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9/2/10

Jimmy Rushing interview at Half Note


It was a Sunday afternoon when Jimmy and I sat down for an interview at the old Half Note on the corner of Hudson and Spring Streets. Jimmy frequently performed there, feeling comfortable in the unpretentious decor and informal atmosphere created by the Canterino family, who owned it. 

If memory serves me right, it was 1968 and the film you hear me refer to at the beginning of the interview is Gordon Parks' The Learning Tree, which had yet to be released. I had been on the air at WBAI a couple of years earlier, playing some of Jimmy's records and talking about him, when Gordon Parks called. He told me that he was in the early stages of turning his book into a film and that hearing Jimmy had given him the idea to cast him as Chappie Logan, a singing saloonkeeper. He needed to know how he could get in touch with Jimmy, and that's how I became a one-line footnote in Jimmy's film career.

Recording with Brubeck - 1960
I don't know why, but Gordon credited Jimmy on the screen as "James" Rushing, which seemed somewhat formal and foolish. After all, Jimmy had spent decades establishing his name and one would have thought that billing him as such could only benefit the film.

As the interview winds up, you will hear someone very loudly announce the presence of trombonist Al Grey and Fred Miles, a somewhat eccentric record producer from Philadelphia. Then there's Patsy Wilkins, I don't know who she was nor where she came from, but she was in luck that afternoon, winning one of Jimmy's many albums in the door prize drawing. So, with competition from the bandstand, the interview does not end gracefully, but think of it as a Half Note moment—atmosphere.


Leukemia claimed Jimmy on June 8, 1972. The following day, Whitney Balliett painted an eloquent word picture, as only he could:


"Jimmy Rushing, the great blues singer, died yesterday, at the age of sixty-eight. He was a short, joyous, nimble, invincible fat man who shouted the blues as if he were wearing kid gloves and carrying a swagger stick. His diction was faultless; in fact, it had an elocutionary quality, for his vowels were broad and sumptuous, his "b"s each weighed a pound, and he loved to roll his "r"s. His lyrics had a pearl-gray, to-the-manor-born cast to them. His voice - light, tenorlike, sometimes straining - was not much, but it was hand-polished and could be, despite his dandyish style, extraordinarily affecting, as in the mourning, deep-blue "How Long Blues" he recorded in memory of his friend Hot Lips Page. But most of the time Rushing's blues were elegant, lifting celebrations of life, and he sang them that way - his voice finally almost threadbare - until the day he died."

4 comments:

  1. Thanks for remembering the great Jimmy Rushing, Chris!

    One of my favorite tracks with Jimmy is He Ain't Got Rhythm (1936) he'd recorded with Benny Goodman, probably only because it was the very first tune I ever heard him chewing his vocals.

    Some bitter-sweet, quite tragicomic lyrics here, transcribed for me by a very good friend, 'cause I ain't got any word of it:

    HE AIN'T GOT RHYTHM, EVERY NIGHT HE SITS IN THE HOUSE ALONE
    'CAUSE HE AIN'T GOT RHYTHM, EVERY NIGHT HE SITS THERE WEARING A FROWN

    HE ATTRACTED SOME ATTENTION WHEN HE FOUND THE FOURTH DIMENSION,

    BUT HE AIN'T GOT RHYTHM, NO ONE WITH HIM, THE DUFFEST MAN IN TOWN

    A LONELY MAN IS HE, BENDING OVER HIS BOOKS
    HIS WIFE AND FAMILY KEEPS GIVING HIM DIRTY LOOKS

    'CAUSE HE AIN'T GOT RHYTHM, WHEN THEY CALL HIM UP IT'S TO CALL HIM DOWN,

    WELL THE DARING AVIATOR, HE ENCIRCLED THE EQUATOR
    BUT HE AIN'T GOT RHYTHM, AND NO ONE'S WITH HIKM, THE DUFFEST MAN IN TOWN

    But, you know what? He surely *got* that rhythm!

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  2. Interesting lyrics. Thank's Bruno. I hope you also heard my earlier interview with Jimmy. Just scroll down.

    ReplyDelete
  3. You have been posting some extraordinary things lately. Thank you.

    Correct lyrics (Irving Berlin)

    'Cause he ain't got rhythm
    Every night he sits in the house alone
    He ain't got rhythm
    Every night he s@ts there are wears a frown
    He attracted some attention
    When he found the fourth dimension
    But he ain't got rhythm
    So no one's with him
    The loneliest man in town

    Oh! lonely man is he
    Bending over his books
    His wife and family
    Keep giving him dirty looks
    'Cause he ain't got rhythm
    When they call him up
    It's to call him down
    With that daring aviator
    He encircled the equator
    But he ain't got rhythm
    So no one's with him
    Loneliest man in town

    ReplyDelete
  4. Thank you Larry S., for the comment and those unusual lyrics.

    ReplyDelete