A while back, Mr. Rifftides sent me an email in response to my post about Brick Fleagle. He was disappointed that Brick’s entry had been dropped from the last edition of the Encyclopedia of Jazz. “A name like that should be kept alive. It’s right up there with Fud Livingston.”
Okay, I admit it, I had never heard of Fud Livingston. Google led me to the American Big Bands Database web site where, under a heading The Big Band Arrangers, I found this:
Fud Livingston (né: Anthony Joseph Livingston). Born April 10, 1906, in Charleston, S.C., USA, he died on March 25, 1957, in New York, NY. USA. Fud originally studied Piano, Clarinet and Sax. His first professional experience came as a member of the Paul Whiteman Orchestra, where for five years he played sax and did arranging. After Whiteman, he worked with Freddie Rich and with Andre Kostelanetz, and others.
Fud was one of the important figures in the early “White” Jazz genre, playing clarinet and writing many arrangements. During 1927-’29, he was working with Red Nichols, then with Frankie Trumbauer, In 1928, the Red Nichols group recorded (under the name of “Miff Mole and The Little Molers”) one of Fud’s original compositions “Imagination”, Fud can also be heard playing his clarinet on this tune.
Here’s what R. G. V. Venables, wrote in an English publication [Melody Maker Mag. Jan. 5, 1940]: “Fud Livingston — a composer of infinitely greater range and harmonic sophistication than [Jelly Roll] Morton — had reached, by 1928, a degree of accomplishment in scoring unmatched by Duke Ellington and Don Redman.”
Apparently, when recording for the Okeh Company, Red Nichols Five Pennies used the pseudonym Miff Mole and his Molers. Now the Five Pennies does ring a bell for me, not because I ever heard them in person, but because of an old (1959) Danny Kaye/Louis Armstrong movie with Barbara Bel Geddes. I saw Five Pennies many times as a small child, and wore out my mother’s soundtrack LP. I also had a five pennies charm bracelet, and would sing the song on request.
This little penny is to wish on
To make your wishes come true
This little penny is to dream on
To dream of all you can do
This little penny is a dancing penny
See how it glitters and it glows
Bright as a whistle
Light as a thistle
Quick, quick as a wink
Up on it’s twinkling toes
This little penny is to laugh on
To see that tears never fall
This this little penny
Is the last little penny
And the most important of all
For this penny is to love on
And where love is, heaven is there
So with just five pennies, if they’re these five pennies
You’ll be a millionaire
About ten years ago, I was trying to get my husband to remember the movie, and especially the three songs that were sung in tandem — “Good Night, Sleep Tight,” “Lullabye in Ragtime,” and “Five Pennies.” He didn’t remember the movie or the song titles, so I thought maybe an aural reminder would help. We were walking down a street, no audio equipment handy, so I started to sing. Now I may not be Nancy Wilson, but I can carry a tune. I don’t think I got more than eight bars out when John was laughing so hard he had to wipe his eyes. I was mortified, confused. What on earth could be so funny? It turns out that unwittingly, in reaching back to my childhood, I remembered not only the lyrics, but unconsciously employed the little-girl voice with which I used to sing the song.
Anyway, the nicest off-shoot of this little trip down memory lane is that I have now discovered that just last year The Five Pennies soundtrack was finally released on CD. I haven’t yet found a DVD of the movie, but it is available on VHS.