Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Ask Mr. Music by Jerry Osborne


DEAR JERRY: I am perplexed by a word in "Mildred, Won't You Behave," by the Bill Elliott Swing Orchestra, from their "Calling All Jitterbugs" CD.

At the 2:28 mark, their female sings "She took the gators on two by two, she even danced with an ??" The mystery word ends with "roo," but is not kang-a-roo. It sounds like ek-ta-roo, or ig-a-roo.

Before writing, I searched the Internet, but to no avail. Now it's up to you.
—Jennifer Tyskiewicz, New Berlin, Wis.

You're right, Millie is not dancing with a kangaroo. If that were the case, far fewer people would flummoxed by the word, and it would still rhyme with "two."

Dare I also point out how appropriate it would be for a kangaroo to be doing the Lindy HOP, a dance for which music like this is perfect.

Okay, enough with the marsupial musing.

I realize you wrote many months ago, but it took this long to track down Bill Elliott, the person whose opinion I trust most when it comes to Mildred's dancing partners.

Bill told me he has been asked many times about this line, which is "she even danced with an ick-a-roo."

He discovered the jive usage of both "ickaroo" and "gator" in Cab Calloway's "(Hep-Hep!) The Jumpin' Jive" (Vocalion 5005), a million-seller in 1939. Only "Minnie the Moocher," Calloway's signature song, is better known.

In "(Hep-Hep!) The Jumpin' Jive," Cab suggests "Now don't you be that ickaroo, get hip c'mon and let me follow through … jumpin' like the gators do."

In Harlemese, an ickaroo is someone who is icky, and not hep to the jive. In the 1950s, this person would have been called a square, or more recently a dufus or dweeb. Ickaroos were never the life of the party.

On the other hand, a gator was a cool hep cat, and usually popular.

Seems Mildred didn't deny anyone the pleasure of her company. She took the gators on two by two, and EVEN danced with an ickaroo (but only one).

Elliott's retro style is so convincing that most folks think "Mildred," and his other swing tunes, came out in the 1940s. Not so! "Calling All Jitterbugs" (Wayland 00229) was recorded and issued in 1998.

Bill explains a bit about how they get that sound:

"First, these tracks were all recorded in Hollywood at Capitol's Studio B, essentially unchanged from when it opened in 1956, then modeled after the studio they used since the early '40s.

"Keeping with our retro theme, our quartet, known as Bill's Lucky Stars, sing together into one mike, just as the Pied Pipers with Jo Stafford.

"The Lucky Stars each sang with separate mikes at first, like most contemporary groups. But we found when they huddle close together they hear each other in a very physical way and can control their own blend.

"Even more important, the three guys, standing further away from the mike than Cassie, can belt it out with gusto. That turned out to be essential to recreating the old-time magic vocal sound.

"We created "Mildred, Won't You Behave" because of one comment by Michael Geiger, one of the Lucky Stars. He said: "It would be fun if we had a simple tune that really jumps." Soon we did."

In 2004, Bill moved from Los Angeles to Boston to teach arranging and orchestration at Berklee College of Music. For awhile, he commuted coast-to-coast, working in L.A. with the band, as well as doing assorted music projects for films and television.

IZ ZAT SO? More recently, Bill Elliott has arranged and orchestrated Broadway shows as well as producing and conducting for recording sessions.

In 2012, Bill enjoyed a most unusual trifecta — the distinction of being nominated for a Tony (orchestrator of "Nice Work if You Can Get It"); an Emmy (music director of the PBS special "The Sinatra Legacy"); and a GRAMMY (producer of "Nice Work if You Can Get It" cast album).

Busy as ever, Bill admitted "At this very moment, as we're talking, I'm doing some orchestration on an upcoming Broadway production of Rodgers & Hammerstein's "Cinderella."

I do know when it's time to say adieu.


Jerry Osborne answers as many questions as possible through this column. Write Jerry at: Box 255, Port Townsend, WA 98368 E-mail:   Visit his Web site:

All values quoted in this column are for near-mint condition.

Copyright 2013 Osborne Enterprises - Reprinted By Exclusive Permission

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