Phil Schaap Jazz

Some Surprising Tune Histories, Etymologies, and Theories

1. BLUE MONK Monk’s “Blue Monk” - with a Charlie Shavers composer credit - was recorded by the John Kirby Sextet on October 28, 1938 under the title  “Blue Dilemma”. This recording was subsequently renamed “Pastel Blue”; probably because of Artie Shaw’s reworking of it under the title “Pastel Blue” for the March 12, 1939 Artie Shaw Orchestra recording of the same piece, a tune that contains the melody Thelonious Monk would later call “Blue Monk”. Shaw’s version bore the co-composer credit of Shaw-Shavers. This March 12, 1939 record, too, was released under a second title – “Why Begin Again?” – on the English issue. 2. ‘TAINT SO, HONEY, ‘TAINT SO 1928 song with music and words by Willard Robison Published by Irving Berlin(!) “'Taint So, Honey, ‘Taint So” is known today because when the song was new, Paul Whiteman recorded it with Bix Beiderbecke (the primary instrumental soloist), Frank Trumbauer featured on bassoon (!), and Bing Crosby singing. That the song is still notable is proven by the frequent performances of it by Vince Giordano’s Nighthawks. When Vince Giordano recently augmented the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra to enable the band to do a stellar version of “‘Taint So, Honey, ‘Taint So” for Ken Burns’ mostly musical portrayal of his PBS series, “Prohibition”, Wynton Marsalis asked Vince during rehearsals: “Who is Phoebe Law? What does she have to do with the song?”. In the late 1960s, both Vince Giordano and myself were asking ourselves the same question. Willard Robison’s lyric can be heard telling of either a person named Phoebe Law, who may or not be the singer’s/lyricist’s/narrator’s Aunt; or, perhaps, a person who is a friend of this Phoebe Law.  Whether she/he is {Aunt} Phoebe Law or an anonymous friend, the primary person in the song’s lyric is an Arkansas resident whose spiritual guidance comforts many who come to this highly religious person. “‘Taint So, Honey, ‘Taint So” is a catchy song, and whatever one’s feelings about its religiosity, the words tell its story cogently – except for the seemingly arbitrary creation of the character Phoebe Law. Why? Who is she? Why should we know her? Is she the powerful consoler of the faithful or is she only a friend of this comforting personage of Arkansas? Is Phoebe Law the singer’s/lyricist’s/narrator’s real Aunt or simply someone called or known as ‘Aunt” even to those unrelated? Conjecture can offer many possibilities. Vince Giordano, well aware of the composer’s Missouri roots and that he had many family and friends in the region, became willing to assume that Robison actually had an Aunt Phoebe Law and that, since he needed a name and had the author’s prerogative to choose almost any name, Robison chose to acknowledge his Aunt. In today’s parlance, Willard was giving his Aunt Phoebe Law a shout-out. Vince, indeed, offered this theory to Wynton when Marsalis asked who Phoebe Law was. An equally plausible explanation is that it’s a made-up name, a place holder of no theatrical or personal implications. Many years ago, I developed yet another theory – so far out, that I had no faith in it. Far out? Why, my theory was rooted in the testimony of a witness during the Warren Commission’s investigation of John F. Kennedy’s assassination, a lawyer who was subsequently involved in Jim Garrison’s case against Clay Shaw for that crime! That lawyer, named Dean Andrews, called FBI agents “feebees”. Even so, the thought that “feebee” equals Phoebe could easily be deemed a stretch; but that the surname was Law gave some support to this somewhat outlandish thought. Still, connecting the name Phoebe Law to the FBI and The Law didn’t add anything to the plot of “‘Taint So, Honey, ‘Taint So”; but in dismissing that possible connection, I was most of all directed by the fact that in 1928, when the lyric was written, the FBI was a very recent creation of the United States Justice Department. It seemed so unreasonable that this slang term – unknown to the generic American until 1964, if then – could have been knowable or usable as a hip reference to the FBI in 1928. The ‘Phoebe Law = feebee law, FBI and The Law’ theory, which I never embraced and only briefly contemplated, was dropped. I, nevertheless, returned to the possibility at the 2011 rehearsals where Wynton Marsalis queried Vince Giordano about the significance of the name Phoebe Law in the lyrics to “‘Taint So, Honey, ‘Taint So”. At these rehearsals were many people involved in the PBS series “Prohibition”. Indeed, two of them – the creators, Ken Buns and Lynn Novick – were performers in the concert and they, too, were rehearsing. There were scripts and researchers and pictures and video clips. The great historian Geoffrey C. Ward was also there. And while this was not a formal academic panel, nor a court of law, and no “smoking gun” piece of evidence was on screen or in the text, these learned people knew the term “feebees” for FBI agents. Furthermore, federal enforcement of the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was a key aspect of their documentary. To the Burns team, “feebees” could have been used during Prohibition; furthermore, the slang term might have been better adapted to the country bootleggers and their customers than to the urban setting and its more famed gangsters. The ‘Phoebe Law = feebee law, FBI and The Law’ theory still seems unreasonable to me, but it has a new basis for support. And then there are the other points that were in play. Item (1): Using research by the ever helpful Jazz scholar and discographer Ed Berger, I was supplied with the statistic that up to 650 people named Phoebe Law or P. Law were alive in 1928 or had been alive after 1890 and before 1930, as acknowledged in our U.S. Census. Ed further informed me that none of the 650 were documented in Arkansas. The absence of a Arkansas presence of any P. Law, whether Phoebe or not, seems to discount that the song names a relative of Willard Robison. Item (2): The sheet music to “‘Taint So, Honey, ‘Taint So” clarifies that there are not two protagonists: Aunt Phoebe Law and her unnamed friend. The essential figure, the only real character in the song, is Aunt Phoebe Law. The singer/lyricist/narrator considers Aunt Phoebe Law to be a friend. The presumed anonymous friend and Aunt Phoebe Law are one and the same. The lyrics, however, do not clarify whether Aunt Phoebe Law is truly related to the singer/lyricist/narrator. Item (3): Finally, the sheet music reveals a second set of lyrics to the verse (!) and two additional stanzas to the chorus. As interesting is that Willard Robison, a very sophisticated musician, included a ‘old-fashioned country turnaround’ as the bridge transitions to the last ‘A’ in the chorus of “‘Taint So, Honey, ‘Taint So”. 3. LYRICS TO “I WAITED FOR YOU” AND “INTERLUDE”, AKA “A NIGHT IN TUNISIA” Examination of the original issue of “I Waited For You”  on Musicraft 78 catalog #518 provided the co-composer credits of Gillespie/Russell. One should assume that the lyricist is the “Russell”, as Dizzy wrote the music and was already performing “I Waited For You” as an instrumental and as one of his theme songs (“52nd St Theme” was another) with the ‘ReBop Six’ at Billy Berg’s in December 1945. Indeed, the lyricist to “I Waited For You” is the highly regarded wordsmith for music, Bob Russell (Sidney Keith “Bob” Russell 1914 – 1970), whose best known Jazz credit is his work with Duke Ellington (lyrics to: “Do Nothin’ Till You Hear From Me” AKA “Concerto For Cootie”, “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” AKA “Never No Lament”, and “I Didn’t Know About You”). I surmise that the root to Bob Russell being brought in to add lyrics to Dizzy’s already-composed “I Waited For You’ lies in Dizzy’s early and unnoticed desire to compose a big pop hit and Gillespie’s perception that words added to his instrumental music would be the route to that hit.  Indeed, though it is rarely noticed, the first released recording of Gillespie’s “A Night In Tunisia” is the vocal version from Sarah Vaughan’s first session as a leader, done for Continental on December 31, 1944 - with the composer present and playing trumpet – that was released on the ‘B’ side of Continental “10” 78 RPM catalog #6031. Yes, it was done vocally and under a different title – “Interlude”. Examining that disc’s label, we see the composer credits “Gillespie/Paparelli/Leveen”. Dizzy often explained that Paparelli’s composer credit was owed to his helping prepare the music for publication and copyright, not to the actual writing. Frank Paparelli was a pianist who worked a bit with Diz and appears on Gillespie’s first session for Guild done on February 9, 1945, which includes “Blue ’n’ Boogie” and the rare “Groovin’ High” with Dexter Gordon). But who is Leveen and why doesn’t his name ever appear again on this song? It must be a not-so-obscure lyricist named Raymond Leveen, who penned lyrics for the 1938 hit “Ti-Pi-Tin” and, in 1939, for “Dunk A Doughnut”, which Andy Kirk recorded in late 1938 (!). If this Raymond Leveen is in fact involved in the earliest publication/recording of “A Night In Tunisia” via his lyric that makes it “Interlude”, then I’ll bet he never realized it once the song, now done instrumentally and under its famous title, became a very often recorded Jazz standard. Because if Mr. Leveen ‘did and did’, then he would quite likely be legally able to ask in on some enormous royalties. Despite the Internet’s claims, Jon Hendricks – who has written lyrics {DIFFERENT LYRICS} to “A Night In Tunisia” – is not the author of the lyrics to “Interlude”.  In the mid-1940s, “A Night In Tunisia” was better known under its lyric title, “Interlude”, even when done instrumentally.