Long-Forgotten Sissle & Blake
by Ken Bloom
A few years ago, we at Harbinger launched our first album devoted to the work of the great composer and ragtime pianist Eubie Blake. In 1921 it was Eubie who, with his lyricist–partner Noble Sissle, wrote the trailblazing, smash hit musical Shuffle Along, one of the first Broadway musicals created and performed entirely by African Americans.
That first disc won Harbinger a Grammy Award for the liner notes I wrote with Richard Carlin—and the CD was filled with juicy archival recordings from Shuffle Along, including the hit songs “I’m Just Wild About Harry” and “Love Will Find a Way.”
Now we’re back with more! We proudly present the original demonstration records—most of them performed by Sissle & Blake—for the much-anticipated Shuffle Along of 1950, a revised treatment of their earlier hit. Blake even provides a running narration.
The bad news is that the show didn’t make it on Broadway when it was finally produced in 1952. But the very good news is that these ultra-rare recordings capture the two songwriters in peak form. Their songs are downright effervescent; you can’t help smiling throughout.
And there’s a bonus: a re-mastering of the only surviving acetate of a 1950 radio program hosted by Ruth King, the famed Cleveland DJ who celebrated back musicians. On this program, her guests, in addition to Sissle & Blake, include the legendary W.C. Handy, composer of “St. Louis Blues.” All of them perform for Ms. King, and it’s quite a party!
In our liner notes, Richard and I tell the fascinating story of Shuffle Along of 1950 and its ill-fated revival two years later. This is a tale of great highs and the lowest of lows—in short, indispensable listening and reading for connoisseurs of both Broadway and jazz.
And keep on the lookout for our book on Eubie Blake, to be published next year by Oxford University Press.
To purchase Shuffle Along of 1950 from Amazon now, click here.
In 1983, musical theater historian Ken Bloom co-founded Harbinger Records, now a division of The Musical Theater Project, with Bill Rudman.
By Ken Bloom
We drive to a movie theater, plunk down $10 and hope for the best. Nothing special in a world in which we’re assaulted with downloads, streaming, cable TV, DVDs, apps and myriad other ways to watch movies on screens ranging from 40 feet to four inches across.
But back in the day when the movies were a brand new art form, it was exciting to watch it all grow from nickelodeons to makeshift theaters—wherever a sheet could be hung and folding chairs could provide the seating. Purpose-built theaters followed, and soon motion pictures became an industry.
You’ll feel as if you were there thanks to Harbinger Records’ fascinating new release, Let’s Go In to a Picture Show--an album that captures that glorious era when silent motion pictures swept the country.
The words in the title, one of the CD’s 26 tracks, tell us a lot. Today we just say we’re going to the movies, but to “Go In to a…” movie…that’s different. It suggests an occasion to be relished, and listening to the songs on our album, all of them written and recorded between 1907 and 1922, conjures up a vital part of the American Experience.
What kind of songs? As silent movies grew in popularity, it was a sure thing that Tin Pan Alley would jump on the bandwagon and come up with topical songs about going to the movies, as well as songs written for the movie scores played on everything from a single piano to a theater organ or a full orchestra.
Now, thankfully, these early recordings have been saved from obscurity. The titles are priceless, including “Chimmie and Maggie in Nickel Land,” “That’s a Real Moving Picture From Life,” “Those Charlie Chaplin Feet” and “Take Your Girlie to the Movies.”
That last one is perhaps the most significant, at least sociologically. Social mores were crumbling: For a nickel, a guy could take his girl to the movies, sit in the dark and “spoon”—that sounds innocent now, but what a thrill it must have been in 1919!
This collection has been a pet project for several years, ever since it was brought to me by Ron Magliozzi, curator of the department of film at New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). We finally got it finished, and Ron’s presence and commitment make it a prestigious addition to our catalog.
He’s written a liner note for every song (and all lyrics are included in the 28-page booklet), offering delightful glances at then-current attitudes toward the cinema.
Prepare to enter another world…
In 1983, Grammy Award-winning musical theater historian Ken Bloom co-founded Harbinger Records, now a division of TMTP, with Bill Rudman.
HOW TO PURCHASE “LET’S GO IN TO A PICTURE SHOW, 1907-22”
Visit HarbingerRecords.com; available for order and download at Arkhiv.com and iTunes.
By Ken Bloom
There are Broadway composers who write great songs but whose piano playing isn’t always of the highest quality. In fact, there are a few like Bob Merrill and Lionel Bart who couldn’t play piano at all. Then there are the piano virtuosos like Harold Arlen and Jule Styne. Others could play the piano the first time they sat down at the keyboard like George Gershwin and Jerry Herman.
But there’s only one who was not only a wonderful composer but also a terrific jazz pianist. You may surmise that the man I’m referring to is Cy Coleman. I’m sure that’s not a surprise since, after all, that’s who this week’s blog is all about.
And the reason I’m bringing his name up is that The Musical Theater Project and Harbinger Records are so very proud to be issuing another amazing Cy Coleman performance in our unofficial but delightful series of recordings by Cy (if you don’t mind us being familiar). And we are using his first name because he himself was one of the most gregarious performers in musical theater. He loved nothing more than to sit at the piano and entertain an audience. And entertain himself, too! And that joy was contagious, as you’ll discover when you listen to this wonderful CD.
Now, if you knew him, Cy took great pride in his own compositions. But he wasn’t so egocentric as to not appreciate his fellow toilers who ran their fingers up and down the keys and came up with timeless scores. And so, here’s Cy paying tribute to two of the best composers of all time.
The whole CD is so infectious that though I produced the album and have listened to its contents dozens of times, I keep returning for more. And I bet so will you!
Learn more about "Cy Coleman: A Jazzman's Broadway" and purchase at Amazon.com and iTunes.
By Ken Bloom
Way back when (and you know how long ago that was!) the film The Cotton Club was in production. Bill Rudman and I knew for sure it was going to be a big hit. Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler were the most prominent composers for the Cotton Club shows and I knew Harold Arlen’s biographer, Ed Jablonski. I had produced and directed a Harold Arlen revue in Washington, D.C. that was a big success and which featured a lot of extremely rare songs from the Cotton Club.
We then went upon the task of finding someone to interpret the songs, someone who could give the songs their jazz due without overdoing it but staying vaguely in the spirit in which they were written. Bill suggests that it was he who came up with the solution. I recall being the brains behind the idea. Whomever did think of Maxine Sullivan came up with the perfect person. Not only was Maxine a child of the period just after the Cotton Club’s heyday she had actually sung at the Cotton Club back when it had moved from Harlem to Broadway and 48th Street. In fact, Maxine’s costar during her appearance was none other than Louis Armstrong. Now, wouldn’t you like to rev up your time machine and see that!
But how to get in touch with Maxine? Bill recalled that he knew Maxine’s pianist, Phil Fortenberry and set up a meeting in a Greenwich Village coffee shop. The meeting went terrifically. Phil was as enthusiastic as we were. Back and forth the conversation went: “Maxine will do great by ‘Ill Wind.’” “Yeah, and the song ‘Primitive Prima Donna’ will show Maxine’s comic chops.” We were in heaven. Everything was falling into place. At the end of the love fest Bill stated, “And the album will be titled, ‘Maxine Sullivan Sings the Great Songs of the Cotton Club by Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler!’” Phil dropped his fork and looked up at us with a puzzled look on his face, “Maxine Sullivan!?” “Yes!,” we replied. Phil averred, “But I’m the accompanist of Maxine Andrews!” Yes, Maxine Andrews of the famous Andrews Sisters.
After Phil left, Bill and I regrouped. How to get in touch with Maxine. Bill made a wild suggestion, “Why don’t we look in the phone book?” Yes, kids, years and years before you were born there was a book and everybody’s phone number and address was listed. And there was Maxine’s number. With trembling hands Bill dialed the number. Yes, phones had dials then not push buttons. And Maxine herself picked up.
Bill gave her the spiel and Maxine replied, “Why not?” Whew! That was so easy. We then called Maxine’s real accompanist/arranger Keith Ingham and off we went. Maxine was a dream to work with and we were thrilled with the recording.
In fact, it was so good we got the “Best Female Vocal Album” award from NAIRD, the National Association of Independent Record Distributors. And then we found ourselves nominated for a GRAMMY Award!! Yes, our first studio recording was nominated for a GRAMMY!
Well, we didn’t win but the album was a big seller. And now it’s been reissued for your listening pleasure.
There’s a lot of other stories that go along with that album. Like when I took the CD to Moscow before they had CDs in that country. And you won’t believe the reaction from my Russian friend Vitali. But that’s one for another time.
Bill and I went on to record two more albums with Maxine and Keith, each devoted to a giant of American Popular Song. First was a wonderful album of the songs of Burton Lane. And Burton was intimately involved in that recording—the first jazz album ever to feature his songs. And we followed that with a collaboration with the songwriting genius Jule Styne who was especially thrilled with Maxine and Keith’s work on his songs.
All three of these albums are now available on Harbinger CDs. We’ve never been happier with any of our subsequent albums—some of which are also damned good!
Album sales for Jazz and Broadway legend Cy Coleman begin April 6th! Make sure to pre order your copy of his Album "A Jazzmans Broadway" on Amazon today!
Before Cy Coleman was a noted composer of such shows as Little Me, Sweet Charity, Barnum and On the Twentieth Century, he was the favorite of the New York cabaret scene. Now, for the first time, Cy and his fellow musicians play the scores of Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburgs hit show Jamaica in addition to songs from the Rodgers and Hammerstein hits Flower Drum Song and South Pacific. The works from the latter production have been taken from rare transcription recordings, and are making their first debuts since being recorded in the early 1950s. It's 50s jazz at its finest! Pre-Order your copy here!
Yul Brynner (repeating his Broadway role and winning an Oscar for it) plays 19th-century King Mongkut of Siam, and Deborah Kerr is the widowed British schoolteacher who becomes governess and teacher of the King’s many children, in this lavish, award-winning film version of the famous Rodgers and Hammerstein musical. Today’s screening, which is co-presented by The Musical Theater Project, will be introduced at 3:00 by TMTP founding director Bill Rudman (and Cinematheque director John Ewing). There will also be a post-film discussion.
TICKETS ARE ON SALE NOW!
General admission $15; Cinematheque & TMTP members, CIA & CSU I.D. holders, and those age 25 & under $10; no passes, twofers, or college radio winners.
Here’s Harbinger’s Grammy Award-winning recording of Shuffle Along featuring the show’s composers, Eubie Blake and Noble Sissle, as well as members of the original cast exactly as heard on Broadway in 1921 though many of the cuts were recorded by the composers in 1950, making the sound exemplary.
Shuffle Along, was the most successful Broadway show of its time. The score contained the future standards “I’m Just Wild About Harry” and “Love Will Find a Way.” It marked the emergence of a new black musical theatre. It desegregated theatres in New York and across the country, the first time blacks and whites could sit together in a theatre.
The show transformed Broadway. Business was so good that three weeks into the run the company cancelled the Wednesday matinees and added Wednesday midnight performances that were heavily attended by theatrical folk. A few weeks later, all the matinees were cancelled. Shuffle Along soon grew into the most successful show playing on Broadway with a weekly gross averaging $13,000 a week against $7,500 in weekly expenses (once the show was a verified smash the top ticket price was raised to $3.00). Shuffle Along finally closed after playing 504 performances, an astounding run at the time. It was so successful that the 63rd Street, where the show played, was made into a one-way street to alleviate the traffic jams along Broadway and Central Park West.
This is the only available recording of Shuffle Along’s jazzy score. And the Grammy Award-winning liner notes by Ken Bloom and Richard Carlin give the full history of the show and the recordings.
It’s a must for all fans of musical theatre, jazz aficionados who will thrill at authentic 1920s jazz, and anyone interested in the amazing history of black musicals at the beginning of the 20th Century.
Click HERE to purchase now!
We at The Musical Theater Project/Harbinger Records mourn the
passing of a dear friend: composer and arranger JOHN MORRIS.
Though best known as Mel Brooks’s composer of choice, John had a significant Broadway career as a dance music arranger (Bells Are Ringing, Bye Bye Birdie and lots more) and wrote the music for A Time for Singing.
We are proud to include many of his performances as pianist/arranger on the classic Walden Records albums from the 1950s, now available on the Harbinger label. Listen to John play Gershwin or Rodgers: Scintillating!
Click HERE to read his full obituary printed in the New York Times.
Want a taste of what to expect from our January concert, The Gershwins in Hollywood? TMTP artistic director talks with Gershwin historian Deena Rosenberg on our radio program Footlight Parade. In this excerpt, Rosenberg deconstructs the beloved tune, "They Can't Take That Away From Me", made famous by Fred Astaire in the film Shall We Dance.
A SPECIAL TMTP MEMBERS EVENT
"Good evening, and welcome to Musicarnival!" If you remember producer Johnny Price greeting you with those words at his summer tent theater in Warrensville Heights in the 1950s, 60s and 70s, you'll want to stroll down memory lane during this lively evening. If Musicarnival is new to you, don't miss this chance to learn more!
Bill Rudman will host the program with Johnny's daughter Diana Price, who will share her Musicarnival recollections. Bill and his team recently completed restoration of the Musicarnival Audio Archives -- full-length, live recordings of more than 100 classic musicals such as Oklahoma!, Show Boat, Gypsy and Guys & Dolls. See you there -- at a beautiful library that's just down the road from the site of Johnny's tent.
RSVP by February 5th
Call (216) 860-1518 or email info@MusicalTheaterProject.org
“Try to Remember” a time when Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt weren’t doing exciting work in our musical theater. As all of us in a packed house heard on Monday, you’d have to go back even further than “The Fantasticks” to their work for revues in the late 1950s, and even to a college musical they wrote at the University of Texas in 1951.
What a privilege for me to be at this benefit for The York Theater, and to hear the team’s great songs knowing that Harvey is still playing the piano every day at 88, and Tom is working on a new musical at 89. The award show itself was star-studded with far many names for me to drop here. But let me just mention Susan Watson (the very first Luisa at Barnard College, and the original Kim McAfee in “Bye Bye Birdie"), Rita Gardner (technically the second Luisa when “The Fantasticks” opened Off Broadway), and the First Ladies of the American Musical, Gretchen Cryer and Nancy Ford — still “getting their act together” brilliantly in a 60-year-partnership. I’m so proud to be producing a Jones & Schmidt two-CD retrospective on J&S created with the full participation (and passion) of the team. -- Bill Rudman, TMTP artistic director
Jones & Schmidt: Hidden Treasures, 1951-2001 is due for release in June 2018. This 2-CD set features nearly 50 songs from musicals including The Fantasticks, 110 in the Shade, I Do, I Do, Celebration and more. Hear rare recordings, demos and cut recordings from Broadway talent like Liz Callaway and Dick Latessa. This collector's item comes with a deluxe 64-page color booklet with liner notes from Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt.
"HO-HO-HO!" A Christmas Cabaret is back and better than ever. But don't take our word for it. Here's Brendan Ring of Nighttown spreading the joy in this vintage-style holiday commercial.
75 Years Old, Oklahoma! is still a Beautiful Mornin’
Can it be true? Is Rodgers & Hammerstein’s first masterpiece, Oklahoma!, really approaching its 75th anniversary? The answer is Yes, and on October 14 and 15, TMTP will mark the occasion with a special concert celebrating a true milestone in musical theater.
In our concert “The Impact of Oklahoma!,” we’ll perform all of the songs from the treasured score and share the fascinating story of the musical’s creation in 1942-43. Bill Rudman and Nancy Maier co-host, with Joe Monaghan singing the role of Curly, Lindsey Sandham Leonard singing Laurey, Shane Patrick O’Neill singing Will Parker, Ursula Cataan singing Ado Annie and Fabio Polanco singing Jud.
In July, Bill talked with Ted Chapin, president of the Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization, about a musical that is still produced somewhere in the world every day.
BR: Ted, you and I have been friends ever since you took the reins at R&H back in 1981, and for many years I’ve been curious: How many productions of this show do you think you’ve seen?
TC: Oh, at least 30. And not just in New York and London, but a European tour and shows all over this country including, as you might expect, a production in Oklahoma.
BR: I assume that TMTP is by no means the only company exploring it these days.
TC: No, everyone wants to come to the birthday party. Right now there are new productions at Goodspeed Musicals! in Connecticut, and at the renowned Glimmerglass Festival in Cooperstown, New York. And as we get closer to the actual Broadway opening—March 31, 1943—there will be a bright golden haze on lots more meadows.
BR: Can I put you on the spot? Do you have a favorite production?
TC: I do. In 1998, when Trevor Nunn’s production, starring Hugh Jackman, opened in London.
BR: That surprises me, because Nunn is a Brit. Here we have one of the quintessential “Americana” musicals.
TC: Yes, and I remember that when he came in to seek the rights from me, he quoted Aunt Eller: “I don’t say I’m no better than anybody else, but I’ll be damned if I ain’t just as good.” And he was. What Trevor did so well was tell a story that’s universal. He dove into the text, knowing that although this is a fun piece, it’s not a frivolous one.
BR: It’s kind of incredible that with this, their very first show—their first collaboration—R&H created the longest-running musical up to that time.
TC: For one thing, they tapped into our country’s psyche during World War II. We were just 16 months into the war when Oklahoma! opened, and the show made a deep impression on Americans, reminding us of what we were fighting to protect. But there’s also a freshness about this piece that remains extraordinary. Laurey and Curly are youthful, yes—but the whole show has that quality. It’s as though the two still-young authors were holding hands, hesitating, deciding whether or not to go out on the dance floor. As we know, they danced together for the next 16 years.
BR: Do you have any favorite moments from this musical?
TC: The song “All Er Nuthin’ ” always delights me. And of course, “Surrey,” which is such a wonderful song to act because it’s about so much more than a horse and buggy. And the scene in the smokehouse, which seems to come out of nowhere, thrillingly ratchets up the character of Curly as he confronts Jud.
BR: How do you like the 1955 film version?
TC: It ages well. It’s a bit stagey, but it’s interestingly directed by Fred Zinnemann, and Shirley Jones and Gordon McRae are perfectly fine.
BR: Whenever we talk, I feel I know Richard Rodgers because you knew his daughter Mary so well.
TC: She had some great stories about seeing the original production when she was 12. The morning after Oklahoma! opened, she asked her mother, “Who’s more famous? Irving Berlin or Daddy?” Mother Dorothy replied: “Before last night, Mr. Berlin. Now
it’s your father.” Mary was a superb critic. When she saw Molly Smith’s production with me at Arena Stage, she marveled at how good Hammerstein’s script is. And she was totally connected to her father’s music: At Trevor Nunn’s production, she identified an errant note in the title song—a D-flat instead of a D—which I can assure you was corrected the next day!
BR: Why should we be interested in this musical 75 years later?
TC: Because the characters are examined as carefully as they would be in a play; there are timeless principles of craftsmanship in this work. And because these characters are going through things we all go through. It’s about two young people growing up and finding their way to each other—taking the next step in life.
As you may have heard, there's a big new film musical coming out at Christmas about circus showman extraordinaire P.T. Barnum. Hugh Jackman stars. But nearly 40 years ago, the great Broadway composer Cy Coleman beat Hollywood to the punch with Barnum, his stage musical starring Jim Dale and co-written with Michael Stewart.
Coleman and Stewart's show was ambitious -- Barnum's biography was told in the form of a three-ring circus -- so to raise money, the songwriters set out across New York playing their score and telling the story in backers' auditions held in lots of Upper East Side apartments. Well, TMTP gained access to an extremely rare tape of one of those backers' auditions -- and for fans of musical theater, it's irresistible stuff. Coleman and Stewart and in top form with a marvelous collection of songs. The potential investors loved the team -- and in this exciting CD, you can hear exactly what they heard in one of those lavishly appointed living rooms.
Release Date: September 8, 2018
Available at Amazon.com and iTunes.
The only archival recording of the groundbreaking musical Shuffle Along won the 2017 Grammy Award for Best Album Notes!
1921’s all-black musical comedy, Shuffle Along, was the most successful Broadway show of its time. The score contained the future standards “I’m Just Wild About Harry” and “Love Will Find a Way.” It marked the emergence of a new black musical theater, and desegregated theaters in New York and across the country.
The new Broadway musical inspired by Shuffle Along opened to rave reviews with Tony Award-winning stars such as Audra McDonald and Brian Stokes Mitchell. Alongside the new production, Harbinger Records offers the only available archival recording of the groundbreaking musical.
Learn more here!
To order your copy today, click here.
To read Talkin’ Broadway‘s review of the album, click here.
The Musical Theater Project's authors include Joanna Hunkins & Heather Meeker, both long time theater advocates and enthusiasts.