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Jazz drummer, 2 songwriters silenced

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS / JAN. 5, 1966
    Drummer Joe Morello -- seen performing at a jazz festival in Boston as a member of the Dave Brubeck Quartet -- died Saturday at his home in New Jersey. He was 82 and one of the most famous drummers in jazz music history.
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The music industry lost three artists recently.

Joe Morello, one of the most famous drummers in jazz music history, died Saturday at his home in northern New Jersey, according to family members. A cause of death was not immediately available.

Morello, who was 82, was best known for his work with the Dave Brubeck Quartet. He was a member of the group for more than 12 years and was featured on such jazz classics as "Take Five" and "Blue Rondo a la Turk."

Morello also played with many leading jazz musicians over the years, including pianist Marian McPartland’s Hickory House Trio in the early ’50s.

After Brubeck disbanded the quartet in 1968, Morello turned to teaching and writing instructional books.

Hugh Martin Jr., a composer, lyricist and arranger who created the enduring standards "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" and "The Trolley Song," sung by Judy Garland in the 1944 MGM musical "Meet Me in St. Louis," has died. He was 96.

Martin, who collaborated in an unusual partnership with Ralph Blane on Broadway and in film, died of natural causes Friday at home in Encinitas, Calif., north of San Diego, said his niece Suzanne Hanners.

The two men shared songwriting credits for "Meet Me in St. Louis," which is set at the turn of the 20th century and follows a Midwestern family on the verge of moving to New York City. Garland lit up the screen with her renditions of "The Boy Next Door," "The Trolley Song" (which was nominated for an Academy Award for best original song) and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas."

But the melancholy Christmas lyrics Garland sang in the film were not the ones Martin originally wrote. His first lines were even darker.

"Have yourself a merry little Christmas, it may be your last," went the original, then, "Next year we may all be living in the past," followed by "Faithful friends who were dear to us, will be near to us no more."

A studio executive suggested lightening the lyrics, saying, "It’s OK for it to be bittersweet and nostalgic, but it shouldn’t be a dirge."

So Martin went back to work, revising the lines:

"Have yourself a merry little Christmas, let your heart be light; next year all our troubles will be out of sight."

Released during World War II, the film and its signature songs struck a chord with moviegoers.

"The audience comes to care deeply about these people and their story," Miles Kreuger, president of the Los Angeles-based Institute of the American Musical, said in an interview Saturday. "The score very subtly and successfully captures the essence of what these characters are thinking and feeling, so the audience is immediately drawn to the integrity of the songs."

Then, in 1957, Frank Sinatra was making recordings for a holiday album to be called "A Jolly Christmas" and asked Martin to "jolly up" his song.

So to substitute for "Until then we’ll have to muddle through somehow," he came up with "Hang a shining star upon the highest bough."

Sinatra’s version helped lift "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" into the ranks of cherished holiday classics. It has since been recorded by hundreds of performers, including Bing Crosby, Tony Bennett, Diana Krall, James Taylor and the Pretenders.

Although Martin and Blane shared writing credits in the 1940s, they worked independently.

Martin and Blane met in the late 1930s as performers singing in Broadway musicals. Martin was making a name for himself as a vocal arranger for Broadway shows when the duo got the chance to write words and music for "Best Foot Forward" in 1941.

That brought them to the attention of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, which signed them to write for the movies. After finishing "Meet Me in St. Louis," Martin served in the Army, performing for troops in Europe.

He returned to Hollywood after the war and received another Oscar nomination along with Blane and Roger Edens for the song "Pass That Peace Pipe" from 1947’s "Good News."

Martin continued to write and arrange for both film and stage productions, including the Tony-nominated "High Spirits" (1964).

He and Blane teamed up again for a 1989 Broadway revival of "Meet Me in St. Louis," writing several new songs. Blane died in 1995.

Martin was born Aug. 11, 1914, in Birmingham, Ala. He never married and retired to Encinitas in the 1970s.

Martin is survived by brother Gordon of Birmingham as well as nieces and nephews and his longtime manager and caretaker, Elaine Harrison of Encinitas.

Jean Dinning, 86, who wrote the tragic pop song "Teen Angel," which became a No. 1 hit for her brother in 1959, died Feb. 22 in Garden Grove, Calif., said her daughter, Cynthia Wygal. Dinning had a respiratory illness.

She wrote the song after reading a newspaper article about teenagers making positive contributions that used the phrase "teen angels." Her younger brother, Mark Dinning, recorded the sad ballad, and it was his only major hit. He died of a heart attack at 52 in 1986.

The song is credited with inaugurating an early-1960s cycle of morbid songs about teenage mortality that included Ray Peterson’s "Tell Laura I Love Her" and Jan & Dean’s "Dead Man’s Curve."

One of nine children, she was born Eugenia Dinning on March 29, 1924, in Enid, Okla.

As one of the Dinning Sisters — a trio that included her twin, Ginger — she performed from the late 1930s until 1954. The group had a top 10 hit with "Buttons and Bows" in 1948 and appeared on the country music TV show "The National Barn Dance."

A mother of five, Dinning was married and divorced twice. Her third husband, Joel "Red" Beasley, died in 1994.

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