|The Boswell Sisters: Helvetia ("Vet"), Martha, and Connie.|
We were still living on Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn when I bought my first Boswell Sisters LP, so my love affair with them goes back at least forty years. The Boswells recorded in the early 1930s, but age cannot wither, nor custom stale their infinite variety (as some fellow once said). The Boswells didn't just sing songs; they interpreted, reinterpreted, and audaciously reinvented them, usually accompanied by the likes of the Dorsey brothers (then young, unknown studio musicians), Joe Venuti, Eddie Lang, Bunny Berigan, and Manny Klein. Each Boswell performance is a musical adventure, a suite in miniature with changes of tempo and mood, soulful solos by the incomparable Connie, shifts from major to minor and back again, and unexpected forays into the blues, all presented with unfailing musicianship and swing.
For decades many fans and historians, obsessed with categories like "pop" and "jazz," didn't know quite what to say about the unclassifiable Boswells - and not knowing what to say, they said very little. Happily, this situation, customarily known as "shameful neglect," has been changing for the better. Devoting seven insightful pages to them, Richard Sudhalter is the first jazz historian I've read to give the Boswells their just due. More heartening news: in a lovely interview, here, with Vet's granddaughter Kyla Titus, we learn that a Boswell Sisters documentary and book are coming. I can hardly wait.
This renewed interest in the Boswells would be meaningless, solely the domain of specialists and nostalgists, if their music didn't still have the power to charm and thrill and delight us. To me the most moving testimony to the Boswell Sisters' enduring appeal can be found in the spontaneous comments from viewers -- most of them Boswell newbies -- accompanying this YouTube clip of Crazy People from the 1932 movie The Big Broadcast.
"I really love that music... i don't know why, I'm 15 years old!"
"Wow! This is good. I'm 13 years and i think todays music industry sucks. If i ever be a singer, which i hope, then i would like to be like the boswell sisters or andrews sisters. Not like todays talentless singers."
"No one can pull off something like this today as there is TOO much 'affectation' and trying to sound rock-ish or like soul singers with lot's of vocal tricks. Don't get me wrong, there are amazing talents today, but, THEY ARE ALL ALIKE! It's like it's either gangster rap or pop poop. LOVE the old gems like this where folks just got into the real music and wow'd ya! Very cool!"
"I listen to this way too many times a day! :)"
"I wish we listened to more stuff like this... i mean this is REAL talent! :)"
"crazy people like me love this....thank you for the best trio ever."
"Im in highschool and i luv this and no one else does..."
"You know, rap isn't the only kind of modern music."
"These ladies were so cool!"
"They sound incredible! What ever happened to this music? Now it's about killing people and getting high. So sad. I love the '20's and '30's music!"
"This is much sexier than the music videos they make nowadays - because them girls who drag themselves nekked on the floor don't nearly have as much talent, so you're not gonna feel any affection towards them"
"Damn, wish I was born 80 years earlier... incredible stuff and real musicians who can actually sing and aren't just eye candy."
"This is just insanely good. I'm staggered by the technicality and ease with which they pull it off every time I watch it."
"i love this song sooooooo much and this is coming from a teenager, they sure could rock it out for it being 1930 somethin'. But that connee sure could belt on out"
"I'm only 15 years old, but I love music like this."
"usually i listen 2 hip hop but dats sum good music."
"i cant hold back the tears. It is sad that beautiful music like this doesnt exist anymore.The music industry just goes down hill from year to year..... I will forever love the Boswell Sisters and the Andrews Sisters!! BTW...I aint old people. I am still young and only 23yrs old."
"Christ in Heaven this is the greatest two minutes of my life. This humbles all of rock n roll, it is so daamn funky. Jesus Joseph this could beat The Devil in a song contest."
"I've watched this video every day for the past 5 days and i still can't get enough of it. Perfect in every sense of the word."
"Really enjoy there style and I just found out about them. So many years I didn't even know they existed! Wow!"
"Whaaat?! The ending was awesome! oh and they're gorgeous too"
"So amazing, I want to scream! They sing together like one instrument - brings tears to my eyes!"
"Why? Dear GOD, Why? Can`t People Sing Like This Today? So Many Times Singers Today Use Unnessary Voice Tricks, And Have No Soul. These Girls Had IT All."
"wowza - can't get this brilliant tune outa my head! thanks so much for sharing it - i'd never ever heard it before..."
"Damn! They are SO GREAT!!! SO tight, SSSOOO in tune, GREAT arrangement!"
Here's the only comment I felt compelled to edit. One YT viewer of Crazy People looked at the total number of "likes" (many) and "dislikes" (one) and said:
"1 dislike!!?? what m************* piece of s*** disliked this song!!!!!!"
Finally, this plaintive request:
"i want theyr autograph."
You want? You got.
To get you started, here's Sentimental Gentleman From Georgia. I love the introduction led by Larry Binyon's flute. (Is this the first recorded jazz flute solo? Inquiring minds want to know.)
Duke Ellington's Mood Indigo in which Connie reinvents the second strain as a 12-bar blues.
River, Stay 'Way From My Door, with Tommy Dorsey's trombone deliciously quoting Swanee River as a counter-melody.
Finally, the Boswells' theme song, Shout, Sister, Shout.