Route 66 Song Of The Week anniversary edition:  Teri Thornton Sings Open Highway

Hello again, fellow road music lovers!  This being the end of the week of Route 66’s 89th birthday, we thought we’d treat you to something special:  a rendition of Nelson Riddle’s classic “Route 66 Theme” sung with lyrics.  To our knowledge, there is only one vocalist who ever recorded Riddle’s theme:  the late Teri Thornton.  It was the title track to her third solo album, Teri Thornton Sings Open Highway.  And courtesy of our audio clip below, you get to hear it!  (Sorry, there is no music video for this track.)  It has that just-right rhythm for road music, with Riddle’s swinging, sophisticated style – the epitome of 1960s cool.

One unabashed admirer remarked that Teri Thornton was probably one of the best-kept secrets of her time.  I heartily agree.  While in her prime, Thornton was no less than Ella Fitzgerald’s favorite female vocalist (that’s what Ella told Down Beat magazine) – and that’s really saying something.  Famed saxophonist Cannonball Adderley called her “the greatest voice since Ella Fitzgerald.”  Trumpeter Clark Terry worked with Teri on several projects early in her career.  Even better, the liner notes for this original vinyl LP album, her third and the only one for Columbia Records, were written by another jazz great and fellow Columbia artist – Tony Bennett.  Here’s what he had to say:  “Teri sings with life, feeling, intensity, intelligence, and taste.  She’s the first singer in years who doesn’t have any gimmicks, any tricks.  Instead, she’s endowed with perfect pitch, a three-octave range, solid training, and years of invaluable experience.  All this has made her create here a great album.”

With that intro, she sounds almost like Sarah Vaughan, doesn’t she?  But Thornton’s life and career, which began decades later in the history of jazz than “Sassy” Vaughan’s did, took a vastly different turn.

Teri Thornton (photo courtesy of Verve Records, Universal Record Group)

Teri Thornton  (photo courtesy of Verve Records, Universal Record Group)

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Route 66 Song Of The Week:  Louis Armstrong’s “Gut Bucket Blues”

[Due to technical difficulties, this article didn’t post on Friday they way it should have, which means that Louis Armstrong’s birthday was last week.  Ooops; my bad.  Sincere apologies for the delay.]

Happy birthday, Louis Armstrong!  This is the birthday week of one of the greatest figures in jazz, if not the greatest.  Born August 4, 1901, Armstrong would have been 114 years old this week.  Louis had always claimed his birth date to be July 4, 1900 and proudly celebrated his natals on the nation’s birthday, but recent research into New Orleans baptismal records indicates that he was really born 13 months later; in fact, he may not have known the correct date himself.  Jazz, on the other hand, may have been born in New Orleans among the whorehouses and saloons of Storyville, but it grew up in Chicago – during the Roaring Twenties – and the young Louis Armstrong was its greatest co-creator, performer and exponent.  He did that here, right in the middle of the Prohibition years, even as Route 66 was being born.

Known in his youth as ‘Dippermouth’ or ‘Satchelmouth’ for his big embouchure (the way a trumpeter’s or trombonist’s lips and facial muscles wrap around the stem of a brass instrument) and his even bigger smile, later as just ‘Satchmo’ or ‘Pops,’ or just plain Louie, Armstrong was a seminal figure in both Chicago and New York in the mid-to-late part of the decade.  The conscious evolution of his own playing style set the direction and shaped the development of jazz during its formative years and heavily affected other jazz musicians for decades to come.  Even now, Armstrong’s music remains strongly influential: nobody becomes a jazz musician or jazz vocalist of any worth without knowing and being influenced by the music of Louis Armstrong, even if indirectly.  The innovations he brought to jazz make it impossible to do otherwise.

What we have for you today is a recording that helped launch that big change in the direction of jazz:  a classic 12-bar blues that Armstrong improvised on the spot during a recording session for Okeh Records in Chicago on November 12, 1925, almost a year to the day before Route 66 came into existence in November 1926:  “Gut Bucket Blues.”  Banjoist Johnny St. Cyr described it as “a low down blues.”  In fact, we have two takes of the same song, recorded 32 years apart, for comparison – the original 1925 recording with a 24-year-old Armstrong and his newly formed Hot Five, and a 1957 version with his All Stars, made for the vinyl LP album set Satchmo: A Musical Autobiography on Decca Records (the latter has been remastered and reissued on CD within the last decade).

Louis Armstrong in 1953

Louis Armstrong in 1953  (Photo via of Wikimedia Commons)

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Route 66 Song Of The Week:  Natalie Cole

Howdy, road music lovers!  We’re overdue for an installment of our favorite road anthem, and this week it’s Natalie Cole’s turn.  Given that her dad, Nat ‘King’ Cole, made this tune a big hit only a few weeks after Bobby Troup and his first wife Cynthia wrote it while driving down said route on the way to L.A. (Cynthia suggested the title), it seems only appropriate to feature the lovely Ms. Natalie right before the July 4th holiday.  Nat and his King Cole Trio were playing in L.A. at the time (yes, now you know how he got his nickname); before that, he and the trio spent a while making music in Chicago, a city to which Nat and his family had moved when he was four years old and to which he often returned.

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Route 66 Song Of The Week:  Nat King Cole’s new double album is coming out June 3rd

Kudos to Ron Warnick over at Route 66 News for spotting this announcement last week on Yahoo! Finance (riiiight; where else would Universal Music put a new album announcement?  Not like you’d be thinking Billboard magazine or anything …).  It seems Universal Music Enterprises, which owns the old Capitol Records archive, found some unreleased tracks recorded by Nat Cole at a Chicago session circa 1955.  Or rather, Alex Luke, former EVP of A&R at Capitol Records and a big Nat King Cole fan, spent two years working in the Capitol vaults trying to locate missing master tapes, combing through photos, union records, paperwork and tapes to find this material, which evidently got misplaced at about the time Capitol ws moving into its (then) brand new Capitol Tower at Hollywood and Vine in Los Angeles.

The search paid off:  the targeted session tapes are still missing, but the unreleased tracks and alternate takes that Luke found were golden.  The standard edition of the new release will hav 22 classic Cole performances, whereas the two-CD deluxe edition — that’s the one you want, folks — features 14 rare or previously unreleased tracks, including four never-before-heard vintage songs and previously unissued alternate takes of Nat Cole standards.  They’ll all be downloadable, of course.

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Route 66 Song Of The Week twofer:  it’s Ray Charles and Kevin Mahogany!


Hello again, fellow roadies!  It’s 68 bloody degrees F. here right now and sunny in Chicago — HELL yeah! — and it promises to be a high of 75 degrees tomorrow.  Excellent!  Must do something to celebrate that, so boy, have we got a treat for you today.  It’s a road music double-header.  Only the best from vocalists Ray Charles and Kevin Mahogany.  Can you say encoreOui, mes amis!

The clip from the versatile Mr. Charles is from the year 2000, by which time Ray’s voice wasn’t the best.  All those years of smoking had caught up with him.  The live performance is in Paris.  Ray made it to the gig at the Grand Olympia, but alas, three-quarters of his band was still in L.A., as in on another continent due to travel problems.  So what does a veteran performer do?  Why, he improvises like any a jazz or blues artist would.  He took a tune from his early playbook, when he was still trying to sound like Nat King Cole so that he could get nightclub bookings, and used it to give the audience a performance that felt like a small, intimate jazz club rather than a huge venue.  Only now he really sounds like himself, not Cole, particularly in the phrasing and expression.  There’s no mistaking who it is, even though at the beginning he starts with Nat’s classic piano lead-in.  It’s like a musical inside joke.  Needless to say, he wowed the crowd.

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Route 66 Song Of The Week: Martin Denny with Nelson Riddle’s theme and more

Great road trips require three things:  a great road, a great car, and excellent road music.  We already have the first – Route 66, the Mother Road! – and we can’t help you with the vehicle (muscle car, Mustang, or Mini – that’s up to you), but road music is another matter.

It’s gone cloudy and cool now here in Chicago at dinnertime, but earlier today the sunny weather was a whisper of spring.  Not a promise yet, mind you, just a hint.  The kind of mild, windless day that, despite temperatures in the low-to-mid 40s F., makes you want to roll out that road car (as opposed to the commuter car or family van) and go Somewhere.  And that always makes me think of Nelson Riddle’s great theme for the Route 66 TV series.  The show itself got a bit dated-looking over the intervening years; it’s obvious now that it’s a period piece, if only from the black-and-white episodes.  But the theme song … oh my, that one’s timeless.  Makes you feel like moving.  And so we have a jazz trio rendition for you, courtesy of Martin Denny.


But wait:  one good road song deserves another, and your road trip playlist ideally should be more diverse than just 6,600 versions of the Bobby Troup anthem or 66 reissues of Nelson Riddle.  Continue reading

Route 66 Song of the Week and more: Mel Torme

Hey y’all, it’s Mardi Gras weekend, and I tried to find something appropriate for our weekly tune, but no such luck.  I couldn’t even find something appropriate in the videos from the recent Elmhurst College Jazz Festival.  So the least I can do is give you something that really swings hot:   Mel Torme Live at the Maisonette.  And I can remind you that today at 4 p.m. at Morton College Library in Cicero is the book signing for the new Arcadia Publishing volume on the Hawthorne Works.  Go to Building B at 3801 S. Central Avenue and ask at the circulation desk to be directed to the exact room.

As for me:  I’ll be there, but I’ll be thinking about Mardi Gras and all that jazz and listening to my 7-hour New Orleans playlist.  Mel Torme is a good way to start that, and he’s particularly good in this recording.  I should warn you, however, that this YouTube video has both the regular-speed version (played in B-flat, with Mel scatting up the tune and the band in fierce shape) and a slower version in G (basically, the video is replayed at a slower speed).  Why did the contributor do this??  Your guess is as good as mine.  I prefer the energy of the original recording, with Mel in his natural tenor, but you may like him as an ersatz baritone.  Who knows.  Here you go.  And laissez les bons tons rouler, mes amis!



Until next time, music fans!
Your own DJ SweetMarie