Song of the Week 21 – (I Don´t Stand) a Ghost of a Chance with You – Young/Washington/Crosby

This week´s song of the week shall be short and sweet, like the song it namechecks.

The melody was written by Chicago-born Victor Young (1900 -1956), an American compose,arranger, violinist and conductor, whose songwriting credits also include the standards When I Fall in Love, Stella By Starlight and Johnny Guitar (co-written with and sung by Peggy Lee). The lyrics to I Don´t Stand… were co-written by American lyricist Ned Washington and Bing Crosby.
Here´s a young Bing Crosby crooning I Don´t Stand a Ghost of a Chance in the 1933  short Please. Here Bing pretends to be an amateur to get singing lessons from the pretty Mary Kornman, but he´s just about to be found out when her agent finds his publicity picture in a Crackerjack Box for some reason.

Young was born to a musical family, and started learning violin age 6. He was then sent to Poland to study in the Warsaw Imperial Conservatory. Next he followed his Polish fiancée to Los Angeles where he first became a fiddler in Sid Grauman’s Million Dollar Theatre Orchestra, and then later was made concert-master for Paramount-Publix Theatres. One of his first official commissions takes us back to Song of the Week 9, when in 1930 Chicago Bandleader and radio-star Isham Jones commissioned him to write a ballad instrumental for Hoagy Carmichael´s stardust. He slowed it down and played the melody as a sublime violin solo, which inspired Mitchell Paris to write the lyrics for what would become one of the great love songs of the 20th Century, although its more a song about writing songs than a love song.
In the mid-30´s he moved to Hollywood where he met with Bing Crosby and provided backing for him as well as writing the melodies for some of his greatest hits. He received 20 Academy Award Nominations for his film music, receiving his only Oscar posthumously for the score of Around the World in Eighty Days (1956).

Now that we´ve established who wrote the damn thing, have a listen to an instrumental version by the one and “onliest” self-taught jazz pianist Thelonious Monk, from his album Thelonious Himself (1957). Thelonious´s compositions and interpretations are full of dissonant harmonies and melodic twists that reflect his unorthodox percussive approach to the piano.  His music is almost its own genre, inhabiting its own musical universe, which ran alongside, and was a profound influence on every other jazz style of the time. His best musical foils were tenor saxophonists like Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane and Charlie Rouse, who could adjust to, and accomodate his unique take on time and structure. But you know talking about music is like dancing about architecture, so here´s the man himself tinkling the ivories.

A little more about the Monk since I have you here. He began playing piano at age 12 in New York in the Harlem rent parties, then progressing to play the Harlem clubs like Minton´s Playhouse where he played with Dizzy Gillespie and Coleman Hawkins during the 40´s. He helped forge the new harmonic and rhythmic style of Bebop.
He made his first recordings in 1947 for Blue Note up until 1952; recordings which included the classic and enduring Round Midnight and Straight, No Chaser among others. His recordings between 1952 and 1960 were released by Prestige, Riverside and Milestone. Disappointed by sales, Prestige sold his contract to Riverside in 1955 for the value of a mere $108.27 royalty overpayment. Many of these recordings are thought of as his masterworks, but were underappreciated at the time.

He was highly regarded by his peers, but because his records didn´t sell well, Prestige thought his music difficult, but that was their loss. Monk willingly recorded an album of Jazz standards for Riverside, Thelonious Plays the Music of Duke Ellington (1955), and then his own compositions on 1956´s Brilliant Corners. The title track, featuring Sonny Rollins, was so difficult to play that the final version had to be edited together from multiple takes. The album made him an overnight success. “It was the first that made a real splash” said Orrin Keepnews.

Apparently being concise is not one of my strongpoints. 🙂

The last place I want to visit before heading home for the night is the HBO television show Tremé, which started up again Sunday night for its third season. If you´re a fan of New Orleans music, food and people, you should check it out. If you aren´t, well then you should be.

The working class Tremé district in New Orleans is the french quarter, where a lot of the best music comes from. The show is based mainly in that neighbourhood, and charts how the residents of New Orleans, including musicians, chefs, Mardi Gras Indians, lawyers, police and opportunistic businessmen dealt with the aftermath of Hurricaine Katrina and catastrophic flooding of  2005. It´s created by the makers of the peerless Wire Series, featuring some of the same actors and writers as well as writers and musicians who hail from New Orleans itself.

I first came across (I Don´t Stand) a Ghost of a Chance With You in episode 3 of Tremé where a drunk Antoine Batiste (Wendell Pierce) joins buskers Sonny (Michiel Huisman) and Annie (violinist  Lucia Micarelli) in a wonderful impromptu rendition on the street before Antoine clumsily bumps into a cop-car with his trombone.

I was going to finish there, but since I´ve overshot that “short and sweet” punt by a good fifty yards, I might as well include Lady Day in the mix.

Probably the most famous recording is by the incomparable Billie Holiday, who I´ll talk about some other day, because you know the time is getting on and I have to make tracks, and there´s so much more to say about Billie Holiday…

The only version I could find is, for some reason, set to the old horror movie Carnival of Souls.

Tune in next week for something a bit more contemporary…

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