloria DeHaven. Ms. DeHaven sang the song in the film. Ralph Blane and Hugh Martin collaborated on both the music and lyric for it. The song, which has been neglected in recent years, has a delightful, humorously suggestive lyric which can be heard via the links below, sung by Jeri Southern (3) and Sarah Vaughan (4).

I have chosen to present the instrumental version with Ralph Sharon playing piano, assisted by Gray Sargent on guitar, Paul Langosch on bass, and Clayton Cameron on drums, because this quartet celebrates the song’s memorable melody. They perform it beautifully, and it swings.


“My Dream is Yours”

Composed by: Harry Warren, music; Ralph Blane, lyric. Informal performance framework by Ralph Sharon.

Personnel as above.

The story continues:

As a bonus, here is a recording that the Ralph Sharon Quartet made at the same session that produced “An Occasional Man.” It is entitled “My Dream is Yours,” and is another lovely melody, this time written by the great Harry Warren. Ralph Blane provided the lyric for this song, that was introduced in the 1949 Warner Brothers vehicle which has the same name, by the then-new to movies singing star Doris Day.

The music:

This performance begins with a Sharon-created introduction that pays homage to one of the most imitated pianists of all, Count Basie. The chorus has Mr. Sharon embellishing the beguiling melody. He is followed by guitarist Gray Sargent, who improvises, then bassist Paul Langosch, who adds a few bars of deep tonal color as a contrast to the sounds of the piano and guitar. Sharon then returns to play a bit more melody, and then a tidy tag ending that again summons Basie. This is a compact, warmly swinging performance that can aptly be described as delightful. (At left: guitarist Gray Sargent.)

The recordings presented with this post were digitally remastered by Mike Zirpolo.

Notes and links:

(1) The information in this post about Ralph Blane is derived from the Wikipedia post on him.

(2) The information in this post about Ralph Sharon is derived from the Wikipedia post on him.

(3) Here is “An Occasional Man” sung by Jeri Southern:

(4) And here it is sung by Sarah Vaughan:

Here are some other performances that are off the beaten path, but deserve to be heard and enjoyed:

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