We may all return to the very dust of the same song time after time as if it is a window to our soul. Darn that dream, you might say with a sweep as some sort of archaic oath, or mean it more specifically. Jimmy Van Heusen (later renowned for his work with Frank Sinatra) wrote the melody of the song that these three words in that specific order represent as if they were always all along meant but had to be designed by someone to go and denote something together; Eddie (Moonglow) DeLange, the lyrics.
It emerged, like so many near-future jazz standards from a Broadway musical, in this case Swingin’ the Dream based on a certain puckish highly extended riff by the Bard re-located to the New Orleans of the 1890s. Benny Goodman co-supervised the music and led his sextet. Louis Armstrong played Bottom when it ran for a short time. The musical is pretty much long forgotten, the song, such is the enduring power of its devastating kryptonite, not at all, an elegance in its miniaturising of such emotional magnitude. Its allure extends even to Miles Davis' discography for instance and is rare in that the song finds the trumpeter on a vocals number, the singer highly mysterious still but that is another tale, a few references to it and Kenny Hagood further below.
Of these versions I prefer most the Billie Holiday and Bill Evans treatments for their different levels of introspection, probably the Holiday is my favourite. The Lena Horne is the most luxurious and seems showbizzy yet grows on me every time I hear it. Darn That Dream is so effective because the melody is the equal of the lyrics and you do not need to think about the words even if they speak volumes – it is that most untranslatable of sentiments, a song of disappointment that possesses no trace of bitterness, the mood and abstraction lethargic yet honest in their uncloying sense of conviction. The song just sends you into its own private world. And what of Kenny ‘Pancho’ Hagood, eh, still in the interstices but beyond our Ken? Certainly still so mysterious even decades after he died and not often written about during his lifetime when crooning dipped in and out of jazz fashions. In the late-1950s he was briefly married to Alice McLeod later Coltrane and they had a daughter together. If you like the deeper voiced Johnny Hartman and fast forward to these days (although not a jazz singer) Maxwell you will want to collect anything you can find that he is on. The closest I heard to the Hagood sound live so far was last year, on Frith Street, listening to Philip Harper with the Mingus band, moonlighting to sing as he laid his trumpet down.
The LA Times death notice for Hagood printed in 1989 reads: “Kenny (Pancho) Hagood, 62, a Detroit-born ballad and jazz singer probably best known for his rendition of Darn That Dream, the lone vocal on the 1950 Miles Davis album Birth of the Cool. Hagood toured Europe and the United States for a few years in the late 1940s with Dizzy Gillespie’s band and also recorded Gillespie’s theme song, I Waited For You. Times jazz critic Leonard Feather remembered him as ‘one of the better singers in the Billy Eckstine tradition.’ [Died] In Detroit on Wednesday of cancer.”