Thursday, April 7, 2016

THE SINGING SIDE OF JIMMY DURANTE

Before Jimmy Durante became one of the most famous and lovable entertainers of the Twentieth Century, he was a hot piano player and bandleader. Durante was greatly influenced by Scott Joplin and had his first success in show business as a Ragtime piano player starting around 1911. He was billed as "Ragtime Jimmy" and played in New York City and Coney Island. Durante was part of the same wild crowd of early White jazz musicians as the Original Dixieland Jazz Band and Johnny Stein.

When the New Orleans Jazz style swept New York by storm in 1917 with the arrival of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band. Durante was part of the audience at Reisenweber's on Columbus Circle. Durante was very impressed with the band and invited them to play at a club called the Alamo in Harlem where Jimmy played piano. The band was soon the hottest thing in show business and Durante had his friend Johnny Stein assemble a group of like-minded New Orleans musicians to accompany his act at the Alamo. They billed themselves as "Durante's Jazz and Novelty Band". In late 1918 they recorded two sides for Okeh under the name of the New Orleans Jazz Band, they re-did the same two numbers a couple of months later for Gennett under the name of Original New Orleans Jazz Band, and in 1920 the same group recorded again for Gennett as Jimmy Durante's Jazz Band. 


In 1921, Durante collaborated with an African-American songwriter by the name of Chris Smith on the songs "Let's Agree To Disagree" and "Daddy, Your Mama Is Lonesome For You" which were recorded by Mamie Smith. Durante went on to record with several White Jazz bands in the early 1920s including The Original Memphis Five, Ladd's Black Aces, Bailey's Lucky Seven and Lanin's Southern Serenaders. Jimmy was a solid Ragtime and Jazz piano player, but soon gravitated towards vaudeville as the 1920s wore on. He became part of a comedy music team called "Clayton, Jackson and Durante". By the end of the decade the team was very popular on Broadway and Durante got a role in a play called "Jumbo" which made him a star. In the early 1930s he started to get roles in movies, and became popular on radio and eventually became one of the most popular entertainers in America. On his radio show he joked that he was working on a symphony, but he wouldn't call it "Rhapsody In Blue" or anything like that. He would call it "Inka Dinka Doo". In 1934 he recorded a novelty song with this title and it became his signature tune.


 Durante would make records throughout the 1940s and 1950s for such record labels as MGM and Decca, but it was not until late in his career that his singing career really reached its peak. In 1963, Durante recorded an album of pop standards, September Song. The album became a best-seller and provided Durante's re-introduction to yet another generation, almost three decades later. From the Jimmy Durante's Way of Life album, came the gravelly interpretations of the song "As Time Goes By", which accompanied the opening credits of the romantic comedy hit, Sleepless in Seattle, while his version of "Make Someone Happy" launched the film's closing credits. Both are included on the film's best-selling soundtrack. Durante also recorded a cover of the well known song I'll Be Seeing You, which became a trademark song on his 60's TV show. This song was also featured in the 2004 film The Notebook.

Jimmy Durante was a funny and talented man, but listen to his records (especially the ballad albums of the 1960s), and one will discover how sensitive and wonderful of a man he actually was...


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