©Sidney Eden, 2002.
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Singer

WHEN I WAS 2 OR 3 YEARS-OLD I'd stand on the dinner table and sing PLAYMATES in perfect pitch. I've the acetate made before 1940 to prove it. My mother had a sweet voice and lullabied me with excellent songs like MY WONDERFUL ONE and GOOD NIGHT, SWEETHEART. My sister knows the lyrics to every song written, is a frustrated lyricist and taught me my second song, JEEPERS CREEPERS. Johnny Mercer was the first singer I was conscious of outside my family. The next was Crosby, not that I appreciated him until years later. I liked Sinatra from the first time I heard him; listened to the HIT PARADE, knew all the songs. I began going to the legitimate theater (age 11) with a tired Jake Shubert tab show of BLOSSOM TIME about poor Franz Schubert unfinishing his symphony (how could we know he was dying of syphilis?, this was 1947) but it made a lasting impression. I took singing lessons at the Chicago Musical College, also appearing in plays. By then I'd seen many of the great conductors, orchestras, instrumentalists and singers at Orchestra Hall and Ravinia, most of the repertoire of the NYC Opera, much of the Met, including the entire RING and DIE MEISTERSINGER, the entire repertoire of the ballet companies of the day and each and every Gilbert & Sullivan operetta as presented by D'Oyly Carte, sitting in the lofty third balcony of the old Great Northern. Between ushering at the Civic Opera House 3 to 5 times a week and spending all of my money on theater and concert tickets, you'd have to have been a professional critic to have seen all that I saw at 15-16 years-old which included Harold Lang in Jule Styne's revival of Rodgers and Hart's PAL JOEY, Menotti's THE CONSUL and Bobby Breen's revival of PORGY & BESS (the latter so many times I knew some staging by heart). Had no pretensions about becoming a singer (though I was a soloist in school choir) but knew singing was important for an actor. Paul Robeson was my favorite singer. I wanted a similar deep bass voice and was delighted when my vocal coach told me I wasn't a tenor. Was one of one hundred voices when Bernstein conducted Mahler's Resurrection Symphony with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus. There were auditions and 3 weeks of rehearsals I'll never forget. Now, the more cacophonous the music the better I liked it. Bartok, Berg, Schoenberg, Hindemith and Bliss became favorites and I gobbled-up Stravinsky while my high school music teacher said she wanted to jump out the window each time she heard The Rite of Spring.

AND THEN I HEARD JAZZ! Never pleased with my voice I began digging other singers who lacked legit chops; Fats Waller, Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, Nellie Lutcher, Rose Murphy, Al Hibbler, Hoagy Carmichael, Ishkabibble (with Kay Kyser) and Skinnay Innis (with Hal Kemp) all had eccentric, serio-comic deliveries and they acted the songs. I'd already seen B-Fine Eckstine with Duke Ellington (1945). Every young singer wanted a deep baritone like Eckstine's. Ella's 10 LP with Ellis Larkins was influential and I saw Slim Gaillard as many times as I saw Art Tatum because he was opposite the Maestro on the bill at the old Blue Note. Chicago was wide-open and I was a serious-looking 15 year-old. Long-playing records were revolutionizing the music business and I was working in the big record store in town, behind the Chicago Theater. Crazy as I was about Lee Wiley's records on Columbia, as a treat for my loyalty, Nat Hale, of that firm, took me next-door, i.e., backstage to meet Louis Armstrong in his dressing room. At this time (1952), I thought Fred Astaire and Judy Garland were the greatest interpreters of American songs. Because of LP's I discovered Chevalier, Trenet, Piaf and Sablon, listened to Harold Arlen (singing), Kaye Ballard and David Craig on Caedmon, George Byron (very legit and well-articulated), Martha Raye (very underrated), Jackie & Roy with Charlie Ventura. I'd been listening to Nat Cole all along, but only with the Trio. In years to come, other singers delighted me and, though there's not room enough to list them all, Tony Bennett, Bobby Short, Mabel Mercer, Sarah Vaughan, Bobby Dorough, Shirley Horn, Matt Dennis, Bobby Troup, Ivie Anderson, Blossom Dearie, Audrey Morris, Mildred Bailey, Dave Frishberg, Jerri Southern and the incomparable Meredith d'Ambrosia top the list. Then, there's the great Joe Derise who taught me so much about singing and liked my sound enough that we cut some sides in 1968 with Zoot Sims, Clark Terry, Jimmy Raney, Mel Lewis, Richard Davis with Stosh McGlaughlin on piano doing the excellent arrangements. The 1984 sessions with Joe Albany are the final recorded legacy of this oft-mentioned, rarely-recorded, genuinely seminal pianist who died 4 years later and had the unfair distinction of being fired by Billie Holiday, Charlie Parker, Lester Young and Charles Mingus, the probable reason being that he played too much. Joe could be self-effacing to the point of feigning stupidity; he was wont to play the fool. This was a mask, for he was truly possessed of (by) a far-reaching intellect. The subject of two documentary films focusing on his drug addiction (and from which he received bobkes) he quoted from Shakespeare's SONNETS, read Proust and knew a zillion tunes and who wrote them. Joe was brilliant, whatever his faults. When he died, major newspapers on both coasts and in-between printed extensive obituaries. What they should have given him was $100,000 a year and the Presidential Medal of Honor for he was the major link between Nat Cole and the Teddy Wilson style and Bud Powell and Bebop and he died broke.

Our goal was to form a true classical duo, a 50-50 give and take which might sound foreign to devotees of Doris Day (even Ella) with Andre Previn, or Tony Bennett with Bill Evens. Having taught myself to play piano in recent years, I accompany myself on the 21st Century sessions of THEN & NOW and I'm joined on three tunes by Dave Schnitter, Virtuoso tenor saxophonist. Schnitter made his debut with Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers and has since become an internationally-recognized masater with many CD's and records to his credit. I recorded ALONE WITH COLE PORTER & OTHERS in the summer of 2005 and am working on volume 2 of same as well as a cabaret act. - S.E.

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