When making an album, I chose to record Taking A Chance On Love because I absolutely love the lyrics.
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Not long after I left the Swingle Singers, I went to a party where I met the jazz bass player Alexander L’Estrange. Alex is married to the soprano Joanna Forbes. Joanna joined the group just before I left and later went on to be the musical director. Alex played bass on the group’s anniversary tour, as well as writing many fine arrangements for them. We had a chat and when he asked me what I was going to do next (I’d been a member for ten years), I told him I had no idea, but would like to rekindle my love of singing jazz. I hadn’t sung in that style since I left The Guildhall some twelve years before. A week later, I got a call from Alex asking me if I would like to sing at a dinner in an Oxford College with a jazz pianist friend of his called Thomas Pilling. I worked hard to get together a pad with the charts of the songs I knew and headed off to Oxford feeling terrified. Was today the day when I would be discovered as a musical fraud? (I am assured by my colleagues that no matter how successful you are, you will always still feel that fear).
After the first set, we sat down to eat our first course. Tom asked me who else I sang with and I had to confess that, at the time, I wasn’t singing with anybody. He really encouraged me to pursue it and we went on to work together over the years that followed. I was pleased to discover today that Tom and Alex have published some jazz sheet music together published by Boosey & Hawkes. (click on the image)
One weekend, Tom came down to visit me in Brighton and we recorded a version of Taking a Chance On Love in my hallway. He split the sounds on his keyboard and it really sounds like it’s played by a bass player and a pianist – it was in fact Tom playing both at the same time. The mood is quite dreamy and that’s reflected in my singing. I remember that I was still suffering from a broken heart at the time!
Have a listen to that version of the song which I recorded with Thomas Pilling in 2001:
Taking a Chance On Love, was written by Vernon Duke for the singer Ethel Waters who starred in the ground-breaking Broadway musical, Cabin In The Sky. The show had an all-black cast including Lena Horne and Louis Armstrong (Gershwin’s 1935 opera Porgy and Bess had paved the way, as it had featured an entire cast of classically trained African-American singers.)
Whilst Duke was working on score with lyricist John Latouche, they decided that they needed a new song for their star, Ethel Waters. The story goes that Duke remembered an old song that he had written years earlier with Ted Fetter and was originally entitled Fooling Around With Love. (Ted Fetter started life as an actor and was a first cousin of Cole Porter and later went on to write additional lyrics for some of his songs).
After getting permission from Fetter, Latouche revised the lyrics and the song became Taking a Chance on Love. It was completed only three days before the first night. Vernon Duke wrote in his autobiography, Passport to Paris, ‘If ever a song stopped the show, but cold, it was Taking a Chance on Love.’
Cabin In The Sky opened in the Martin Beck Theatre on October 25, 1940 and closed on March 8, 1941 after 156 performances.
In 1943, MGM released a film based on the stage musical and it also starred Ethel Waters as Petunia along with Rex Ingram as Lucifer Junior. Eddie “Rochester” Anderson (who played Jack Benny’s valet on his radio and tv show) took over the role of Little Joe. In the original stage version Little Joe was played by Dooley Wilson who went on to portray Sam, the famous piano player in the 1942 Humphrey Bogart film, Casablanca.
Lena Horne played the temptress Georgia Brown in her first and only starring role in an MGM musical. Louis Armstrong was also featured along with Duke Ellington and his Orchestra. Here’s the trailer for the film:
Click here for a link to a YouTube video of Ethel Waters singing the song in the MGM film. I couldn’t embed the player as they had disabled the facility. There’s some wonderful tap dancing from Eddie Anderson on the clip as well!
When I was researching the songwriter Vernon Duke , I found out he was also known as Vladimir Aleksandrovich Dukelsky. He was a successful Russian composer who led an interesting dual life in music .
Vladimir was born in 1903 into a noble family in Parafianovo in Belarus (which was then part of the Russian Empire). He spent his early years studying music in Kiev but his family were forced to flee from the civil war in 1919 and they had to stay in Constantinople as refugees. They finally obtained American visas and sailed steerage class on the SS King Alexander to New York arriving on Ellis Island in 1921. He was befriended by George Gershwin in 1922 and encouraged to shorten and ‘americanize’ his name. (Gershwin had done the same thing as he was originally born Jacob Gershowitz). ‘Vernon Duke’ went on to write many popular songs collaborating with lyricists such as Johnny Mercer, Ira Gershwin, Ogden Nash and Sammy Cahn.
His songs include April in Paris and I Can’t Get Started and he wrote both the words and music for Autumn in New York. He is best known for Taking A Chance On Love.
As a classical composer the young man went to Paris in 1924 and collaborated with ballet impresario, Serge Diaghilev. His first piece Zephyr and Flora was staged by the Ballets Russes in their 1925 season. The composer Sergei Prokofiev described it as full of “superior melodies, very well designed, harmonically beautiful and not too ‘modernist’.” The two composers became good friends and continued writing to each other until 1946 when it became too dangerous for Prokofief, who had returned to Russia against his friend’s advice. Vernon moved between London and Paris until his return to America in 1929 where he continued to have success in both genres of music. He died on January 16, 1969, during an operation for lung cancer in California.
Have a listen to the new Album version of Taking A Chance On Love
This new version, recorded with David Newton is much more perky. We sing the whole lyric through with no piano solo. I confess that I’m well and truly in love again now and you can hear the optimism in this version. Feel the fear and do it anyway! Vocally, it’s interesting for me too. Although Tom’s version was recorded eleven years ago, my voice doesn’t sound very different. The older recording is a bit more covered in sound – on a technical note my soft palate is quite low in places. I think my vocal production is a bit more ‘direct’ now as I’ve been singing a lot more coloratura in the past few years (which means singing fast runs of notes). Vocal medicine has been provided, care of Mister JS Bach. I think this has made my voice much more flexible and forward placed. Teaching has helped too – analysing other singer’s technique has certainly improved mine.
I actually like both versions and found it really interesting hearing them both back to back – I hope you will too!
To listen to extracts from all fourteen songs from the new album, Click Here
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