Marian and Jimmy McPartland: Not a TV theme to be found between
the album covers. Plenty of cha chas. Not theirs, but, you know,
When I go to record stores, my goal is to get in and out without leaving any cash behind. Even when I really, really want something. Like “1984,” that David Peel and the Lower East Side album that has been taunting me from the bins of the Record Exchange for a decade or more, and which I swear I will buy if it the price ever drops below $35. The trick is to have steel nerves, knowing you already have all the music anyone could possibly want in a lifetime too short to listen to it all, cha cha cha, all while remaining unconcerned by the possibility that you might be letting something brilliant get away, like that bootleg of alternative takes from the Rolling Stones' “Their Satanic Majesties Request” sessions I spotted — and walked away from — at Mystery Train. Or was that a twisted fever dream straight out of Hunter S. Thompson? Yet I persist in holding onto the dream of landing that major score, like when I found the Plastic People of the Universe album “Pašijové hry velikononi /Passion Play” tucked away in a box under the bins at Toonerville Trolley for far less than the previously mentioned “1984.”
But not all my family is as ... um, cheap. Which is how we ended up with “Jimmy and Marion McPartland Play TV Themes,” an album we bought for a buck, a price that almost brings a smile to a parsimonious Yankee’s face — almost — at Welfare Records, one of our favorite haunts for looking at, if not actually buying records, before what has become an interminable renovation at the Haverhill storefront. It’s an album we bought, took home, but never actually possessed, because we never really purchased it. Cha cha cha. We had a musical pig in a poke, whatever that means, a vinyl wolf in sheep’s clothing. Or something. What we actually had, hidden inside the sleeve of tragically misspelled “Jimmy and Marion” was “Noro Morales Plays Cha Cha Chas,” a way-out-of-print Pickwick International Records release from two years later than the album we thought we’d bought (that would be 1962), loaded with classic chas — hot-cha-cha cha-chas, as Jimmy Durante might have said around the same time. Famous chas like “Ja-Da,” “Don’t Be That Way” and “Darktown Strutters Ball.” Others like “Once In A While,” “Maybe,” “Three O’Clock In The Morning,” “Pagan Love Song,” “Paradise,” “Peg O’ My Heart” and “Candy.”
The one that got away
and the one we got.
Maybe, but, still, fun — a taste of a rapidly receding past that will never return, leaving a lot of youngsters — baby boomers, too — saying “Noro who”? So, here's who: Morales was a Puerto Rican pianist and bandleader who shot to fame in the mambo and rumba music world in the '30s and '40s, and whose bands challenged the best in New York, even the Cuban musician known as Machito, considered the inventor of salsa and a major influence on guys like George Shearing, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker and Stan Kenton. Many Latin music greats floated through Noro’s bands during this period, including Tito Rodriguez and Tito Puente. Morales stayed true to his Latin roots, using a traditional line-up featuring a rhythm section that included bass, bongos, conga, timbales, and claves, and himself on piano. Cha
But getting back to the one that got away, the McPartlands’ second album, “Play TV Themes,” so OK, it’s a testament to nearly forgotten pop culture history. Aside from the B-side opener, Henry Mancini’s theme to “Peter Gunn,” perhaps the greatest theme song in the American century, I “know” only a couple of them, like “Londonderry Air,” sort of, seeing how, unfortunately, I know “Danny Boy,” and sort of remember “Make Room for Daddy,” although I’m way more familiar with “That Girl,” Danny Thomas’s daughter Marlo’s show. And sort of remember the Bat Masterson show, or, to be honest, remember how we used to call him “Bat Masterbater." Mostly it’s a history lesson on the early days of television, before its golden age, heralded by the ascension of “Murder She Wrote.”
There’s “IM4U,” a goofy novelty song, the theme for the Jack Paar Show — Paar, who apparently was Johnny Carson back when Carnac the Magnificent was knee-high, and “Thanks for Dropping In,” which is actually “Thanks for Dropping By,” the theme for something called “The Garry Moore Show.” (Hmmm, I never knew the guitarist for Thin Lizzy had a TV show when I was in short pants. Him, too.) The insufferably saccharine “Sentimental Journey” — composed by Les Brown, whose renowned band’s theme song it was — introduced Dave Garroway’s radio show from the ‘40s, and was the first “Today” show theme.
I didn’t realize it until I Googled it, but I was certainly familiar with “Mystery March,” the theme for “Alfred Hitchcock Presents,” based on “Funeral March of a Marionette,” written in 1872 by the French composer Charles Gounod — or, as this album might have it, “Funeral March of a Marianette.” And the immensely forgettable “Mr. Lucky,” the Mancini theme that sounds like the schmaltz they play over tinny speakers at skating rinks, was barely a one-hit wonder, television-wise. But the biggest flaw is that the album doesn’t include the theme to “Perry Mason,” the “Freebird” of television themes. We learned all this on the Internet, which never lies, because, cha cha cha, like I said, we bought the album, but never actually listened to it. Still ...
Who's that lady, as the Isley Brothers famously sang?
Marian McPartland, dat's who.
I didn’t have a clue who Jimmy and Marian McPartland were. Or Marion either, cha cha cha.
My spendthrift accomplice, the one who doled out a buck for the album, used to listen to Marian’s “Piano Jazz” program on NPR Friday nights. And we did find out who Manhattan Red, the pseudonym of “one of the world’s greatest trombone players,” the liner notes breathlessly inform us, who, because of contractual obligations, could not use his real name — like those sessions Art Pepper did as Art Salt). We figured Jack Teagarden. Makes sense, right? Right instrument, right connections. But no, it was Urban (“Urbie”) Clifford Green: indeed a big shot, he played with several versions of Benny Goodman bands and recorded with nearly all of the major jazz musicians of the ‘50s and ‘60s. Hard to keep a secret in the day of the Internet.
McPartland was a trumpet/coronet player who developed a variant of Dixieland that became known as Chicago-style, and was a veteran of the Ben Pollack Band, which included guys like Goodman, Glenn Miller and Teagarden. He met Marian Turner — stage name, Marian Page — an English pianist, on a USO gig during the Second World War. He formed a jazz group with his new wife after bringing her to the United States in 1946.
But looks like we’ll never have the full-on experience, the “revolution in recording” on the Design Compatible Stereo record promised on that album cover, one that “stereophonically reproduces the ultimate in two-channel separation and sound on any stereo machine,” and guarantees my music library “will never become obsolete!” Ha ha ha, cha cha cha. (Their exclamation point, not mine.) As for the instruction to “listen — be amazed,” we’ll never know.
By the way, my accomplice also bought “Sylvie Vartan au Palais des Congrès,” a double album from 1977, back when the tough-sounding yé-yé singer and her then-husband, Johnny Hallyday, ruled the French airwaves. That album, which we landed for under five bucks, is notable for the way the photographer Helmut Newton, known for his provocative, erotically charged work, portrayed the Bob-Mackie-clad sex kitten as a trashy drag queen on the cover. We haven’t listened to this either, but only because we haven’t gotten around to it. Maybe we should take a closer look at what's inside. Cha cha cha.