Script for February 2003, QMH:
Duke Ellington Orchestra-Take the A-Train (1941)
Welcome to Queer Voices on KPFT and this segment is called Queer Music Heritage. Im JD Doyle and Im here on the 4th Monday of each month to bring you an hour devoted to our cultures music. Many of you may have been surprised to hear me start the show with the Duke Ellington Orchestra playing one of his classics, "Take the A-Train." Well, this is going to be a very different edition of Queer Music Heritage, as it will focus entirely on jazz music by gay & lesbian artists. And, no, Duke Ellington was not gay, and I'll tell you why I used that song to start the show a little later, when I do a special feature on one of the most talented gay artists in the history of jazz.
Now, there's a different element of jazz, as compared to the other types of music I usually play, and that is as a genre it's not really known for songs that are lyrically gay, and those of you who have heard my show more than once know that I love songs that are Out and that's probably what I play over 90% of the time. But the field of jazz, ignoring the fact that it is heavily made up of instrumentals, is not known for out songs at all. I don't think this is because there were not gay & lesbian artists performing or composing jazz, but that the jazz world itself was perhaps more homophobic, or perceived that their listeners were. This may also stem from jazz being initially and still strongly a black art form, and as such brought with it the cultural emphasis on machismo. So, it's been kind of a don't ask, don't tell area of music.
It's really only been in about the last six or eight years that there's been any jazz recordings that I know of that have been lyrically gay, and I'm going to start off with one by Patricia Barber. She's currently perhaps the best known openly lesbian jazz performer, and she's been putting out critically acclaimed albums since 1989. Her seventh CD, called "Verse," is her latest and the first with all original songs, all written by her. But I'm playing one from her album "Nightclub," from 2000. You'll know the song, it's "Bye Bye Blackbird." And I'm following it with a song by the David Downing Trio.
Barber - bye bye blackbird (2000)
Following Patricia Barber was the David Downing Trio, with one called "Oh, Boy," from the 1994 album "Last Night, Last Call." That's a wonderful album and Downing's singing comes across often smooth enough to match Mel Torme, but with a sexier, young man's approach. He was nominated for a GLAMA award for the album, and unfortunately it's been his only release.
Up next is a new artist, and his first album, from 2001, was good enough to win for him the Outmusic Award for Outstanding Songwriter, which is even more notable in that the judges gave it to an instrumental album. His name is Drew Paralic, and I have a clip of him talking about the title track, "Too Little, Too Late."
Paralic - too little, too late (2001)
After Drew Paralic I played Lea DeLaria singing "How High The Moon." That was from an excellent compilation album from 1998 called "Fruit Cocktail." DeLaria's a multi-talented performer. She was initially known for her stand-up comedy, and indeed her first two albums were comedy albums, but her latest album is all jazz. In between she's been in several movies, such as "Edge of Seventeen" and "Homo Heights," and on Broadway in "On the Town." I saw her do a terrific job several years ago in an Off-Broadway production of "The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told."
These days jazz is not only being performed by Americans, and my next artist proves that easily. Her name is Sandra Cartolari and she lives in Italy. Her first album, from 1999, is called "Two Lips," and I got to meet her that year when I attended the GLAMA awards. Besides being very talented musically, she's one of those people who you meet and you just like them immediately, and everyone I know whose met her says the same thing. Here's an interview clip of Sandra, first telling how to pronounce her name and giving the name of her album, and then a description of it.
She also described what it's like to her being an out lesbian performer in Italy.
Finally she was asked what her greatest hope was for her music
From her CD "Two Lips" here's Sandra Cartolari singing "Gui Gui"
Sandra Cartolari - gui gui (1999)
That was Sandra Cartolari from her album "Two Lips."
The next song is "These Foolish Things" by Billy Tipton. As a jazz artist Billy's a self-made man. It's from the 1956 album "Billy Tipton Plays Hi-Fi On Piano"
Billy Tipton - these foolish things (1956)
Of course when I said Billy Tipton was a self-made man, it was with tongue in cheek, but I didn't want to tell more for fear distracting from the music. Billy Tipton is much more famous now because of who he wasn't. He had regional success in the 40s & 50s as a jazz artist, and did not obtain world wide notice until his death at age 74 in 1989, when it was discovered Billy Tipton was a woman. Billy had fooled the world for over 50 years. No notes were left as to a motive, but most think it was because there was so much discrimination against women playing jazz in the 40s that Billy felt the only way to fulfill his love for the music, and to be hired to play, was to pose as a man. I featured Billy Tipton on my August 2000 show, so if interested you can check my website for a lot more informatiion.
Up next is something a little different. It's poetry. Now before you start groaning, this is very special poetry, because it's by Langston Hughes. Hughes was probably the most celebrated poet of the Harlem Renaissance, and from the 20s up until his death in 1967 he was a prolific writer and lecturer, whose work helped fight racism and instill black pride in America. There's been a lot of controversy about whether or not he was gay, and my internet research uncovered about an equal number of opinions on either side. One thing is clear in that there were ample reasons for such a public figure as Hughes to keep his private life exactly that. The social climate in the 30s, 40s & 50s was very restrictive, and as poets rarely make any money from their craft, he had benefactors he had to be wary of offending. As it was, he was called before the McCarthy Senate Hearings concerning some of his works. So, of course today we can't be sure if Langston Hughes was gay, but I found enough discussion of it to certainly make it a good possibility.
The poem you'll hear was written in 1925 and is one of his most famous, called "Weary Blues." He recorded it as part of an album in 1958 with a jazz combo in the background, with music composed by jazz artist Leonard Feather. "Weary Blues" is also the title of the album, released on Verve in 1958, and re-released on CD in 1990.
Langston Hughes - weary blues (1958)
Langston Hughes (1902-1967)
The Weary Blues
Droning a drowsy syncopated
Thump, thump, thump,
went his foot on the floor.
Again, that was a marriage of jazz and poetry, with Langston Hughes reading his most famous work, "Weary Blues"
Mary Lofstrom QMH ID
That was jazz artist Mary Lofstom, having fun with Tammy Wynette's song "Your Good Girl's Gonna Go Bad." Before I share more of her music, this is a good time to remind you to be sure to listen to After Hours with Jimmy Carper, every Sunday morning from 1 to 4 am, on KPFT, it's Queer Radio, with attitude. Also, I invite you to check out my website, at www.queermusicheritage.com where you can view the playlist and see photos of the artists and recordings, find links to the artist websites, and hear the show anytime. Again, you're listening to my monthly segment, Queer Music Heritage, on the weekly show, Queer Voices, on KPFT, 90.1fm in Houston.
I was telling you about Mary Lofstrom. She's just released her second CD, called "Ginger Comes To Stay" and I recently had a chance to ask her a few questions. Mary, how would you describe your music to someone who's never heard it?
So, I gather it's important for you to be out as a musician?
Of what song that you've written are you the most proud?
Mary Lofstrom - ginger (2002)
How about the song "I'll Do Dot"?
Mary Lofstrom - i'll do dot
That was Mary Lofstrom. [And her album is not all skat, it also contains some beautiful ballads] And now on to one of my favorite acts. They're called Zrazy and they are a duo from Ireland comprised of Maria Walsh and Carole Nelson. I've seen them live several times and think they're great. They were at the Houston Women's Festival just last September and I never miss them, so I couldn't do a show about jazz music without playing a track from their wonderful album, "Private Wars." But first I've got an short interview clip by Carole and Maria talking about the album, and then I'll go right into my favorite of their songs, "Remember That You Did It First With Me."
Zrazy - remember that you did it first with me (2000)
Oh, I just love that song, "remember that you did it first with me" from Zrazy's "Private Wars" CD. And Zrazy is spelled z-r-a-z-y. And now our listeners are probably curious about how Zrazy got their name. Let's take a moment to hear about that.
And, now we're finally getting to the artist who really drove me to do a show just devoted to jazz. He's the reason I started the show off with Duke Ellington's recording of "Take the A Train." That song was written by a musical genius who probably most listeners have never heard of, Billy Strayhorn. Strayhorn was hired by Duke Ellington after a brief meeting during a tour, in 1939, and when he made his first visit to New York City to meet with Ellington, he wanted to impress him, so he dashed off a song using the directions the Duke had given to him, take the A train to get to harlem. For the next 29 years, until his death at age 51 in 1967, Billy Strayhorn was Ellington's arranger and collaborator and played the out-of-the-spotlight role of developing the Ellington Orchestra into a vehicle for some of the most ambitious music of the century. He was jazz's invisible man, always in Duke Ellington's shadow. But to Strayhorn this seemed to be a mutually beneficial relationship. While he didn't always receive the credit for his genius, either in royalties or publicity, he lived very well under the Duke's wing. He had made a conscious decision. He knew that in the 40s he could not be a public figure as a bandleader or composer, but in Duke's shadow, he could remain open about his homosexuality. He chose to be true to himself, remarkable given the times and that he lived in the jazz world.
I've got three songs for you to hear of Strayhorn's music. And the first one I chose has a triple gay connection. It was recorded in 1996 by jazz musician Fred Hersch on his album "Passion Flower: Fred Hersch Plays Billy Strayhorn." Hersch has been a much acclaimed artist for over 20 years. He's released 18 albums on his own, two of which were nominated for Grammys, and he's appeared as a sideman or guest soloist on over 80 other albums. He's not only openly gay, but also came out to the media in 1993 as being HIV positive. Most of his "Passion Flower" CD is instrumental, but he chose one guest vocalist, and an excellent choice it was. Andy Bey has been on the jazz scene since the 50s and the New York Times has described him as "the least known of the great jazz singers." He's been openly gay for many years, and his latest solo album came out in 2001. So, here's Andy Bey on vocals, Fred Hersch on piano, with Billy Strayhorn's "Something to Live For."
Fred Hersch & Andy Bey - something to live for (1996)
Next is a rare treat, because Billy Strayhorn released very few recordings on his own, and even fewer featured him as a vocalist. The song is one of his classics, "Lush Life," and I got it from a compilation CD of his work, also called "Lush Life," that came out on CD ten years ago. Here's Billy Strayhorn.
Billy Strayhorn - lush life (1964)
That was recorded in 1964.
I've got one more Billy Strayhorn song for you, but before we hear it, I want to thank you all for tuning into the show, and I want to acknowledge the many artists whose interview clips helped introduce their songs: Drew Paralic, Sandra Cartolari, Mary Lofstrom, and Carole Nelson and Maria Walsh of Zrazy. If you have questions or comments about any of the music Ive featured, please write me. I know I've just scratched the surface on this subject with tonight's show, but my website this month has additional information about the subject of gays & lesbians in the jazz world. It's, logically enough, at www.queermusicheritage.com. This is JD Doyle for Queer Voices on KPFT in Houston, and Ill be back on the fourth Monday of next month with another installment of Queer Music Heritage.
Closing the show is probably the first Billy Strayhorn song I liked, although I wasn't aware who the writer was when I first heard it on the radio in 1961. The version I heard was recorded by Billy Maxted & his Manhattan Jazz Band, and in northeast Ohio where I lived, it even made the top ten. Thinking about it now, it was a little incredible for a jazz song to be a hit the same week Bobby Vee had the number one song, and with Roy Orbison, Dick & Dee Dee and the Dovells fighting him for the top. But I sure didn't question it, I just knew I liked it. And although it was a classic for Duke Ellington, I still prefer the Billy Maxted version of "Satin Doll."
Billy Maxted Orchestra - satin doll (1961)
"Satin Doll" came from Billy Maxted's LP of the same name (shown to the right), but, I'm sure that wasn't Billy on the cover. The closest I found to a photo of Billy was the one seated at the piano on another of his 60s albums.He died at age 84 in 2001. No, he wasn't gay, but he did my favorite version of Billy Strayhorn's song.