Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Once In A While

Once In A While
Words by Bud Green
Music by Michael Edwards
Key Eb major
4/4 time
Exceptional song. I learned an interesting but unrelated detail when I watched the odd Reefer Madness-style movie: The Gene Krupa Story (1959). Tommy Dorsey, pictured on the cover of this song because he recorded it initially, was a trombonist band leader...and he actually had Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich in his band at one point or another...and Krupa and Rich are basically the two greatest Jazz Era drummers who would both lead their own bands. The Gene Krupa Story features a classic song performance "Memories of You" performed by Anita O'Day which is priceless. That movie is noteworthy because the recent Whiplash (2014) uses a drummer aspiring to be Krupa as a hero, but Krupa's own story does not contain a drill sergeant conductor. In fact, it's the opposite. Krupa was the drill sergeant. The Krupa movie is really dated but the performances perfectly depict Jazz band era life in real settings, including appearances by 'Tommy Dorsey' and a reefer addict peddling a quick way to 'get high' like marijuana in 1937 was any good.

So, pot was villainized but Liquor, which was far worse, was fully legal in 1937 and although Hitler was chancellor in Germany he had not yet invaded Poland and Czechoslovakia although his ethnic cleansing project was gaining momentum as a wave of hysteria collided with an age of paranoia and suspicion. I'm sure leaders of nations were sick with foreboding over what would happen in a year or two but at this point there was a slim chance of avoiding World War II. Speaking of world leaders, FDR was sworn in for his second of three terms as President. Trotsky tried to assassinate Stalin a while earlier and, while this is one scenario where two wrongs DO make a right, it's possible, though unlikely, Trotsky would've been even worse. Trotsky's assassination plot failed and he ended up living in Mexico in 1937.  This is the year shortly after Edward VIII abdicated the throne and George VI, the guy with the stutter, was crowned King. That set the stage for FDR, Churchill, Stalin and Hitler to control world events for the next 8 years. 

But all that was in the future so Bud Green and Michael Edwards assembled a powerful ode to unrequited love that has Oggy crying in his cerveza. 

Once in a while, will you try to give one little thought to me
Though someone else may be, nearer to you
Once in a while, will you dream of the moments I shared with you
moments before we two, drifted apart.

 This is as good as any lyric you will ever find. I keep hoping to find a forgotten gem in this box of music and I thought this song was it but then I find that Nat King Cole recorded it, which is a seal of authenticity on a song. So, it's not a hugely popular song like Unforgettable or Fly Me To The Moon, but Once in A While is easily as strong an offering as those and other jazz standards.
In 1937 America the musical developments were about to explode. Big bands, dance halls, Western Swing, Duke Ellington, Tommy Dorsey would all reach their apex of popularity in a few years, peaking probably in 1943...and then die off into studio recordings and the devilish Rock and Roll. But in 1937 I'll bet every high school dance featured Once in A While. In case you are wondering the movie It's A Wonderful Life has a dance scene where George meets Mary as an 18 and 21 year old, well that dance takes place in 1928, recall that George and Mary get married on the day of the stock market crash in 1929. The epic success, Snow White and The Seven Dwarves was released by Disney in 1937 (also what is considered the beginning of The Golden Age of Disney ending in 1961), but that was fantasy so it doesn't help paint a picture of 1937. O' Brother Where Art Thou (2000) was set in 1937 Mississippi. Chinatown was set in 1937 as Los Angeles lost it's innocence. Of course, King's Speech included this year since that's when King George VI was crowned and everyone learned he stuttered. Also, anytime you see footage of the Hindenburg burning up, you are seeing footage from 1937.
The last days of the Zeppelin

Ads like this really make me think we've made kids become monsters. Kids today on computers/smart phones in 1st grade, age 5...but in 1937 they were 'delighted' with Raggedy Ann's Sunny Songbook. Really depressing that Asperger's syndrome computer programmers are remotely raising 400 million children.

So, unrequited love is a never fail topic. Oggy himself was so inspired by the pathos this song evoked that he wrote his own waltz about the same topic in a different style. But what I love about this tune is the priceless melody. You could write any words to fit this melody and the song would be good but these specific words are perfect. Even the introduction is quality, although Nat King Cole foolishly did not include it in his 1961 recording. 

Goodbye means our affair is ended
Goodbye means that there's someone new
Tho' my heart-break can not be mended
Dear I, ask only this of you...

 I recorded a version with me singing the whole song but it's a serious melody that doesn't sound right if I miss even one note or drop octaves or scoop up to notes. So I have to give you the instrumental version, which I think I do some justice to the tune.

The quarter note triplet is featured heavily here

I don't think I play the triplets perfectly as written although they sound OK as played to the convention of my whim, but triplets sound good when played 3 against 2 and the beat kind of gets lost until you really pound it home. This is high class writing here, folks. This is as good as songwriting gets and if I could find a cafe or Carnival Cruise ship where I could play these tunes all day I'd be content forever. As long as I can carry the music with me. I want to tear my hair out this melody is so good and the lyrics with the lip puckering "Once....while..." they make the singer kiss the empty air like the departing scent of your true love vanishing into an elevator or the final trace of warm skin dissipates into rotting heartbreak and anguish, loneliness, despair, regret. This is good stuff, in my Top 15 songs of all time. Really lends itself to a good voice and a piano and candles, or the Billy Mays orchestral blast. Great song!

Bud Green was the brother-in-law of Bob Russell who wrote one of my other top 15 songs Don't Get Around Much Anymore, with music by Duke Ellington, which Nat King Cole also recorded. That's notable because Ellington had left his engagement at The Cotton Club establishment about 7 years earlier but both Green and Ellington were in Harlem at the same time. Green was about 33 years old when Ellington was 31 and leading the Cotton Club band in 1930. This also raises the importance of the Jazz Age influence of Harlem Jazz Renaissance. F. Scott Fitzgerald was the one who came up with that term and I think it's a good simplification even if it wasn't totally respected by some songwriters. Jazz emerged in the time between 1921-1930 and writers like Hoagy Carmichael and Bud Green and even Bob Wills would develop it further through the '30s and '40s until Miles Davis ushered in "Cool Jazz".
An idea of the proximity of Bud Green's youth

Bud Green was a white dude from the east side of Harlem's North Central Park who was surrounded by the greatest effluence of original music North America had ever seen, which was mostly on the west side of Central Park. Even though The Cotton Club was for whites only it hired black performers, so once Bud Green was old enough he could go and watch the greatest performers on the East Coast and learn some tricks. Oggy has considered taking a year to live in NYC and he hasn't ruled it out yet as a sociological experiment. Bud Green had no choice and had a front row seat to the entertaiment. Hell, he married a Ziegfeld Follies performer who probably performed at the Winter Garden just south of Central Park. My point is that Bud Green, although he was a lyricist, was surrounded by a Broadway atmosphere that raised his game and this song is probably his best effort. 

Tommy Dorsey recorded it along with Jack Leonard (without the introduction) and it works as an instrumental, so I should praise musical contributions of Michael Edwards, whom I have never heard of. Hell, it can be rearranged as Doo Wop and it still sounds good, although The Chimes didn't include the introduction either. 

Let's learn about Michael Edwards, shall we? ...Well, this will require some work as Mr. Edward had a career apex moment with this triplet composition and there's a reason I can't find any information on him. He simply did not have a single other successful or even noteworthy song. I can't even find another song that he composed but it's impossible that he wasn't in demand after this was a huge success. I also see I'm not alone in thinking this was a forgotten gem because it seems in the 1960s a jazz saxophonist recorded this song and everyone thought it was new. Maybe I can do the same today because no matter how you slice this song it's almost perfect. We're not going to learn anything more about Michael Edwards. He must've made money arranging theater or playing violin and organ because his songwriting career has a single blip of activity and it is Once In A While. Maybe the triplets rhythm motif was his final inspiration and he decided to rest on his laurels and arrange music others had written. I don't know. It's also possible, given he didn't compose another noteworthy song, that he didn't compose this song to begin with, and stole the melody from someone else who then died or maybe someone ghost wrote the melody for him. Well, someone composed a magnificent song and Bud Green wrote some inspired lyrics on a tired topic.

The summary of this song is that the timeless theme of unrequited love will be with us forever. Also, quality breeds quality as Bud Green was surrounded by great music and learned to write quality songs. 1937 was before WWII but after Prohibition's of the tradition of the Jazz Era but was first released in the Swing Era, but it's a lilting ballad that doesn't really do justice to the words if you swing it uptempo. Timeless classic.

No comments:

Creative Commons License
Man in the Van by Oggy Bleacher is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.