Every now and then, JazzBabies, I feel the need to salute a big part of my past and celebrate trains. All kinds of trains. Sometimes I set up my own little N gauge track and watch those tiny cars loop around in a circle to – well – nowhere but it’s fun to see them go anyway.
My grandad was an engineer for Union Pacific up in Oregon and I grew up riding the rails. Of course, I rode in style and not in a boxcar, but the thrill of that first moment when the train begins to move stays with me still. I’ve taken a couple of trips across the country by rail and, after living in Portland, Oregon, and coming and going often through the beautiful old 1896 Union Pacific Depot there with its “Go By Train” sign on the tower, I always feel right at home.
I felt so much at home in that place a few years ago, that I rented a big former railroad space upstairs and turned it into my office. How great was that watching the trains out my windows? My kids and I even picked up the Union Pacific slogan when times got tough. “We Can Handle It” became a way of saying, “We’ll get through this.” And we did.
These days there’s a jazz club on the main floor of the station where various jazz friends of mine hold forth, and that will segue us right into today’s music. All aboard!
Back in the 1940s, Judy Garland starred in a film about the young women, The Harvey Girls, hired as waitresses for a new restaurant in an Arizona stopover. It’s your basic 1940s musical with romance, dancing, music, mild mayhem and a great hit song by Harry Warren and Johnny Mercer. Here’s Johnny with the Pied Pipers to take us for a ride “On the Atchison, Topeka & the Santa Fe” with Paul Weston and his orchestra to back them up. I have my little Santa Fe engine out for the occasion. Do you hear that whistle down the line? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cmBKHSZ1pcU
I always enjoy running onto a live performance rather than a recording and running onto a rehearsal is even better. I’ll be honest, though, the best I could get with information about this next piece was from an awkward (for want of a better word) translation from a Hungarian website. What I can tell you for certain is that Milt Jackson turned in a crazy-wild “Take the A Train” with the Benkó Dixieland Band in 1994. Ernestine Anderson was there as well, and that, my friends, tells me things were great. Here for you, with no need for translation, is Milt Jackson rehearsing and giving us a look at what happens when the real work takes place. The folks watching seem relatively stoic. I hope they knew what a treat they were getting! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vUjzbElp-wQ
Eliane Elias took a trip on a train and recorded a beautiful album as a tribute to Chet Baker, I Thought About You. Elias was born and raised in Brazil so bossa is in her bones and blood, but she also studied at Juilliard so straight-ahead jazz mixes with that Brazilian music and it’s been a mighty fine mix for Elias. She’s earned several Grammy nominations and hit the charts in one country after another. This is another Johnny Mercer song (with Jimmy VanHeusen), but she makes it very much her own from the album of the same name, “I Thought About You,” and it’s about as torchy as this tune gets. She’s backed by husband bassist Marc Johnson, guitarists Steve Cardenas and Oscar Castro-Neves, drummers Victor Lewis and Rafael Barata and percussionist Marivado Dos Santos with a few licks by trumpeter Randy Brecker. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gEQS3yG8FSU
Last time I was in Chicago changing trains I saw a sign for this next tune and came very close to swapping my ticket home for a ride on the City of New Orleans. I mean, how could I not, JazzBabies? Classic Americana and headed to the place where jazz was born. Common sense prevailed for once, and I stayed on the right track (okay, okay)…But one of these days. I pulled up a great guitar version by the man sometimes considered America’s Mr. Guitar, Chet Atkins. Atkins played it all – jazz, country, blues, pop, and did some mean turns on a few tunes by Simon and Garfunkel as well. Steve Goodman wrote the song and performed it before his way too early passing, and it was used to help revive interest in the City of New Orleans rail line. I kinda think we could use his words again, JazzBabies: “Good morning, America, how are ya?” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SQJ9RAm3CZw
As the day winds down and the stars come out, Oscar Peterson is here to take us for a ride on the “Night Train.” This one needs little introduction – it’s classic and features the best – Ed Thigpen and Ray Brown along with Peterson. Just hop on, relax and settle in for the ride. It’s a good one and will take you where you want to go. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0yQyjcpnx3g
That’s it for this time, JazzBabies. It’s been a pleasure to have you on board. Look around now and be sure you have all your belongings before you leave the train. If you have checked luggage, the baggage area is to your right. Refreshments to the left. Meet ya there.