Sunday, 11 October 2009

Sweets to the sweet

I never thought I would type the name ‘Lawrence Welk’ on these pages but there you go...

The reason? I’ve had the album Johnny Hodges recorded with the Lawrence Welk Orchestra for some time and pulled it from the shelf last night for my Saturday evening listening.

Back in the day, apparently, Welk was king of Saturday night television. Ironic, then, that I should seek refuge with this album whilst in the next room, my wife watched X-Factor. Plus ca change

Originally recorded in 1965 and released on the Dot label, the album is nowhere near as cheesy as you might expect, considering the man wielding the baton is the terminally square titular band leader and accordion player. In truth, why should it be? Perhaps Welk is most famous for serving up anodyne pap down the cathode ray tube on a Saturday night, but his relationship to the actual music he is conducting is likely no more direct than, say, in another age, Paul Whiteman or Jackie Gleason. His is the name only in the phrase ‘name band’ and, enjoying the huge commercial success he did, I suppose he could employ anyone and make whatever music he liked. In terms of the actual scoring, then, the list of writers he contracted runs like a who’s who of Hollywood arrangers. There is one chart each for the likes of Marty Paich, Russ Garcia, Johnny Keating, Benny Carter, for heaven’s sake, and Glenn Miller’s chief of staff on his civilian and service orchestras, Jerry Gray.

Of course, to an extent the writers have to deliver within the self-imposed paradigms of Welk’s wall-to-wall easy listening and the backgrounds are, therefore, fairly uninvolving. But then you have Hodges, sailing serenely and obliviously above it all. As was ever his wont. If any musician could transcend Welk’s elevator music, it is Johnny Hodges for, truth to tell, even with the Ellington aggregation behind him, Johnny was always, somehow, above it all, his music in its own self-contained bubble, the inscrutable saxophonist seemingly impervious to his surroundings. Above it all, his music descrying the sort of progress those globules of oil perform in a lava lamp. Like bubbles of carbon dioxide, Hodges’ solos perhaps were perfectly at home in this champagne music.

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