MUSIC CLIP - OSCAR PETERSON, “MOONGLOW”
Welcome to Afterglow, [a show of vocal jazz and popular song from the Great American Songbook], I’m your host, Mark Chilla.
Country and jazz. Perhaps you think the two genres are like oil and water: they just don’t mix. But you might be surprised. This month marks 60 years since Ray Charles released his groundbreaking album Modern Sounds In Country and Western Music, blending country songs with R&B singing and jazz orchestration. And in honor of that anniversary, I’ll be exploring the nexus between these two genres. Coming up, we’ll hear country songs sung by Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald. We’ll hear jazz songwriters like Cole Porter writing old-fashioned Western tunes. And we’ll hear the jazz influences of country songwriters like Willie Nelson, plus a lot more.
It’s Country And Western Sounds In Jazz and Pop Music, coming up next on Afterglow
MUSIC - RAY CHARLES, “DON’T TELL ME YOUR TROUBLES”
MUSIC - RAY CHARLES, “OH, LONESOME ME”
Ray Charles in 1962 with two country songs by country songwriter Don Gibson, the so-called “Sad Poet” of Country Music. Just now, we heard “Oh, Lonesome Me,” originally recorded by Gibson in 1957, before that, “Don’t Tell Me Your Troubles,” originally recorded by Gibson in 1959. Both of those renditions come from Ray Charles’s album Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music, Volume Two, a follow-up to his original, hugely-successful Modern Sounds album, which was released only six months earlier. On this second volume, the up tempo big band numbers (like these two) are all on side A, whereas the slower ballads with choir are all on side B.
Mark Chilla here on Afterglow. On this show, we’re exploring the country influence on jazz and pop singers of the 1940s, 50s, and 60s.
Now, you might be thinking to yourself, country and jazz? There’s no connection. To paraphrase Mr. Rudyard Kipling: Oh, Country is Country, and Jazz is Jazz, and never the twain shall meet.
But you’d be surprised. What you’re hearing right now is a seminal 1930 recording by one of the founders of country music, Jimmie Rodgers, the so-called “Singing Brakeman.” This is “Blue Yodel, No. 9.”
MUSIC CLIP - JIMMIE RODGERS, “BLUE YODEL, NO. 9”
If you have a keen enough ear, you probably also noticed the unmistakable tone of Louis Armstrong there in the background playing trumpet. When recording out in Hollywood, Jimmie Rodgers asked Armstrong to sit in with him on a session, and the two easily found common musical ground. Why?
Well, when you trace the musical lineage of country and jazz, you’ll find a common ancestor: the blues. Blues forms, blue notes, and songs about feeling lonesome are common to both early country songs and jazz standards—the split happens later, as race began to divide the two genres.
Some of those early blues-related standards, like “Careless Love,” “Ain't Nobody's Business” or “Trouble In Mind,” have established themselves in the jazz genre. Here, for instance, is Dinah Washington, with “Trouble In Mind”..
MUSIC CLIP - DINAH WASHINTON, “TROUBLE IN MIND”
… But they were also well established in the country genre. Here is Merle Haggard with the same song…
MUSIC CLIP - MERLE HAGGARD, “TROUBLE IN MIND”
The result of this common blues origin is a frequent blending of styles. Take the genre of “boogie woogie” music. It was an outgrowth of the blues, an upbeat, danceable genre. Boogie Woogie defined the sound of some Black artists like Louis Jordan, who sits at the nexus between jazz, R&B, and early rock ‘n’ roll.
MUSIC CLIP - LOUIS JORDAN, “CHOO CHOO CH’BOOGIE”
But boogie woogie music comes from Texas, and can often have a country flavor. There’s a lot of similarities between boogie woogie of the 1940s (mostly an R&B subgenre), and honky tonk of the 1940s (mostly a country subgenre).
So, it’s no wonder that a jazz artist, like Bing Crosby or Ella Fitzgerald, could sing a country-based boogie woogie song without a second thought. Jazz, boogie woogie, honky tonk: it’s all based in the blues. It’s the common language.
Let’s hear a couple of examples now. First up, here is a country boogie woogie tune, first performed by country artist Red Foley in 1949. This is Bing Crosby in 1950 with “Chattanoogie Shoe Shine Boy,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - BING CROSBY, CHATTANOOGIE SHOE SHINE BOY
MUSIC - ELLA FITZGERALD, COW COW BOOGIE
Ella Fitzgerald and the Ink Spots in 1943 with “Cow Cow Boogie,” a country boogie song written by Don Raye, Benny Carter, and Gene DePaul, originally from the 1942 Abbott and Costello film Ride Em Cowboy, which Ella Fitzgerald was also in. Before that, we heard “Chattanoogie Shoe Shine Boy,” a Red Foley country song performed there by Bing Crosby in 1950.
Now, the song “Cow Cow Boogie,” for all you country purists out there, may be more properly categorized as a western song, not a country song. The two genres—country and western—were conflated in the 1940s, since musically and thematically, they were fairly similar. But while Country music concerned itself with (and was made in) the American South, like Nashville, Western music, well, came from the American West. It was music of the prairies and cowboys.
Western music always had a stronger connection to jazz than country music. For instance, there’s the genre known as Western Swing, and it’s star performer Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys. They were known for taking the instrumentation of country music, and combining them with the rhythms of swing. Those jazz connections are strongest on recordings of jazz standards like “Please Don’t Talk About Me When I’m Gone”...
MUSIC CLIP - BOB WILLS AND HIS TEXAS PLAYBOYS, “PLEASE DON’T TALK ABOUT ME WHEN I’M GONE”
… many of their most popular recordings like “Roly Poly” or “Bubbles In My Beer” are far more country and western than they are jazz, but you can find recordings of Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys performing songs like Duke Ellington’s “Take The A Train” or Spencer Williams’ “Basin Street Blues”!
Western music was also closer to Hollywood, which had an established jazz connection. Since Western films were also popular at this time, several songwriters known for working on film musicals also had a hand in writing Western songs. “Cow Cow Boogie” is one such song, written for the film Ride Em Cowboy by Gene DePaul, Don Raye, and Benny Carter, three cosmopolitan musicians who had nothing to do with country or western music.
Another famous Western song comes from one of the most unlikely cosmopolitan songwriters: Cole Porter. Porter is most associated with upper class Paris and New York in the jazz age, and for writing clever songs that became standards for jazz singers. But one of his most enduring songs was a cowboy song, written for the 1934 film Adios, Argentina, based on a western-themed poem by Robert “Bob” Fletcher. The song is “Don’t Fence Me In,” made famous by the singing cowboy Roy Rogers, one of the founders of the Western singing group The Sons of The Pioneers.
MUSIC CLIP - ROY RODGERS, “DON’T FENCE ME IN”
It being a Cole Porter song, however, it also was adopted by several jazz artists. Here again is Ella Fitzgerald off of her Cole Porter songbook album from 1956 with “Don’t Fence Me In,” on Afterglow
MUSIC - ELLA FITZGERALD, “DON’T FENCE ME IN”
MUSIC - JO STAFFORD, “TUMBLING' TUMBLEWEEDS”
Jo Stafford and Paul Weston’s Orchestra in 1944 with “Tumbling Tumbleweeds,” a Western song first made famous Roy Rogers and the Sons of the Pioneers in 1934. Stafford had her feet in both country and jazz. She sang with country star Red Ingle on a few country novelty records in the late 1940s, assuming the fake hillbilly identity of Cinderella G. Stump, and sang a few other country crossover hits (under her own name) in the 1940s and 50s. Before that, we heard Ella Fitzgerald from her Cole Porter songbook album in 1956 with “Don’t Fence Me In,” another song made famous by Western icon Roy Rogers.
Lots of other singers known for jazz dabbled in Western music from time to time. Chief among them was Bing Crosby, who had hits with songs in all kinds of different genres, including Western…
MUSIC CLIP - BING CROSBY, “NEW SAN ANTONIO ROSE”
…that was his 1941 version of the song “New San Antonio Rose,” written by Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys.
Even Peggy Lee, who got her start singing in Benny Goodman’s famous jazz band in the 1940s, had a hit as a solo artist singing a song that’s considered by the Western Writers of America to be the greatest Western song of all time, “Ghost Riders In The Sky.”
MUSIC CLIP - PEGGY LEE, “GHOST RIDERS IN THE SKY”
But let’s turn now to a different artist who melded Western music and jazz even more completely about two decades later, Ray Charles.
As a child growing up in Georgia, Charles recognized the common blues lineage of country music and R&B, and took that connection to its logical end on his 1962 landmark album Modern Sounds In Country and Western Music. On this LP, Charles treats many of the biggest country and western hits as if they were jazz and blues standards, calling upon jazz arrangers like Marty Paich and Gerald Wilson to help with the big band arrangements.
It was seen as a daring move amid all of the racial segregation that was happening in the early 1960s, but Ray Charles believed in the music and believed in his listeners. The gamble was a success. Modern Sounds In Country and Western Music became a massive hit, topping the Billboard charts, and featured in pop, R&B, and country markets. It helped raise the profile of country music, but also for a time, helped blur the boundaries between Black and White, as the civil rights movement was entering a fevered pitch.
Let’s hear a song from that album now, a country song (not a Western song) written by Georgia native Curley Williams in 1951, and made famous by Hank Williams the following year. This is Ray Charles with “Half As Much,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - RAY CHARLES, “HALF AS MUCH”
Ray Charles with the Curley Williams country song “Half As Much.” That comes from the 1962 album Modern Sounds In Country and Western Music.
MUSIC CLIP - LES PAUL AND MARY FORD, “HOW HIGH THE MOON”
Some Les Paul in the background right now, a powerhouse guitarist in both the jazz and country genres in the 1950s
We’ll have more of the crossover between country and jazz in just a bit.
I’m Mark Chilla, and you’re listening to Afterglow
MUSIC CLIP - BOB WILLS AND HIS TEXAS PLAYBOYS, “TAKE THE A TRAIN”
MUSIC CLIP - COUNT BASIE, “I CAN’T STOP LOVING YOU”
Welcome back to Afterglow, I’m Mark Chilla. We’ve been exploring the crossover between jazz and country music this hour. Ray Charles’s 1962 album Modern Sounds In Country And Western Music is probably the best known and most influential combination of these genres, adding jazz orchestration to country standards. The lead single from this album, “I Can’t Stop Loving You” originally by country artist Don Gibson, went to number one on the Billboard pop charts in 1962.
While the song is still very much a standard among country artists, Charles’s rendition also helped turn it into a standard for jazz artists as well. Let’s hear a version now from a few years later.
This is Frank Sinatra with Count Basie’s Orchestra in 1964 with “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - FRANK SINATRA AND COUNT BASIE, “I CAN’T STOP LOVING YOU”
MUSIC - CARMEN MCRAE, “YOU DON’T KNOW ME”
Carmen McRae with the 1955 Eddy Arnold country song “You Don’t Know Me.” That version was recorded for Decca Records in 1956, in fact, six years before Ray Charles turned it into a Billboard hit on his album Modern Sounds In Country and Western Music from 1962. Before that, we heard another country song made famous by Ray Charles in 1962, “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” originally written by country songwriter Don Gibson. That version was from two years later, performed by Frank Sinatra and Count Basie off of their 1964 album It Might As Well Be Swing.
Don Gibson and Eddy Arnold weren’t the only country songwriters who had crossover hits with jazz and pop singers. The legendary country singer-songwriter Hank Williams, known for his high lonesome voice, also wrote a few songs that crossed over. His biggest success was his song “Cold, Cold Heart,” written in 1951.
MUSIC CLIP - HANK WILLIAMS, “COLD, COLD HEART”
Williams’ publisher pushed the song to others outside of country music, and that same year, three other versions were made: one by jazz-R&B singer Dinah Washington, one by the pure jazz singer Louis Armstrong, and one by jazz-pop crooner Tony Bennett, who turned it into a number 1 pop hit.
Let’s hear that now. Here is Tony Bennett in 1951 with Hank Williams, “Cold, Cold Heart,”
MUSIC - HANK WILLIAMS, “COLD, COLD HEART”
MUSIC - RAY CHARLES, “HEY GOOD LOOKIN’”
Two crossover songs by country songwriter Hank Williams. Just now we hear Ray Charles, from his 1962 album Modern Sounds In Country And Western Music with “Hey, Good Lookin’,” before that, Tony Bennett in 1951 with “Cold, Cold Heart,” a hit single for Columbia Records.
There’s one more country songwriter that I want to feature this hour, and that’s Willie Nelson. Despite being known today as an outlaw country icon, Nelson’s jazz influences are quite evident from the beginning. Even on his early songs, Nelson used jazzier harmonies than what was in your typical three-chord country song of the day, and borrowed forms that were more similar to jazz songs of the 1920s and 30s. Let’s hear two of those Willie Nelson songs now, which each demonstrate Nelson’s jazzier songwriting style.
First up, here is Eydie Gormé with Willie Nelson’s famous song “Crazy,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - EYDIE GORME, “CRAZY”
MUSIC - JULIE LONDON, “NIGHT LIFE”
Two songs written by the jazz-influenced country songwriter Willie Nelson. Just now we heard Julie London in 1968 with “Night Life,” before that, Eydie Gorme in 1964 with the Willie Nelson song “Crazy.”
Starting in the late 1970s, Willie Nelson put his jazz influence on full display when he decided to record a number of songs from the Great American Songbook. Songwriters like Hoagy Carmichael, George Gershwin, and Duke Ellington had influenced him from the beginning as a songwriter, and once he gained enough success in the music business, he was able to put out an album of these beloved jazz and pop songs without any pushback from his record label. The result, the 1978 LP Stardust—named after the Hoagy Carmichael tune and produced by Booker T. Jones—spent over two years on Billboard’s top album charts, and made jazz standards an integral part of his repertoire ever since.
To close off this episode, here is a track from that original LP now. This is Willie Nelson with “On The Sunny Side Of The Street,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - WILLIE NELSON, “ON THE SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET”
Country star Willie Nelson with the Jimmy McHugh and Dorothy Fields standard “On The Sunny Side Of The Street,” from his 1978 LP Stardust, his first of many albums featured jazz standards.
Thanks for tuning in to this look at the crossover between jazz and country, on Afterglow.
MUSIC CLIP - LES PAUL AND MARY FORD, “ON THE SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET”
Afterglow is part of the educational mission of Indiana University and produced by WFIU Public Radio in beautiful Bloomington, Indiana. The executive producer is John Bailey.
Playlists for this and other Afterglow programs are available on our website. That’s at indianapublicmedia.org/afterglow.
I’m Mark Chilla, and join me next week for our mix of Vocal Jazz and popular song from the Great American Songbook, here on Afterglow