Claude Thornhill — I May Be Wrong — The Early 1950’s

Thanks to OverJazz for the You Tube.

The vocal on I May Be Wrong was by Gene Williams. Music was written by Henry Sullivan, Lyric by Harry Ruskin, in 1929. This arrangement was by Gil Evans who along with Claude Thornhill were part of the post World War II Cool Jazz movement. It was recorded in 1947. When Doris Day performed this song in the movie Man with a Horn (1950), her lyric was about hats and shoes, not shirts and ties, a more appropriate lyric for a woman but still in the period.

I bought a Claude Thornhill CD after hearing some other of his records on Chuck Cecil’s Swingin’ Years. I listened to that CD again recently and I May Be Wrong just jumped out at me. It brought me back to 1954 when my family moved from Northern Minnesota to Southern California.

August has always been for me a month of change, disruption, and sometimes dread. August, 1954 was probably the most important month in my life. I was five going on six years old and we still lived at the Britt Depot, in Northern Minnesota. My mother had gotten a phone call from my Aunt on Christmas Day, 1953, who told her that that she could make more money teaching school in a week out in California than she could in a month in Minnesota. My mother left for California right after the holidays to see what she could get. My Aunt was right, they were desperate for teachers and my mother was hired at the first school district office she visited.  My father’s career had also hit a dead end so it was time for him to move on as well.

When we arrived in California in August, 1954, the contrast couldn’t have been more different. Everything was so bright and sunny. In Minnesota, the cars were all black, dark blue, dark brown, and dark gray, or so it seemed. In Southern California the cars were dazzling two tone colors: red and white, aqua and white, green and white, pink and white, black and yellow, black and pink. My mother commented on buildings painted in a color she called “robin’s egg blue.” It looked more like the color of a swimming pool to me. People were driving convertibles with the top down. The dazzling sunshine of late summer was in contrast to the dark thunderstorms in the forests back in Minnesota.

My Uncle lived near the old L.A. Airport which was tiny compared to what it is today. When we visited them for Sunday dinner, he would take me over to a street near the airport where we could see the planes landing and taking off. These were old propeller planes, mostly Lockheed Constellations, which were at their height but in four years would become obsolete.

Then in September, it was time to start school, It was a shock from which I never really recovered,   The children in Britt could be counted on your fingers. I wasn’t old enough to attend school so I stayed home listening to records and drawing pictures. After we moved to California, I went to an airy elementary school full of awnings and patios with 300 children. When I saw them all on the playground, I wanted to run away and hide!

So, for me August 1954 was the real end of the 1940’s and the beginning of the 1950’s. Funny how time as a psychological construct is so different from its actual measurement. Claude Thornhill’s I May Be Wrong and Robbins Nest triggered all of those memories this past week. I’ll play Robbins Nest at a later date.

About Richard Rollo

I am a retired Community College Instructor. I taught Political Science 1 American Government for 22 years in Southern California. I am originally from Northern Minnesota. My earliest years were spent in the living quarters of a rural Duluth Winnipeg & Pacific Railway Depot. Then my family joined the great 1950's migration to Southern California where I joined up with fellow baby boomers in overcrowded schools.
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