Delicado - a review by Donald Clarke
ditor: we have already reviewed Alan Bunting’s excellent 2-CD compilation of PERCY FAITH recordings in this magazine. However, the respected author DONALD CLARKE has raised so many interesting points about this compilation, that I make no excuse for giving Alan (and Sanctuary Group) further publicity in JIM!
DELICADO …………. by Percy Faith
Living Era CD AJS 278 (www.sanctuaryclassics.com)
A double CD compiling all of Percy’s pre-Columbia recordings, and then some, remastered by Alan Bunting
Having moved from Texas to Iowa recently, and registering my motor vehicle in the land of corn and pork, I decided to buy myself a personalised licence plate. Every other car in Iowa is a NIKKI or a TINY3 or a TOYCAR2, so I thought I would give myself a number that I cannot forget, instead of an alphanumeric jumble generated by a computer. I chose 39708. Everybody will know it’s a personalised plate, but nobody will know what it means except me, which is cool.
So what is 39708? I am just about ready for my bus pass and my old age pension; I have forgotten scores of PIN numbers, telephone numbers and postal codes, but I cannot forget the American Columbia catalogue number of the international hit "Delicado", by Percy Faith. It blew me away in 1952, the first grown-up record I bought with my own money; I wore out several copies of the 78, and was launched upon a lifetime of musical discovery.
"Delicado" was written by a Brazilian bandleader, and turned by Faith into a slam-bang piece of pop; Waldir Azevedo’s "Cavaquinho" (which on the Brazilian record sounds like a sort of amplified mandolin) replaced with Mitch Miller’s favourite toy of those years, the amplified harpsichord. (Did anyone notice that in her autobiography a few years ago Rosemary Clooney said that it was Stan Freberg who played the harpsichord, and that he also aspired to a comedy career? It was of course Stan Freeman; somebody corrected the howler in the late Rosie’s paperback.)
But Faith was not overwhelmed by the Miller influence; there was a lot more to him than that. What I was listening to on a Faith record was effectively the sound of a symphony orchestra: voicings, harmonies, counter-melodies. I also enjoyed Paul Weston, Hugo Winterhalter, Les Baxter, Richard Hayman and all the rest, but to me, Faith was the master. If today I am a weirdo running around central Iowa playing symphonies by John Harbison and Roger Sessions in my pickup truck, it’s Percy Faith’s fault.
There were ten-inch LPs by Faith on Columbia, but there was also a twelve-incher on RCA, called Soft Lights And Sweet Music. I seem dimly to remember a mysterious ten-incher on American Decca, and in a Chicago department store I once saw an ten-inch LP pressed out of coloured vinyl, red or gold, I can’t remember (which then looked to me like the height of technological wizardry), on some label I’d never heard of. Then the dime-store labels proliferated: there were compilations of vintage Faith tracks in a great many editions. Where had they all come from?
The indefatigable Alan Bunting has sorted out the discographical info, now with more detail than ever. Only a few years ago it seemed like we would never see any of this stuff on CD, but now, thanks to Alan, we have a 2-CD set of all of Percy Faith’s pre-Columbia recordings, together with a sprinkling of the early Columbias, and all in better sound than ever before.
Percy Faith came to the USA from Canada in 1940 and was already becoming famous on American radio when he recorded 15 tracks for Decca in 1944-45. It is hard to describe their charm. It is a slightly younger Faith than we are used to, reaching his peak with an unlimited amount of energetic innocence. This was, after all, sophisticated stuff in those days: a roomful of the best musicians in town playing Faith arrangements for the microphone without any gimmicks was about as good as pop got.
Songs by Frank Loesser, Cole Porter, Jerome Kern etc were either brand new or had just been used in a film, or in any case were still in everybody’s mental jukebox, not pushed out by jingles. Ballads are interspersed here with Faith’s Latin-American specialties, and all of his arranging tricks were already well-developed: the throw-away arpeggio in the flutes, and the many ways to arrange a tune so it does not wear out its welcome on a three-minute record.
"Negra Consentida" (My Pet Brunette) is a good example of how Faith finds endless inspiration in a simple composition. Part of the intro to "Embraceable You" intrigues the listener with the first three notes of the melody, repeated in different registers. "Spring Will Be A Little Late This Year" breaks out in the middle with what I take to be muted strings playing the luscious tune full-heartedly and unadorned. "Bim, Bam, Boom!" has a wacky rhythm section; "Tico Tico" has a motif that later became the basis of Faith’s "Brazilian Sleighbells"; "Capullito de Aleli" at one point has a muted trumpet warbling the cute tune, while a trombone chorus plays a slyly humorous obbligato, another typical Faith touch.
"Baia" never fails to remind me of a lick from William Walton’s First Symphony, a decade earlier (a coincidence, or was Ary Barroso a Walton fan?). "If There Is Someone Lovelier Than You" has an unusual structure, and draws me in at the beginning with a viola solo, I think, and incidentally, sounds significantly better here than in any of its previous incarnations, thanks to Alan’s judicious intervention with a touch of reverb. The only thing more remarkable than the quality of the Decca studio sound of nearly 60 years ago is the way Alan has spruced it up.
Faith recorded only four tracks in 1946, accompaniments for Hildegarde; two of them are included here to fill up the CD. Hildegarde Loretta Sell, born in 1906 and raised in Milwaukee, worked in London in the mid-1930s and was big on USA radio in the following decade. She made quite a few records for Decca, but none made the Billboard retail chart. She also recorded with Guy Lombardo in 1946. She sings well enough, without the style of a Rosie or a Doris Day or a Jo Stafford, and she brings a taste of the 1940s with her: she sounds like a scene from a black-and-white movie. (Her dress is cut modestly, but it’s made of black lace; she looks like the girl next door, but she’s a saloon singer; on screen there’s a trio playing, but on the soundtrack it’s Percy Faith and his Orchestra. In the next scene she sets up the hero to be framed for murder. You get the picture.)
Whether dropped by Decca or whether Jack Kapp drove too hard a bargain, Faith next made eight tracks for Majestic in 1947. The label didn’t last long, but Eli Oberstein was involved from the beginning, which is the solution to the rest of the mystery.
Oberstein was a colourful wheeler-dealer. In the 1920s, Ralph Peer offered to record free for Victor in exchange for copyrights on the songs; he then discovered Jimmy Rodgers and the Carter Family, formed Southern Music in 1928 and sold it to what had then become RCA Victor on condition that the company would throw pop copyrights his way. We first hear of Oberstein when Peer recruited him from OKeh to RCA to keep an eye on Peer’s interests, but they became enemies, and Peer was not getting many copyrights. That impasse ended in 1932 when David Sarnoff, busy in other areas, was worried about anti-trust trouble, and sold Southern Music back to Peer.
Oberstein was suddenly fired with no explanation in 1938, so he tried to pull a Jack Kapp. Kapp had left Brunswick in 1934, hired to run Decca Records as a new subsidiary of British Decca; he brought Bing Crosby, the Mills Brothers and Guy Lombardo with him from Brunswick, sold records (during the Depression, mind) to jukebox operators for much less than the other companies and had soon created a major label out of nothing. But Kapp at Brunswick had those artists under personal contract, so he could take them wherever he went. When Oberstein left RCA he had produced a great many records by big-name recording artists and expected the likes of Tommy Dorsey to follow him, but none did, and his United States company floundered.
During WWII Oberstein had labels called Hit and Classic, selling recordings made in Mexico and new releases made as soon as he could sign with the musicians’ union, on strike against the other labels. He was hired back by RCA in 1945 and bounced again in 1947, a scapegoat when the record business was in complete disarray.
When Majestic was formed the label looked like a sure thing, because they had a ready-made distribution system of radio dealers (I think we had a Majestic radio when I was a kid). They bought Oberstein’s moribund labels and his masters to get started with, and Oberstein had a job again. The conservative company didn’t like his flamboyance and bounced him, but the label and its parent company soon collapsed. Many post-war labels died quick deaths because of raging inflation in the USA and the Battle of the Speeds, which began in 1947-8: small labels couldn’t afford to manufacture in two or three speeds, and there was an extra expense for cover artwork for albums. Mercury bought the remains of Majestic, probably to get singer/ bandleader Eddy Howard, who was making hits ("To Each His Own"), and Oberstein was later able to buy what was left of Majestic from Mercury, including the eight tracks by Percy Faith. He spent the rest of his career recycling whatever tracks he controlled, which is why, when I was a kid, Percy Faith tracks appeared on Royale, Varsity, Rondo-lette and perhaps others.
There is a falling off of the sound quality on the eight Majestic tracks compared to the Deccas, again a problem for small labels in that time of fast-changing technology. But Alan was working with the best source material he could get, six Majestic 78s, and the other two tracks, never issued on 78, from a Royale ten-inch LP. They are quite listenable and musically on a par with the Deccas. "The Touch Of Your Hand" is a song that always grabs me, with its exquisite yearning quality. "Tia Juana" is a memorable tune that was co-written by Raymond Scott; one would like to know the genesis of that. "Noche Caribe" (Caribbean Night) is a Faith tune that would soon be remade for Columbia.
The second CD takes us up to 1953. It begins with "Swedish Rhapsody", a reworking of Hugo Alfven, which was on the other side of one of Faith’s biggest hits, "The Song From Moulin Rouge" (Where Is Your Heart?). It ends with "Delicado" and "Moulin Rouge" itself, but Alan has conflated the hit version of the latter, including the famous vocal by Felicia Sanders, with the longer instrumental version, made for an album. The join is impossible to find and the result is a brilliant surprise every time you hear it, even if you know what to expect. And the sound of all three of these tracks is the final testament to Alan’s skill: "Delicado" has of course been issued by Columbia on CD at least twice, but Alan’s transfer sounds better: the harpsichord sparkles, and you can almost feel the rhythm guitar beneath your fingers.
The second CD also includes all 12 tracks recorded by Faith for RCA Victor in 1949. Ten of these were issued on 78s; a different selection of ten were issued on the RCA LP, and I cannot understand to this day why all 12 weren’t on the LP, but the other two were on an EP. This is the first time all have been issued in one collection. "I Got Rhythm", with its pizzicato strings, and "La Mer" (Beyond The Sea) with its feathery, rocking strings, are two of my all-time favourite Faith tracks. "Oodles Of Noodles" was written by Jimmy Dorsey as a vehicle for his expertise on the alto sax, but the centre section is one of those languid, unforgettably blasé Manhattan-at-night themes. Readers of a certain age from the Chicago area will recognize this track because it was used as the theme for a late-night old-movie showcase on local TV, sponsored by a car dealer ("Jim Moran, the Courtesy Man").
There is "Deep Purple" and "Soft Lights And Sweet Music"; and a word about "Body And Soul": this track is a superb example of Faith’s ability to find the best things in a great song. Not so long ago, during the best years of my life, in the back room of a pub in rural Norfolk, I heard the great English jazzman Brian Lemon play "Body And Soul" solo on an old upright piano. He got everything out of the tune that was in it, and I heard Coleman Hawkins, and yes, I heard Percy Faith. As the famous novelist said, everything that rises upwards must converge.
The rest of the second CD includes a sprinkling of Columbia tracks. There were four ten-inch LPs on Columbia in the early 1950s; my favourites were Carnival Rhythms and American Waltzes, but the others were fun too: Carefree Rhythms and Your Dance Date (soon reissued as Fascinating Rhythms). There is another CD called Delicado from Sony or Columbia which any Faith fan should have, because it includes all eight tracks from Carnival Rhythms, in my opinion Percy Faith’s single greatest achievement. The other three ten-inchers have recently been issued complete on a CD from Collectables (Sony Music Custom Marketing Group). Alan couldn’t have known that was going to happen, and he has included in the present set six tracks from the last two named ten-inch LPs. Oh, well. A transfer engineer and compiler of this quality should be allowed to indulge himself.
The remaining five or six tracks were Columbia singles, most of which I had never heard before. The premise of "Da-Du" is that the lover is tongue-tied upon seeing his beloved; the trouble is that one cannot imagine the buttoned down, tightly disciplined chorus of those Columbia years (under the control of Mitch Miller?) being tongue-tied at all; and the tongue-tied gag was worked many years earlier and funnier in a throwaway bit of monologue by Fats Waller.
It is interesting to know that Percy Faith made kiddie records (again, the influence of Miller, who was the boss at Golden Records for years?) It is even more interesting that "Mosquitoes’ Parade" has a Columbia master number and an RCA Victor catalogue number; was Columbia custom-recording kiddie records for RCA? In any case, do not put that catalogue number on my licence plate; I do not ever need to hear "Mosquitoes’ Parade" again.
There are few compilations of 50 tracks of which you can say that there are only two you do not much care for. Little did I know when Alan wrote to me out of the blue more than a decade ago, because I had included an entry for Percy Faith in the Penguin Encyclopedia of Popular Music, that he would end up laying these riches on us all. Thanks, mate.