Hello again, fans at home listening from your phonographs! Today the Record Cabaret is on a small little stretch of 28th Street in New York City between 5th and 6th avenues. The locals call it Tin Pan Alley.
It may not look like much, but this little stretch of road is home to a handful of publishers which are in this narrator's humble opinion, at the cutting edge of American music!
We're talking Ragtime here, Cakewalk, Vaudeville's finest, Jig Bands, and all manner of crazy new melodies and beats that seem like they're trying to break out of the time and measure that hold them to the beat.
And already this little side street is becomming a musical Mecca as aspiring young writers, musicians, and composers ply their wares hoping to make a name for themselves. A few find work as "pluggers", local slang for the pianists and singers who play the songs for the company to promote sheet music sales. I spoke just today with one young plugger named George Gershwin, a pianist of incredible talent whose fingers dance across the keys like chorus girls or ballerinas and whose grasp of music borders on the divine. Seems a waste to have him playing other people's tunes for pennies, but hey, I betcha we'll be hearing from this guy in the future.
In the mean time, let us take a gander at some of the fine folks whose music I'll be recording for you tonight. First off the plate is the fabulous high-stepping Bert Williams , a Negro gentleman who is attracting great reknown on the Vaudeville stage, ironically for his Blackface routines. Now I won't bore you all again with my thoughts on the whole Blackface craze, as loyal listeners know all too well my radical thoughts on that score, but Bert Williams is the real deal none the less. Here's one of his more famous works, The Moon Shines on the Moonshine:
Wasn't that a fun little rag? Mr. Williams is also a good friend of famous moving picture performer W.C. Fields, no small fan of the moonshine himself! If you haven't seen one of Mr. Fields' "flicker picks", I suggest you see him for yourself in your local "flicker" cinema. His new short The Pool Sharks is a lot of fun, I hear.
Yes, I'm running into a lot of good folks here in this center of talent. Music writers and promoters Joseph Howard & Ida Emerson, who have agreed to put me in contact with their distributer, are just two of them. So with luck, more and more of you fine folks might soon be hearing my records. But my record is running out of groove, so I'll leave you tonight with directions for a Bronx Cocktail (a little twist on the Martini!) and a popular song Howard & Emerson wrote and put out right here in Tin Pan Alley, "Hello! Ma Baby!" It's invocation of the telephone as an instrument of love is a fitting metaphore for the way our new technology pulls our large world together in new ways. I only wish I could show you some of the beautiful images of the people and places I've seen in my wanderings of the country to go with this lovely tune.
[image from thehoochlife.com]
Shake well over ice, strain into a cocktail glass, garnish with an orange slice.
And with that, goodnight, folks! Stop by your record store next month for the next Record Cabaret!
1 - Bert Williams' great high-stepping routine was the inspiration for a certain singing, high-stepping frog from the famous "One Froggy Evening" cartoon by Warner Brothers. When Dave Chappell famously derided the frog for being a Blackface stereotype he was right...in an ironic way.