When you think of a rock opera what immediately comes to mind?
Tommy is the fourth studio album by the English rock band The Who, a double album first released in May 1969. The album was mostly composed by guitarist Pete Townshend as a rock opera that tells the story about a “deaf, dumb and blind” boy, including his experiences with life and his relationship with his family. It sold 20 million copies.
That was 50 years ago right about this time. Also happening then was the release of the album, “The Moth Confesses.”
The LP was the brainchild of Nashville-based session player and vocalist Don Gant and writer/arranger Tuppy Saussy. The latter was best known in the spring of 1969 for having adapted some of the Mary Poppins songbook to an adult oriented jazz sound via “The Swinger’s Guide to Mary Poppins” recorded in 1964. From the album liner notes.
Here is Mary Poppins as you’ve never heard it before. Tupper Saussy’s warm, amusing piano and Charlie McCoy’s engaging harmonicas take the magical Poppins music through the realm of jazz, giving it fresh new life.
Saussy admits that there was a temptation for the group to make the astonishingly simple chords of the original Sherman score more complex, which is the usual approach in jazz interpretation. “But rather than transform Mary Poppins to contemporary jazz harmonies,” Saussy says, “we decided to apply a contemporary jazz feeling to the Mary Poppins aura, thus preserving the original intentions of the composers.”
The music on this album, therefore, is quaint and swinging.
Charlie McCoy’s earthy harmonica is oft recorded and can be heard on dozens of hit pop records. Working with the Saussy group, this is his jazz debut.
Whether or not you’re a jazz buff, you’re sure to welcome this fresh look at one of the happiest motion pictures ever made.
Here’s the opening track from that 1964 LP.
Gant and Saussy were eventually signed by Warner Brothers and their debut album on the label was “The Moth Confesses.” From the album liner notes:
“The Moth Confesses is a condensed opera, with variations on a single itinerary theme: desperation. There is great movement in desperation. The state of being desperate implies a choice between alternatives, and as we watch a protagonist choose his directions we are held in suspense. The protagonist in this miniature opera is moth like, indeed. He is hardly bound to one place; he is always looking for an elusive light. He emerges from his cocoon in the first song, in which he shares his initial fascination for making love with his first lover. It might be said that all the remaining songs have to do with rediscovering, recreating that feeling … Don Gant’s rough hewn voice gives the material a very exciting texture.”
The artists behind the album were called “The Neon Philharmonic,” a chamber-sized orchestra of musicians from the Nashville Symphony Orchestra. A single, “Morning Girl” made it to #17 on the Billboard chart.
In those days Milwaukee had two popular Top 40 radio stations: WOKY at 920 on the AM dial, and WRIT down the dial at 1340.
“Morning Girl” timed in at just a tad over two minutes. The condensed opera also had a track entitled “Morning Girl Later,” just slightly longer than the single that received radio airplay.
WRIT would occasionally play the extended versions of singles (think FM radio) whereas WOKY would not. So you could catch on WRIT “Morning Girl” and “Morning Girl Later” edited together (the two tracks were on opposite sides of the album).
Tupper Saussy’s son, Haun Saussy, a professor of comparative literature one said, “The Neon Philharmonic stuff is so ornate. There’s so much going on, it can almost be overwhelming, but when you do strip it down to just the bones of the music, you really realize how beautiful and elegant and simple the melodies and the chords are.”
Listen and see if you remember.
Don Gant died in Nashville in 1987 after a serious boating accident in Florida.He was 44.
Tupper Saussy died in 2007 at his home in Nashville of a heart attack. He was 70.