Jan Lundgren (p), Chuck Berghofer (b), Joe LaBarbera (d), Sue Raney (vcl), Ralph Rainger (compositions)
Reference: FSRCD 5048
Bar code: 8427328650489
Tragically died at the age of forty-one, Ralph Rainger (1901-1942) was in his time one of Americas most admired and respected composers. A giant contributor to the Hollywood musical of the 30s, whose timeless hits include Easy Living, I Wished on the Moon, If I Should Lose You and Academy Award winner Thanks for the Memory.
The music he wrote will endure forever, but today his name is hardly recognized. For some inexplicable reason, you seldom find Rainger linked with contemporaries Harold Arlen, Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, Jimmy McHugh, Jerome kern, Cole Porter, Richard Rodgers or Harry Warren, yet his best melodies were certainly equal in calibre to those iconic figures.
This CD celebrating the composer's finest achievements should help to
redress the balance and right a patent wrong to the memory of a remarkable talent. Justice has been done by three exceptional musicians: pianist Jan Lundgren, bassist Chuck Berghofer, drummer Joe LaBarbera, and a legendary vocalist, Sue Raney, who know understand appreciate the Rainger canon.
"For years, Jack Benny opened his CBS radio and television broadcasts with "Love in Bloom." The comedian's violin butchery of his theme song became a running coast-to-coast Sunday night gag. As a result, the piece became even more famous than Bing Crosby had made it with his hit record in 1934. Generations of listeners and viewers heard Bob Hope close his NBC shows with "Thanks for the Memory," which he introduced in a movie, "The Big Broadcast of 1938." The song was inseparable from Hope's career.
Ralph Rainger, the man who wrote those songs, was a pianist and recovering lawyer from Newark, N.J., who also composed such standards as "Easy Living," "If I Should Lose You," "Here Lies Love," "Moanin' Low," "June in January," "Please" and "Blue Hawaii," most often with lyricist Leo Robin. Rainger and Robin turned out dozens of songs for Hollywood movies. They were frequently on the hit parade with Rodgers and Hart, Cole Porter and the Gershwins. George Gershwin died at age 38, Rainger at 41. But while Gershwin's fame increased after his death, Rainger's name faded.
With their beguiling melodies and challenging chord progressions, Rainger's works are frequent vehicles for improvisation. Yet, in my experience, most musicians who play those songs respond with puzzled looks when asked who wrote them. That might have been the case with bassist Chuck Berghofer, pianist Jan Lundgren, drummer Joe LaBarbera and the incomparable vocalist Sue Raney until producer Dick Bank recruited them to record the CD "The Film Music of Ralph Rainger" (Fresh Sound). Released in November, it is the first all-Rainger album since pianist Jack Fina managed to reduce Rainger's tunes to dreary cocktail music in a 1950s LP. Mr. Lundgren, a brilliant Swedish pianist, plumbs the songs' harmonic souls. He illuminates even the prosaic "Blue Hawaii," which -- to Rainger's horror -- became a huge hit in 1937. "It will disgrace us," he told Robin. "It's a cheap melody... a piece of C-."
Rainger was born Ralph Reichenthal in New York City in 1901. Shortly after his birth, his parents moved to Newark. As a teenager, the already accomplished pianist won a scholarship to the Institute of Musical Art in New York. But his parents pressured him to become a lawyer and he succumbed, joining a prominent Newark firm in 1924. For two years he stewed, at $50 a week, in a profession he loathed.
In 1926, Reichenthal took an offer of $125 a week to be half of a twin-piano team in the Broadway revue "Queen High" and said goodbye to the law. He played piano in several bands, including Paul Whiteman's, and he and fellow pianist Edgar "Cookie" Fairchild moved through a series of revues. Sensing fame in the offing, Reichenthal thought his last name was too cumbersome. He borrowed the maiden name of his new bride, the former Elizabeth Rains, and altered it to Rainger.
His big break came in 1929 with "The Little Show," starring Fred Allen, Clifton Webb and Libby Holman. He wrote a song for it and told his wife that if "Moanin' Low" wasn't a hit, he would go back to practicing law. Holman's blowsy performance of the song, with lyrics by Howard Dietz, stopped the show. Her recording of it was a sensation. Paramount Pictures soon tapped Rainger as a staff composer and paired him with Robin.
From 1932 to 1940, in their cramped office on the Paramount lot, and later at Fox, they created one hit after another. Their songs were in seven Bing Crosby pictures. The biggest name in popular music, Crosby recorded 13 Rainger-Robin songs. Billie Holiday recorded five. Viewable on YouTube is a 1933 Paramount short showing the composer in triplicate playing "Here Lies Love" on three pianos at once; Crosby and Maurice Chevalier put in cameo appearances.
On Oct. 23, 1942, Rainger boarded an American Airlines DC-3 at the Burbank airport. He was headed to New York for a meeting with a sheet-music publisher. Robin had gone ahead by train. The night before, the airliner's co-pilot, Louis Reppert, had encountered a flight-school buddy, Army Lt. William Wilson, at a café in Long Beach. Wilson was to pilot a military B-34 bomber to Dallas two days later. In court-martial testimony, Wilson's own co-pilot, Staff Sgt. Robert R. Leight, testified that Wilson decided to leave a day early and told him, "One reason I want to take off today instead of tomorrow is that I know the co-pilot of an airliner and I want to thumb my nose at him."
Wilson did not file a changed flight plan. The pilot of the passenger plane, Charles F. Pedley, evidently knew nothing of Reppert and Wilson's rendezvous plans.
The next morning over Palm Springs, Wilson wiggled the B-34's wings in the vicinity of the DC-3. Getting no response, he moved closer and made another pass. His bomber struck the airliner, knocking off three-quarters of its rudder. The commercial plane spiraled to the desert floor, bounced, crashed again and exploded. Its crew of three and its nine passengers, including Rainger, were killed. The B-34 landed safely.
Rainger's wife, Betty, collapsed when she got the news of her husband's death. Until she died in 1973, she kept her memories of him to herself. Her older daughter, Connie, said years later, "Mom never spoke of him or played his music." Rainger's son was age 8 and his two girls were just 1 and 5 when he died -- they grew up knowing little about their father.
Lt. Wilson, the pilot of the B-34, was charged with manslaughter. The Army court-martial panel exonerated him.
Histories of American popular music have given Rainger short shrift. The man behind some of our most enduring songs deserves better."
Doug Ramsey -Wall Street Journal/Arts & Entertainment
(Mr. Ramsey was winner of the Jazz Journalists Association's 2008 Lifetime Achievement Award. He blogs about jazz and other matters at www.dougramsey.com)
"Ralph Rainger was a giant contributor to the Hollywood musical of the Thirties. At Paramount Pictures, he wrote music for seven Bing Crosby films including the initial one, The Big Broadcast in 1932. Together with lyricist Leo Robin, his timeless hits included Easy Living, I Wished on the Moon, If I Should Lose You, June in January, Love in Bloom, Miss Brown to You, Moanin Low, Please and Academy Award winner Thanks for the Memory. The jazz players loved his melodies then and still do today. Billie Holiday recorded five of his songs. For some inexplicable reason, he is not linked with Harold Arlen, Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, Jerome Kern, Jimmy McHugh, Cole Porter, Richard Rodgers, Harry Warren, et al., yet his best melodies were certainly equal in calibre to those icons. When he died tragically in a mid-air collision in 1942 at the age of forty-one, his fame seemed to die with him. Jan Lundgren has brilliantly interpreted Raingers music, putting his own special meaning to fourteen tunes as they have never been heard before. Together with virtuoso bassist Chuck Berghofer, the leader on this session for the first time in his fifty year career, and Joe LaBarbera, a drummer without peer, this album has a distinction all its own, containing some special moments in the ten minute conclusion that will captivate the listener. As usual with Dick Bank productions, there is a 32-page booklet filled with informative essays, rare photographs and all that one could possibly want to know about the man, the music and the men who play them."
Following his tribute to film composer Bronislaw Kaper, record producer Dick Bank has turned his attention to another great talent whos overdue for recognition. Ralph Rainger was a virtuoso pianist who enjoyed a fruitful collaboration with lyricist Leo Robin at Paramount Pictures in the 1930s. The result was a cavalcade of hit songs, many of which went on to become standards and also jazz perennials, including Easy Living, I Wished on the Moon (lyric by Dorothy Parker), If I Should Lose You, Blue Hawaii, Love in Bloom, Please, and Thanks for the Memory. (Rainger is less recognized as a pioneer in film scoring, as he often worked without credit in the early 1930s, when multiple composers would contribute to a movies underscore.)
To interpret the selections, Bank called on three of the finest jazz players for this Los Angeles recording: pianist Jan Lundgren, drummer Joe LaBarbera, and the great bassist Chuck Berghofer, who has never served as a leader on a record dateuntil now. Appropriately enough, he states the melodic line on several of these tunes, giving them a fresh, lively approach. This is impeccably tasteful straight-ahead jazz.
In addition to the titles mentioned above, the disc includes Moanin Low, Raingers first hit, with words by Howard Dietz, Faithful Forever from Max Fleischers animated feature Gullivers Travels, and many others.
A bonus track features Rainger in a rare, somewhat canned radio interview from 1937 that concludes with the composer playing a florid piano rendition of Love in Bloom. Then he and Leo Robin perform the same song at a famous 1940 ASCAP concert that took place in San Francisco.
An accompanying booklet fills us in on Ralph Raingers life and untimely death, and includes some publicity articles that appeared under his and Leo Robins byline in the 1930s along with photos and sheet music covers. I cant think of a better tribute to an unsung figure from Hollywoodsand popular musicsgolden age.
Leonard Maltins / Movie Crazy
Finally, the Rainger Compact Disc has arrived from Spain, and it was certainly worth the wait.
First, let me say how nice it was for you to dedicate the album to Connie. It's too bad that she was not able to live long enough to hear it, as I'm sure she would have appreciated all of your efforts and fine results, both in the music and in the biography. As I mentioned to you previously, I never had anything but the fullest confidence that you would do a superb job with the music and research, which, of course, you have.
Now on to the album itself. It's so great to hear that the music that Ralph composed between seventy and eighty years ago can sound so current. Jan's performance is beyond description, and Joe LaBarbera and Chuck Berghofer are outstanding. I have always wondered how the so-called "music" of today will hold up seventy five years from now, and I doubt that much of it will warrant the treatment that you accorded to my grandfather's tunes.
I want to comment on a few of the tunes, but don't take offense if I don't mention some aspect of some tune of which you are especially proud. It's wonderful to hear such great musicians produce such great jazz, yet be able to hear some very familiar tunes underneath the improvisations. The varying tempos of the tunes sound more "real" to me than the originals, which were of course limited to particular movie scenes and lengths. I often wonder how Ralph would have wanted these tunes to be played if they could escape the confines of the movies for which they were composed.
I just wanted to send some brief comments on some of the tunes before too much time elapsed. I will, of course, give it many more plays, but I was so taken with it after just a couple of times through. Some brief thoughts are noted below.
I loved your having the bass carry the melody in Miss Brown to You and June in January. I enjoyed this more subtle approach to these tunes.
Sweet Is the Word for You was absolutely terrific. It swings much more than the original, yet is still clearly the same tune. Wow. "Best song [he] ever wrote," indeed.
Blue Hawaii was never one of my favorite tunes, but the treatment of it on the album makes it more listenable (not really a word) than ever before. Same goes for Faithful Forever. Jan's sensitive treatment of it lends much more emotion to it than the original had and it comes across beautifully. Love in Bloom is just beautiful, with so much more character. It's always been a beautiful tune, but hasn't always been played with so much emotion.
I was so pleased to see Havin' Myself a Time on the album. I love this tune and it's so rarely played anywhere, even in the movie Tropic Holiday (as you know) for which it was written. Thanks for rescuing this great tune from relative obscurity.
Moanin' Low is greatwho would think that this is an eighty year old song? Same for Here Lies Love, which is a few years younger. Hearing this version while thinking of the rendition done in the 1932 moviewell, I like this one much better.
And of course, the last track with the radio interview was a real treat. It's wonderful to hear his voice at the end of all this wonderful music. The San Francisco concert from 1940 was nice to hear and it showcases Ralph and Leo's talents.
The bio speaks for itself in its depth and detail. It must have been incredibly difficult fitting everything in under the page limit. I've probably gone over some of the same roads that you may have in your researchJuilliard, Brown, New Jersey School of Law, etc. How nice to have it all written down in one place for all to read. It's so great of you to have put together such a great tribute to someone whose life and career were much much too short.
So thanks to you and to the wonderful musiciansyou have put together a fantastic album and one that does great justice to the memory that should be of this music.
ADAM KELLER (grandson of Ralph Rainger)