Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Tell me about Mabel Mercer

Playing right now: Mabel Mercer - Midnight at Mabel Mercer's
A few years ago, Mabel passed away and there was an article about her in the New York Times. She was a really popular dinner club singer, a contemporary of Bobby Short (with whom she recorded at least one album). The article said that a lot of people hated her singing voice, including - I think - Cole Porter. He couldn't stand her, and told her so.
I'm not sure why, but after reading the article, I started to wonder if she was on Mr. Rogers when I was a kid. I remembered seeing a lady singing for King Friday, and one of the songs she did was "Lazy Afternoon." For a couple years, I've come across her albums at Jerry's and every time I'd look at them and think that some day I had to get one. I bought this one back around November.
I'm still not sure if she was the woman on Mr. Rogers, but she does sing "Lazy Afternoon" here. That song occupies a weird space in my head because as a kid, I used to listen to a record by a folk group called the Serendipity Singers (you know the New Main Street Singers in A Mighty Wind? Same idea. A million members, too many guitars, too many big, toothy smiles.) and they covered "Lazy Afternoon." So did - at the other end of the musical spectrum - Cecil Taylor in his early days. And Grant Green, who played it in 5/4. (I have the latter 2 versions on their Mosaic boxset collections.)
Anyway, it still very well might have been Mabel on the show.
As far as the album goes, it's funny because sometimes I listen to it and she sounds like a matronly lady with a warbly voice. She's not a jazz singer, certainly not like Billie Holiday who used any technical shortcomings to her advantage. This is music from a different era, when people would go to supper clubs and listen with rapt attention to singers. (The liner notes talk about Joe DiMaggio "and his former bride" once being in the audience.) No one has the attention span for that anymore. Or the scratch to spend a night out on the town that way. And no one wants to shut up for that long.

This morning I finally finished what seemed like a marathon of CD reviews that have been hanging over me for a couple weeks. Four for JazzTimes (filed on Monday), two for Harp (finished this morning). Yes, I got a few more things in Harp! Ed Masley isn't stealing everything from me. (Just kidding, Ed.)
I also had do an interview on Saturday for an article that was due Monday morning. It's for a new magazine called Table. It's a local, really nice looking quarterly about food.


Since I had yesterday off from work and the Harp reviews were short, I didn't do any writing during the day. Instead I spent the morning cleaning a batch of 45s that I picked up a couple weeks ago at a flea market. While that was going on, I listened to the Decemberists' The Crane Wife CD which I picked up last week. In all that time, I hadn't had a chence to listen to it. It sat on the kitchen table for a week!

At first it sounded kind of ...................normal. I was expecting and hoping for something a little weirder. But with each song it started sounding a little better. This is a typical thing for me. It takes me a while to get used to it. Several albums didn't grab me until I hit side two, at which point I started reevaluting side one. Have to spin this CD again. Maybe there will even be time to sit and follow along with the lyric sheet.
Yesterday's listening also including Judy Henske's High Flying Bird, which I bought the same day as Mabel. I love Judy. She has such a great voice; a real belter.

On Saturday, I went to my first estate sale in a while. There were a bunch of 45s. (What is it with people in Squirrel Hill getting all these promo 45s?) I walked out with 23 of them, some as curiousities, some as genuine "finds." The biggest surprise was a record by Michael Blessing. If the name doesn't sound familiar, it's Mike Nesmith's pre-Monkees stage name. According to the Goldmine book, a near mint copy of it is worth $150. And this one isn't too too far removed from that.
Not that I expect to get three figures for it. But I should be able to make back the $5.75 I paid for all 23 discs.
It's time like that that I remember, yes, sometimes it's worth it to get up at 7 on a Saturday.

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