Monday, 5 April 2010

The Upper Crust of Soul: Hutch and Turner Layton

Having quoted from Robert Cushman's description of Hutch in the previous entry, now seems a good point to paste in a review prepared earlier of a Turner Layton CD, Thanks for the Memory (below) which also makes reference to Cushman's essay.
Issued on the Happy Days label in 1993, the CD is presumably deleted - it's currently fairly pricey on a well-known shopping website - although a 2004 Living Era CD which duplicates some of the selections is more easily and cheaply available. Here's the review:

Turner Layton was one half of the duo Layton and Johnston, as well as an individual performer and composer of some of jazz's best known standards. His vocal style is not unlike Hutch (Leslie Hutchinson), the Grenadan-born singer-pianist who flourished in Britain in the 30s and 40s and originated some of Cole Porter's songs.

In both cases that style might sound dated now - too precise, self-conscious? - but Layton has what Robert Cushman (in a wonderful phrase in his essay in the book Lives of the Great Songs) ascribes to Hutch: "the upper crust of soul" - and if Layton seems to have worked out every phrase, every nuance, of a song beforehand, then it's no more than Fred Astaire, much admired by songwriters, seems to do.

Charlotte Breese, Hutch's biographer, thinks Hutch became a parody of himself vocally in the 40s, and I know of at least one person who strongly prefers Turner Layton. Personally I like both, and the difference between the two men (easy to compare as they shared the same repertoire) is like the difference between a rich, fruity wine and something drier. Layton really "acts" every phrases of these songs but it's not an in-yer-face performance. And like the best popular singers (Armstrong, Holiday) he's always aware of the ryhthms of speech. Dated or not, I believe there's something to learn from him. Footnote for those who might care about these things apart from me: sides have been remastered by Ted Kendall, protege of John RT Davies.
You can find a streamed version of These Foolish Things recorded in 1936, the same year as Hutch's, on the Internet Archive website, here; there is a link to Hutch's own recording in the previous entry. I have to admit that Hutch has the better of him on this occasion, at least: Layton's final notes, where it seems that suppressed passion was intended to come through, sound mannered, more suited to the self-penned art song-sounding Cool River (nothing to do with Deep River). He does better on songs like Thanks for the Memory and Remember Me, which benefit from a degree of amused detachment; for all the sophistication of the items enumerated in These Foolish Things the song itself is not what you could call wistful or wry: it's about the pain of not being able to relinquish a loved one.

On the other hand, I prefer Layton's plaintive Something to Remember You By to Hutch's recording (the latter is available, if you have spotify, here; I can't find an online version of Turner Layton's, unfortunately).

Hey - could this be the next big project: Turner Layton and Hutch go head to head and the people decide? Although the unlikely image of two such sophisticates brawling brings to mind the incongruous tone of an account in our school magazine of a ten year old winner at chess: "Muir must surely smash everyone in sight next year."

Pace Cushman, a case of The Uppercut of Soul?

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