The Cotton Club, Ella Fitzgerald and “Ill Wind (You’re Blowin’ Me No Good)”

One of the new things I discovered during my month of abstinence from all things computer-related (should have waited until lent really) was a telly channel called Talking Pictures. I have bemoaned of late that hardly any of the mainstream channels show old black and white movies any more, and I miss that. Here however (I think it’s No. 81 on Freeview) was a channel totally dedicated to such fare. It bothers me somewhat that there will be a whole generation of people who have never heard of Humphrey Bogart or Fred Astaire, and have never laid eyes on any of their prodigious output.

Talking-Pictures

One film I recently re-watched on Talking Pictures wasn’t black and white however, in fact it was an extravaganza of colour, but was set right at the start of the 1930s so fitted the channel’s ethos well. Many years ago I had one of those “lost weekend” kind of things. My two flatmates were away for the duration; I had recently split up with the long-term boyfriend; and, for two days had no other commitments, so I holed up in my comfy indoors-y clothes and watched telly. We didn’t have a VCR back in those days, just a basic Radio Rentals telly, but one of the flatmates had recently acquired a new job in sales, and had been given a machine with a built in video-player to dazzle her potential customers. That weekend I aimed to make full use of it, but ended up watching only one film, four times, as I was so blown away by it. The film I rented was Francis Ford Coppola’s The Cotton Club and I can still remember most of the dialogue verbatim. (This clip seems to start in the middle, so needs to be reset.)

Two weeks ago I wrote about the film Paint Your Wagon and about how it was both a Western, and a Musical. The Cotton Club was a Crime-Drama, but also a Musical and like Paint Your Wagon didn’t get brilliant reviews when it came out, as it didn’t particularly appeal to either audience. Personally I loved it and couldn’t understand why it hadn’t been more successful. With the passage of time that opinion has been reassessed however and a remastered version was released in 2017.

The Cotton Club was the name of a Harlem jazz club of the 1930s during the era of Prohibition and Jim Crow racial segregation. Black people could not patronise the Cotton Club, but the venue featured many of the most popular black entertainers of the era, including musicians Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, Adelaide Hall, Cab Calloway, Billie Holiday, and dancers such as Bill Robinson and The Nicholas Brothers. In its heyday, the Cotton Club served as a hip meeting spot, with regular “Celebrity Nights” featuring guests such as Jimmy Durante, George Gershwin, Paul Robeson, Al Jolson, Mae West and Fanny Brice, amongst others.

taxis-outside-cotton-club

There were some great musical performances in the film and we got to witness what it would have been like to experience Duke Ellington and Cab Calloway (he of Minnie the Moocher fame) in their prime. The song I most enjoyed when I first watched the film 35 years ago was Ill Wind (You’re Blowin’ Me No Good) and all these years later it was still the song I most enjoyed. The actress Lonette McKee was given the task of singing it, however over the years it has been recorded by all the greats, Frank Sinatra, Dinah Washington and Ella Fitzgerald to name but a few. The song was composed by Harold Arlen who also gave us the soundtrack to The Wizard of Oz. Yes, he was the man responsible for taking us Somewhere Over The Rainbow.

Ill Wind (You’re Blowin’ Me No Good) by Ella Fitzgerald:

One observation from having typed the word “ill” several times for this post, depending on the typeface you use it can look like the number three in Roman numerals. A capital “i”, and the letter “l”, often look the same, but I can assure you it’s neither a song by Lonette McKee the Third, nor a level Three Wind, it is indeed about a wind that we really don’t want, just like the one that whisked Dorothy off to the land of Oz.

These old movies on the Talking Pictures channel are not for everyone but I’ve watched a few now and they are a real insight into our social history. Some of the best lines in The Cotton Club came from a young Lawrence Fishbourne who played mob boss and bookmaker Bumpy Rhodes. They made a real impact on me when I watched the film 35 years ago and his short speech has never left me. Last week I wrote about the BRIT awards and how rapper Dave was responsible for the most powerful performance of the night. 90 years on and I’m realising they are not a million miles apart.

Until next time….

Ill Wind (You’re Blowin’ Me No Good) Lyrics
(Song by Harold Arlen/Ted Koehler)

Blow ill wind,
Blow away,
Let me rest today.
You’re blowin’ me no good,
No good.

Go ill wind,
Go away,
Skies are oh so gray
Around my neighborhood,
And that ain’t good

You’re only misleadin’ the sunshine I’m needin’,
Ain’t that a shame
It’s so hard to keep up with troubles that creep up
From out of nowhere,
When love’s to blame.

So ill wind, blow away.
Let me rest today.
You’re blowin’ me no good.

So, ill wind, blow away,
Please let me rest today.
You’re blowing me no good, no good, no good.

Author: Alyson

Whenever I hear an old song on the radio, I am immediately transported back to those days - I know I'm not alone here and want to record those memories for myself and for the people in them. 50 years ago the song "Alfie" was written by my favourite songwriting team Bacharach and David - The opening line to that song was "What's it all about?" and I'm hoping that by writing this blog, I might find the answer to that question.

8 thoughts on “The Cotton Club, Ella Fitzgerald and “Ill Wind (You’re Blowin’ Me No Good)””

    1. He still has a few plans up his sleeve apparently but seems to be more interested in his Wineries nowadays and his later career as a vintner! Also he will be 81 in a month’s time so he should be allowed a bit of retirement I imagine!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s great – It reminds me of the kind of films that were on during the school holidays and at weekends when we were young. Most of them British as well so as I said, a real lesson in our social history.

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  1. Those lyrics seem very timely.
    As someone who grew up watching old movies (and laments their absence on regular TV… and can’t understand why even the streaming services like Netflix don’t seem to offer many of them), that channel seems of interest… although my viewing time is rather restricted at the moment. I don’t know where all the time I had 20 years ago has gone.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hmm… Yes those lyrics do seem quite timely. I’ve started to feel a lot more chipper of late and we had finally got rid of all the political division on the news. Now the news is all about something else to worry about, or not as I’ve decided.

      It’s a great wee channel and one I wouldn’t have discovered if not for C. I’ve been recording films I like the sound of and then watching them when the other half isn’t around, as it’s not really his thing. As for the time you used to have and now don’t, I’ve been there. We even got really cross with ourselves for not appreciating all the free time we had when we were younger, but frittered it away. It will return, as that’s just how life works out.

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  2. I’m so glad you investigated Talking Pictures and are enjoying it. There’s such a mixture on there too; a while back we recorded a really short film about how to make a vegetable pie very resourcefully (it was wartime!) and it was charmingly whimsical, told in a quiet story-like style, really different, I almost expected it to turn into a horror film but instead came away with a recipe! I love the more subtle, nuanced style creativity that comes through often during harder times. It’s actually very inspiring (I’m currently indulging a real love of retro children’s book illustration and also poster design, ’40s- ’60s in particular – so it’s great to just soak up some of the visual approaches used in films of the time too.)
    V interesting post and totally agree re. the point about Dave’s BRITs performance.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I doubt if I would have found it if you hadn’t written about it yourself, so thanks very much for that. Real social history in these films and I love the old black and white British films especially. I’m shocked at how women are treated and referred to, as you would never get away with it nowadays, but that’s just how it was – Funnily enough the women often wore the trousers and homes were quite matriarchal, so they had the last laugh.

      Ah yes, illustration from those times was very different – Useful for you to soak up all this vintage-ness I imagine. I just love how the women dressed and how they were all so petite but very strong. They served in the war, in factories and as land girls, and did a really good job of it.

      Lawrence Fishbourne was a minor player really, but like Dave, put in the most powerful performance.

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