Saturday, February 5, 2011

Mundell Lowe - “Our Waltz”

 “Improvisers intimidated by the unhurried ballad’s unavoidable requirement to think often address the problem by doubling the established tempo and falling back on a familiar pattern of notes. Mundell Lowe, a deep thinker and consummate guitarist, uses no such trick because he doesn’t need to. He observes the melodies of these cherished songs, sometimes embellishing them a bit, sometimes using their harmonies as touchstones for lovely melodies of his own. It is an album of mood music for the mind as well as the spirit.”
- Orrin Keepnews


© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

Growing up in Providence, RI, I was a always fascinated with radio dramatizations such as The Green Hornet, The Lone Ranger, and the more suspenseful dramas as portrayed in The Lux Radio Theatre, among many, many others.

After the family purchased a console that housed both an FM/AM radio and a turntable that could play 33 1/3 rpm LP’s, I laid claim to the Philco Catheral AM radio and “installed” it on the nightstand in my bedroom.

The Philco Cathedral, which was so old it was one-step remove from a crystal radio set – well, it wasn’t quite that old – offered decent reception for WJAR and WPRO, the local NBC and CBS affiliates, respectively.  Occasionally it caught a glimmer from the WBZ signal out of Boston, MA.

As the years went along, I would contently listen to radio drama after radio drama [sometimes surreptitiously after the “lights out” call], until one night, I reached the sign-off time for WJAR.

While the announcer said all of the necessary government verbiage for signing-off-the-air, I was suddenly struck by the beautiful music playing in the background.

It was a gorgeous melody whose refrain has continued with me to this day, but I never knew the name of it [I was still young enough at the time to think that “Reality” was something that I created, so the idea of calling the radio station and asking the name of the song never occurred to me].

A few years later, an uncle who played guitar [rather well, actually], brought home a copy of Guitar Moods [Riverside RLP-208; OJCCD-1957-2] by Mundell Lowe. 

Although I didn’t stay with them very long, I took a few lessons on guitar with my uncle and happened to notice Mundell’s album. In hopes of inspiring me to practice, he offered to let me borrow it.

For whatever reason [mostly to do with the short attention span of an adolescent], it was ages before I ever got around to listening to Mundell’s LP.

Finally, long after I had stopped taking lessons, my uncle remember that he had loaned the LP to me and asked that I return it.

Before doing so, I decided to play it and all of a sudden, there IT was – the beautiful music that I had heard on so many occasions as WJAR’s closing theme.

I flipped the album over and located the name of the tune.  It was Our Waltz by David Rose, a composer better known for other songs he has composed including Holiday for Strings, The Stripper, and So In Love.

Many years later, I finally acquired my own copy of Guitar Moods when it was issued on CD. These days, I remember to play the music on it often, and Our Waltz still weaves its magic spell over me.

Mundell occasionally performs at a nearby Jazz club and one night I asked him to play Our Waltz which he kindly, consented to do.

Listening to it always brings back memories of the glowing dial on that old Philco Cathedral radio and the song’s lovely melody rekindles thoughts of halcyon days gone by.

We have included it as the audio track on this video tribute to Mundell.

Here’s a retrospective of the highlights of Mundell’s career by Gene Lees.

© -Gene Lees, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“Guitarist Mundell Lowe has performed in a notable variety of styles and idioms. From 1936, when he was fourteen, until 1940, he played traditional New Orleans jazz in that city, at a time when many of its founding figures were still around. Then he went to Nashville and played what was then known as hillbilly music, later refined to country and western, per­forming on Grand Ol' Opry radio broad­casts. He went with the Jan Savitt band in 1942, then into the U.S. Army. On being discharged in 1945, he joined the Ray McKinley band and stayed for two years. Somewhere along the way, he—like Herb Ellis and just about every other guitarist in jazz — came under the influence of Charlie Christian, and then in the period of bop evolution, of Jimmy Raney.

Mundy, as he is known to friends, then played in small groups led by Mary Lou Williams, Red Norvo, and Ellis Larkins while studying composition with Hall Overton, working on staff at NBC, and even doing some off-Broadway acting. He formed a quartet that included Red Mitch­ell on bass, and while working with Mitch­ell in New Orleans discovered and hired a pianist from New Jersey who was then a student at Southeastern Louisiana Uni­versity— Bill Evans. Mundy Lowe was Bill's first champion in the business.

Mundy was a member of the Sauter-Finegan Orchestra in 1952 and '53, and in 1952 began working with Benny Good­man. He played with Goodman intermit­tently until 1984.

In 1965 Mundy moved to Los Angeles, where he worked mostly as a film and tel­evision composer. In 1983 he became music director of the Monterey Jazz Fes­tival. All the while he continued to per­form in his polished, thoughtful, unassuming style, touring from time to time with Benny Carter. He also toured with his gifted wife, singer Betty Bennett. He speaks pretty much as he plays, softly and with a sound of the South.”

And, if you’ve a mind to, you can enjoy another version of Our Waltz arranged and conducted by Robert Farnon as played by pianist George Shearing and set to the intriguing artwork of Avigdor Arikha [1929-2010].