The historic Filoli Estate and Gardens south of San Francisco is the setting for this week’s Riverwalk Jazz broadcast, Sweet Ballads and Red Hot Pianos. Piano legend Dick Hyman and jazz vocalist Stephanie Nakasian join The Jim Cullum Jazz Band for an outdoor concert including a set of songs by composer Walter Donaldson.
From ”My Blue Heaven” to ”You’re Driving Me Crazy” and “Love Me or Leave Me,” Walter Donaldson composed a string of hits that have held enduring appeal for jazz musicians. And his songs have been favorites with the lyricists who collaborated with him, including the great Johnny Mercer. During a career that spanned three decades, Donaldson wrote hundreds of tunes for stage and screen, and for singing stars Al Jolson, Eddie Cantor, and Ruth Etting. He composed the pop hits “My Buddy,” “Makin’ Whoopee,” “My Blue Heaven” and “How Ya Gonna Keep ‘Em Down on the Farm?”
Broadway’s ‘Sweetheart of Song,’ Ruth Etting, had the initial hit record on “Love Me Or Leave Me” in 1928. With a lyric by Donaldson’s frequent collaborator Gus Kahn, it was later recorded by Count Basie, Bob Crosby, Miles Davis, Lester Young and Mel Tormé. Fats Waller recorded a masterful solo piano version on the Bluebird label, also from 1928. Composed in 1927, Walter Donaldson’s “At Sundown” has been recorded by cornetist Muggsy Spanier, The World’s Greatest Jazz Band, and Artie Shaw.
Donaldson wrote “You’re Driving Me Crazy” in 1930, and later that year Louis Armstrong recorded a highly creative and entertaining version of it. Other notable recordings are by Josephine Baker and Django Reinhardt. Like many Walter Donaldson compositions, ”Crazy” remains a jam session favorite among jazz musicians.
Broadcast highlights on Riverwalk Jazz this week include pianist Dick Hyman’s recreation of the piano roll version of “‘Taint No Sin (to Take Off Your Skin and Dance Around in your Bones)” which he remembers hearing as boy at home. Stephanie Nakasian performs a song made famous by blues singer Helen Humes, “Million Dollar Secret,” and The Jim Cullum Jazz Band clarinetist Ron Hockett is featured soloist on “The Sheik of Araby.”
Photo credit for Home Page and Recent Radio Broadcast Page: “My Blue Heaven” sheet music, 1928. Image courtesy jazzage1920s.com.
Text based on Riverwalk Jazz script by Margaret Moos Pick ©2006