Monday, February 28, 2005

We wuz robbed. . .

Martin Scorsese © 1991 David Ehrenstein

. . .Martin Scorsese and me, that is. I've been going to the movies since 1947. The first film I remember is The Egg and I. I liked it then and still do. But of all the movies I've seen, The Aviator strikes me as not just Best Picture of the Year, but among the Best. . .Ever!

Unusual for me, because I tend to loathe film biography. Just like Josef Goebels when he heard the word "culture," at the sound of the word "biopic" I tend to reach for my gun. Protagonist is born, triumphs, falls from grace, rises from the ashes like a phoenix , The End. Textbook example of which is Ray, which I'll confess I've not seen and simply won't. I love Ray Charles too much.

Everything I've read and seen about Ray suggests paint-by-numbers biopic, and I can still recall Jamie Foxx "doing" Ray Charles back on the old In Living Color TV series. I didn't find it terribly amusing then, and don't think I would now. Or, "moving," or "riveting," or "engrossing," or however else it is I'm supposed to feel about Foxx's performance. No matter how much one might have liked the film, it's inarguable that it doesn't advance the art of film much, if at all. Nor does Million Dollar Baby, I think I can safely say without having seen it either. Why, in the name of gawd, would anyone want to go to a movie about women beating the crap out of one another? (Now, mud wrestling. . .that's another matter.) The name of Hillary Swank's character alone---Maggie Fitzgerald (give me a break)---is enough to clue you in that you're really in for thirties-retrograde-Warners-melodrama country with this one. If I want that, I'll just re-watch Three on a Match (1932), starring the late, great Ann Dvorak. . .thank you very much.

Besides, Hillary Swank has the big scary teeth, and if that's an Appalachian accent (?) she's supposed to be doing in the film, I think dialect wiz Robert Eastman would give her an "F" and send her packing.

I loved every minute, every frame of The Aviator. How much hipper can you get than the fact that the early part of the film is shot in antique two-strip technicolor and the latter half (later on in time) three-strip? Not sure if the the two-strip is faked or whether it's the real thing, but that just knocked me out (my car used to bear a "Bring Back Two-Strip" bumber sticker).

The Aviator really isn't a biopic per se, but rather Scorsese and company's "take" on what might be Howard Hughes subjective sense of who he thought he was. A very literary conceit adapted to the big screen. For example: the way Hughes' phobia of blacks is only very quietly invoked at the beginning of The Aviator, and then worked throughout the fabric of the film in subtle ways, without hammering one over the head with it. Topped off by the playing of the sound of African-American blues legend Leadbelly singing "The Ballad of Howard Hughes and Katharine Hepburn" (or whatever it was called) over the end credits! When Scorsese happened upon the existence of the Leadbelly track, you could probably have heard him plotzing the length of the 57th Street NYC canyon where his office and editing facilities are are located.

I also appreciated the fact that here CGI was used for something worthwhile, instead of, per ususal, only employed to convey the sense of a monster from the netherworld ripping the guts open of a woman with child (or some such sequence). AND THAT before the credits have even begun.

The Aviator is chock-a-block with computer imagery, but it's all used to tell and advance the story, anddddd, most of all, from the perspective of its backers, to save production money. When DeCaprio as Hughes crashed that plane in Beverly Hills, I was pinned against my seat back for every second of the FX-laden scene. At its conclusion, I almost felt like jumping to my feet and applauding just the way one might for a bravura operatic turn. It's sad to see such a forward-thinking film as the The Aviator get swept aside the way it did Oscar night. Not since Chariots of Eggs won best pic award back in '81 has a film any more conservative in conception and execution as Million Dollar Baby been accorded that honor. Perhaps that tells us something about the uptight, happy-times-are-gone-again days we live in. At least I'm glad the physically-challenged have turned on the film in protest of the assisted suicide of Swank's character at the conclusion of MDB.

And if, as Swank has kept insisting these past few months, she is just a little white trash girl from a trailer park with a dream, I would say that the dress she wore to pick up her award certainly was proof of at least the "trailer park" part. What in the name of Edith Head was she wearing? It caused Swank to resemble---even though she is in fact slim as a reed---one of those Helen Hokinson dowager-type ladies, circa the New Yorker, circa '20s-40s. Or as Cintra Wilson would have it Monday morning in her post-Oscar wrap-up in Salon Magazine, "an erotic balloon-animal made of inner tubes."

As for the new more efficient, "soup line" method of handing out certain, ummm, lesser technical awards. . .in the immortal words of Singin' in the Rain vamp, Olga Mara: "I think it's vulgar."

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Today in Beatles History, pt. 63

Paul McCartney, Walter Shenson, Richard Lester Posted by Hello

Twenty-one years ago today---Feb. 27, 1964---the Beatles were in Abbey Road studios recording three of the songs---"If I Fell," "And I Love Her," "Tell Me Why"--- for the soundtrack of their first feature film. Inasmuch as film producer Walter Shenson's main interest was making good and interesting low-budget films of all kinds (like The Mouse That Roared and Dudley Moore's 30 is a Dangerous Age, Cynthia, among others) and not just rock and roll movies, he was somewhat unaware of just how he helped change rock film for the better when he took on the task of producing the Beatles' feature film debut, A Hard Day's Night. Or so it seemed to us when, during the preparation of David Ehrenstein's and my 1982 book Rock on Film, we spoke with Shenson about the making of HDN and the Beatles’ second feature, HELP! We interviewed him on the eve of his '82 re-release of the first Beatles movie---with its added music and prologue (to the tune of "I'll Cry Instead") and new Dolby soundtrack. The following first person narrative was knit by us from the enlightening conversation we had with him. It was intended for Rock on Film, but somehow fell through the cracks and never made it to the final cut. It has not been published until its appearance here on people-vs-drchilleair. U.S.-born Shenson (born 1919) died in 2000 in Woodland Hills, California. MORE (link removed)

© 2005 Bill Reed & David Ehrenstein

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Today---Feb. 26---is Betty Hutton's birthday

Hutton in rare repose Posted by Hello
The late George Eells, a close friend, was the entertainment editor of Look back in the 50s. It's a great source of regret that I didn't carry a tape recorder around with me when we were together. He had great stories. I never ceased begging him to write HIS memoirs, but George kept begging off. I think I was still after him to do this when he was practically on his deathbed in 1992.

One story I recall concerned Betty Hutton (who turns 84 today). In the early 1950s, George had finished editing an advance Look feature on her appearance at the Palace. The day following the opening, the reviews were so strong that a last minute cover shoot was arranged. But when George arrived at the appointed location (the day following Betty's smash opening) she was being taken away in an ambulance. Her publicist explained that his client felt that she'd given such a bad performance opening night that she'd suffered a breakdown and had to be temporarily hospitalized. THIS, after perhaps the best notices of her career. Hearing this, I couldn't help but recall Mort Sahl’s remark that Show Business is the only animal that eats its young. MORE

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Friday, February 25, 2005

Cat blog Friday #4 Posted by Hello

I had this ideal concept of snapping Kuro delicately sniffing the newly opened amaryillis. But, of course, like Howard Hughes and clouds in "The Aviator," you could wait around all year for that. Amaryllis is a rather amazing plant. Or, is it a legume? Or berry, or nut? I have the least green thumb in the world and yet I have luck with these delicate things. I once laid an amaryllis on my friend, dancer Frances Nealy. She was near death, and I gave her one that was also almost ready to expire. Please don't get me wrong here; I am in total accord with Katharine Hepburn who believed that "They just throw you in the ground, shovel some dirt over you, and there's nothing to worry about anymore." But I'll be goldarned if that thing didn't spring back to life even as Frances was in the process of buying the farm. . .or as writer Eve Babitz once described death: "The very last word in your friends having fun without you."

Frances' best friend was actress Cora Lee Day. She was one of the stars of Julie Dash's terrific film, "Daughters of the Dust." Not long after Frances died in 1997, I was driving to the grocery store, saw Cora standing on the sidewalk and pulled over to chat. Mostly, we talked about Frances. Cora Lee, who was the last person to her alive, told me that Frances had tapped out a time step on her (Cora's) palm and then passed. I got so verklempt when Cora told me the story that day that I had to turn around and drive back home. I'm all better now, thank you.

I was always astonished by the fact that in all of her 79 years, every penny Frances had earned had come from show business, especially as a fairly big (perhaps "respected" is the better word) fish in smallish pond of tap dancing. As for Cora, for a brief, mercurial (and hysterically funny) moment in time, she was also a professional jazz singer, but I'll save that one for some other time.

Frances Nealy was the classiest and most dignified creature you can imagine; the sort who never took the garbage out unless she was dressed to the nines. That's the way old troopers were.

Not long before she died, I happened to look out on her terrace and see an American flag stuck in one of the pots. I had never known Frances to be unduly patriotic, and so I asked:

"Why do you have that flag out there?"

"Oh, honey," she said. "That's pot. But if I stick a flag in there and anyone happens to come snooping around they won't pay any attention to it."

Twilight of the gods, I tell you. Twilight of the gods.

Frances Nealy Posted by Hello

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Luncheoning with "Missy" Posted by Hello

Brush with greatness

A reader wrote me privately after this photo was posted here yesterday:

There are times when I think that the entirety of the Goldwyn *oeuvre* is justified by that one scene where La Stanwyck teaches Gary Cooper about 'Yum-yum.' Were you there in a professional capacity, or was this an accidental juxtaposition? All details are of interest. Including the information of whether she was actually that shade of ghostly white, or it was the effect of odd lighting.

Thank you,


This was taken in 1981 at Chez Merv---the Beverly Hilton. The occasion was the Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards dinner. This was the one year that the group went big time; thus, the tux I am wearing (I had to roll pennies to pay for the rental of the damn thing). The evening was broadcast on syndicated TV. The entertainment for the affair was fairly hip. I seem to recall, it was the Dwight Twilley band. Or maybe, it was Dwight Yoakum. Either way. . .hip! (Since then, BTW, time has kicked the shit out of my face.)

A one-time LACMA moment of madness, the event has since gone back to the scale of a glorified PTA meeting. I am not a member of the group, but my good friend and constant traveling companion of the past thirty-odd years, David Ehrenstein, was. . .and still is.

I went because I knew Stanwyck was going to be there to receive their Career Achievement award. It is the only time I have accompanied David to the event. This night may have been the one that set off the belated spate of such recognition for her. I have no favorite movie stars, per se. For me, there is only Stanwyck. And I wanted to see her, not talk to her, just be in proximity to her. In the same spirit that I bought a ticket a few years earlier to witness Groucho at Carnegie Hall. In the presence of greatness. . . and all that.

I was seated right behind her at the next table, with none other than Miss Joan Collins who fussed and fretted over her maquillage the entire evening. . .actually going so far as whip out a makeup mirror at one point. At which point David turned and whispered to me, "This is a religious experinece." She was set to appear on the TV portion of the show. "Religious" perhaps, but a truly shocking and vulgar display nonetheless.

On the other hand (the answer to the above "ghostly" question), Stanwyck had no need to revert to such vulgar shenanigans. For she had used one of the oldest makeup tricks in the book, i.e. slathered herself with rice powder. The effect being that, the more light that is shone on a person wearing it, the younger they appear to be. So that by the time Stanwyck appeared under the hot TV lights to accept her award, she looked youthful enough to bring off the Ball of Fire "Sugarpuss O'Shea" character that you allude to in your query, Chris. Weellll, almost.

The photo was taken by Glenda Hobbs, wife of film critic Michael Sragow, who knew how much I venerated Stanwyck. At first, I stood way off in the distance out of respect for my heroine. But Glenda kept motioning me closer and closer, and if I had got any nearer, I would have tripped and fallen face forward in Barbara's boullabaisse.

At first, I made no attempt to approach Stanwyck. But when the evening was almost over, I espied my friend Kevin Thomas talking with her, and as he moved away and began moving up the aisle, I ran and affected a full body tackle. "Kevin, pleasssse," I implored. He then graciously escorted me over to her table and introduced me. "Bill, Barbara. . . Barbara, Bill, etc." I hadn't really planned on this contingency , so I didn't have any conversation gambit at the ready. But then. . .inspiration struck:

"You're on the cover of a book I wrote."

In the nicest possible way, and in the lowest possible plangent tones for a female of the species, she replied something along the lines of, "What ever on earth are you talking about?"

"Uh, um . . . [I was beginning to feel just like Margaret O'Brien when she knocks on that door on Halloween in "Meet Me in St. Louis"]. . . I wrote this book about rock and roll movies , and you were in one with Elvis Presley, 'Roustabout', and there's a still from it on the cover, and well I didn't really write it, that is to say I co-wrote it with David Ehrenstein, he's a critic, and . . .."

"How interesting," she interrupted in a tone of voice just this side of disingenuous and then kind of turned away and continued scarfing back her vittles. Finally, I guess it was worth it, though. How many others can claim, like myself, to have shaken the hand of both Barbara Stanwyck AND Neal Cassady!

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Visual aid Posted by Hello

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Five 'n' dime rock Posted by Hello

Hits Hits Who?-Ray!

The recent thread about '50s and '60s budget knockoff recordings on an internet list to which I subscribe, Spectropop, has finally given me the courage to come out of the closet into the cool, clear light of day. Until now, I thought that I was the only person in the universe who collected this stuff. Yes, I can now walk proudly into the clean, clear light of day and proclaim that I, too, am a furtive collector of this swill (I tend to concentrate on the Tops and Hits Hits Hits Hooray labels).

For those unfamiliar with this sub-genre, here's the way it is described on one of the pages of the excellent and invaluable BSN site:

". . .re-recorded versions of the hits of the day by studio musicians, sort of a 'Your Hit Parade' on record. The early releases that cover popular hits were effective, but as rock and roll began to dominate the charts, these big band leaders could not duplicate the rock and roll recordings."

Not exactly true, but these re-recordings of late fifites hits with at least one foot stuck back in the pop music aesthetic of the forties ("Unchained Melody," etc.) DO tend to be more verissimilitudinous. . .and less laughable. In theory, the ultimate goal was the achievement of a carbon copy of the real thing. But in only a handful of instances was this ever reached. Besides. . .who cares? What is of more interest to me are rare occasions when the track sounded just as good or interesting or (rarer) better than original. Too, there are those (often-as-not) awful-beyond-belief attempts at xeroxing the original, but that come off more like a childish crayola rendering. To whit: oleaginous over-the-hill boy tenors attempting to sing doo-wop.

I even own a boxed 78 rpm (!) set on Value Records ("Play twice as long for half the cost of ordinary records"). It is the pride of my collection. Four ten inch discs with four songs on each one. However, only a few of the cuts ("Rock Around the Clock", "Pledging My Love", etc.) qualify as rock. The remainder consists of "Davy Crockett", "Learnin' the Blues", etc. The front of the box bears the legend "vocals and orchestra by popular radio and televison artists," and what I would like to know is, if they're so goldarned "popular" why don't you tell us who they are?

In more recent times I have also begun snapping up Japanese covers of US hits, especially those late 50s, 60s and 70s tracks known as "eleki" (i.e., electric) and also "group sounds" (the name the Japanese originally gave to "rock and roll" because the latter was difficult for them to pronounce). The Japanese tracks come somtetimes in English but more often Japanese, with the latter oftimes proving a bit distracting due to pronunciation of English ('runny bear," etc.) that tends to wander all over the map.

A particular ten inch bargain basement covers album, Tops in Pops, on the fine fine super fine Allegro label is another album in my collection of this stuff where the names of the artists are not identified. Instead, on the front, the text reads "Played and sung just as you hear them on radio and TV," to which I would reply, "Welllll, not exactly."

This one contains a doesn't-quite-make-it cover the Royal Teens' (of which still-active musician Al Kooper is an erstwhile and founding member) and their "Short Shorts." Others of the eight cuts include: "Catch a Falling Star" (orig. Perry Como), "Oh, Oh I'm Falling in Love" (orig. Jimmy Rodgers), "It's Too Soon to Know" (orig. Orioles), "Don't" (orig. Elvin Pelvin), "Sail Along Silvery Moon" (orig. Billy Vaughn) , "Sugartime" (orig. McGuire Sisters) , "The Stroll" (orig. Diamonds). Some of it is, as we used to day, "close enough for jazz" I suppose.

When I was a teenager back in the 1950s, I really did not have the disposable income of some of the more monied of my chums, and so I bought these el-cheapo recordings out of neccessity. And was subsequently ridiculed to my face. (I know exactly how Ann ("Veeeeeeda!") Blyth felt in Mildred Pierce.) Now, however, I collect this stuff more out of perversity, I suppose, and for the sheer clutter of it all. And, let's face it, s'always fun to compare and contrast.
Isn't it . . .isn't it?

For a whiplash-inducing cultural experience, click HERE
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Monday, February 21, 2005

Record Collectors' Magazine Japan 6/04 Posted by Hello

Nina Simone: She put a spell on us

Today, February 21st, is Nina Simone's birthday. In honor of that occasion, I'm reprinting the profile of the singer-pianist that I wrote for the June 2004 issue of Record Collectors' (Japan). This is the English language text; it was subsequently translated into Japanese.
Nina Simone's various contretemps, and lawsuits (in both directions) were the ongoing stuff of tabloid headlines almost from the beginning of her sudden ascendancy to stardom in 1958, till the day she died. It was reported in 1988, for example, that she had closed a business meeting by pulling a knife; and in 1995 she was given a suspended sentence by French magistrates for firing an air-rifle at "too noisy" boys playing in the swimming pool of a neighboring villa. Simone was especially infamous for canceling shows at the last moment, or else leaving audiences wildly applauding for encores, without satisfaction, after dismayingly brief performances.

Generally disgusted with record companies, show business and racism she left the U.S. in 1974 for Barbados. During the following years she lived in Liberia, Switzerland, Paris, The Netherlands and finally the South of France, where the '95 shooting incident occurred . . .and where she died on April 21, 2003 at age 70.

Take away all of the storm and sensationalism, though, and what remains is still one of the most daringly innovative artists of her generation. Simone was a jazz singer-pianist, folk, rock, blues, R&B, pop and gospel singer all rolled into one.

It was the music of the American stage and her haunting recording of Dubose Heyward George and Ira Gershwin's "I Loves You, Porgy" from Porgy and Bess that propelled her to stardom. The song was drawn from her first album, 1958's Little Girl Blue (Jazz as Played in An Exclusive Side Street Club), " recorded for a Bethlehem small east coast jazz label. In the history of U.S. Top Ten records, there has seldom been a hit from farther out- of-left-field. Or, a slower or lengthier one. Taken at a stately largo pace, over the course of its uncommon (for a doughnut of that era) 4:05 running time, Simone subtly shifts the mood of the song from one of lamentation to optimism. Yet the tempo of the song never changes. From the start, then, it was obvious that we were not just in the presence of a first rate singer-pianist but actress as well. She writes in her autobiography, I Put a Spell on You, published in 1991:

"I went into the studio and recorded my songs exactly as I always played them, so when you listen to that Bethlehem album you're hearing the songs played as they were at the Midtown Bar."

Simone's premiere album was also the source of her last and only other major singles hit when in, in 1987, she charted Top Five in England with "My Baby Just Cares for Me" after the song was used in a Chanel television commercial.

Little Girl Blue was significant for two other reasons: it marked the beginning of the singer's career-long war with the recording industry. Simone's one-album stay with Bethlehem was not a pleasant one for her. In addition, Little Girl Blue established the ground rules for the musical eclecticism that would become a Simone trademark Its twelve tracks cover nearly the entire stylistic waterfront of American secular music: jazz (most notably Tadd Dameron's bop anthem "Good Bait"), folk, blues, pop. Nearly all were suffused to some degree or other with stylistic flourishes drawn from the Baroque songbook, most notably Johann Sebastian Bach.

Singer-pianist Charlie Cochran remembers the singer he befriended and worked alongside, in the mid-l 950s prior to the '58 Bethlehem recording. He met Simone when she was just getting her start in New York and they shared billing at a small club:

"I thought she was fascinating, not so much as a great musician but a terrifically mesmerizing show woman. If there was no one there, it wouldn't make any difference. She would sing just as movingly to one person as to 100. . .Sometimes, because the room was a bomb, I was her only listener and she, mine. . . Lousy, watered-down drinks, and no minimum, no cover, natch. We made about $125 each per week."

Simone recalled those years in her autobiography: "Because I was hired to play the piano for forty-five minutes out of each hour for six hours a night, and since I hadn't played any popular music before, I had to incorporate jazz and classical motifs into what I was doing . . . I didn't start singing until the manager of the bar told me that just playing wasn't good enough. "

From the beginning, Simone's singing was unique and unmistakable: She had one of the most astonishing voices in postwar American music -- at its deepest, she could almost be taken for male, yet it was unmistakably feminine; intense, but tender, shot through with a sexuality that was straightforward, yet teasing. She sounded like no one else!

Simone couldn't help but be surprised when music that she had been playing for several years to half-attentive drunks in near-dives and joints along the East Coast of the U.S. was suddenly near the top of the U.S. sales charts. Even at the time of her first recording, according to I Put a Spell on You, Simone called all the shots:

"I told the owner [of Bethlehem] I wasn't interested in playing any of his songs and that if I was going to make an album I'd chose the material myself and pick the musicians I wanted to support me."

By this time 25-year-old Simone probably felt she had nothing left to lose. She had been singing and playing around the East Coast for several years to no particular effect when the recording offer came. When she took her first such job in the Spring of 1954, she wrote in "Spell": "At moment I had never been into a bar in my life." Simone couldn't help but be surprised, then, when music that she had been playing for some time to half-attentive drunks in near-dives and joints was suddenly near the top of the U.S. sales charts.

Simone was born Eunice Waymon in the small town of Tryon, North Carolina in 1933 at the height of the U.S. economic Depression. Eventually she would change her name to stop her highly religious family from leaning that she was playing jazz, i.e. "the devil's music" in places where alcohol was being served.

Like most of America---black and white---the Waymons, a close-knit family of eight overseen by caring and devoted parents, suffered greatly during the Depression. Simone's father was an industrious blue collar worker, who was ultimately thwarted by the economic hard times and ill health; her mother was a minister of the church. And, as with so many other great black American musicians, that is where Simone began to attain a solid grounding in music. She recalled in her autobiography that when she was two-and- a-half:

"Momma came into the living room and heard me playing one of her favorite hymns, "God Be With You" in the key of F. She was so surprised she almost died on the spot."

It was soon understood, however, that Simone was no mere clever child, but instead, a genuine musical prodigy.

Almost immediately the citizens of Tryon began a fund that would support Simone's musical education from local training all the way to studying in her late teens at New York's world famous Julliard School of Music. After a year there, plans were for her to continue her studies at the prestigious Curtis Institute in Philadelphia.

Simone's aim was to become the first African-American female classical pianist (that is where all the Bachian quotes come from in her piano playing). She was turned down by Curtis in 1950, however; not good enough, they claimed. A near lifetime of dreams dismantled with the stroke of a pen! Simone would always believe that the real reason was because she was black, and few are the press interviews with her that fail to allude to the incident. It marked the beginning of several "lost" years during which she mainly supported herself by teaching, and playing in clubs.

Little Girl Blue is, arguably, a coherent masterwork that she never quite topped throughout the remainder of her career. Other key releases include: Nina at Town Hall (rec. 59), Nina Simone in Concert (rec. '64), Nina Simone and Piano (rec. '68). Her last album was 1993's A Single Woman. But even if it is true that subsequent albums, after the first, never quite measured up to it in consistency, still the overall body of her 41-entries (not counting reissues) catalog contains many examples of enduring art. After four black children were killed in the bombing of a church in Birmingham in 1963, Simone wrote "Mississippi Goddam," considered a landmark of U.S. protest music. And over the next decade, during which she became much more politically engaged than before, there followed a series of series of great U.S. Civil Rights "anthems", including "Four Women" and "To Be Young, Gifted and Black," and "The Backlash Blues." So many, in fact, that her music came to be, what some called, the "soundtrack" of the exploding Civil Rights movement. All the while, as before, she continued successfully whipping up her usual eclectic musical stew, consisting of such diverse "ingredients" as: Leonard Cohen's "Suzanne," The Bee Gee's "To Love Somebody," Bob Dylan's "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues," George Harrison's "My Sweet Lord" and Brecht-Weill, Randy Newman, Daryl Hall, The Beatles, Jacques Brel, Leonard Bernstein, Janis Ian, Jim Webb et al, along with a healthy sprinkling of her own compositions.

Some people wonder why Simone---so seemingly bitter and angry with her audience ----would even want to be a performer. Seems simple enough to me; being able to dump your anger on total strangers and make them pay for it strikes me as the perfect plan. After winning a huge settlement from record bootleggers, you'd have thought this would have mellowed her out a bit. Apparently not. My friend Nat Shapiro used to be her press agent. Nina liked him a lot for a white man (Jewish at that) and seriously told him that when the deal came down she was going to see to it that he was the one white man on the planet NOT destroyed. Both are now gone; Nat died in 1983, Simone in 2003. And Simone’s race war has still not yet come to pass.

When asked not long before her death how she would like to be remembered, Simone replied:

"I want to be remembered as a diva from beginning to end who never compromised in what she felt about racism and how the world should be, and who to the end of her days consistently stayed the same."

"But," asked the reporter, "isn't life about evolving and changing?"

"Not for me," she cryptically replied.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Prelude to. . .? Posted by Hello

Photographis redux

I have had this image laying around for the past forty years or so. And though I can no longer recall what I had for breakfast this morning, I can still remember where I got this photo. It was given to me by a West Virginia Stage College art instructor, Paul Nuchims.

I feel reasonably certain that it was taken by Paul. But that is just about all I remember about the shot. Nor can I any longer access under what pretext I prised it away from Paul. But there is little question that I found it mysterious. And more than a little erotic. Maybe it was taken abroad? The slight detail of buildings in the upper right hand corner doesn't look American.

Have any four---most likely unrelated---more similar-looking blokes ever appeared in a single photographic image? And why are the man on the left and the one with his butt, I mean, back closest to the camera dressed almost identically? And the same goes for the other two men. Students? Henceforth, I think I will call them---l to r--- Karl, Gunter, Helmut und Kurt.

The obvious question that leaps to mind is: Why are they all looking downward so intently? Why do they seem so spaced-out verging on mournful? It's haunted me for close to four decades. Have they just heard some horrible piece of news; or, perhaps they are staring at something dead on the sidewalk? They almost appear to be cruising each others'. . .oh, never mind. One thing is as certain as death, taxes, and the fact that Matt LeBlanc's Joey isn't going to be renewed, I'm never going to find out. Perhaps my bargain basement shrink is right; maybe I really DO need to . . ."get a life."

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Saturday, February 19, 2005

Municipal Auditorium. Charleston, WV Posted by Hello

Next stop Altoona

Charleston, West Virginia, my home town, isn't what I would necessarily call preservation conscious. Nearly every architectural touchstone of my childhood from the 1950s has been decimated to dust. One of the few exceptions is the 53,000 square foot, 3,400 seat Art Deco Municipal Auditorium, originally constructed in 1938. (Pronounced "Mew-NIS-pull," heavy emphasis on the middle syllable.)

The old place sure holds a lot of memories for me. The Gene Autry Show, circa 1950, with---doesn't seem likely, but this is what I remember---jazz singer Anita O'Day!! Could it have been? At any rate, I have a distinct recollection of someone singing one of O'Day's signature songs, "That's What You Think," whilst seated on a swing that flew out over the audience. And for my tenth birthday present, a ticket to the road company production of Oklahoma playing that week at the Auditorium.

In the immortal words of Joe Brainard, I Remember when a bunch of us went to see Carol Channing there in the mid-1960s. The crowd was sparse and we were just about the only ones laughing. So much so that at one point Carol stopped the show, came downstage and offered to take us on the bus with her to the next stop on the tour, Wheeling, West Virginia, home of the famous country n' western radio show, the WWVA Jamboree. No doubt she could have used us there as audience plants in the worst possible way. I can just hear her now muttering under her breath, as the audience failed to begin to grasp even the most accesible of her sketches: "My gawddddd, are we ever in Hicksville."

Then there was the night, our bravado fueled by hemp, we second-acted something. . . we weren't sure exactly what it was we elected to do on the spur of the moment. There the stoned lot of us were: sneaking in the side door and sliding into our front row seats just as the curtain rose to reveal:

"Jesus Christ, it's the touring company of Betty Grable in Hello, Dolly!," I blurted out rather loudly.

I was present for the 1955 rock/ r n' b concert in the accompanying advert, and I can still recall the disappointment I felt over my favorite at the time, Bill Haley, not sounding at all the way he did on records. More like a third rate polka band, replete mit accordion, yet. Another show at the Municipal that I recall featured---just for starters---Fats Domino, Little Richard, Ruth Brown, Choker Campbell, the Turbans, Clovers and Cadillacs. I get a bad case of chicken skin(as the Japanese call goose bumps) just thinking about it.

These were mostly black shows for black audiences with---in a reverse of racist tradition---whites relegated to sitting in the balcony. That's the way it was with the "Sippi Presents" (a local promoter) productions that came through town. I also recall that admission cost 2.50 for blacks, but the "spectator tickets" for whites in the "buzzard roost" were only 2.00.

I Remember that (see bottom of adjacent ad) Galperin's had listening booths large enough to accomodate a wing of the June Taylor Dancers. Their record department was managed by a somewhat effete young chap, Wayne Paxton, but who we tended to call "Penny Paxton" behind his back. It amazes me that, a near half-century later, I can still recall that, along with the name of Madge Orchid (!), manager of the same department at Londeree's. With a name like "Madge Orchid" I could die happy!

One Sippi show I recall, I just couldn't take it any longer. With everyone else on stage far too busy dancing to notice my adolescent whitebread presence, I spent the entire night sitting, literally, at Ray Charles' feet while he played and sang non-stop for more than three hours. The show, which featured a very young Betty Carter, was so exhilararating that afterward I followed the Charles troupe several hundred miles all the way to Columbus, Ohio for the next night's performance.

I was back home a few months ago and, as usual, asked to be driven past the old place. I am happy to report that she's still lookin' good. It was night, and the Municipal Auditorium looked remarkably like it does in the accompanying hand-tinted postcard. I asked my sister what they used it for now. I was told: "Oh, honey, graduations, things like that." But I just now googled for upcoming presentations at the beautiful, venerable old hall. And when I did, I came down with another serious case of chicken skin. Among other events, on March 11th at 7 pm, it's none other than Jerry Seinfeld. Those who know me well are aware of the fact that there is no one in the realm of the performing arts of whom I'm fonder. Boy howdy, I just might be tempted to hop on a plane
and. . ..

Just googled, though, and most of the tickets are gone. Surprising! The MONSTER TRUCK CAPITOL OF THE WORLD is one way Charleston bills itself (I'm so proudddddd). I can see that kind of event selling out there. Or Merle Haggard maybe. But that there jooboy from the TV!? I guess Charleston is getting to be a skosh hipper than I give it credit for.

My web site

1955 Posted by Hello

Friday, February 18, 2005

Bird n' Sassy

Posted by Hello

For the Latest in Be-Bop

Here is another in the series of photos that my friend in Chicago, Francine, sent me a while back.

Even those with the most rudimentary familiarity with the stream of American vernacular music will recognize the woman on the left signing autographs as Sarah Vaughan. And the man immediately to her right as Charlie Parker. The photo was taken by Francine's huband at the time. The location of Klayman's Music Shop was Chicago; was, because a swivet of googling reveals---no hits---that it has long since gone the way of the economic wrecking ball, descended into the mists of time, fallen though the cracks of history. Or all three. Whichever.

I didn't ask Francine the date, but I'm guessing it was taken in the Winter of 1949 while Parker and Vaughan were touring as part of package produced by jazz critic Leonard Feather. If I'm not mistaken, he can be seen immediately over Vaughan's left shoulder. Which brings to mind one of the reasons I'm so fond of this photo . . .its depth of focus. Perhaps not so apparent in this internet scan, but there are several intriguing "decisive moment"-type captures in the picture. For example, Vaughan attempting to smoke a cigarette and autograph a 78 rpm record . . .at the same time. If I had to lay odds, it would be that that old hunk of shellac still exists and is displayed on some proud ebay bidder's wall . . .somewhere.

And how about those two fans, on either side of the snap brim hat on the right, both trying to angle their way into the photo being taken. The cool cat with the cigar chomped in his mouth is just too much. There's also that twenty-years-out-of-date microphone on the counter in front of Bird. What's that doing there? Bird, too, is signing autographs. Wonder how many of the dozens of 78's he also signed that day are still in existence.? A lot, I would guess. Unlike today's car hops and dress extras of the future like Mariah, Jennifer and Christina, jazz greats like Parker and Vaughan really held onto their fan base.

Another reason I love this photo so much is because of the way it captures two jazz immortals in a seemingly mundane moment, yet doing something that relates to their hagiographic status, i.e. communing with their adoring public. It is significant that Vaughan is smoking a cigarette. I was in her presence off-stage several times and never saw her without a butt twixt her fingers.

The photo also reveals Vaughan and Parker looking surprisingly real, as opposed to romanticized. I can still recall my sense of amazement, a number of years ago, when my friend (producer, writer, producer) Nat Shapiro---who knew Parker well---told me who the latter's favorite writer was. None other than British satirical writer Kingsley Amis. Who knew that the great genius Bird deigned to read books? Nat did, and he remembered.

Oh, and one other detail. The clock in the background reveals that the action is taking place at 5:06. Assuming (let's hope) that it's 5:06 in the late afternoon, and not the morning, there'll be just time enough for another 24 minutes of autographs, then back to the Trenier Hotel to change, freshen up and/or whatever, and hit the ground running at 8:00 pm that night for another round of Stars of Modern Jazz.

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Cat blog Friday #3

Kuro makes a mess. . .and doesn't care. Posted by Hello

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Iggy n' Monk

Separated at birth? Posted by Hello

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Love is in the air

Who can keep up with all these celebrity weddings? First Camilla Parker Bowles and Prince Charles announced they were going to trip down the aisle. ("The bride wore a wedding dress made entirely of exquisite teeny tiny tampons....")

Now it looks like America's favorite December-and-May (more like December-and-March) couple are also set to tie knot soon. Yes, cradle robber extraordinaire Mary Kay Letourneau (43) and Boy Toy Vili (22) are also getting hitched. It's rumored that the wedding will be televised. My guess is that Jerry Springer will be the highest bidder for the rights. That's certainly where the freakshow belongs.

I wonder where the twosome will be registed? Did I hear all 42 of you reading this answering: Toy R Us? Or howzabout an honorary membership in NAMBLA for her? And a job for him?

I wish the the two of them the best. But I give it six months. Then, I predict Vili will dump her for a much older woman: a (reverse) trophy wife, as it were.

But don't get me wrong. That's why I love this crazy country.

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Top Ten Pet (as in Pet Elephant) Peeves

In addition to my all-abiding distress over the health care system---or total lack thereof---in the U.S. (see below), here are ten slightly lesser societal evils that drive me up the wall. . .and straight through the roof.

1. Cell Phones
Drive now - talk later
2. SUVs
I want my driver's horizon back
3. Turkey baster babys
Too many unwanted children already need homes
4. Guys with pierced ears
Anxiously chic selective non-conformity
5. Rap
People who voted for de-funding of music education
in public schools are getting what they paid for.
6. Bi-lingual education in public schools
7. Reality TV shows
If that's reality, give me fantasy instead.
8. CGI
I'll take paper plate flying saucers on a string any day.
9. Nitwits who cough/sneeze without covering mouth
Joseph Lister was a fraud?
10. People who stand on the left hand side of escalators
It's true. I have the soul of a hall monitor.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005


A few months ago, after learning the provisional details of Michael Moore's new film, this is the letter I sent him. Never heard back from him, though. No surprise.

Dear Michael Moore:

When I learned recently that you were beginning pre-production on Sicko, my sense of elation knew no bounds. And I felt the necessity of writing this letter of congratulations and encouragement. You couldn't have chosen a better topic. The horrifying and inhumane health care system---or lack thereof---in the U.S. (especially as exemplified by HMOs) is hobbling unions, and causing millions of otherwise healthy people to shamble around half-mad simply because they are fearful of what might happen to them if they were to fall ill. And that's just for starters.

In the past few days I have been contemplating writing a missive of complaint to the HMO, Kaiser Permanente. Either to a director or ombudsman at Kaiser, if indeed such individuals as the latter even exists there. But it will be a pointless act, I know. For if anything demonstrates my axiom "No Time Left to Do the Right Thing" (in this particular society), it is Kaiser.

BTW I don't know whether you will recall, but I interviewed you for "International Documentary" in 1989 when Roger & Me was released. I can still remember that you, my co-interviewer David Ehrenstein and I, spent nearly as much time talking about Bitburg as we did your film. Specifically about how much, as David had observed, the graveside tableau at Bitburg exactly resembled a scene in Triumph of the Will.

My complaints against the HMO Kaiser are not as dire as, for example, the woman in Putnam County, West Virginia who recently had both legs amputated by mistake. Wrong woman, you see. Not Kaiser, of course, still it makes my point. Nor even as grave as the woman across the street from me who recently had cancer surgery at Kaiser and was then tossed out on the street the same day (!), because there were "no more beds available."

Still. . .how would you like to be told, as was I not long ago by a doctor at Kaiser, that you had had a major heart attack and then ordered to endure a sedentary life for an entire month only to discover that the incorrect diagnosis was based upon a faulty EKG. They had me walking around with a vial of nitroglycerine, for crying out loud! Well, at least I still had both my legs.

Sure "mistakes occur." But a month prior to that, a faulty x-ray caused me to have to deal for several days with another incorrect diagnosis
of. . .LUNG CANCER. Both of these arising BTW from shoulder pain that I have endured for nearly two years without Kaiser doing much of anything to alleviate it. All for the low Low LOW cost of 425.00 per month. Q. How can they do it? The Answer: volume Volume VOLUME!

I have periodic nightmares of a Soylent Green nature about Kaiser: people going in but never coming out. . . if you catch my drift. All the better to make room for yet more "suckers," most of whom cannot afford anything more than the far less than acceptable and humane "care" they allegedly provide. (An exception: I did one time see L.A.'s RICH ex-Mayor Tom Bradley there. But then I always did find him somewhat dim.)

And I could go on and on. Things like a full set of x-rays taken by a technician, only for him to discover after he was finished that I had not taken a chain off from around my neck. Maybe that was HIS job to notice. Thus, I had to go through the whole process again. It's a wonder my arm didn't fall off from all the radiation. Then there was the time that. . . oh never mind.

Maybe I am just an extreme example of Kaiser's ineptitude. I truly feel if every one of their, uh, CLIENTS had experienced half of what I have with that HMO in the way of outright incompetence and inhumanity there would be rioting in the streets in front of their facilities round the clock. But I don't think this is the case; for I have heard more than my fair share of Kaiser horror stories from others, as well as similar tales about other HMOs. To whit: someone told me recently told me that PacifCare was even worse than Kaiser and I had to do a spit take.

I realize in the final analysis your film will not just be about HMOs, but the entire SICK medical situation in this country. In other words, HMOs finally are but a "neurotic system," if you will, of problems ultimately much more serious.

Good luck and godspeed. I would love to help you with this project in any way that I possibly can.


Bill Reed

My web site

Monday, February 14, 2005

Marvin Gaye

Marvin Gaye, Sam Cooke, Jackie Wilson, Jessie Belvin, et al. They all wanted the credibility that singing the Great American Songbook would bring them. Not that there's anything wrong with “Bring It On Home to Me,” “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” “Higher and Higher,” and “Goodnight, My Love.”

Early in Marvin Gaye's career, he had a one-for-me, one-for-them arrangement with Motown, i.e. an album of standards, an album of soul, an album of standards. . .soul, etc. A rehearsal tape from that early period, when Gaye had visions of becoming the next Nat King Cole, has come into my possession. It's interesting and shows a strong feel for the material, but all that quickly fell by the wayside after the first couple of hits like “Hitchhike” and “Mickey’s Monkey.” Just as well; even with arrangements by the likes of Ernie Wilkins and Melba Liston, the Gaye standards albums (Hello Broadway, When I'm Alone I Cry, etc.) weren't very effective.

The most arresting example of this "schizophrenia" that befell most of the big male African-American non-jazz singers of that era is the posthumously released Gaye album, Vulnerable. On it, he sings standards, mostly double-tracked vocals, with arrangements by Bobby Scott. In a very schematic manner, one vocal track is done in a very conventional male crooner fashion, while the one layered over it is sung in Gaye's usual r 'n b style. Without realizing it, he had pioneered a new, hybrid, minor genre of American Pop. And a one-off at that! I wonder if Gaye ever fully comprehended, before he died, just how personally revealing this amazing document is.

In 1985, not long after Gaye was shot dead by his father, I was employed by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art when a new co-worker was hired; an attractive Latina woman. Not only was she the wife of a well-known Golden Era MGM producer-director, but, word quickly spread around the office, she had been Marvin Gaye's "last old lady." But hardly a day goes by in Lotusland where one doesn't run into some starry-eyed individual claiming just such a brush with greatness. Was this indeed the woman who cropped up in a lot of Gaye's obits; the one who was in the process of suing the singer, claiming that had beaten her in late 1982 and early 1983? In her deposition against the star, she had also said that on one of these occasions he had taken a diamond ring and carved a message in the windshield of her car.

And so. . .having nothing better to do with my hours after quitting time, I donned my deerstalker hat and shades and at a discrete distance followed Gaye's alleged inamorata to the parking garage to ascertain which was her car. She got into a nice, upscale late model car, which I now was able to inspect the next day. When I did, my heart skipped a beat as I gazed upon the grand, iconic gesture of one of undisputed giants of American secular music. Smack across the driver's line of sight, Gaye's rage resonated from beyond the grave in big, bold jagged letters: Fuck You.

Was she hanging onto the windshield for reasons of sentiment, or poverty? Or was it just a jury exhibit for a still-in-progress claim against Marvin Gaye's estate. I never mustered the nerve to ask.

My web site

Brian Wilson

Congratulations to Brian Wilson for winning the Grammy for Best Rock Instrumental. The joke is that, of course, his "Mrs. O'Leary's Cow" has next to nothing to do with Rock. Best Music Concrete Recording is more like it.

For a real visual treat go to Wilson's site and take a look at the four winners in his Create a Music Video for "Heroes and Villains" contest. Just beautiful! John and Faith Hubley Live!

My web site

Action central here at Oblivion Towers

. . .where all the magic happens. Posted by Hello

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Artie Pshaw

Just received this email from my friend, John Gilbert:

This has become an instant family classic. It is my wife when she is at her wittiest, to wit: I was in an antique store in Ventura [California] on Main Street and I espied Artie Shaw. I was reluctant to say hello because he was , well you know. . ..

It was coincidental that I had watched him in a flick on TV that day, so I said to him that I had just seen him on television. He smiled and turned away. Well, it was better than a rebuke. Anyway, I called my wife, Neville, and said "Guess who I just saw in antique store on main street. She said, "Who?" I replied "Artie Shaw" She said, "How much did they want for him?"

Visit Johnny's web site California Coast Jazz

My web site

Happy Black History Month pt. 2

The following book review, which I wrote, was commissioned by the L.A. Times in 1995, but was never published. Probably space was tight that week, a new edition of The Olivia DeHavilland Macrame Cookbook had just been published and probably took precedence. I came across the review---along with a handful of old snow---in the same desk drawer that I uncovered the letter to the editor in Happy Birthday pt 1 (see below). Hmmmm, come to think of it, did I ever get that "kill" fee?

When "A Life in Ragtime" was first published, it cost $30; now AMAZON.COM is selling it for the new list price of $40. How can they afford to do that? The same answer as usual: volume Volume VOLUME!

A Life in Ragtime: A Biography of James Reese Europe by Reid Badger
Oxford University Press, 328 pp.
by Bill Reed

On the evening of May 2, 1912, African-American composer-conductor James Reese Europe---the subject of Reid Badger's A Life in Ragtime--- oversaw a "Concert of Negro Music," at Carnegie Hall, a hallowed venue that seldom if ever before had opened its doors to jazz. A presentation of the black musical fraternity, the Clef Club, Europe's trans-cultural experiment took place more than ten years before white band leader Paul Whiteman received a great deal more attention with almost the exact same kind of program at New York's Aeolian Hall in 1924 "'Rhapsody in Blue" etc.). At the time, faux "King of Jazz" Whiteman got all the credit for --- in the sad parlance of the times--- "making lady jazz respectable."

But Europe did eventually secure his quarter-hour in the spotlight; not, however, for his musical liberation of the Eurocentric concert hall (the 1912 Carnegie Clef Club occasion was the first of a number of like events held there under Europe's aegis). Nor was it because of his role as musical director for the sensational dance team of Vernon and Irene Castle who---in novelist Ishmael Reed's words---"inspired a generation of young women to cast aside their corsets and petticoats" (and bob their hair). Rather, it was as a World War One hero that Europe finally caught the fancy of the American public. MORE

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Friday, February 11, 2005

Happy Black History Month

I had to excavate the archives here at Oblivion Towers for a couple of hours to find this. Doesn't it still resonate with timeliness 15 years later? Plus ca change. . ..

"Don't Confuse 2 Live Crew With Black Culture"

New York Times Monday June 25, 1990

"To the editor:

As a woman, I was apalled to read in Tom Wicker's June 14 column ("Home of the Brave") that the songs of the rap group 2 Live Crew contain 'quintessentially black' lyrics.

I was apalled---but, alas, not entirely surprised. For in all the debate over the constitutional issues surrounding the arrest of Luther Campbell, virtually all commentators, white and black, have glibly embraced Mr. Campbell's claim that his music is part of 'black culture.' Those who genuinely value black culture, and the welfare of black people in America, need to take a hard look at this claim.

What does it mean to say that 2 Live Crew's lyrics are 'quintessentially black'? Does Mr. Wicker believe that his black male colleagues sit at their desks harboring secret desires to break into chants about 'bitches' who won't gratify their sexual desires? Does he think that his black female colleagues are pleased at being presented, as they are in 2 Live Crew's lyrics, as subhuman creatures who exist soley to gratify the violent sexual fantasies of men? Are the black people who do not sanction the sentiments expressed in 2 Live Crew Songs inauthentic, not genuinely black?

What Mr. Campbell is retailing---and what even good white liberals like Mr. Wicker are endorsing---is the vicious myth that black people are the embodiment of irresponsible and unrestrained sexuality. Mr. Campbell is making a fortune exploiting the very myth that has been used for four centuries to underwrite slavery, the lynching of black men and the sexual abuse of women.

To treat this myth as an affirmation of black culture is horrific. Money---not black culture---is what 2 Live Crew is about. The group uses graphic depictions of sex and violence against women to sell records. If this activity embodies any culture at all, it is American culture in the broadest sense, and it is American culture at its worst.

But the self-proclaimed guardians of black consciousness---and the white lawyers making money from black performers---try to convince us that every song or stage act performed by a black person is a representation of some one monolithic thing called black culture. They can then play on black people's legitimate fears of white racism to protect a right that has nothing to do with race.

This is not only dismaying but also dangerous because it indulges the crippling belief that even the most morally repugnant behavior by a black person must be embraced as part of black culture. This means that no black person can ever criticize any other black person's conduct without being called, in Mr. Campbell's phrase, an 'Uncle Tom.' Such an attitude, sad to say, is as oppressive as the racism it purports to fight.

Mr. Campbell may have a constitutionally protected right to profit from his abusive songs. But let him and his apologists spare black people---particularly black women---the further degradation of identifying our culture with his lyrics. A culture sustains and supports constructive and self-affirming visions of a people. The songs of 2 Live Crew fail to do this.

As a black woman, I urge black and white people of good will---those people who are genuinely concerned about black culture---to have the courage to speak out and challenge Mr. Campbell and Mr. Wicker in their claims that viloence and irresponsible sex are 'quintessentially black.'"

Michelle M. Moody-Adams
Rochester, June 15, 1990

The writer [at the time of this publication a decade-and-a-half ago was] a University of Rochester assistant professor of philosophy.

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Cat Blog Friday #2 Posted by Hello

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Danny Knight Posted by Hello

Research at (relative) Warp Speed

Not long ago, a friend in Chicago (someone I met a few years ago. . .via the internet) began sending me a series of rather remarkable jazz photos, including some extremely rare pics of the likes of Eric Dolphy, John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, Sarah Vaughan and the one you see here of singer Danny Knight.

If you're not familiar with Knight, I wasn't either until I began digging into this latest batch of photos. As is my wont, I began googlin' away, but just about the only significant info I could find, at first, were references to Knight possibly being a singer on a section of the legendary Charlie Parker tapes recorded by Bird meta fan, Dean Benedetti. Possibly, because there are two schools of thought; some think it's Knight, others feel it could be Earl ("Dark Shadows") Coleman.

Thanks to further powers of the internet, allowing me to get in touch with some who knew and worked with Knight---as opposed the old labor intensive ways of a bygone research era---I have been able to rather quickly unearth a bit of information about this most recherche of jazz vocalists. I was even able to order a rare Knight 45 single on the net.

Knight, it seems, just might be the pluperfect example of a singer who was supposed to "happen" but didn't. Apparently another Chicago singer, Johnny Hartman, got there first with the "goods", for as one friend of Knight's emailed me: "Insiders held little respect for Hartman who blatantly stole from Danny." Harsh words to say the least, and one that I'm not going to let get in the way of my all-abiding love of the great Hartman, whose voice belatedly became familiar to a wider listening audience when Clint Eastwood used various tracks of his singing voice wall-to-wall throughout the film Bridges of Madison County.

In addition, singer Earl Coleman was quoted, by the same e-mailer, as one time saying to Hartman's face, "What are you gonna steal from me today M-F?" Making it all beginning to sound like a bop version of All About Eve.)

So here you had Hartman, according to record, walking around bitter and disillusioned because he felt as if he hadn't "made it," and Knight and Coleman envious of Hartman because they felt that the latter HAD. All relative, I suppose. Hartman had to go fairly far afield to places like Japan for work, but at least he was employed; Knight could hardly even get arrested in his hometown of Norfolk, Virginia.

A friend of Knight's, jazz writer Johnny Gilbert, sent me a funeral notice:

"Aug. 25, 2000 Funeral services For vocalist Danny Knight Today. New York Funeral services for jazz vocalist Danny Knight will be held today at the Marion Daniels Funeral Home, 164 W. 136th. St. at 10 am with a viewing at 11am. A popular figure on the Harlem music scene, Knight was a roomate of John Coltrane's and introduced Coltrane to Charlie Parker. Knight, born Jan.17th, 1927, died on Aug. 17th. at age 73."

I hope to post a few of those other above-noted jazz photos herein from time to time.

Here's a bit of what Knight sounds like (link removed) on an atypical, highly commercial, decidedly non-jazz (and extremely scratchy) MGM single, the theme song, "Ride Away," from John Ford's The Searchers. It's difficult to find any others recordings by him, though a few jazzier ones are known to exist.

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Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Paul Giamatti

They're saying Jamie Foxx is a shoe-in for winning Best Actor Oscar this year. But his Ray Charles is based on a sketch he did on the old "Living Color" TV series. I didn't notice anyone sending up EMMY skyrockets over his Rich Little-isization of Brother Ray back then.

Too bad that Paul Giamatti failed to even get nominated. I met him a few months back at a party just before all the hoopla set in. I'd seen Sideways and thought it the best film I'd viewed in ages. Afterward, I googled Giamatti and learned that his father was a public personage of one one sort or another, then---all googled-out for the day---I promptly forgot what it was. When I finally met Giamatti, blindly stumbling for an opening conversational gambit, I blurted out:

ME: Your father's in show business, too, isn't he?

PG: No, he used to be the commissioner of major league baseball, Bart Giamatti.

ME: Oh (beat) well, that's kind of like show business, isn't it?

Giamatti turns out to be a jock (if he is indeed that) with a sense of humor; he laughed and said:

PG: I never thought of it that way before, but I guess you're right.

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Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Separated at birth?

Our friend, Mister Comma

The other day, I purchased---as the Japanese call them---a "doughnut" (i.e. 45 rpm single) by a favorite singer of mine, one whom I tend to get all completist about. It's from the mid-50s; I paid 94 cents for it; and I had a pretty good hunch from the title of one of the songs alone that the repertoire contained in its grooves wasn't exactly Rodgers and Hart.

One side was written by Ross Bagdasarian, the co-composer, along with William Saroyan (!), of "Come-on-a-My-House", and also of that major cultural touchstone of the late 1950s, "The Chimpmunk Song." (An aside: I sat next to Saroyan on a plane one time. Suddenly, it began to look like we might be going into the drink, and he commenced to laugh his fool head off. I seem to recall that I was somehow perversely impressed by the action. . .as in "if your name is on the bullet." But I digress as is my wont.)

That song in question is "The Touch of Love" from the motion picture, The Devil's Hairpin, which starred----I'm fairly certain---Cornell Wilde (I swear I didn't look that up in the "Maltin"). But it's the flip (so to speak) side of the disc that I want to focus on here; a little ditty entitled "You're Gonna Flip Mom." Because the title as printed on the record label (Decca) lacks a comma between flip and mom, and due to the fact that punctuation errors were somewhat uncommon in the pre-illiterate 1950s, when I first looked at the label I honestly thought the number was about exacting potential physical harm upon one's mother, i.e. "be careful or you will cause mom to take a tumble." (Punctuation is soooo important!) But when I got home and listened to the production, that's not what it's about at all. Instead, the narrator is predicting to her mother that she is soon going to, in the parlance of the era, FLIP (i.e. have a highly positive response) when she meets the singer's new beau.

The song (if you care to call it that) is by the team of Dave Coleman and Dick Sherman. In all likelihood, the latter member of the team is the selfsame Richard Sherman who is half-responsible, along with his brother, Robert, for writing such questionably enduring works as (lazily and blatantly pasted from their internet fan site....those Sherman boys are so cutting edge) "MARY POPPINS, CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG, THE ARISTOCATS, SNOOPY COME HOME, TOM SAWYER, THE SLIPPER AND THE ROSE (slap her in the nose), THE TIGGER MOVIE (WINNIE THE POOH), CHARLOTTE'S WEB and LITTLE NEMO (ADVENTURES IN SLUMBERLAND) and famous songs including: Annette Funicello's 'Tall Paul' and Ringo Starr's 'You're Sixteen' and (eek) 'It's A Small World.'"

As for Flip's co-writer, I just now Googled "Dave Coleman", and it appears that he is also---among his many other accomplishments: a baseball player, member of the community, hockey referee, sloop racer, author of "Making Relationships Matter," snowmobile salesman, microbial ecologist, and member of the Naperville, Ilinois City Council since 1997. No disrespect intended, but I hope that Mister Coleman is more gifted at these other callings than he is as a songwriter. To whit:

You're gonna flip mom
When you meet him
He's just the coolest boy in town
In his Levis and his ducktail
He's gonna get you off the ground

You're gonna flip mom
When you see him
So please forgive me if I boast
He's the greatest, he's the gonest
You're gonna dig this boy the most

You oughta see the way the girls all look up
When we're cruisin' in his crazy set of wheels
And everytime he looks at me I get all shook up
Now you know the way your daughter feels

He's comin' over tonight at seven
And when he says hello to you
You're gonna flip mom
Then you'll be hip mom
To why he flips me, too

This release was clearly a desperate attempt to sell one of the most soigne, sophisticated and gifted jazz chanteueses of the era to the teen set; or, to put it another way, think "Homer and Jethro Sing Noel Coward."

Seldom has a better singer been required to wrap his or her larynx around a more substandard piece of effluvia than "You're Gonna Flip COMMA Mom." Give up on who our unlucky song interpreter might be? The answer is here.

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Sunday, February 06, 2005

Haleloke est morte

To the best of my knowledge, the death, on Dec. 16, 2004 at the age of 82, of Haleloke went totally without notice in the major press. It came to my attention, instead, on a chat list.

Did I just hear you say, "Hale. . .who?"

To which I might respond with:

"How quickly we forget."

Here is a woman who figured prominently in one of the major news stories of 1953--and one that marked the beginning of the demystification of modern showbiz---dead in Union City, Indiana . . . a long way from her birthplace of Hilo, Hawaii. That's sort of like Bartok giving up the ghost on Central Park West. Totally WRONG thanatopsical context.And so I set about googling. Search words: "Haleloke" + "death". Here's the first hit I got:

Leave it to the tiny Winchester (Indiana) News Gazette to have scooped them all. And that, only because Haleloke happened to live in the immediate vicinity of the paper. Unfortunately, the News Gazette didn't just gloss over the part Haleloke played in Arthur Godfrey's famed October 19, 1953 on-the-air bloodbath, they failed to mention it at all. To all those of you who are either too arteriosclerotic or young to remember, here's what happened:

TV mega-star Godfrey famously fired a large chunk of his cast ("the Little Godfreys") in one terrible swift blow that morning on live simulast radio and TV. Most notably, singer Julius LaRosa was singled out for axing for having lost his "humility," a word that soon became a national catchphrase. Also tossed out in the bathwater that a.m. were several other members of Godfrey's TV and radio rep family, including the singing group The Mariners, bandleader Archie Bleyer, and. . . "Hale. . .who?"

Little did Godfrey realize that, with that act, he had just become the Marie Curie of shooting one's self in the foot bigtime and naked for the world to see. Almost overnight he went from being the most beloved entertainer in America to, if not the most despised, among the least considered. Even though I was prrrractically still in my Doctor Dentons at the time, I can recall people running into the street in our neighborhood shouting the unbelievable news: "Did you see what Arthur Godfrey just did?" etc.

Is it any coincidence that the man who still holds the record for the number of broadcast TV hours (or close enough) was also the undisputed champion when it came to possessing one of the most massively swollen egos in modern show biz history? Next to him, that other much-vaunted megalomaniac, Al Jolson, comes off a distant second, and it is generally assumed that Godfrey was the model for Andy Griffith’s loathsome "Lonesome Roads" in the TV production and movie A Face in the Crowd. Such a bastard in fact was Godfrey that his wife of 40-some-odd years divorced him on her deathbed. Talk about having the last word!

It's somehow comforting (as in what-goes-around-comes-around) to know that, according to singer Julius LaRosa, when 80-year-old Godfrey was on his 1983 deathbed and a nurse inquired, “Is there anything we can get you, sir?” “Yes,” he is said to have answered, “Get me some friends.”

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Friday, February 04, 2005

Bearcat and the Bomber

The death yesterday of boxer Max Schmeling yesterday in Berlin couldn't help but trigger thoughts in my mind of his great adversary in the ring AND eventual vanquisher, Joe Louis. Which, in turn, brought to mind memories of Joe's old friend, Leonard Reed. I worked with Reed off and on (more on than off) for nearly ten years on an as-told-to autobiobiography, which was also a memoir of his life and times with Louis. They toured a knockabout vaudeville act throughout the world for more than a decade, with Leonard performing as a character named Bearcat. But due to a combination of factors, our book never saw the light of day.

Reed was ultimately a pain in the ass to work with, but I remain convinced that his was truly A Hell of a Life (the proposed title of the autibio). The book I worked on with Leonard would only have drawn much attention if he were around to help publicize it. . . which he was more than capable of doing well into his nineties. Now it is too late. Most of the following was written almost ten years before the passing of Reed in 2004.

"When did I first realize there was a black/white difference? Back in 1920 or so when I was thirteen or fourteen I suppose. I was working in a carnival in Enid, Oklahoma. All the comedians were on stage in blackface, and all the girls were up there, too, singing and dancing. And just then, this woman---one of those people in every town who came around to see if the show was 'moral'---snatches me right off. She thought I was white. She said, 'Get down from there with them n****rs! Don't ever let me catch you up there with 'em.' So I went and put on enough cork to pass for black. And that's how I got back on stage."

This is the voice of Leonard Reed, a man who not only "got back on stage" but who when he spoke these words to me he was celebrating his celebrating his celebrating his 75th year in show business. He may be far from being a "household name," but to those in the know, Leonard Reed remains one of the most unique, fascinating and well-respected figures in modern entertainment history.

Reed was unquestionably a household name for a half-dozen years in Harlem when he was a jack of all trades for 125th Street's famous Apollo Theatre. Starting out in 1952 as emcee of the legendary Wednesday Amateur Nights, after a year Reed went on to co-manage the showplace., in addition to rehearsing the productions and acting as emcee and comic for many of the shows. MORE

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