Wednesday, March 22, 2006
Van Lingle Mungo, Mr. Frishberg, Anita O'Day
Van Lingle Mungo was a fireballing, fiery-tempered, pitcher for those perennial losers of 1930's, the Brooklyn Dodgers. He also has the oddball distinction of being the subject of a jazz bossa nova composition with music and lyrics by Dave Frishberg.
The verses of "Van Lingle Mungo" are made up entirely of baseball players names, ie.
....VAN LINGLE MUNGO"
and so forth.
To quote Frishberg, who was interviewed by the Baseball Almanac; "The only other guy from the song I ever met was Mungo himself, who arrived from Pageland, South Carolina, to be on the Dick Cavett show and listen to me sing the song. This was 1969, when Cavett had a nightly show in New York. Backstage, Mungo asked me when he would see some remuneration for the song. When he heard my explanation about how there was unlikely to be any remuneration for anyone connected with the song, least of all him, he was genuinely downcast. 'But it's my name,' he said. I told him, 'The only way you can get even is to go home and write a song called Dave Frishberg.' He laughed, and when we said goodbye he said , 'I'm gonna do it! I'm gonna do it!' If he did it, The Baseball Almanac doesn't mention it."
Frishberg wrote some well-known jazz comically-tinged lyric gems such as "My Attorney Bernie" and "Peel Me Grape". "Peel Me Grape" has gained recent notoriety due to Diana Krall's version - but, with all due respect to Diana, Anita O'Day's version back in 1958 is the tops.
Anita is one of my favorite female jazz singers - she hasn't the range and finesse of Sarah Vaughan, or smoothness of Ella Fitzgerald but she's swings like crazy and has a sass,(without cliched "sexiness") exuberance, instrumentalist's sensibility, and nuance of emotion that at times surpasses the greats. You can get a taste of her live in the classic movie "Jazz On a Summer's Day", filmed at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1958. She comes out in her signature black dress, wide-brimmed black hat and gloves and lays it down. Anita led a tough life, recently chronicled in her autobiography "High times, Hard Times" - co-authored by George Eels.