'A Gal in Calico': 1946-2011


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In December 1946, Warner Bros. released a mess of a film called The Time, the Place and the Girl—a post-war feel-good feature with a dopey storyline on which it hung as many musical numbers as possible. Everything about the film was forgettable—except for A Gal in Calico, a song by Leo Robin and Arthur Schwartz. In the film, the catchy song was sung by Dennis Morgan, Jack Carson and Martha Vickers, whose voice was dubbed by Sally Sweetland. 

To give you an idea of the movie, here's the trailer...

Warner knew that the snappy feel of the song, akin to On the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe from the hit film The Harvey Girls (released earlier in the year) would likely pull in audiences. So the studio used the song as the film's closer and featured it last on the trailer. Warner also spread the song around Hollywood six months ahead of the film's release, so hits could drive buzz. The first hit version was recorded in July 1946 by Tex Beneke, who was leading the decommissioned Glenn Miller Army Air Force Band. Beneke was joined on the recording by the band's Crew Chiefs vocal group. The song was a hit in December.

Next up was Johnny Mercer, whose folksy singing voice sounded remarkably like Beneke's. Backed by Jo Stafford and the Pied Pipers, he also had a hit with the song in late '46, followed by Benny Goodman and Bing Crosby in 1947. Many other singers and bands recorded the song, but those four had the sole hits. Then the song disappeared and was forgotten.

Five years later, the song reappeared as a jazz standard. The first modern jazz artist to adapt A Gal in Calico was pianist Ahmad Jamal in May 1952. Miles Davis, who was greatly influenced by Ahmad's sense of space, drama and lyricism, recorded the song in 1955 on his Musings of Miles album for Prestige. Throughout the 1950s, the song became a West Coast jazz favorite, popping up on numerous artists' albums before swinging East via Oscar Peterson. In the late '50s and '60s, the song was recorded by numerous New York jazz artists, including Barry Galbraith, Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis, Jonah Jones, Bobby Jaspar, Clark Terry and others.

The most recent recording of the song by a jazz artist came in 2011, when Rossano Sportiello performed it for his Live at the Jazz Corner album.

As you probably can tell, the song is a favorite of mine. Here are the big versions mentioned above, along with a bonus track that I think you'll dig:

Here's Tex Beneke with the Crew Chiefs in July 1946 with an arrangement by Norman Leyden...

Here's Johnny Mercer with Jo Stafford and the Pied Pipers, featuring an arrangement by Paul Weston and backing by his orchestra...

Here's Benny Goodman in 1947...

Here's Bing Crosby in 1947...

Here's Ahmad Jamal in 1952...

Here's Miles Davis in 1955 with Red Garland on piano...

Here's Rossano Sportiello in 2011...

And here's a rare track by Tex Beneke and the Glenn Miller Orchestra live in New York in January 1947 with vocalist Ginny O'Connor and the Mello-Larks and an arrangement by Norman Leyden, with Henry Mancini (Ginny's future husband) on piano...

A Gal in Calico (1947)

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This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
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