Max Miller is a long-forgotten Chicago piano man (and vibraphoneman) from the 1940s and 50s. Virtually everything he ever recorded and released came out in the 50s, and he wasn’t particularly prolific. Besides one album for Columbia in 1951, Piano Moods CL-6175, he released a handful of interesting and adventurous singles on a couple tiny Chicago 78rpm labels: L.I.F.E. and Gold Seal. And those singles sold very few copies, so finding any of his sides is rare. I have four of his L.I.F.E. 78 rpm singles and they all show a musician influenced by the jazz sounds of players like Dizzy Gillespie and Sidney Bechet, and also classical music giants, like Stravinsky and Bartok. He had a long career and played with the likes of Bechet, Coleman Hawkins, Chubby Jackson, and even played vibes with Benny Goodman for a spell.

Miller lived a long, interesting life, and eventually even opened up his own music club in 1956, “Max Miller’s Scene”, on the 2100 N. Clark block of Lincoln Park, on the exact site of the 1929 Valentine’s Day Massacre!

“(Jump for Al Benson) Lumbar Ganglion Jump” is a quartet recording from 1950 with his regular band during that time, and boy do they pop out a doozy of jazz jump:

Miller, piano

Earl Backus, guitar

Remo Belli (founder of Remo drum heads), drums

George Stahl, bass

 

 

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Yesari Asim Arsoy (Bey), born in 1900 in present-day Drama, Macedonia, was a legendary composer and singer of Turkish folk, classical and pop music. In his childhood, because of his strong, beautiful voice, he was a muezzin, which was the person who announced the Islamic call to prayer twice a day. From 1929 until his death in 1992, he composed and recorded about 300 songs. Arsoy is regarded as a very important musician because he innovated the singing style, lyricism, diction and songwriting approach of popular Turkish music of the 1930s and 40s.

Here he sings the self-penned duet “Kadinlar Erkekler”, “Men and Women” in English, with another famous Istanbul-based singer (and cinema star), Madame Mahmure Hanim. From the 1920s through the 1950s, she was very well-known in Turkey and in Anatolian culture around the world, recording many Turkish folk and pop sides and also appearing in over 30 films.

Besides the vocal duo, the accompaniment I hear is an oud, extra male and female voices, and violins, with one of the violins typically doubling and/or harmonizing the singing melody.

 

 

 

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Pastora Pavón Cruz, best known as La Niña de Los Peines (“the Girl of the Combs”), was born in Sevilla, Spain in 1890 and is probably the most important flamenco singer of the 20th century. She never learned to read or write, but began singing at 8 years old and was a prodigy. She was already celebrated in her teens and came to be regarded as a genius of many Spanish song-forms, or “palos”, including: tangos, tientos, malagueñas, tarantas, cartageneras, granaínas, peteneras, and the bambera. Cruz has been compared to historical illuminators of music like Bach, and her mark on Spanish cultural history is indelible.

In 2010, UNESCO declared flamenco one of the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity; the contribution of La Niña de Los Peines undoubtedly playing a large part in this distinction.

Here she sings an absolutely haunting “saeta”, a revered style of Spanish religious song, here simply titled “Saetas”, and she is joined by cornets, trumpets and a tambourine player. Stark and striking, her voice so thick and impassioned, this kinda of performance slows down time with it’s gravity and almost certainly evokes mortality. This is one of the great songs of all time, and I am so lucky to have found an impeccably clean copy of this Columbia-reissued classic.

 

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Jacqueline Francois was one of the greatest singers and interpreters of French song. There are so many classic recordings, and some of the repertoire is considered cabaret. She exemplified a certain kind of charming, classy diva and was popular from her very first singles, and a global star a few years later. Born Jacqueline Guillemautot in 1922, she had a very long life in singing, recording countless, mostly French-penned, songs. Her voice, a rich alto with a ton of character and a certain smokiness throughout her range, is one of my favorite voices of all time. The feel of her voice on the microphone is something so soothing but commanding, hypnotic but laid-back.

“Mélancolie” (Melancholy) is a haunting, lesser known number which was written by the famous songwriting duo Al. Romans & Pierre Dudan. Recorded in 1951 for French Polydor, it features Jo Boyer and His Orchestra (who also worked with greats like Dizzy Gillespie and Django Reinhardt) and Francois’ mesmerizing voice singing the lonesome lyric:                              (English translation is below)

Mélancolie un jour s’achève,
Mélancolie on n’y peut rien.
Chaque jour dans la fumée et dans l’alcool, on noie ses
rêves,
Seul, jusqu’au matin…
Et chaque nuit, ça recommence
Pour torturer le coeur trop lourd,
Le cafard dans la fumée et dans l’alcool, mène la danse
Jusqu’au jour.
Demain y aura d’ l’amour et d’ la lumière,
Peut-être bien, ça m’est égal…
Barman jusqu’au matin, remplis mon verre,
Je veux rêver que j’ai moins mal.
Mélancolie… tu nous enchaînes,
Plus fortement qu’un grand amour,
Un beau soir dans la fumée et dans l’alcool, on noie ses
peines

Melancholy one day ends,
Melancholy can’t be helped.
Every day in smoke and alcohol, we drown our
dreams,
Alone, until the morning…
And every night, it starts again
To torture the heavy heart,
The pointless depression in the smoke and in the alcohol, leads the dance
Until the day is over.
Tomorrow there will be love and light,
Maybe I don’t care…
Bartender till morning, fill my drink,
I want to dream that I have less pain.
Melancholy… you chain us,
Stronger than a great love,
One fine evening in the smoke and in the alcohol, we drown its pains

 

 

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Born Alexandra Nicholas Badran in 1924, in Mersin, Turkey, to Lebanese parents, she changed her name to Nour el Houda (“Light of Guidance”) just as she was becoming a famous actress and singing star. During her long career, which began at ten years old, El Houda recorded a huge chunk of classical, religious and popular Arabic songs and is considered one of the greatest Lebanese singers. For her tone, intonation, power and control, she was hailed as “the Girl with the Golden Voice” and was a cultural sensation for almost 30 years.

“Ala Oum el Manadili” is mostly a big, insistent groove and melody which eventually open up into a slow, bare, and moody bridge section that allows you to really hear her incredible vocal talent, before taking it back to the top for a fierce finale. Besides the lead voice and backing singers, the instruments I hear are the mijwiz (a reed clarinet), tablah, the buzuq (strings, long-fretted neck and a tone like a viola), and handclaps. The arrangement and the sounds are pretty typical for middle 1950s, popular Arabic recordings.

This is a song on two sides, so I edited them together in Logic Pro.

 

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Pablo Rodriguez Lozada, better known as “Tito” Rodriguez (“tito” meaning “uncle” and sometimes “giant” in Puerto Rican Spanish) was a massively popular bandleader, singer and arranger in the 1950s when the mambo and cha-cha craze was at its height in the U.S. During this era he was just about as renowned and requested as the great Tito Puente, another legendary timbalero, who was also Rodriguez’s rival in the salsa and Latin scenes of the 50s and 60s.

This side, “Desert Dance”, written by R. K. Mozian, is a characteristic mover-and-groover from his repertoire that features flawless execution from the horns and rhythm section, particularly the pianist who I can’t seem to identify, and of course Señor Rodriguez’s timbales sound crisp and solidly “in the pocket.” Such a hidden classic.

 

 

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This is a really swanky, swingin’ little instrumental number from 1955 on the TEEN label; it features piano and a drummer playing a small kit setup that includes one or two tambourines. It pulses along like a good-time get-together with the right party crowd, full of light-hearted merriment and boozy smiles all around.

“Dizzy Brown” was one of the many aliases of pianist, bandleader, orchestra leader, record producer and record company executive Bernie Lowe. He founded TEEN Records that same year, and also the Cameo label in 1956, both which were dedicated to rock, soul, doo-wop and folk rock groups. He also wrote or co-wrote many well-known hits in the 1950s and 60s, including Elvis’ “(Let Me Be) Your Teddy Bear”, Charlie Grace’s “Ninety-Nine Ways”, “Teen Age Prayer” by Gale Storm, and Chubby Checker’s “That’s The Way It Goes”, as well as many Bobby Rydell tunes that charted. Lowe was quite important to the growth of rock-n-roll during this era just as it was entering the true mainstream of American music.

 

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