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the otto files

where the classics never go out of style

For St. Patrick’s Day, I posted a series of entertaining “Pats” and finished with some Irish themed music. We shall do the same today for St. Joseph and my paesani.

As baseball season is less than three weeks away and the following gentleman was one of the most important “Joes” in the history of the Italian America, we start the proceedings off with Joltin’ Joe.

When I met these two wonderful musicians a little more than a decade ago they were promoting a new CD entitled “The Frank and Joe Shoe: 33 1/3” It was fast, fun, and really swinging. Both Frank Vignola (guitar) and Joe Ascione (drums) were and are as terrific a couple of guys as their music is contagiously happy.

How about an unlikely but lovely Jo – the inimitable and underrated Jo Stafford, one of the best friends the Great American Songbook ever had.

There weren’t many characters in music as charming, funny or talented as Joe Bushkin.

There are very few acts in the history of music and show business that I love more than Count Basie and Joe Williams. All I have to do is hear their names or see their images and it brings a smile to my face . . . and then, once the music begins, the smiles turns to pure happiness that just spreads and radiates throughout my entire body.

Well, all right, okay . . . they win. I love them so much, I gotta have one more!

Of all the Italian American singers, Frank Sinatra probably recorded the least amount of “Italian” songs throughout his long career. (Well, strike that – he and Tony Bennett may be tied or Tony may have him beat by one.) In terms of actually going into a studio and recording a song for release as a record he only cut two such sides on the Columbia label. The first was “I Have But One Heart,” which hit the charts on September 20, 1947 and peaked at #13. The second, and last, was “Come Back to Sorrento,” 1950 which doesn’t seem to have even made a dent on the charts at all. Besides those two songs, he never went into a studio to record another Italian song for commercial release. He would sing a few lines or a song here and there on a TV show or in a concert but rarely. Here’s a clip from the 1947 film “It Happened in Brooklyn” with Kathryn Grayson and Peter Lawford with Frank singing a duet from the opera “Don Giovanni.”

Dino, on the other hand, sang quite a number of Italian flavored numbers. However, as the years went by, when Dean sang these songs in concert he usually had a lot of fun with them and rarely sang them straight all the way through – here’s a clip where he sings them pretty straight. It’s from the now famous 1965 benefit concert Dean, Frank & Sammy put on in St. Louis.

Now as much as I absolutely love Dean, his pronunciation of the Italian language was pretty awful, as was Frank’s for that matter. The guy who probably had the best pronunciation when it came to singing even the silliest Italian songs was Julius La Rosa. It was a real point of pride for him. I remember talking to Bucky Pizzarelli once – and Bucky has played on THOUSANDS of sides of recorded music – and he confirmed for me, that bar none, La Rosa sang the best Italian on record. I really wanted to get a You Tube video of La Rosa’s fabulous recording of “Just Say I Love Her” but could not find one so his signature hit will have to do. Plus it might get you up dancing a little bit!

How about we finish up with one more from Joe Williams. I love Joe but I also love this song.


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