Sunday, April 23, 2017
And This Blog Loves Hoagy Carmichael
"I'm a bit disappointed in myself. I know I could have accomplished a hell of a lot more... I could write anything any time I wanted to. But I let other things get in the way.... I've been floating around in the breeze." Hoagy Carmichael
While writing about Harry Ruby and about Musicians In The Movies, couldn't help thinking of the Indiana-born songwriter, pianist, composer, character actor, radio star and lawyer-turned-musician Hoagy Carmichael. When this blogger, amateur musician and jazz geek thinks of 1920's and 1930's music, Hoagy invariably comes to mind, so it's about time we give this Songwriters Hall of Fame member his post!
Many in the same age group as this blogger were introduced to the great songwriter via his memorable appearance on "The Hit Songwriters" episode of ABC-TV's The Flintstones as prehistoric tunesmith "Stoney Carmichael" on September 15, 1961.
This wasn't the first time a Hoagy Carmichael song appeared in an animated cartoon. His 1938 song Small Fry was made by the Fleischer Studio into a Color Classic cartoon about a juvenile delinquent fish!
Just consider a mere few of the many great songs from the Hoagy Carmichael backlog, created in collaboration with lyricists Johnny Mercer, Frank Loesser, Mitchell Parish, Sidney Arodin, Jack Brooks, Harold Adamson, Stuart Gorrell, Jo Trent, Connie Dane, Paul Francis Webster, Robert De Leon and Dick Voynow.
Washboard Blues (1925, lyric with Fred B. Callahan)
Star Dust (1928, lyric by Mitchell Parish)
Rockin' Chair (1929)
Georgia On My Mind (1930, lyric by Stuart Gorrell)
Up The Lazy River (1931, lyric with Sidney Arodin)
Lazybones (1931, lyric written with Johnny Mercer)
The Nearness Of You (1937, lyric by Ned Washington)
Two Sleepy People (1938, lyric by Frank Loesser)
Heart and Soul (1938, lyric by Frank Loesser)
I Get Along Without You Very Well (1938)
Skylark (1941, lyric by Johnny Mercer)
Hoagy found his way into songwriting as a law student who became enthralled by the music of Bix Beiderbecke and Louis Armstrong.
Carmichael performed many of his songs in movies. His first silver screen appearance was in Topper. Tough to top a movie in which Hoagy sings and Cary Grant stars.
As much as we at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog love Bogey and Bacall in To Have And Have Not, the musical interludes by Hoagy - Hong Kong Blues, Am I Blue and Baltimore Oriole - are immensely entertaining and add a lot to this unbeatable classic movie.
The George Raft - Claire Trevor film noir Johnny Angel included the evocative "Memphis In June" (1945, lyric by Paul Francis Webster).
"Ole Buttermilk Sky" was featured in the movie Canyon Passage and released as a single.
It received an Oscar nomination for Best Song of 1946, but did not win.
Carmichael and lyricist Johnny Mercer did win the 1951 Academy Award for Best Song for "In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening," from the Bing Crosby-Jane Wyman vehicle Here Comes The Groom.
Another feature which makes good use of Carmichael's musical talents is Las Vegas Story.
We'll take the Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog (and Lazybones) route and quote the excellent Songwriters' Hall Of Fame entry for Hoagy verbatim. This tells the story more effectively than this writer could. Kudos to whoever wrote this for Songwriters' Hall Of Fame and we shall illustrate the bio with judiciously chosen clips! In addition, there are also the two books Carmichael wrote about his career in music.
"Hoagy Carmichael was one of the most inventive and adventurous of the great American songwriters. Much of his best work reflects his love of the jazz of the 1920s, most notably one of the greatest standards from the era, “Stardust”.
He was born Hoagland Howard Carmichael in Bloomington, Indiana on November 22, 1899. His father was an electrician and his mother played the piano for dances and silent films. Although his ambition was to become a lawyer, Carmichael showed an early interest in music. When his family moved to Indianapolis in 1916, he took lessons from an African-American pianist Reginald DuValle (1893-1953).
He attended Indiana University, and, while there, he organized his own jazz band. When the great jazz cornetist Bix Beiderbecke, then at the very beginning of his brief career, paid a visit to Indiana University in the spring of 1924, he and Carmichael quickly became friends, and it was for Beiderbecke that Carmichael wrote his first piece. Not long afterward, Beiderbecke and the Wolverines recorded it under the title "Riverboat Shuffle".
Carmichael went on to the Indiana University Law School, and continued to perform and write music while there. He graduated in 1926, and began to practice law in West Palm Beach, Florida. However, the discovery that another of his early tunes "Washboard Blues" had been recorded prompted him to abandon law for music. He briefly returned to Indiana, and then in 1929 he arrived in New York. He resumed his contact with Beiderbecke and was introduced with some of the most talented young musicians of the day, including Louis Armstrong, the Dorsey Brothers, Benny Goodman, and Jack Teagarden. Another important lifelong friendship during this time was also established with lyricist Johnny Mercer.
Gradually, musicians heard Carmichael’s songs and he became increasingly well known as a songwriter. In addition, his performing career flourished and he made many recordings. One of his early recordings featured him with the Paul Whiteman band playing and singing his own "Washboard Blues".
In 1936 he moved to Hollywood and continued to write independent songs for publication and songs for movies. In 1937 he began what was to become a significant secondary career as an actor, appearing in a bit part in the film Topper. Roles, which usually involved singing parts, followed in many other movies, including To Have and Have Not (1942), The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), Canyon Passage (1945), and Young Man With a Horn (1950). In the late 1950s and early 1960s, he became a regular on television in the western series Laramie. In the 1940s, he was also a popular radio personality."
Among Hoagy's last TV appearances was the PBS children's show Hoagy Carmichael's Music Shop.
A kids' show featuring Hoagy is not necessarily at all far-fetched, especially considering that the music director on the long-running flagship PBS children's show Mister Rogers Neighborhood was none other than jazz pianist and composer Johnny Costa, like Art Tatum, Jaki Byard, Hazel Scott and Oscar Peterson a fleet-fingered speed demon on the keys.
The song here, "Everybody's Bustin' Out Of Doors" is both covered by the man himself in classic Hoagy style but also by vibraphonist Monty Stark's rock-jazz fusion band The Stark Reality, who created an album of 1970 style versions of Hoagy Carmichael songs. Sometimes the blend is a bit jarring, but for the most part it works. Unfortunately, now that we are in 2017 and every human upon this earth is glued to their smart phones, nobody is busting to get out of doors, not even children.
Fred Rogers also hosted a show a few years later, Old Friends, New Friends in which Hoagy appeared. Unfortunately, this blogger has not been able to locate any clips from the latter 1978 show. Perhaps they will turn up eventually on the Fred Rogers tribute website.
Carmichael sang and played "Rockin' Chair" on the piano on Annie Ross and Georgie Fame's United Kingdom-recorded tribute album In Hoagland (1981). Hoagy's last public appearance occurred when he filmed Country Comes Home with country music recording artist Crystal Gayle for CBS in 1981.
Hoagy Carmichael died of heart failure at the Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage, California on December 27, 1981. His remains are buried in Rose Hill Cemetery in Bloomington, Indiana.
In 1986 Carmichael's family donated his archives, piano, and memorabilia to his alma mater, Indiana University, which established a Hoagy Carmichael Collection in its Archives of Traditional Music and the Hoagy Carmichael Room to permanently display selections from the collection.
Finishing up this tribute to Hoagy: the following great covers of his classic tunes. Leading off: Louis Armstrong and Jack Teagarden!
Chet Baker and Frank Sinatra delve deeply into the Hoagy Carmichael songs about love lost.
Sinatra contributed his share of classic Carmichael covers.
Hong Kong Blues has inspired covers by a wide range of musicians.
Here's one by The Killer himself, Jerry Lee Lewis!
George Harrison was a Hoagy Carmichael fan and recorded Hong Kong Blues and Baltimore Oriole on his Somewhere In England album.
Carmichael was inducted into the Hollywood Walk of Fame on February 8, 1960. Hoagy's sidewalk star tribute can be found at 1720 Vine Street in Hollywood.