The Litany of the Saints: Musical Quotations and Influences in the Music of Tommie Potts.

'Mambo Italiano' and 'My Love is in America'


Our next example, however, is one of direct musical borrowing where a theme from a 1951 pop song is incorporated into his setting of ‘My Love is in America’. Again, this information emerged during the recording of ‘fieldback’ tapes while viewing the 1982 video preciously referred to. The following conversation took place immediately after viewing his performance of ‘My Love is in America’ that we had recorded the previous day:

POTTS: Well now, if I only played it like that, it’d be nice.

MOS: Now did we capture it there?

POTTS: Yeah! It’s just a matter of pointing out the variation.

MOS: You had put in some different ones from the recording there? [The Liffey Banks, 1972]. You have some more in stock?

POTTS: There were one or two more there. But there’s one in it there - and I don’t know whether we should let Siobhan [a student observer] hear this or not! It’s from an old jazz song a few years ago. Maybe it’s before your time. There was some Italian motif in it, and I can’t remember the words of it, but it was [lilts]. That was the beginning of that jazz thing, so it fitted into ‘My Love is in America’ [plays - see Illustration 12]. That's the jazz bit! [plays]
[Speech Transcription, p.33 see Ó Súilleabháin 1987]

Of the five available Potts recordings of ‘My Love is in America’ (see Ó Súilleabháin  1987: Chapter 6, and Ó Súilleabháin 1996), all but one makes use of this jazz motif. Potts referred to the songs as ‘Hey Mambo’ but could supply no further details. His reference to the ‘Italian Motif’, however, helped to locate the recording in question. Entitled ‘Mambo Italiano’, it was recorded by Rosemary Clooney in 1951. Illustration 13 shows the opening chorus that contains the ‘Hey Mambo’ motif used by Potts.

illustration 12

Illustration 12. Potts' demonstration of the 'Mambo Italiano' motif in his setting of 'My Love is in America'


illustration 13

Illustration 13. The chorus from 'Mambo Italiano' as sung by Rosemary Clooney


Video 4. Rosemary Clooney ‘Mambo Italiano’

Available to view at the YouTube URL:


Audio 5. Listen here to a similar variation performed by Potts at the start of the first A part

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An interesting detail may be seen in the way in which Potts’ perception of the motif in question involves a move into a definite ‘swing’ which is not present in the original recording. This ‘swing’ comes through at the appropriate point in his ‘My Love is in America’, and Illustration 14 shows the context in which this occurs. There is, of course, the normal traditional ‘swing’ in all of Potts’ rhythms that is not reflected in my transcription of his pieces. Nevertheless, there is a definite shift in the extent of this ‘swing’ in some performances - precisely at the point where the ‘Mambo Italiano’ motif is used. This is something which I had included in my transcription without the foreknowledge of the ‘Mambo Italiano’ connection (see Ó Súilleabháin 1982 which was written six months before my first meeting with Potts and in which I notated the ‘swing’ as a dotted quaver, or eight note, followed by a semiquaver, or sixteenth note, rather than by the triplet I used in later transcriptions). This ‘variation’ therefore, has a particular rhythmic ‘feel’ that makes it stand out from the others and thus betray its origins in the ‘Mambo Italiano’ original motif, even through Potts himself was unaware of this. He was, however, aware of the ‘taboo’ aspect of mixing the ‘modern’ with the ‘traditional’ as was shown in his brief comment which occurred immediately after the ‘fieldback’ revelation:

POTTS: Well, I don’t think I should have said that really. I’ll be shot down altogether. [Speech Transcriptions, p.13 see Ó Súilleabháin 1987]

Potts’ enjoyment of playing the secret role of ‘enfant terrible’ is obvious here, and this reflects similar comments already quoted in this essay where he refers to ‘the purists’.


illustration 14

Illustration 14. The change in rhythmic sqing in the 'Mambo Italiano' motif from the original (ex.1) through Potts' demonstration (ex.2) and in Potts' 'My Love is in America'


A final point to note in this example is the connection between moving in and out of phase with the traditional model already noted in the first two instances of borrowing discussed in this chapter. In this instance, once again the borrowed ‘Mambo Italiano’ motif coincides with an ‘out-of-phase’ segment, and is followed immediately by the customary moving back into phase with the model.