Posts Tagged ‘Ljubljanski Jazz Ansambel’

‘No Knives For You!’

Tuesday, September 25th, 2018

I came into the EITW studios this morning and found Odd and Pop, my imaginary tuneheads, playing mumblety-peg on the carpet with a letter opener. It wasn’t going well.

“Did too!”

“Did not!”

After a few more rounds of that – I didn’t bother to find out what issue was under debate – I confiscated the letter opener, an ornate steel and brass Spanish weapon my sister got for me in Barcelona in 1968. Replacing it in its sheath, I told the two tuneheads that mumblety-peg was a game for outdoors.

They were aghast. “In the dirt?”

Yep, I told them. Outside in the dirt. Not in the carpet.

Both of them wrinkled up their noses and muttered “Ew!” (I didn’t tell them that with that exclamation, they’d successfully used one of the new words that the Hasbro company has authorized for Scrabble.)

Anyway, I said, a letter opener is not a knife. And I reminded them that they were not allowed to play with sharp objects. “No knives for you!”

“Well,” said Pop, “can we play a song about a knife?”

“And I bet I know which one you have in mind,” said Odd, with a sour face.

Pop nodded. “Mack the Knife,” he said.

Odd heaved a major sigh and shook his head wearily. “Go ahead. Tell me,” he said to Pop.

Pop nodded and began reciting: “First of all, Bobby Darin’s version was the top pop record for all of 1959, spending twenty-six weeks in the Billboard Hot 100, nine of them at No. 1, and it also went to No. 6 on the magazine’s R&B chart.”

Pop took a breath and then continued. “Seven other versions have reached the Hot 100.”

Odd shook his head wearily, and then said, “All right. List ’em.”

From somewhere, Pop materialized his perpetual legal pad and its accompanying marker and then wrote for a few minutes. He then handed the list to Odd:

Dick Hyman Trio, No. 8 in 1956
Richard Hayman & Jan August, No. 11 in 1956
Lawrence Welk, No. 17 in 1956
Louis Armstrong, No. 20 in 1956
Billy Vaughn, No. 37 in 1956
Les Paul, No. 49 in 1956
Ella Fitzgerald, No. 27 in 1960 (and No. 6 on the R&B chart)

Odd scanned the list and look at his pal. (They do get along, most of the time. They just have differing tastes in music – and pasta, for that matter.)

“There’s more, I assume,” Odd said.

Pop nodded and told us that the original version of “Mack the Knife” was actually “Moritat von Mackie Messer” from Die Dreigroschenoper (The Three Penny Opera) by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill. It was originally performed – according to Second Hand Songs – by Kurt Gerron in 1928. Pop added helpfully that many sources erroneously claim that Lotte Lenya sang the song in her role as Jenny, “but that’s likely because she recorded the song as ‘Moritat’ for her 1955 German album Lotte Lenya singt Kurt Weill.”

“Okay, okay,” said Odd. “So how many recorded versions are there?”

“Well,” Pop said, “at least three hundred and twenty-five. That’s how many Second Hand Songs lists. Lots of them in German, many in English, lots of instrumentals. And some in other languages, too: Croatian, Czech, Dutch, Finnish, French, Greek, Italian, Norwegian, Swedish and Welsh.”

Odd was beginning to smile. “You had me at ‘Croatian’,” he told his pal. And he turned to me. “Have we ever posted a song in Croatian?”

“Well, no,” I said, “but I guess we could.”

Odd beamed. Pop pouted a little, but I reminded him that a huge proportion of what we listen to here is on one chart or another. He nodded, a little grudgingly, then looked at Odd and shrugged his shoulders.

And we turned our attention to the speakers to listen to the vocal group Optimisti, which – according to Second Hand Songs – was based in the city of Ljubljana. During the group’s recording years (1958 to 1963), the city was in Yugoslavia; it is now the capital of Slovenia. The group Optimisti, says the website, sometimes performed and recorded as a quartet and sometimes as a quintet.

Here’s Optimisti’s version in Croatian of “Mornar Mackie,” released in 1962 on the EP Chanson d’amour. The vocal group is backed by the Ljubljanski Jazz Ansambel.