Saturday, March 4, 2017

Music Reviews: What A Little Moonlight Can Do, Kitchen Man

What a Little Moonlight Can Do (as sung by Billie Holiday) and Kitchen Man (as sung by Bessie Smith) are two classic blues/jazz songs. Both songs express the joy of love but do so in lyrically different ways. I think you might say that each song is talking about a separate aspect of love. Both are written from a female point of view. What A Little Moonlight Can Do is a jazzy swing song that captures the excitement,wonder, chaos and giddiness of actually falling in love. The noted Tin Pan Alley songwriter Harry Woods wrote the song. Ironically even though the song is incredibly optimistic and upbeat, Woods himself was an often depressed alcoholic who didn't mind putting hands on people when he found it necessary. Holiday's version of the song included a number of musicians who like her would become legendary: Teddy Wilson, Ben Webster and Benny Goodman. 

Kitchen Man is a bluesy piece that is much earthier. The love it describes is perhaps indistinguishable from physical lust. Kitchen Man makes uses of barely concealed double entendres. The singer is not falling in love but rather describing all the reasons why she is in love with the titular hero. And the love she's detailing really doesn't have a whole lot to do with moonlight or stuttering or uncertainty. The singer knows exactly what she wants. And she's going to tell you. Kitchen Man features Eddie Lang on guitar and Clarence Williams on piano. Eddie Lang was actually Caucasian (Italian-American born Salvatore Massaro) and had to resort to pseudonyms in order to record with black singers. Lang was one of the many people instrumental (pun intended) in replacing the banjo with the guitar in jazz songs. 

Clarence Williams was not only a pianist but a composer, producer and music publisher among other things. For a time in the 20s and 30s Williams was the primary Black music publisher in the nation. Williams also produced songs for white country artists such as Hank Williams. And Williams would later become the grandfather of noted actor Clarence Williams III. I like both songs listed here. Each singer had her own enjoyable and influential vocal style. 

Although one singer was more associated with "jazz" and the other with "blues" there wasn't as much difference between the singers as you might have thought. Blues singer Bessie Smith recorded with jazz icon Louis Armstrong, after all. And Billie Holiday could and did sing blues as well as any of her contemporaries. Each woman matured musically in a time before there was the hard divide between jazz and blues that would later be used to market music. Difficult as it is to imagine now the NAACP and black establishment of the thirties turned up its collective nose at singers like Smith and Holiday and jazz and blues. 

I think that Smith and Holiday were great examples of people who didn't necessarily have great vocal range but were still impressive singers because of their phrasing and timing. Modern singers could learn a lot from the way each woman slurred and bent notes. Although Smith did her share of shouting type blues songs, neither Holiday nor Smith routinely indulged in the bombastic empty vocal pyrotechnics that have become almost de rigeur today. If you have a chance to listen to Smith's and Holiday's work on Columbia you should do so.

What a Little Moonlight Can Do
Ooh, what a little
Moonlight can do
Ooh, what a little moonlight
Can do to you
You're in love
Your hearts fluttering
All day long

You only stutter
'Cause your poor tongue
Just will not utter
The words, I love you

Ooh, what a little
Moonlight can do
Wait a while
Till a little moonbeam
Comes peepin' through

You'll get bored
You can't resist him
And all you'll say
When you have kissed him is
Ooh, what a little
Moonlight can do

Kitchen Man
Madam Bucks was quite deluxe
Servants by the score
Footmen at each door
Butlers and maids galore
But one day Sam, her kitchen man
Gave in his notice, he's through
She cried, "Oh Sam, don't go
It'll grieve me if you do"

I love his cabbage gravy, his hash
Crazy 'bout his succotash
I can't do without my kitchen man
Wild about his turnip top
Like the way he warms my chop
I can't do without my kitchen man

Anybody else can leave
And I would only laugh
But he means too much to me
And you ain't heard the half
Oh, his jelly roll is so nice and hot
Never fails to touch the spot
I can't do without my kitchen man

His frankfurters are oh so sweet
How I like his sausage meat
I can't do without my kitchen man
Oh, how that boy can open clam
No one else can touch my ham
I can't do without my kitchen man

When I eat his doughnuts
All I leave is the hole
Any time he wants to
Why, he can use my sugar bowl
Oh, his baloney's really worth a try
Never fails to satisfy
I can't do without my kitchen man

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