Born Hyman Arluck on February 15, 1905, Harold Arlen was one of the most important composers of the Great American songbook. Arlen’s first collaboration with lyricist Ted Koehler, Get Happy, became his first hit in 1930 and ever since his tunes have been covered by jazz artists. In 2000, his collaboration with Yip Harburg, Over the Rainbow, from The Wizard of Oz, was deemed the Number One Song of the Century by the Recording Industry Association of America and the National Endowment for the Arts. Instrumental artists and vocalists still find Arlen’s songbook compelling and there are many current examples of inspired performances. A birthday salute to Harold Arlen in this hour of Jazz at 100 today!
Collaborations with Ted Koehler 1929 – 1934
In the early 1930s Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler wrote reviews for the Cotton Club at the end of Duke Ellington’s tenure as the house bandleader and the beginning of Cab Calloway’s. With recordings by artists like Ellington, Calloway, Ethel Waters, Lena Horne, and Adelaide Hall, Arlen’s work became very well known.
For his 70th birthday, Chick Corea programmed a month of performances at New York’s Blue Note, released on the 2017 three-disc set, The Musician. One of the most personal performances was the pairing of Corea with singer Bobby McFerrin, who brought us I’ve Got the World On a String, originally from the Cotton Club Parade – 21st Edition, of 1932, performed and recorded by Cab Calloway.
Identified sometimes as the heir to Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald and other times as the successor to Dinah Washington and Carmen McRae, singer Dianne Reeves recorded Harold Arlen’s Stormy Weather on her 2014 disc Beautiful Life. Stormy Weather was originally from the Cotton Club Parade – 22st Edition, of 1933, performed and recorded by Ethel Waters, and later by Lena Horne in the 1943 film.
I’ve Got the World On A String. Chick Corea – Bobby McFerrin duo
(Chick Corea-p, Bobby McFerrin-voc). From The Musician. Concord Music Group. 2017. ter Martin-p, Cedric Hanriot-key, Romero Lubambo-g, Reginald Veal-b, Terreon Gully-d, Munyungo Jackson-per, Dianne Reeves-voc). From Beautiful Life. Concord Music Group. 2014.
Stormy Weather. Dianne Reeves with Tineke Postma
(Tineke Postma-ss, Peter Martin-p, Cedric Hanriot-key, Romero Lubambo-g, Reginald Veal-b, Terreon Gully-d, Munyungo Jackson-per, Dianne Reeves-voc). From Beautiful Life. Concord Music Group. 2014.
At seventy-eight veteran tenor player Houston Person recorded Arlen’s Let’s Fall In Love on a 2014 disc of ballads, Nice ’n’ Easy. The tune was originally sung by Ann Southern for the 1934 film of the same name.
Catherine Russell, daughter of Luis Russell who was the musical director for Louis Armstrong for all the 1930s and the early 1940’s, released her version of As Long As I Live on her 2010 disc Inside This Heart of Mine. The tune was originally performed by Lena Horne in the Cotton Club Parade – 24th Edition, of 1934.
The standard Ill Wind was also composed for the Cotton Club Parade – 24th Edition, in which it was performed by Adelaide Hall. This was Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler’s last show for the Cotton Club. In 2019, the tune was included in the Mary Stallings disc Songs Were Made to Sing, with an all-star line-up of Eddie Henderson on trumpet, Vincent Herring on alto, David Hazeltine on piano, David Williams on bass, and Joe Farnsworth on drums.
Let’s Fall in Love. Houston Person Quintet
Houston Person-ts, John Di Martino-p, Chuck Redd-vib, Ray Drummond-b, Lewis Nash-d). From Nice ’n’ Easy. High Note. 2014.
As Long As I Live. Catherine Russell Quartet
(Mark Shane-p, Matt Munizteri-g, Lee Hudson-b, Catherine Russell-voc). From Inside This Heart of Mine. World Village. 2010.
Ill Wind. Mary Stallings Sextet
(Eddie Henderson-tp, Vincent Herring-as/ts, David Hazeltine-p, David Williams-b, Joe Farnsworth-d, Mary Stallings-voc). From Songs Were Made To Sing. Smoke Sessions. 2019.
Collaboration with Yip Harburg
Harold Arlen worked with lyricist Yip Harburg through the late 1930s, culminating in their highly regarded score for the film The Wizard of Oz.
Originally sung by Ray Bolger as the Scarecrow, If I Only Had a Brain gets a vocal and bass treatment by Tierney Sutton on her disc of music associated with films, Screenplay. Kevin Axt plays funky electric bass while Trey Henry plays Arco acoustic bass.
Now just seventeen, Joey Alexander was 11 when he recorded a solo piano version of Over the Rainbow for his 2014 disc My Favorite Things. At the time most reviewers made some version of the statement by Jeff Tamarkin on JazzTimes, “…he more than holds his own, and it’s unlikely any listener not informed in advance of the player’s age would come close to guessing it.” The tune was, of course, made famous by Judy Garland who included the song in her live set list for the rest of her career.
If I Only Had a Brain. Tierney Sutton Band
(Kevin Axt-b, Trey Henry-b, Tierney Sutton-voc). From Screenplay. BFM Jazz. 2019.
Over the Rainbow. Joey Alexander solo
(Joey Alexander solo-p). From My Favorite Things. Motema. 2014.
Johnny Mercer & Truman Capote
From the 1940s on, Arlen worked with a range of lyricists including Harburg, Koehler, Dorothy Fields, Ira Gershwin, Johnny Mercer and Truman Capote.
In 1945, Arlen and Mercer wrote Out of This World, for the film of the same name where it was sung by Bing Crosby. Soprano Saxophonist Jane Ira Bloom recorded the tune on her 2014 exploration of the ballad form, Sixteen Sunsets.
A Sleepin’ Bee was written by Arlen for the musical House of Flowers in 1954, where Truman Capote’s enigmatic lyrics were sung by Diahann Carroll. On her 2008 disc Lovery, Cassandra Wilson, perhaps the leading jazz vocalist of her generation recorded the tune with Jason Moran on piano, Marvin Sewell on guitar, Lonnie Plaxico on bass, and Herlin Riley on drums.
Out Of This World. Jane Ira Bloom Quartet
(Jane Ira Bloom-ss, Dominic Fallacaro-p, Cameron Brown-b, Matt Wilson-d). From Sixteen Sunsets. Out-Line. 2013.
A Sleepin’ Bee. Cassandra Wilson Quintet
(Jason Moran-p, Marvin Sewell-g, Lonnie Plaxico-b, Herlin Riley-d, Cassandra Wilson-voc). From Loverly. Blue Note. 2008.
Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, Ac-cent-tchu-ate The Positive, Blues in the Night, Come Rain or Come Shine, I Gotta Right to Sing the Blues, It’s Only A Paper Moon, One For My Baby, That Old Black Magic, This Time The Dream’s On Me – the list goes on and on. Harold Arlen wrote many of the greatest standards in the jazz repertoire and will always be remembered for the score of The Wizard of Oz. Today’s jazz artists continue to keep his legacy alive.
Kelman, John. (2017, May 2). AllAboutJazz. Chick Corea: The Musician. https://www.allaboutjazz.com/the-musician-by-john-kelman.php
Loudon, Christopher. (2014, February 7). JazzTimes. Dianne Reeves: Beautiful Life. https://jazztimes.com/reviews/albums/dianne-reeves-beautiful-life/
Bowers, Jack. (2013, November 7). AllAboutJazz. Houston Person: Nice ‘N’ Easy. https://www.allaboutjazz.com/nice-n-easy-houston-person-highnote-records-review-by-jack-bowers.php
Hillman, Marcia. (2010, May 13). AllAboutJazz. Catherine Russell: Inside This Heart Of Mine. https://www.allaboutjazz.com/inside-this-heart-of-mine-catherine-russell-world-village-review-by-marcia-hillman.php
Gilbert, Andrew. (2019, June 12). JazzTimes. Mary Stallings: Songs Were Made to Sing (Smoke Sessions). https://jazztimes.com/reviews/albums/mary-stallings-songs-were-made-to-sing-smoke-sessions/
Mondello, Nicholas F. (2019, June 2). AllAboutJazz. Tierney Sutton Band: Screenplay. https://www.allaboutjazz.com/screenplay-tierney-sutton-bfm-jazz-review-by-nicholas-f-mondello.php
Tamarkin, Jeff. (2015, June 8). JazzTimes. Joey Alexander: My Favorite Things. https://jazztimes.com/reviews/albums/joey-alexander-my-favorite-things/
McClenaghan, Dan. (2013, December 8). AllAboutJazz. Jane Ira Bloom: Sixteen Sunsets. https://www.allaboutjazz.com/sixteen-sunsets-jane-ira-bloom-outline-review-by-dan-mcclenaghan.php
May, Chris. (2008, June 4). AllAboutJazz. Cassandra Wilson: Loverly. https://www.allaboutjazz.com/loverly-cassandra-wilson-blue-note-records-review-by-chris-may.php
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