The memory of love's refrain....
March 3, 2006 1:31 PM   Subscribe

Sometimes I wonder why I spend
The lonely night dreaming of a song
The melody haunts my reverie
And I am once again with you
When our love was new
And each kiss an inspiration
But that was long ago
And now my consolation
Is in the star dust of a song...

Lucy is holding a saxophone. It turns out, as she informs friend Ethel Mertz, she's an amateur musician. Who knew? Lucy then blows into the mouthpiece and produces a few dyspeptic squawks. "It kind of sounds like 'Star Dust,' " says Ethel, diplomatically. "Yeah," Lucy responds, "everything I play sounds like 'Star Dust.' "
The story of  'a song about a song about love'   (elaborated within)
posted by y2karl (44 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
The composer was, of course, Hoagland "Hoagy" Carmichael, and he first recorded it as an instrumental with Emil Seidel and his Orchestra and the Dorsey brothers under the name of Hoagy Carmichael and his Pals. (There's more about Emil Seidel at Lost Legends - The Hot Jazz Heritage of Indiana--man, in the 1920s, the Midwestern jazz scene was simply incandescent) But, at first, the tune went nowhere.
posted by y2karl at 1:31 PM on March 3, 2006

But, first things first--several of the songs linked herein are in RealAudio format. You will want to avoid the whole RealPlayer browser hijacking hassle and download Media Player Classic or Real Alternative. RealAudio or mp3, the songs will be Coralized, so they will likely load more slowly for you than the average audio file bear.

Well then, here we go--from Sound Recordings, Page 2, part of the Collection Highlights of Indiana University's Hoagy Carmichael Collection, here is your Coralized radio program Frank Gillis' historical Survey of Stardust, recorded October 23, 1979 at the Indiana University Radio Station (WFIU) in Bloomington, Indiana.

Here you have a number of versions, arranged chronologically from the beginning with, of course, the inital waxing of Star Dust by Hoagy Carmichael and His Pals; then some early Bing--from Bing was crooning--Crosby; and, oh, there's, let's see, Isham Jones and his Orchestra; Fats Waller on solo piano; expatriates Coleman Hawkins and Freddie Johnson in 1937 Holland; Art Tatum by himself on piano; Jay Jenney and Orchestra with Jenney waxing long on the trombone; and then Jenney quoting himself on Artie Shaw and his Orchestra's version, and, for you Euroweenies, there's the Harmony Sisters warbling--in Swedish, not Finnish, yet--a very 50s tube amp proto-ultralounge Stjärnstoft, some vintage B-3 organ cheese from the legendary Korla Pandit, Tommy Dorsey with the Pied Pipers and a young Frank Sinatra, and, oh, Benny Goodman with Charlie Christian, among the others I can recall at this time. It may be RealAudio, Bishop and Cillis may be charismatically challenged droning slow talkers in between cuts but there are so many cuts, from essential to--the Harmony Sisters!--simply utterly charming, that the whole thing is well worth a listen or two.
posted by y2karl at 1:32 PM on March 3, 2006

Many more Carmichael compositions can be found at The Official Hoagy Carmichael Web Site, there are many more via Red Hot Jazz's Hoagy Carmichael page.

Now here are a number of Coralized mp3 versions of Star Dust in more or less chronological order beginning with the definitive sweet band version by Isham Jones and his Orchestra; one by the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra; another by Cab Calloway and His Orchestra; then there's Paul Whiteman and His Concert Orchestra, with Frank Trumbauer taking a solo, no less; and then the cafe society sounds of theHudson-Delange Orchestra; an alternate take of the all-time-classic-even-if-he-didnt-really-know-the-words-yet Star Dust by
Louis Armstrong and his Orchestra; a 1933 instrumental piano solo by Hoagy Carmichael himself and another take of the languid trombone of Jack Jenney and his Orchestra, all courtesy of the weekly Virtual Victrola at Mike's Noise. Mike does seem to love the classic jazz but just don't get him going about Hilary Clinton, I guess...

And though it is not, Carmichael it is--so, here's an mp3 of The The Nearness Of You by Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald, from Hoagy Carmichael- Stark Reality via Monty

And for that matter, there's a streaming mp3 of Bing Crosby's Star Dust here. Just click on the appropriate spot and listen.
posted by y2karl at 1:32 PM on March 3, 2006

Now, here, Will Freiwald, author of the excerpt linked, expounds upon Star Dust to Jerry Jazz Musician. And here is the Jerry Jazz Musician interview with Richard Sudhalter, author of Stardust Melody: The Life and Music of Hoagy Carmichael. Now, as to the story of Star Dust, Dick Bishop's Remembering Hoagy quotes the Standard Version:
"I sat down on the 'spooning wall,' at the edge of the campus, and all the things that the town and the university and the friends I had had there flooded through my mind. Beautiful Kate, the campus queen and Dorothy Kelly. But not one girl all the girls young and lovely. Was Dorothy the loveliest? Yes. The sweetest? Perhaps. But most of them had gone their ways. Gone as I'd gone mine.

"... I looked up at the sky and whistled 'Stardust.'
Then came to the rush to the Book Nook--now Bloomington's Roly Poly. Just ask mwhybark.

But as Sudhalter and Freidwald note, the song was composed in fragments over a period of months. And the name most commonly associated with Carmichael's songwriting in general, and Star Dust in particular is that of Carmichael's close friend Bix Biederbecke.
Louis was a virtuosic trumpeter who exploited the limits of his instrument; he played loud; he played high; he was a master showman. By contrast, Bix stared at his shoes when he played. Constrained by lack of technique, he rarely left the middle register. But that gave his solos a rare & startling intimacy--they were always within the range of the human voice, as if being sung. He looked to classical music (Debussy, in particular) for his chords, something his peers hadn’t yet considered doing. This gave his music an equally startling originality in the context of 1920s jazz. And he always kept his emotions firmly in check.
That's from Satchmo-Inspired Thought #2 at The Beiderbecke Affair

In regards to Star Dust, Carmichael himself acknowledged as much at another point:
The Bix influence was there. And the improvisations are already written.

posted by y2karl at 1:33 PM on March 3, 2006

And of all the all too few recorded solos of Biederbecke, that one that comes to most minds is Singin' The Blues:
Of all the Bix-Tram collaborations, one stands out above all others as their greatest joint performance - and, in fact, is one of the landmarks of the "white" school of jazz. This is the famous record of Singin' The Blues, with Trumbauer playing the first chorus and Beiderbecke the second. So instantaneous a hit with their fellow musicians was this record that within a matter of weeks their colleagues were reproducing the Trumbauer and Bix solos whenever Singin' The Blues was played, and at least three bands have recorded (one as late as 1938) arrangements in which Trumbauer's solo has been transcribed for the saxophone section and Beiderbecke's chorus is played by the brass! Aside from musicians, anyone who had any pretense to collecting jazz records prior to the swing craze of the middle thirties knew the choruses well enough to whistle them through, for this record was one of the "musts" which decided whether you were an earnest collector or just a dallying dilettante.
Bix And Tram: Bix Beiderbecke with Frankie Trumbauer's Orchestra

It must be noted that what Trambauer and Beiderbecke were playing was a cover of a tune recorded by Benny Kreuger and his Orchestra and the Original Dixieland Jazz Band before that. (Scroll down that playlist until you get to Singin'The Blues/Margie). Kreuger, by the way, is credited as being being the first jazz saxophonist ever. And, while speaking of saxophones, let it be noted, too, that, beginning with Singin' The Blues, Trambuaer himself became an influence on none other than Lester Young.

And from the mellow chemistry of Bix and Tram's solos on Singin' The Blues began the whole sub-genre of jazz known as vocalese, that, is when lyrics are written to an instrumental solo, began--think My analyst told me that I was out of my head... ala Lambert, Hendricks and Ross by way of Joni Mitchell, for the obvious example--starting with Trumbauer's re-recording of Singin' The Blues in 1929, featuring a vocal by the scandalous Bee Palmer, she of The World's Most Famous Shoulders, Shimmy Queen and muse. And, then, too there was Marion Harris, who made a second cover in 1934.

Everyone played Singin' The Blues obsessively, learned the solos note for note by heart, wrote lyrics to it, never forgot it--it was a landmark of sound recording, one of the first moments in time caught forever, like a bee in amber: it was learned, rehearsed, performed and transmuted into something entirely new, even inspiring prose and poetry.

As it happens, there is, after a fashion, sheet music available online for both songs, so, for the music readers at least, you can see for yourself. Here is Bix's solo of Singin' The Blues pdf  transcribed by one Jacques Gilbert for trumpet. And here is a copy of the original manuscript of Star Dust. There are, to these ears, similar changes in both songs. It's no small wonder wonder some have thought that Singin' The Blues was what the song about a song of love recalled in reverie.
posted by y2karl at 1:34 PM on March 3, 2006

Now the Star Dust page at Jazz Standards contains this tantalizing sentence: In 1928 Carmichael again recorded 'Stardust,' this time with lyrics he had written, but Gennett rejected it because the instrumental had sold so poorly. Those lyrics I have yet to see.

However, the common account accords the concept Irving Mills--and note that for more early Hoagy, you should check out the playlist at -- Irving Mills' Hotsy-Totsy Gang--Carmichael's publisher. Enter Mitchell Parish, who had a genius for retrofitting fitting lyrics to already entitled popular instrumentals--besides Star Dust, he wrote the lyric to Deep Purple, both of which were later back-to-back hits for doo wop group The Dominoes in 1955. A comparison of the first four line of each is instructive:
And now the purple dusk of twilight time,
Steals across the meadows of my heart.
High up in the sky the little stars climb,
Always reminding me that we're apart...
and then
When the deep purple falls
over sleepy garden walls,
And the stars begin to flicker
in the sky...
I dare say that, lyric wise, Parish certainly cornered the market on enpurpled crepuscules.
posted by y2karl at 1:34 PM on March 3, 2006 [1 favorite]

On a side note, Star Dust figures as well in an important work of pop art, which in turn inspired a work of video art and a poem. But then we ...wander far far away, leaving me a song that will not die.
posted by y2karl at 1:35 PM on March 3, 2006

Whoever wrote or re-wrote it, Star Dust is a touchstone world-wide:
The record turned, the living room table was pushed against the wall, the chairs stacked on the table, the only source of light coming from the next room 'How do the lyrics go?' the girl asked, sighing... He answered, 'I only know the start,' and sang softly, "Sometimes I wonder why / I spend the lonely nights / dreaming of a song....' This is just one possible memory associated with the indestructible song by Hoagy Carmichael. I think millions of other men and women around the world could tell their own brief fable based on Stardust...
Giulio Nascimbeni
And then it happened--that queer sensation that this melody was bigger than me. Maybe I hadn't written it at all. The recollection of how, when and where it all happened became vague as the lingering strains hung in the rafters of the studio. I wanted to shout back at it, 'maybe I didn't write you, but I found you.
Hoagy Carmichael upon hearing his first recording of Star Dust. Well, he was not alone:
What’s that great Benny Golson story? Golson [the jazz tenor saxophonist and arranger] has this incredible dream about this amazing, wonderful, celestial music. And in the dream he says to himself, "Right, this time I’m going to wake myself up and write this down." Right then, in the middle of night, he turns the light on and automatically writes this fabulous tune down and goes back to sleep. He wakes up in the morning and looks at the tune, and it’s the middle eight to [Hoagy Carmichael’s] "Stardust." [Laughs.]
Richard Thompson

But then, so did Barney Rubble. Well, not quite--actually, that time the melody apparently haunted the reverie of one Scat Von Roctoven--but that's another story...
posted by y2karl at 1:35 PM on March 3, 2006

y2karl exploded and got music all over me
posted by quonsar at 1:37 PM on March 3, 2006 [1 favorite]

OMG, an awesome post, except it's the end of Friday and I have to go home to my dial-up connection and my sense that I'm always missing something.

Thanks, y2karl!
posted by OmieWise at 1:45 PM on March 3, 2006

From y2karl critic to y2karl fan in one fell post. /me
posted by found missing at 1:52 PM on March 3, 2006

haha. This is insane.
posted by xmutex at 1:52 PM on March 3, 2006

(elaborated within)

You ain't just whistlin' Dixie. Wow.

*dives in*
posted by iconomy at 1:52 PM on March 3, 2006

why thank, you y2karl - this will make for some delightful surfing & listening.

*lobbies for the resurrection of a y2karl radio program*
posted by madamjujujive at 1:55 PM on March 3, 2006

The problem with this post is: not enough links.
posted by contessa at 1:58 PM on March 3, 2006

Great song. Great post.
That we are star dust makes it even cooler.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 1:59 PM on March 3, 2006

I *heart* y2karl music posts.
posted by shoepal at 2:00 PM on March 3, 2006

Uhhhh...more inside!
posted by fixedgear at 2:01 PM on March 3, 2006

y2karl, thank you. This is my favorite song of all time. I don't have much to add to the discourse, but it's nice to see "Star Dust" represented on the Blue.

My personal favorite recording of it is Louis Armstrong's, from the 1930s...34, maybe? 37? Anyway, Take 2, the one used in Woody Allen's "Stardust Memories" slays me.
posted by ford and the prefects at 2:03 PM on March 3, 2006

Wow. Glad the weekend is upon us! Thanks y2karl!
posted by rollbiz at 2:11 PM on March 3, 2006

Really good post, but can I ask why the multiple, multiple follow up posts? You obviously did them all at once. Why not just one long one?

(Not really a criticism, just curious).
posted by Ynoxas at 2:15 PM on March 3, 2006

From my very own Flea Market Vinyl blog:
Tops Records (A Division of Precision Radiation Instruments, Inc!) provides us with an artifact from the 50s Mambo Craze (another piece of evidence that the 50s were the true psychedelic era); dig that radioactive pink number on the corn-fed blond on the cover! Roll over Hoagy- here's a version of Stardust unlike any other:

Stardust Mambo
posted by squalor at 2:17 PM on March 3, 2006

Lots of goodies, for sure, on this post but what comes to mindfor me: The song was always the last number played by bands at the close of high school dances and other dances in my end of the world. When that song played, yopu knew it was time to grab your girl, do some slow dancing and take some truly big dips (ahhh) and feel very good about things.
So then it was not just the song but those things that became associated with the song that made it so near and dear to so many of us. Now, years later, having married a much younger woman, she did not know the song etc. I got a copy and now, every New Year's Eve, at midnight, I play this and we dance to still works for me.
posted by Postroad at 2:32 PM on March 3, 2006 [1 favorite]

I will be performing this song in a couple of hours!
posted by sourwookie at 2:37 PM on March 3, 2006

What a nice anecdote Postroad.
posted by Ynoxas at 2:38 PM on March 3, 2006

Best post in the universe. Thank you, y2Karl. I feel better knowing you're within 0 miles of me.
posted by QuietDesperation at 3:52 PM on March 3, 2006

I didn't realize that MeFI was a place where we can publish our book-length musical edits.

That being said, "Stardust" really is one of the masterpieces of American popular song.
posted by Astro Zombie at 4:03 PM on March 3, 2006

Brilliant y2Karl! Thank you so much! I have loved this song since I first heard the verse in the opening of "My Favorite Year" in 1982. Since then I have collected more than 30 versions of the song, from the sublime (Nat "King" Cole) to the ridiculous (Nino and April). I even have an album called "The Star Dust Road" that contains 14 versions of the song.
One of the most intriguing aspects of the song is precisely its self reflexive nature, that it is a song about how a love song makes you feel, a rumination on the power of popular music to encapsulate emotion and transport it across time and space.
It is a perfect repository of wistful nostalgia (literally: the pain of memory) and an almost rapturous melancholy.
Recently I was traveling back to Los Angeles from Las Vegas with my girlfriend in the middle of the night, listening to the "Forties" channel on XM Satellite Radio when they began a special program: a more than 70 version survey of "Star Dust"! After a great weekend in Vegas capped by a fantastic performance by Weezer at the Hard Rock Casino, I could not have asked for a better ending. We sped on through the night, across the desert, being treated to some of the most stellar takes ever on maybe the finest pop song ever. It went on for hours, and we never tired of it once.
posted by Listener_T at 4:05 PM on March 3, 2006 [1 favorite]

Reading y2Karl posts is like getting a drink from a firehose. I feel better afterward, but boy!

Thanks, as always, y2Karl. I wasn't doing much all tomorrow morning anyway...
posted by paulsc at 4:55 PM on March 3, 2006

Saxomophone.... Saxomophone....
posted by papakwanz at 8:08 PM on March 3, 2006

wonderful song ...
posted by pyramid termite at 8:40 PM on March 3, 2006

Awesome. I grew up in Bloomington and mused on Hoagy many's the time, walking by his old haunts just off campus. Hats off, karl.
posted by mwhybark at 9:39 PM on March 3, 2006

well, slap my face with a banana peel. Of course you knew that. Silly me!
posted by mwhybark at 9:47 PM on March 3, 2006

No one can escape the far flung net of my vast and sinister open source data mining techniques.
posted by y2karl at 10:07 PM on March 3, 2006

I love your music (and literature!) posts too, y2karl. Thanks so much for this amazing post, which I'll be reading and listening to for some time to come.
posted by melissa may at 10:24 PM on March 3, 2006

After playing it (we did it in--of all styles---a downtempo urban groove--I shit thee not) I shared with the bandmates the I Love Lucy recap.
posted by sourwookie at 11:19 PM on March 3, 2006

Wow. That's all I can say about 9 posts in a row, just wow. Never thought I'd live to see it. You know life is for learning, y2karl — you are stardust, you are golden...

(I also think I've always loved that great old song, but I'm never sure anymore what I think about music until I hear what jonmc has to say.)
posted by LeLiLo at 7:31 PM on March 4, 2006

This is great--is there anyway to download the real files?
posted by kensanway at 8:48 PM on March 5, 2006

*lobbies for the resurrection of a y2karl radio program*

I need to get on the stick about that. I have no idea of how to go about it without spending a fari amount of money I don't have, no clue about how to do podcasting, I am just clueless anymore. Well, I am open to suggestions and my email's in the profile.

My personal favorite recording of it is Louis Armstrong's, from the 1930s...34, maybe? 37? Anyway, Take 2, the one used in Woody Allen's "Stardust Memories" slays me.

Is that the one linked in the Coralized mp3 versions above ?

Why not just one long one?

Because bite sized chunks seemed better and because someone would drag it into MetaTalk and that would be so tiresome.

Stardust Mambo

Thanks for that one, squalor.

Truth be told, I spent a lot of time trying to find the Star Dust Aaron Neville did with bassist Rob Wasserman on the latter's album Duets, where Neville was multi-tracked fluttering doo wop choir. Neville can be an annoying and mannered singer but that was one of his better moments. I did find out, however, that there's a video of his Star Dust with Wasserman paired with Lou Reed's and Wasserman's One For My Baby (And One More For The Road from Duets. That's intriguing. That album, by the way, is worth getting for Wasserman's and Stefane Grappelli's Somewhere Over THe Rainbow alone.

One of the most intriguing aspects of the song is precisely its self reflexive nature, that it is a song about how a love song makes you feel...

I was thinking about this over the weekend in relation to Deep Purple, which, like Star Dust, was an already entitled instrumental hit to which Mitchell Parish provided the lyrics. The lyrics to Deep Purple come across an a conscious, intentional re-write of Star Dust but, instead of being a song about a song about love, it's a fantasy of wish fulfillment. And, too, the melody, is so inferior to Star Dust. Unlike The Star Dust Road, the album to which Listener_T referred, who could listen to an album of various versions of Deep Purple ? It's inconceivable.

This is great--is there anyway to download the real files?

I wish. But I thought that was the whole point of Real--you can play it but not copy it. If anyone knows otherwise, I wouldn't mind knowing. It would be nice to hear that Frank Gillis' historical Survey of Stardust radio program without having to go online.

Speaking of RealAudio, Well, I do hope some of you listened to Bix and Tram's Singing The Blues linked above....
Feb. 4, 1927: "Singin' the Blues" is not a blues. Arranged by 21-year-old Fud Livingston, and accompanied brilliantly by Eddie Lang (the first great jazz guitarist) and Chauncey Morehouse (a remarkably "modern" drummer for the era), both 25 years old, "Singin' the Blues" is credited as the first jazz ballad. (Slow jazz before "Singin' the Blues" was ... blues.) It isn't only that Bix's solo incorporates harmonies new to jazz (which he probably learned from his devotion to Debussy); and it isn't only that Bix's solo is the first fully realized improvisation on the chords rather than the melody of a tune -- creating something utterly new out of its subject matter (Louis Armstrong would inevitably have come up with that on his own, and soon); it's also that this is the first instance of what came to be known as "cool." Bix explores a turf where Armstrong hadn't been and would never go. Armstrong expresses ... well, everything -- his music cascades from his soul into yours. Geniuses like Charlie Parker and John Coltrane would do the same. Beiderbecke's strategy is fundamentally different, even opposite: With the purest of tones he is talking to himself and letting you listen -- the method that Lester Young, Miles Davis, and their followers would favor. In fact, this is one of the few recordings that Lester Young cited as an influence. (Young was the prime influence on Charlie Parker and on what came to be known as "modern" jazz.) As the critic and jazz musician Benny Green would write in 1962, Bix's passage on "Singin' the Blues" is "the most plagiarized and frankly imitated solo in all jazz history."
A Little Late, For Bix

That song is a wonder and I do hear echoes of it in Star Dust. Did anyone else ?

Here's a picture that was taken for the cover of Bob Dylan's Tarantulaby Daniel Kramer in obivous emulation of the one he shot for the cover of Bringing It All Back Home--that's a picture of Hoagy Carmichael on the wall and that's his first wife in the doorway. That comes from the Johnny Angel at Film Dialogue in the Lyrics of Bob Dylan. I must catch up, I have to confess I have never heard Tight Connection To MY Heart or any other song from Empire Burlesque... That and Saved are among the Dylan albums to which I can not recall ever listening. There's so much I have not heard, do not know about--about 90% of the stuff linked here was new to me just a few weeks ago.
posted by y2karl at 8:00 AM on March 6, 2006

I got into all this after my friend Jack Cook told me a story he had heard, apparently apochryphal, about how Hoagy Carmichael and Bix Beiderbecke were once room mates and that Star Dust was based on this fingering exrecise Beiderbecke did when he practiced on his cornet. I got interested and looked stuff up. And all this was the result.

Carmichael did play cornet and I did come across an assertion on some Bix discussion board about how the notes for Star Dust could have been composed on a cornet.

But I never found anything else online to support that story. I did, however, find that Carmichael co-wrote Up A Lazy River--based a clarinet exercise of Sidney Arodin's.

Jack, by the way, is an amazing guitar player. He has can play in old time timing and new. And he's met and played with everyone from Sleepy John Estes, Gus Cannon and Bukka White, among others, to R. Crumb and S. Clay Wilson. He's the guitarist Pine Top Perkins asks for when Pine Top comes to town. You in Seattle should check your local listings. Check him out.
posted by y2karl at 9:23 AM on March 6, 2006

Hey y2Karl, Thanks again for all the stuff. There is an Aaron Neville version of "Star Dust" on the soundtrack for "Rain Man" . I remember almost falling out of my seat when I heard it in the theater, and for the next month or so I kept hitting the record stores until it came out. It ended up not to have the same effect on me once I had it, but I did like it nonetheless. It's actually an almost note for note cover of the Billy Ward and the Dominoes version. The song in the movie was used over the Las Vegas section, if I remember correctly. Barry Levinson is one of the most accomplished directors working when it comes to the use of popular music in film. Spike Lee also used Lionel Hampton's terrific version to great effect in "Malcolm X".
posted by Listener_T at 1:57 PM on March 6, 2006

There is an Aaron Neville version of "Star Dust" on the soundtrack for "Rain Man" .

That is the one from Duets, I believe. And it's on an Aaron Neville Greatest Hits collection of some sort as well. He can be a very mannered singer but that is one of his better efforts.
posted by y2karl at 3:26 PM on March 6, 2006

My buddy Bill Weaver, I think, told me about Hoagy and Bix being roomies. He did a bunch of research on the era with an eye to writing about it. He saw the scene that Hoagy and Bix came from as a precursor to the hipster music scene he and I came of age in in the same town, fifty years later. At the time I thought the idea absurd, but no longer.
posted by mwhybark at 9:22 PM on March 6, 2006

Boku-Maru; Kurt Vonnegut's swan song speech

“As the world is ending, I’m always glad to be entertained for a few moments. The best way to do that is with music. You should practice once a night.

“If you want really want to hurt your parents and don’t want to be gay, go into the arts,” he says.

Then he breaks into song, doing a passable, tender rendition of “Stardust Memories.”
posted by hortense at 3:10 PM on March 13, 2006

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