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Polly Podewell and Johnnie McDonough discuss jazz music and vocalists

BROADCAST: Oct. 15, 1979 | DURATION: 00:27:25

Synopsis

Polly Podewell and Johnnie McDonough evaluate jazz vocalists, musical influences, and compare music genres. Jazz music performances of Polly Podewell (from private tape) are interspersed throughout the interview as well as recordings from Mildred Bailey, Helen Ward, and Billie Holiday. Songs are removed on this file due to copyright reasons.

Transcript

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Studs Terkel There is an excellent jazz singer in town, in fact she's singing at, at this moment and ever since Tuesday and for the rest of this weekend at Rick's Cafe at the Holiday Inn on Lake Shore Drive. Polly Podewell. I remember when she was a year old, and then later on she sang folk songs at the Old Town School and become now one of the best all-around jazz singers anywhere. And we'll hear some -- her voice, Polly Podewell's voice, as well as a jazz aficionado John McDonough, too, and some of Polly's songs as well as some of the singers who influenced her. So in a moment, it's a, it's a very delightful experience hearing Polly Podewell's singing, and obviously seeing her, too. So in a moment, the program. Polly Podewell's songs and her reflections on them. After this message. [pause in rcording] Well, that's Polly Podewell, and that voice introducing her was Benny Goodman who, as usual mispronounced names. [laughing] And Downbeat, this current issue of Downbeat speaks of Goodman's two triumphs, one at Ravinia in July, and the other at Meadow Brook in Rochester, Michigan, and says the Downbeat piece, "Benny Goodman introduced perhaps his most impressive singing discovery since Peggy Lee: Polly Podewell." So there you are, Polly. So, I suppose how we go back you and singing and your approach to it.

Polly Podewell Well, I had a lot of influences in my, in my singing. Mildred Bailey, Lee Wiley, who were singers and they both--well, Mildred sang with, with Benny, I think, didn't she, John? Or did she?

John McDonough She made some records with Benny.

Polly Podewell Yeah. But they had quite a--

Studs Terkel When did you first come--so was hearing rec--as a little--'cause I remember you as a very little girl, you and--and your mother was a marvelous actress, of course. Beverly Younger. How well I know she was a marvelous actress. She started collecting jazz and Chet Roble on "Studs' Place" was a jazz man and she heard records and, as did your father Podey, excellent actor, and you were hearing records.

Polly Podewell Right. Luckily they had good taste in music, and they played Billie Holiday records, and Ella Fitzgerald and Judy Garland. And Mahalia Jackson, and so I grew up listening to, to this kind of music all the time. And then my brother was involved in Dixieland so I also heard Bix Beiderbecke, and--

Studs Terkel So records around the house. But when did you--well, I, I suppose I should ask about her approach. John, John McDonough who knows jazz as well as anybody around town. What do you think in talking about Polly's approach? Benny Goodman who said a throwback. He meant it of course as a compliment.

John McDonough Yes, he did, yeah. Yeah, well, in the '30s--let me go back for a minute. In the '20s when jazz was sort of finding its own identity for the first time outside of New Orleans, jazz was a very inbred kind of music. Musicians tended to create their own repertoire. You know, "Muskrat Ramble" by Kid Ory, "Royal Garden Blues", they were songs created by jazz musicians for other jazz musicians. And when the '30s came along, I think they found there was an impulse to become a little more commercial. And that's when jazz started to go out and reach into Tin Pan Alley Theater, the American popular song idiom. And in a lot of ways it was the golden age of jazz, because it, it, jazz got out of its just the blues bag, you know, and began to, to begin to cope with really, the great works of Gershwin and Cole Porter and Jerome Kern and Harold Arlen. And this created a, when the, when the jazz musician shared a commitment to the popular song, it was a situation which made it very comfortable for a singer to work, and that's why you also had in the '30s the great generation of singers, Mildred Bailey and Billie, Helen Ward and Helen Forrest and Ella came up in that time.

Studs Terkel Helen Humes coming back again.

John McDonough Not to mention Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra.

Studs Terkel You know, it's interesting, Polly, isn't it, the fact that so it's show tunes, you sing to a great extent much of your repertoire is show tunes, and suddenly a jazz approach to them, and out of it's come Polly Podewell. I think that was at--we heard you sing at Broad--at Michigan,

Polly Podewell Yeah. Meadow Brook.

Studs Terkel Meadow Brook. But--oh, I know what to ask Polly. You've sung at all kinds of places in town. There's one place we need not name, several of those places, where's there no--how do you do that? Now you sing at a marvelous place, we'll hear Andy's, a bar right near the radio station here. That's a wonderful feeling. Your thoughts on singing at these various joints.

Polly Podewell Oh, well the thing is, I just, I love to work with, with the good musicians, and I love to sing wherever I can sing. And there are a number of places in Chicago to sing, and Andy's is, is one of them. But wherever there are good musicians, I'll like to be there. It doesn't have to be with Benny Goodman or in a concert form, it could be -- anyway, that's the marvelous thing about jazz, you know, and jamming, and just getting together.

John McDonough The only musician, the only union card you hold is the A.F. of M., isn't it?

Polly Podewell Right.

Studs Terkel Musician. Oh, you're a member of the

Polly Podewell Yeah.

Studs Terkel Yeah, by, that's an interesting point. We're going to hear Polly sing "Nobody's Sweetheart", your voice, then, an instrument.

John McDonough Absolutely.

Studs Terkel Ain't that the idea, we come back to that again. The voi--how do you feel about that?

Polly Podewell Oh, I, well I--someone asked me once, Neil Tesser did in fact, he said, "If you were to pick an instrument to liken your voice to, what would it be? Or, you know, what, what instrument do you listen to when, when you listen to a recording?" And I'd have to say the horn, you know, like a trumpet, and I think a number of singers do that. Billie Holiday did that. She likened her voice to a, to a horn playing. And that's why she was such a wonderful singer, because she was like a, a musician, part of the band, an instrument, and

Studs Terkel Duke always had that in mind with Ivie Anderson. From way back, one of his early singers, he said, "Her voice is just an added instrument to my orchestra." Well, set up "Nobody's Sweetheart", you sing -- where was this?

Polly Podewell This was at Andy's on Hubbard Street and it's a after hours place and we do a cocktail thing there every Friday. [pause in recording]

Studs Terkel [Laughing] There's one moment there when Polly, hearing it, winced, and what did you say there, John?

John McDonough I said there's no reason, nobody ever expects a jazz performance to be perfect, it just has to swing, and that one I think qualifies amply.

Studs Terkel Polly, we're talking, and John, about a certain place and environment, playing with many, of course this was the basis, the homes of many of the great jazz singers of the past, little places like Andy's today. Now the guys you worked with, Goodman's band, and you're going to work with Woody Herman soon, and but working with these guys here, Chicago band of veteran musicians is kind of exciting, isn't it? This is part of tradition, too.

John McDonough Good players.

Studs Terkel This is part of a throwback again we're talking about, aren't we, John?

John McDonough I think so. I think so. I, you have a hell of a group of musicians on that track you just heard.[match striking] And Don DeMichael was the drummer, John DeFoe was the guitarist, John Bany I suspect was the bass player and Steve Beyer was the piano player. And when I, I first heard Polly about three or four years ago and she was fine, but I really didn't, I didn't become impressed with her until I heard her with this band. And I, and when I sent the tape, the cassette tape to Benny, and suggesting he listen to it, he called me back and he said he thought it was, she was terrific. And later on he explained to me one of the things he liked about Polly and the band and just the whole performance as a unit. And that was the rhythm section. He said it had a nice, juicy, meaty old- fashioned sound to it, and he liked that guitar of John DeFoe's and he liked that drumming of DeMichael because, well, Benny's complaint about guitar players and piano players today is that they all want to comp, nobody wants to play time, well, that's a rhythm section that plays time. And

Polly Podewell Let me mention the horn players, too. Thank you for that. Ted Butterman is on trumpet or cornet and Miles Zimmerman on clarinet, and John Topel on sax.

Studs Terkel By this time you also know the nuances, don't you, the subtleties here of the guys and they know yours. But by the thing you mentioned influences, what is it about Lee Wiley, who was quite a marvelous, some would say a great two o'clock in the morning voice singer. What is it about her that you like?

Polly Podewell Well, she knocked me out. My brother bought me one of her albums when I was out of college and she did--was one half of Gershwin and the other half was, was Cole Porter. And I guess the first thing that impressed me about her was, was her phrasing, and the way the lyrics came across. That's a marvelous thing about these tunes from, from the '30s, you know, as John said the popular song is, is the lyrics, and she just had a wonderful way. [break in recording]

Studs Terkel That Lee Wiley and that's Ruby Braff's horn we fade on there. John was describing your voice and you have it, Polly, too, that smokiness, the word "smoky."

John McDonough The deep voice, you know, had a really substance to it. And the lyrics, the lyrics of those songs gave a singer so much to communicate, too.

Studs Terkel That's a good question, that, I'm glad you asked that, Polly, lyrics. How, how -- the lyrics to you?

Polly Podewell The lyrics of the tunes? Well they were very easy to sing, they were--I don't know, the the way they, they, the phrasing. I don't know why but it was just the way that the writers did. I don't know how they did it, but the way they blended with, with the music. It was just

Studs Terkel The words, but the words then, the words mean something

Polly Podewell Oh, yeah. Oh, for sure, sure the words are very important. You know, that's the whole.

Studs Terkel I was thinking, we haven't heard you do a ballad. We heard two up tunes. Now "I've Got a Crush on You", that's an old Gershwin song.

John McDonough That's a Gershwin song. A very good one, has a marvelous verse, too.

Studs Terkel Where'd you sing

Polly Podewell this? I sang this one at, at Grant Park at the Chicago Jazz Festival.

Studs Terkel Well, this was Grant Park again refer, refer to the Downbeat article of this current issue, and Polly, it looks like he, that is Benny Goodman, has found another winner, and come again he's had, by the way, he's had a good number of--

John McDonough He's

Studs Terkel Women vocalists, he had Peggy Lee and Ethel Ennis, who was the best thing. By the way, she sang "The Star-Spangled Banner" during the open--before the, one of the World Series games in Baltimore, and she was the best thing about the game. [laughing] She made "The Star-Spangled Banner" suddenly sound good, and she swang it. And it was Ethel Ennis, believe it or not.

Polly Podewell Really?

Studs Terkel One of your predecessors with Benny.

Polly Podewell Wow, Ethel Ennis. Well, see, I have--so maybe someday I'll be doing

John McDonough Well, Ethel worked with Benny in the late '50s. Oh he's had a really, a very good luck with vocalists over the years. Peggy Lee, there was Helen Ward--

Studs Terkel Helen

John McDonough Helen Forrest, well he, Helen came out of Artie

Studs Terkel Oh, she was Shaw.

John McDonough But you know, not a lot of people know that he used Barbra Streisand in the early--in the very early '60s before she became a celebrated--

Polly Podewell Also Billie Holiday did her first recording with

John McDonough That's right. Absolutely.

Polly Podewell Back in 1933.

Studs Terkel We'll hear Billie with Benny in a moment. But here's Polly, Polly Podewell, who by the way--not by the way--is singing at Rick's Cafe with that good jazz concert. She's going to be there. And it's funny, you are in the room where Helen Humes sung, and that's kind of nice, at Rick's Cafe on the Holiday Inn on, on, on Outer Drive, on Lake Shore Drive through this weekend. Tonight, Friday night, and Saturday and Sunday.

Polly Podewell With two great jazz music--well, a number of great jazz musicians, but the headliners are, are Vic Dickenson and Doc Cheatham, who are very lyrical

Studs Terkel musicians. Of

John McDonough Don't forget Barrett Deems.

Polly Podewell And Barrett Deems and--

Studs Terkel The dervish--

John McDonough [Bela Lugosi.

Polly Podewell And Red Richards, yeah.

Studs Terkel And "I Got a Crush on You". [break in recording] Polly handles a ballad beautifully. By the way, that was, that was Goodman again, and there's that, this was where, this was Grant

Polly Podewell This was at Grant Park, yeah.

John McDonough There was a little interference in that tape. That's, Polly was not hoarse, it was just, I think the speakers were picking up--

Studs Terkel John, you were in that audience. That was, that was quite an event, wasn't it?

John McDonough That was a big audience, yeah, it was a, quite an

Polly Podewell Seventy-five thousand people.

Studs Terkel So you sung for 75,000.

John McDonough Funny thing is, you know, when you're, when you're up there, I presented Torme with an award that night so I got a stage-eye glimpse of that crowd. Fact is, it could be, you know, could be 500,000, but you only can see the first five or six hundred people out in front of you, so you're really not conscious of

Studs Terkel Question: It's a goofy question, but a big one. I was just thinking, Andy's up here on Hubbard Street, Andy's a little bar there. I mentioned bars, that is, not bars, but these nightclubs or these taverns or these, not named near, you know we can skip some of those. That's where the quote unquote "beautiful people" far from that go, you know. And how do you sing at those joints? What do you do?

Polly Podewell What do I

Studs Terkel When they don't pay any attention at all.

Polly Podewell Oh, well you just keep singing. I, I don't know, you don't notice it after a while. I mean, Andy's is, is a very good crowd, I think, we've got a lot of newspaper people and you get a lot of--I sang at a place called Eugene's here in Chicago for two years, and you had people eating around you and talking and, the, the, the big reward of that is though when people do listen to you, you know, and, and when they do

Studs Terkel She named the nameless joint.

Polly Podewell Oh, [laughing] Oh I'm sorry.

Studs Terkel That's all right. It's true.

Polly Podewell I didn't know that's

Studs Terkel There's a marvelous pianist, Norm Wallace, you know, and how he does it is a miracle, you know, he plays and, and of course that marvelous Audrey Morris. You're like Audrey, who sings this wonderful Billie Holiday, and I'm thinking, they have to work at those joints, you know and

John McDonough Well in fact you know you learn your, you learn your craft there,

Polly Podewell But it was a good experience. I was, I said -- there was an article in the Sun-Times last Sunday, and it mentions that, you know, I mentioned in the article that it was a great experience, though, 'cause you work five nights--you know it was, you build your craft. You know, you work at it, and you really have to sing, you know, you really have to sing hard, I mean, because you've trying to reach these people, and so you really work hard at

Studs Terkel One or two you hear and that's it. One or two who, who listen to you in those places

Polly Podewell And it's, and it's all worth it, well, it's, you know.

Studs Terkel There's something happen when you sing, say, again this is a silly question I'm about to ask. There's something happening when you're singing before 75,000? Is your approach different than that of singing before at Andy's?

Polly Podewell No.

Studs Terkel At an intimate place.

Polly Podewell No. No. I don't even--when I sing at a concert, I don't notice all the people. I just, I just sing the way I normally

Studs Terkel Let's take a little break now. We'll take a little break, we'll return after this message to Polly Podewell and John McDonough. John, jazz critic, a very excellent one, and collector of records, and Polly Podewell, who's one of the very fine jazz singers indeed around and about, singing at, at this moment, Friday that's tonight, Saturday, Sunday, a chance to hear her or see her at Rick's Cafe in Holiday Inn off Lake Shore Drive and we'll resume in a moment. [break in recording] So resuming with Polly Podewell and John McDonough sitting by here. Influences, you mentioned, you mentioned Lee Wiley, and now of course your, you smile when you glow when you think of Mildred Bailey.

Polly Podewell Oh yeah, yeah, she was--she's definitely I think, is my favorite singer. Well, Holiday is, I think, everybody's, every jazz singer has to, to think that Holiday is, is the biggest influence on them. But Bailey certainly is a wonderful singer.

Studs Terkel What is it she did that, what do you feel that made her different for you?

Polly Podewell Bailey? I guess her phrasing again, and, and the things that she did off the melody line, that -- she did some beautiful things like, there again her, her voice is, is like an instrument in the band and did some wonderful things with the tunes that she did. I love to listen

John McDonough Mildred, Mildred had a, had a I think she had a better vocal instrument than, than Billie did. She, I think she had a, a better range. Billie, Billie's glory is in other areas.

Studs Terkel Well [knowing?] of what she did to a lyric and break a syllable

John McDonough Yeah, yeah, she, she, she didn't stick to the beat that much. Mildred was more inclined I think to, to rest on the beat as you do. She was a rhythmic singer and she had a, a glorious falsetto sound in

Studs Terkel And Alec Wilder, the, the composer, Alec, he goes crazy when he hears Billie Holiday, he admires her, but he, he couldn't bear that she would work her own beat. You know, he wanted to hear the -- however, the magnificence of Billie, of course, is her uniqueness, what she did with a lyric. Coming back to Mildred Bailey. She was a big woman.

Polly Podewell Very

Studs Terkel And yet the voice--

Polly Podewell High

Studs Terkel Was so little.

John McDonough Little voice.

Studs Terkel But what she did with that little voice was what it's about, isn't it?

John McDonough And Mildred had one of the hallmarks of a great popular singer, I think. She, she had perfect diction, and that was one of the things that struck me about Polly, particularly on ballads. Her diction, she hands you each syllable on a silver platter. And it's, even at, even at fast tempos, the words never get lost.

Studs Terkel I'm not going to ask you about rock interpretations, rock singers and what happens to the lyric of a song. Can you understand when, do you hear them? Maybe you do, you're hearing it. Can you understand the lyrics of many of the rock performers?

John McDonough No, but I don't know that they're intended to be understood sometime. [laughing] There's a singer I, I've heard lately, Rickie Lee Jones, and her, her, her pronunciation is, it's constantly out of focus. Out of register, I

Studs Terkel Oh, I don't mind their putting their phrasing, I'm talking about I can't understand the words. Now whether it's my hearing, I'm thinking also about the volume, the electrified instruments, the automatic, you know, the automated stuff, and I don't know. Coming back to that's why the lyric. So this is, this is Mildred Bailey. "Nobody's Baby". [break in recording] You talk about clarity of lyrics. Mildred Bailey. I suppose one of the things to ask you, Polly, is when Goodman said it's a throwback to another time, meaning it, of course, very complimentary indeed. It's, it's, it's a music, a kind of singing that seems to have disappeared and yet it's there. The audience, so it brings the audience, some first reaction would be is, you have middle-aged audience, or is that so, do you have young people?

Polly Podewell We have the young people. At Andy's we have a number of young people, and Benny does concerts at universities, we did one at Vanderbilt a couple of weeks ago down in Nashville, and it was all young people and they loved it. So there's hope.

John McDonough Yes. Well, you know, you, you were suggesting that it's a, it's a style of singing that is almost a lost art. And I think, I think the singers who sang the songs and the composers who wrote the songs were mutually dependent upon one another in a lot of ways. Today record artists tend to write their own material, they write for themselves, not for other people, but with the, as this trend has come along in the last 20 years or so, I think, I think almost, maybe the art of the great popular song is possibly fading, save for Stephen Sondheim and some of the, the, the few great ones that are left. But certainly there are not the number of the Gershwins and the Porters and the Kerns.

Studs Terkel By the way, I see you making a very strong point here. You see, there's a danger that what we're saying may sound as though we are nostalgic. We're talking about something else, not nostalgia, we're talking about how quickly changes happen because of technology I think, as well as fad and fashion changing so quickly.

John McDonough Oh, I think

Studs Terkel And, so, there's a break. But what, what Polly is doing is continuing something that's always been there but lost because of advertising and vogue and fashions changing, you see.

John McDonough I think that's true. It's the, the composers in the '30s wrote for singers. They wrote for the Crosbys and the, and the Mildred Baileys, and they knew there were great singers out there to perform their work, and, and the singers were dependent on the great composers for their own material. So there was a marvelous, you know, interdependency there, and then maybe that's,that's what's not around anymore.

Studs Terkel Then I want to talk about influences, Polly, on you. Mildred is a big one, Mildred Bailey and Wiley and though Billie was not the influence, something about her that hit you though, too, Billie Holiday.

Polly Podewell Well, well Holiday was just -- how do you explain Holiday? She -- I, when I first listened to her, I was, I remember I put on one of her -- well, not when I first listened to her, but one time I wanted to learn some, a, a melody to a tune, so I put on -- I knew that she did the tune, so I put on the record and then I tried to sing the tune. Then I realized that she wasn't singing the melody line at all, but she was singing off the melody line, which was, which was her, one of her attractions, that she was, had this incredible ability to right away go and, and sing a completely different melody line, you know, off line, off, off the melody line. And she, she didn't have, sing right on the beat. She, she sang off the beat. Someone said that she emphasized the beat by not singing the beat. But there again, she was also with, with the lyrics,

Studs Terkel But yet her timing, musicians--

Polly Podewell With Holiday, the lyrics came in, you know, were there.

John McDonough She was a completely instinctive performer.

Polly Podewell Very instinctive, not intellectualizing at all, but just instince.

Studs Terkel The, the peformer, the great jazz men who worked with instrumentalists always spoke of her sense of, even though she may have been off the beat, her sense of time.

John McDonough The funny thing about instinctive performers, though, when they become conscious of what makes them great, sometimes they tend to lose that instinct, ironically.

Studs Terkel Suppose we hear what -- well, here too, let's hear a, this is a segue. Billie Holiday doing an up-tempo tune, "What a Little Moonlight Can Do" with that, that great session when Teddy Wilson backed her and a variety of others, and--

John McDonough Teddy's on this and Benny Goodman is on it, and Ben Webster.

Studs Terkel Shaw's and Ben Webster's on it, and this is "What a Little Moonlight Can Do" back in 1937 around there, '38. And then we'll hear you, Polly, doing it. [break in recording] Hey, Polly Podewell, ho, what's up with Lady Day?

John McDonough I told

Studs Terkel That's a different interpretation. What were you saying about Polly's voice?

John McDonough I said at the end there, her -- she was, she was hitting it like a, almost like a lead trumpeter would hit, hit into the, the out chorus. It's really strong and, and completely different from the Billie Holiday approach, which floated around, under over, beside the beat--

Studs Terkel And both approaches are right. That's the point,

John McDonough And Polly was in lockstep with the beat. Let it swing.

Studs Terkel Yeah, I was thinking of that, of that current Downbeat review of Goodman and Polly Podewell, and the writer goes on to say, in addition to being, about Polly Podewell, whom Benny Goodman only heard three days before rehearsal because you, John, had sent the tapes to him there at Ravinia and adding it to his Meadow Brook concert at Michigan, that the writer says, "She's a master of American popular song idiom in its highest form, not really a jazz singer, and Miss Podewell, Miss Podewell could be likened to Crosby, Bennett, Rosemary Clooney, Mildred Bailey, handful of the popular singers, at home in a jazz ensemble, diction clear without being stilted, the middle up tempo, she swings easily, on the ballads her emotional range enhances a song without spilling over into the theatrical, her vibrato is soothing and gently erotic. She has a sound of her own that doesn't call attention to itself." And I think that's kind of nice. What I like about Polly is, there's no attempt to be the personality who would take away from the song.

John McDonough The song is the star, yeah.

Studs Terkel There's

Studs Terkel So, you, the song is it, isn't it?

Polly Podewell The song says it all. You know, that's that. The lyrics.

Studs Terkel You know, years ago, a number of years ago in a wholly different form of singing, Richard Dyer-Bennet, the great singer of arc songs and folk music has always made this point, that is it is the song and what the writer had in mind that he, the artist onstage, is not going to be overly theatrical it's there. The theater's in the actual stuff, in putting it forth, and this has always been

John McDonough I think that's pro -- that's, that's important in ballads, but in songs like, well, like what we just heard, "What a Little Moonlight Can Do". Now, this was a little pop tune of the middle '30s, not a, not a particularly great song, but it's a, it's, it's one of those songs that musicians can really sink their teeth into and really turn into something important. And Billie did it. Polly did it, and--

Polly Podewell I think it was originally done very slow, and like something from an old movie, you know, the heroine would, you know, sing about the moonlight. It wasn't meant to be--

Studs Terkel What's one, one more. This is to point out that Polly Podewell is singing, and Vic Dickenson, the marvelous jazz man, is head trombonist and Doc Cheatham at, at the Holiday Inn on Lake Shore Drive in Ontario, I think, part of--Holiday Inn isn't--the place is called Rick's Cafe. Good jazz. Are you there tonight, Saturday, Sunday--

Polly Podewell Not Sunday.

Studs Terkel Oh, tonight and Saturday. Two nights. Tonight and Saturday. Let's end with a, a segue here. Another singer, a Benny Goodman singer of time passed. Helen Ward.

John McDonough Well, you saw Helen when you

Polly Podewell were Yeah, I saw Helen's opening night in New York. She's back singing again, and she's made a whole new career again, and she's going to be coming to Rick's, I think. But she still sounds very good.

Studs Terkel This was when, hearing her?

John McDonough Oh, well, let's see. I put together her famous performance of "Goody, Goody", the, the Helen Ward vocal was from an airshot right down the street here in the Congress Hotel, the Joseph Urban Room, 1935.

Studs Terkel

John McDonough

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Studs Terkel

John McDonough There is an excellent jazz singer in town, in fact she's singing at, at this moment and ever since Tuesday and for the rest of this weekend at Rick's Cafe at the Holiday Inn on Lake Shore Drive. Polly Podewell. I remember when she was a year old, and then later on she sang folk songs at the Old Town School and become now one of the best all-around jazz singers anywhere. And we'll hear some -- her voice, Polly Podewell's voice, as well as a jazz aficionado John McDonough, too, and some of Polly's songs as well as some of the singers who influenced her. So in a moment, it's a, it's a very delightful experience hearing Polly Podewell's singing, and obviously seeing her, too. So in a moment, the program. Polly Podewell's songs and her reflections on them. After this message. [pause in rcording] Well, that's Polly Podewell, and that voice introducing her was Benny Goodman who, as usual mispronounced names. [laughing] And Downbeat, this current issue of Downbeat speaks of Goodman's two triumphs, one at Ravinia in July, and the other at Meadow Brook in Rochester, Michigan, and says the Downbeat piece, "Benny Goodman introduced perhaps his most impressive singing discovery since Peggy Lee: Polly Podewell." So there you are, Polly. So, I suppose how we go back you and singing and your approach to it. Well, I had a lot of influences in my, in my singing. Mildred Bailey, Lee Wiley, who were singers and they both--well, Mildred sang with, with Benny, I think, didn't she, John? Or did she? She made some records with Benny. Yeah. But they had quite a-- When did you first come--so was hearing rec--as a little--'cause I remember you as a very little girl, you and--and your mother was a marvelous actress, of course. Beverly Younger. How well I know she was a marvelous actress. She started collecting jazz and Chet Roble on "Studs' Place" was a jazz man and she heard records and, as did your father Podey, excellent actor, and you were hearing records. Right. Luckily they had good taste in music, and they played Billie Holiday records, and Ella Fitzgerald and Judy Garland. And Mahalia Jackson, and so I grew up listening to, to this kind of music all the time. And then my brother was involved in Dixieland so I also heard Bix Beiderbecke, and-- So records around the house. But when did you--well, I, I suppose I should ask about her approach. John, John McDonough who knows jazz as well as anybody around town. What do you think in talking about Polly's approach? Benny Goodman who said a throwback. He meant it of course as a compliment. Yes, he did, yeah. Yeah, well, in the '30s--let me go back for a minute. In the '20s when jazz was sort of finding its own identity for the first time outside of New Orleans, jazz was a very inbred kind of music. Musicians tended to create their own repertoire. You know, "Muskrat Ramble" by Kid Ory, "Royal Garden Blues", they were songs created by jazz musicians for other jazz musicians. And when the '30s came along, I think they found there was an impulse to become a little more commercial. And that's when jazz started to go out and reach into Tin Pan Alley Theater, the American popular song idiom. And in a lot of ways it was the golden age of jazz, because it, it, jazz got out of its just the blues bag, you know, and began to, to begin to cope with really, the great works of Gershwin and Cole Porter and Jerome Kern and Harold Arlen. And this created a, when the, when the jazz musician shared a commitment to the popular song, it was a situation which made it very comfortable for a singer to work, and that's why you also had in the '30s the great generation of singers, Mildred Bailey and Billie, Helen Ward and Helen Forrest and Ella came up in that time. Helen Humes coming back again. Not to mention Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra. You know, it's interesting, Polly, isn't it, the fact that so it's show tunes, you sing to a great extent much of your repertoire is show tunes, and suddenly a jazz approach to them, and out of it's come Polly Podewell. I think that was at--we heard you sing at Broad--at Michigan, that Yeah. Meadow Brook. Meadow Brook. But--oh, I know what to ask Polly. You've sung at all kinds of places in town. There's one place we need not name, several of those places, where's there no--how do you do that? Now you sing at a marvelous place, we'll hear Andy's, a bar right near the radio station here. That's a wonderful feeling. Your thoughts on singing at these various joints. Oh, well the thing is, I just, I love to work with, with the good musicians, and I love to sing wherever I can sing. And there are a number of places in Chicago to sing, and Andy's is, is one of them. But wherever there are good musicians, I'll like to be there. It doesn't have to be with Benny Goodman or in a concert form, it could be -- anyway, that's the marvelous thing about jazz, you know, and jamming, and just getting together. The only musician, the only union card you hold is the A.F. of M., isn't it? Right. Musician. Oh, you're a member of the musicians' Yeah. Yeah, by, that's an interesting point. We're going to hear Polly sing "Nobody's Sweetheart", your voice, then, an instrument. Absolutely. Ain't that the idea, we come back to that again. The voi--how do you feel about that? Oh, I, well I--someone asked me once, Neil Tesser did in fact, he said, "If you were to pick an instrument to liken your voice to, what would it be? Or, you know, what, what instrument do you listen to when, when you listen to a recording?" And I'd have to say the horn, you know, like a trumpet, and I think a number of singers do that. Billie Holiday did that. She likened her voice to a, to a horn playing. And that's why she was such a wonderful singer, because she was like a, a musician, part of the band, an instrument, and -- Duke always had that in mind with Ivie Anderson. From way back, one of his early singers, he said, "Her voice is just an added instrument to my orchestra." Well, set up "Nobody's Sweetheart", you sing -- where was this? This was at Andy's on Hubbard Street and it's a after hours place and we do a cocktail thing there every Friday. [pause in recording] [Laughing] There's one moment there when Polly, hearing it, winced, and what did you say there, John? I said there's no reason, nobody ever expects a jazz performance to be perfect, it just has to swing, and that one I think qualifies amply. Polly, we're talking, and John, about a certain place and environment, playing with many, of course this was the basis, the homes of many of the great jazz singers of the past, little places like Andy's today. Now the guys you worked with, Goodman's band, and you're going to work with Woody Herman soon, and but working with these guys here, Chicago band of veteran musicians is kind of exciting, isn't it? This is part of tradition, too. Good players. This is part of a throwback again we're talking about, aren't we, John? I think so. I think so. I, you have a hell of a group of musicians on that track you just heard.[match striking] And Don DeMichael was the drummer, John DeFoe was the guitarist, John Bany I suspect was the bass player and Steve Beyer was the piano player. And when I, I first heard Polly about three or four years ago and she was fine, but I really didn't, I didn't become impressed with her until I heard her with this band. And I, and when I sent the tape, the cassette tape to Benny, and suggesting he listen to it, he called me back and he said he thought it was, she was terrific. And later on he explained to me one of the things he liked about Polly and the band and just the whole performance as a unit. And that was the rhythm section. He said it had a nice, juicy, meaty old- fashioned sound to it, and he liked that guitar of John DeFoe's and he liked that drumming of DeMichael because, well, Benny's complaint about guitar players and piano players today is that they all want to comp, nobody wants to play time, well, that's a rhythm section that plays time. And -- Let me mention the horn players, too. Thank you for that. Ted Butterman is on trumpet or cornet and Miles Zimmerman on clarinet, and John Topel on sax. By this time you also know the nuances, don't you, the subtleties here of the guys and they know yours. But by the thing you mentioned influences, what is it about Lee Wiley, who was quite a marvelous, some would say a great two o'clock in the morning voice singer. What is it about her that you like? Well, she knocked me out. My brother bought me one of her albums when I was out of college and she did--was one half of Gershwin and the other half was, was Cole Porter. And I guess the first thing that impressed me about her was, was her phrasing, and the way the lyrics came across. That's a marvelous thing about these tunes from, from the '30s, you know, as John said the popular song is, is the lyrics, and she just had a wonderful way. [break in recording] That Lee Wiley and that's Ruby Braff's horn we fade on there. John was describing your voice and you have it, Polly, too, that smokiness, the word "smoky." The deep voice, you know, had a really substance to it. And the lyrics, the lyrics of those songs gave a singer so much to communicate, too. That's a good question, that, I'm glad you asked that, Polly, lyrics. How, how -- the lyrics to you? The lyrics of the tunes? Well they were very easy to sing, they were--I don't know, the the way they, they, the phrasing. I don't know why but it was just the way that the writers did. I don't know how they did it, but the way they blended with, with the music. It was just The words, but the words then, the words mean something to Oh, yeah. Oh, for sure, sure the words are very important. You know, that's the whole. I was thinking, we haven't heard you do a ballad. We heard two up tunes. Now "I've Got a Crush on You", that's an old Gershwin song. That's a Gershwin song. A very good one, has a marvelous verse, too. Where'd you sing this? I sang this one at, at Grant Park at the Chicago Jazz Festival. Well, this was Grant Park again refer, refer to the Downbeat article of this current issue, and Polly, it looks like he, that is Benny Goodman, has found another winner, and come again he's had, by the way, he's had a good number of-- He's Women vocalists, he had Peggy Lee and Ethel Ennis, who was the best thing. By the way, she sang "The Star-Spangled Banner" during the open--before the, one of the World Series games in Baltimore, and she was the best thing about the game. [laughing] She made "The Star-Spangled Banner" suddenly sound good, and she swang it. And it was Ethel Ennis, believe it or not. Really? One of your predecessors with Benny. Wow, Ethel Ennis. Well, see, I have--so maybe someday I'll be doing that, Well, Ethel worked with Benny in the late '50s. Oh he's had a really, a very good luck with vocalists over the years. Peggy Lee, there was Helen Ward-- Helen Helen Forrest, well he, Helen came out of Artie Shaw's Oh, she was Shaw. But you know, not a lot of people know that he used Barbra Streisand in the early--in the very early '60s before she became a celebrated-- Also Billie Holiday did her first recording with Benny That's right. Absolutely. Back in 1933. We'll hear Billie with Benny in a moment. But here's Polly, Polly Podewell, who by the way--not by the way--is singing at Rick's Cafe with that good jazz concert. She's going to be there. And it's funny, you are in the room where Helen Humes sung, and that's kind of nice, at Rick's Cafe on the Holiday Inn on, on, on Outer Drive, on Lake Shore Drive through this weekend. Tonight, Friday night, and Saturday and Sunday. With two great jazz music--well, a number of great jazz musicians, but the headliners are, are Vic Dickenson and Doc Cheatham, who are very lyrical musicians. Of Don't forget Barrett Deems. And Barrett Deems and-- The dervish-- [Bela Lugosi. And Red Richards, yeah. And "I Got a Crush on You". [break in recording] Polly handles a ballad beautifully. By the way, that was, that was Goodman again, and there's that, this was where, this was Grant This was at Grant Park, yeah. There was a little interference in that tape. That's, Polly was not hoarse, it was just, I think the speakers were picking up-- John, you were in that audience. That was, that was quite an event, wasn't it? That was a big audience, yeah, it was a, quite an event. Seventy-five thousand people. So you sung for 75,000. Funny thing is, you know, when you're, when you're up there, I presented Torme with an award that night so I got a stage-eye glimpse of that crowd. Fact is, it could be, you know, could be 500,000, but you only can see the first five or six hundred people out in front of you, so you're really not conscious of that. Question: It's a goofy question, but a big one. I was just thinking, Andy's up here on Hubbard Street, Andy's a little bar there. I mentioned bars, that is, not bars, but these nightclubs or these taverns or these, not named near, you know we can skip some of those. That's where the quote unquote "beautiful people" far from that go, you know. And how do you sing at those joints? What do you do? What do I do? When they don't pay any attention at all. Oh, well you just keep singing. I, I don't know, you don't notice it after a while. I mean, Andy's is, is a very good crowd, I think, we've got a lot of newspaper people and you get a lot of--I sang at a place called Eugene's here in Chicago for two years, and you had people eating around you and talking and, the, the, the big reward of that is though when people do listen to you, you know, and, and when they do shut She named the nameless joint. Oh, [laughing] Oh I'm sorry. That's all right. It's true. I didn't know that's what-- There's a marvelous pianist, Norm Wallace, you know, and how he does it is a miracle, you know, he plays and, and of course that marvelous Audrey Morris. You're like Audrey, who sings this wonderful Billie Holiday, and I'm thinking, they have to work at those joints, you know and -- Well in fact you know you learn your, you learn your craft there, But it was a good experience. I was, I said -- there was an article in the Sun-Times last Sunday, and it mentions that, you know, I mentioned in the article that it was a great experience, though, 'cause you work five nights--you know it was, you build your craft. You know, you work at it, and you really have to sing, you know, you really have to sing hard, I mean, because you've trying to reach these people, and so you really work hard at it. One or two you hear and that's it. One or two who, who listen to you in those places I And it's, and it's all worth it, well, it's, you know. There's something happen when you sing, say, again this is a silly question I'm about to ask. There's something happening when you're singing before 75,000? Is your approach different than that of singing before at Andy's? No. At an intimate place. No. No. I don't even--when I sing at a concert, I don't notice all the people. I just, I just sing the way I normally sing. Let's take a little break now. We'll take a little break, we'll return after this message to Polly Podewell and John McDonough. John, jazz critic, a very excellent one, and collector of records, and Polly Podewell, who's one of the very fine jazz singers indeed around and about, singing at, at this moment, Friday that's tonight, Saturday, Sunday, a chance to hear her or see her at Rick's Cafe in Holiday Inn off Lake Shore Drive and we'll resume in a moment. [break in recording] So resuming with Polly Podewell and John McDonough sitting by here. Influences, you mentioned, you mentioned Lee Wiley, and now of course your, you smile when you glow when you think of Mildred Bailey. Oh yeah, yeah, she was--she's definitely I think, is my favorite singer. Well, Holiday is, I think, everybody's, every jazz singer has to, to think that Holiday is, is the biggest influence on them. But Bailey certainly is a wonderful singer. What is it she did that, what do you feel that made her different for you? Bailey? I guess her phrasing again, and, and the things that she did off the melody line, that -- she did some beautiful things like, there again her, her voice is, is like an instrument in the band and did some wonderful things with the tunes that she did. I love to listen to Mildred, Mildred had a, had a I think she had a better vocal instrument than, than Billie did. She, I think she had a, a better range. Billie, Billie's glory is in other areas. Well [knowing?] of what she did to a lyric and break a syllable and Yeah, yeah, she, she, she didn't stick to the beat that much. Mildred was more inclined I think to, to rest on the beat as you do. She was a rhythmic singer and she had a, a glorious falsetto sound in her And Alec Wilder, the, the composer, Alec, he goes crazy when he hears Billie Holiday, he admires her, but he, he couldn't bear that she would work her own beat. You know, he wanted to hear the -- however, the magnificence of Billie, of course, is her uniqueness, what she did with a lyric. Coming back to Mildred Bailey. She was a big woman. Very And yet the voice-- High Was so little. Little voice. But what she did with that little voice was what it's about, isn't it? And Mildred had one of the hallmarks of a great popular singer, I think. She, she had perfect diction, and that was one of the things that struck me about Polly, particularly on ballads. Her diction, she hands you each syllable on a silver platter. And it's, even at, even at fast tempos, the words never get lost. I'm not going to ask you about rock interpretations, rock singers and what happens to the lyric of a song. Can you understand when, do you hear them? Maybe you do, you're hearing it. Can you understand the lyrics of many of the rock performers? No, but I don't know that they're intended to be understood sometime. [laughing] There's a singer I, I've heard lately, Rickie Lee Jones, and her, her, her pronunciation is, it's constantly out of focus. Out of register, I mean Oh, I don't mind their putting their phrasing, I'm talking about I can't understand the words. Now whether it's my hearing, I'm thinking also about the volume, the electrified instruments, the automatic, you know, the automated stuff, and I don't know. Coming back to that's why the lyric. So this is, this is Mildred Bailey. "Nobody's Baby". [break in recording] You talk about clarity of lyrics. Mildred Bailey. I suppose one of the things to ask you, Polly, is when Goodman said it's a throwback to another time, meaning it, of course, very complimentary indeed. It's, it's, it's a music, a kind of singing that seems to have disappeared and yet it's there. The audience, so it brings the audience, some first reaction would be is, you have middle-aged audience, or is that so, do you have young people? We have the young people. At Andy's we have a number of young people, and Benny does concerts at universities, we did one at Vanderbilt a couple of weeks ago down in Nashville, and it was all young people and they loved it. So there's hope. Yes. Well, you know, you, you were suggesting that it's a, it's a style of singing that is almost a lost art. And I think, I think the singers who sang the songs and the composers who wrote the songs were mutually dependent upon one another in a lot of ways. Today record artists tend to write their own material, they write for themselves, not for other people, but with the, as this trend has come along in the last 20 years or so, I think, I think almost, maybe the art of the great popular song is possibly fading, save for Stephen Sondheim and some of the, the, the few great ones that are left. But certainly there are not the number of the Gershwins and the Porters and the Kerns. By the way, I see you making a very strong point here. You see, there's a danger that what we're saying may sound as though we are nostalgic. We're talking about something else, not nostalgia, we're talking about how quickly changes happen because of technology I think, as well as fad and fashion changing so quickly. Oh, I think that-- And, so, there's a break. But what, what Polly is doing is continuing something that's always been there but lost because of advertising and vogue and fashions changing, you see. I think that's true. It's the, the composers in the '30s wrote for singers. They wrote for the Crosbys and the, and the Mildred Baileys, and they knew there were great singers out there to perform their work, and, and the singers were dependent on the great composers for their own material. So there was a marvelous, you know, interdependency there, and then maybe that's,that's what's not around anymore. Then I want to talk about influences, Polly, on you. Mildred is a big one, Mildred Bailey and Wiley and though Billie was not the influence, something about her that hit you though, too, Billie Holiday. Well, well Holiday was just -- how do you explain Holiday? She -- I, when I first listened to her, I was, I remember I put on one of her -- well, not when I first listened to her, but one time I wanted to learn some, a, a melody to a tune, so I put on -- I knew that she did the tune, so I put on the record and then I tried to sing the tune. Then I realized that she wasn't singing the melody line at all, but she was singing off the melody line, which was, which was her, one of her attractions, that she was, had this incredible ability to right away go and, and sing a completely different melody line, you know, off line, off, off the melody line. And she, she didn't have, sing right on the beat. She, she sang off the beat. Someone said that she emphasized the beat by not singing the beat. But there again, she was also with, with the lyrics, she But yet her timing, musicians-- With Holiday, the lyrics came in, you know, were there. She was a completely instinctive performer. Very instinctive, not intellectualizing at all, but just instince. The, the peformer, the great jazz men who worked with instrumentalists always spoke of her sense of, even though she may have been off the beat, her sense of time. The funny thing about instinctive performers, though, when they become conscious of what makes them great, sometimes they tend to lose that instinct, ironically. Suppose we hear what -- well, here too, let's hear a, this is a segue. Billie Holiday doing an up-tempo tune, "What a Little Moonlight Can Do" with that, that great session when Teddy Wilson backed her and a variety of others, and-- Teddy's on this and Benny Goodman is on it, and Ben Webster. Shaw's and Ben Webster's on it, and this is "What a Little Moonlight Can Do" back in 1937 around there, '38. And then we'll hear you, Polly, doing it. [break in recording] Hey, Polly Podewell, ho, what's up with Lady Day? I told you, That's a different interpretation. What were you saying about Polly's voice? I said at the end there, her -- she was, she was hitting it like a, almost like a lead trumpeter would hit, hit into the, the out chorus. It's really strong and, and completely different from the Billie Holiday approach, which floated around, under over, beside the beat-- And both approaches are right. That's the point, isn't And Polly was in lockstep with the beat. Let it swing. Yeah, I was thinking of that, of that current Downbeat review of Goodman and Polly Podewell, and the writer goes on to say, in addition to being, about Polly Podewell, whom Benny Goodman only heard three days before rehearsal because you, John, had sent the tapes to him there at Ravinia and adding it to his Meadow Brook concert at Michigan, that the writer says, "She's a master of American popular song idiom in its highest form, not really a jazz singer, and Miss Podewell, Miss Podewell could be likened to Crosby, Bennett, Rosemary Clooney, Mildred Bailey, handful of the popular singers, at home in a jazz ensemble, diction clear without being stilted, the middle up tempo, she swings easily, on the ballads her emotional range enhances a song without spilling over into the theatrical, her vibrato is soothing and gently erotic. She has a sound of her own that doesn't call attention to itself." And I think that's kind of nice. What I like about Polly is, there's no attempt to be the personality who would take away from the song. The song is the star, yeah. There's So, you, the song is it, isn't it? The song says it all. You know, that's that. The lyrics. You know, years ago, a number of years ago in a wholly different form of singing, Richard Dyer-Bennet, the great singer of arc songs and folk music has always made this point, that is it is the song and what the writer had in mind that he, the artist onstage, is not going to be overly theatrical it's there. The theater's in the actual stuff, in putting it forth, and this has always been a I think that's pro -- that's, that's important in ballads, but in songs like, well, like what we just heard, "What a Little Moonlight Can Do". Now, this was a little pop tune of the middle '30s, not a, not a particularly great song, but it's a, it's, it's one of those songs that musicians can really sink their teeth into and really turn into something important. And Billie did it. Polly did it, and-- I think it was originally done very slow, and like something from an old movie, you know, the heroine would, you know, sing about the moonlight. It wasn't meant to be-- What's one, one more. This is to point out that Polly Podewell is singing, and Vic Dickenson, the marvelous jazz man, is head trombonist and Doc Cheatham at, at the Holiday Inn on Lake Shore Drive in Ontario, I think, part of--Holiday Inn isn't--the place is called Rick's Cafe. Good jazz. Are you there tonight, Saturday, Sunday-- Not Sunday. Just-- Oh, tonight and Saturday. Two nights. Tonight and Saturday. Let's end with a, a segue here. Another singer, a Benny Goodman singer of time passed. Helen Ward. Well, you saw Helen when you were Yeah, I saw Helen's opening night in New York. She's back singing again, and she's made a whole new career again, and she's going to be coming to Rick's, I think. But she still sounds very good. This was when, hearing her? Oh, well, let's see. I put together her famous performance of "Goody, Goody", the, the Helen Ward vocal was from an airshot right down the street here in the Congress Hotel, the Joseph Urban Room, 1935. You're Forty-four, I'm It And She Is And Yeah. So I This At So Nineteen

Studs Terkel Nineteen thirty-five. Forty-four years ago and then the 1979. Helen Ward, and then we'll hear Polly Podewell. [break in recording] Oh yeah, that's continuity. Helen Ward 1935 to Polly Podewell 1979 and that's what it's really about, isn't it, in a way, and that's why Polly's singing is so good. Polly Podewell and Johnny McDonough for being that historian who, who keeps up that [that order?] to the chronicle.

John McDonough The continuity, Studs.

Studs Terkel The continuity, and Polly Podewell singing with, and there is Vic Dickenson and Doc Cheatham, two very marvelous jazzmen, and Polly singing at Rick's on Outer Drive, Lake Shore Drive in, in the Holiday Inn tonight and through tomorrow night, Saturday. And thank you very much indeed.