I Double Dare You (Jimmy Mazzy and Sandrine)

I grew up on old Tin Pan Alley pop tunes, thanks to a father who was born in 1906, knew all the hits of the 1920s, and was ready to perform them at the drop of a hat. I began working a few of them out on guitar in the 1970s, thanks to Dave Van Ronk, made a good part of my living in the 1980s playing them in restaurants and on cafe terraces in Antwerp, sometimes in the company of a fine fiddler, Nick Boons, and have already posted quite a few in this project… but honestly, I didn’t really immerse myself in this music until my wife, Sandrine, got serious about playing clarinet, hooked up with Billy Novick for lessons, and Billy sent her to the Concord Inn, to hear Jimmy Mazzy and his gang — which led to a year or so of her playing with them every week (and with me, in between).

I went every week and was consistently blown away by Jimmy’s musicianship and memory — I thought my father knew a lot of songs, but Jimmy is superhuman. Night after night, he would come up with things that were not only unfamiliar to me, but to the other musicians, some of whom had been playing trad jazz and swing for more than half a century. He also played wonderful, idiosyncratic banjo, and sang with a wry tunefulness that captured the humor and sentiment of lyrics that I might otherwise have considered throw-aways.

Sandrine and I often came home from those sessions saying, “We have to try that one,” but I learned a long time ago that there are songs I like and there are songs that like me, and it’s nice when those categories overlap, but all too often they don’t. Which is a fancy way of saying a lot of songs that sounded great when Jimmy sang them with the band didn’t fall comfortably into my repertoire.

This one was an exception — I had never heard it before Jimmy sang it one night, but tried it with Sandrine the next day, loved playing and singing it, and have been doing it ever since. I know nothing more about it, though a glance at the artists featured on various versions of the sheet music suggests it was played by damn near everybody in the late 1930s.

Anyway, it was great being able to hear Jimmy and the gang every week, and then the Concord Inn changed their booking policy, Jimmy no longer had a regular venue for his jam sessions, and Sandrine and I moved to Philadelphia… which we love, but I miss those nights.