Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Do the Vertigo Boogie

I was at one time a member of San Francisco's Vertigo Society, devoted to the memory of the great film classic of the same name by Alfred Hitchcock. Among our many other activities was an ongoing Vertigo tour of San Francisco and environs, which would always begin with luncheon at Ernie's. Afterwards, it was then off to one or more of the locales featured in Hitchcock's masterpiece.

I recall a bracing plunge one time en masse in the San Francisco Bay; another day, we decided that we would take a field trip to the San Juan Batista Mission and throw a lifesize inflatable Kim Novak doll from the tower. Imagine our surprise, then, when we arrived there to discover that there was no bell tower at all, and that it had been added with trick photography. You'd think that one of us would have known that!(Can't remember where we bought the Novak doll, OR what we did with it afterwards.)

On another occasion. we hosted a contingency of auteurists---can't remember now, but I don't think it was the MacMahon Society----all the way from France for a wild afternoon shipping spree at Gump's. Well, you get the, um, picture.

As I seem to recall, for our very last meeting in 1993, we all spent the night at the Empire Hotel (separate rooms, of course) and then disbanded after more than ten years during which we had Vertiginously seen all there was to see, done all there was to do. . .and went our separate ways. About five years ago, there was an attempt at a get together, but Ernie's was gone (closed in 1999), the Empire Hotel is now known as the York (how vulgar!), etc., and it just wouldn't have been the same. The reunion was called off.

At every monthly meeting, we would pass out lyric sheets and sing the "Love Theme from 'Vertigo.'" If you don't remember any such music with lyrics in the film, you're not just having a senior moment. For even though the song was composed expressly for Vertigo by the very fine songwriting team of Misters Ray Evans and Jay Livingston, who had performed a similar task for Hitchcock with the memorable "Que Sera Sera" for The Man Who Knew Too Much, finally Hitch found the song, sung by Billy Eckstine, to be "unsuitable" and dropped it from the final cut.

There was an obscure MGM Eckstine single released at the same time the film came out. I was fortunate enough to possess a copy and it was from that disc that we were able to copy the lyrics of the song for our singalongs.

All of the above came rush Rush RUSH-ing back to me earlier today---much like the Vertigo spiral optical---when I came across a download of the song on a web site.

I have always found Hitchcock's excision to be somewhat unfathomable.
Take a listen and see if you don't agree with me that the song operates as a pluperfect musical externalization of Scottie Ferguson's psychological inscape, especially the part about:

This Vertigo is driving me insane my love
This Vertigo that has me spinning like a top
Where will it stop?
I wish you would be just one way with me.

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Monday, June 27, 2005

Continuing Intermittent Incoherency

A friend just sent me an e-mail, "The 50 Dumbest Things Bush Said in His First Term." But none could top what is perhaps the latest claptrap (and counting) to emanate from the dribbling indistinct palate of the dubya as played back the other day on Jon Stewart, i.e.

"I think about Iraq EVERY day."

Well, doh!

Stewart then posited the image of Boosh walking about with a string tied around his finger:

"Wh wh wh what," he asks himself as he looks at his hand and espies the reminder, "is this here for? Oh, right. . .Iraq."

My initial instinct is usually a distinct sense of embarassment for the guy. But then good sense quickly prevails---or as he probably pronounces it, "per-vails"--- and I realize that the gumby doesn't feel any sense of unease over such gaffes, so why should I? What a doofus!

If it weren't for Jon Stewart, I'd probably have taken the pipe by now.

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Friday, June 24, 2005

Coming August 30th from Japan

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Some previous blog background on Down in the Depths by Bill Black; in the words of the Japanese liner notes, an "obscure but historically and artistically important album."

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Cat Blog Friday

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"Get da funk out my face"

Chaney - Goodman - Schwerner

In the 1950s if there had been deprogrammers dealing with adolescents, such as myself, who approved of racial integration, my family would probably turned me over to them. Come to think of it, there was such an outfit. It was called the KKK.

All I can say about the 60 year prison sentence just now levied on the 80-year-old KKKKillerKillen is, "Good things come to those who wait," or maybe, "Pipe the new fish." If Killen has dentures, he should make out exceptionally well in the can. I can't believe I just wrote that. Have I, perhaps, gone too far this time? Ah well, bad taste is timeless!

Actually, there was an upside to all the failed race indoctrination I received as a kid, for as Texas columnist Molly Ivans has written, "Once you figure out they are lying to you about race, you start to question everything."

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Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Excess Hollywood

I just got an advance peek at the first I Want to Be a Hilton." And while I won't tell you who became disqualified, I CAN reveal the reason. It seems that there was an enormous society-type dinner party, and one of the Hilton wannabes thought he or she was making hip, witty, dinner conversation when they asked: "Who cut the cheese?"

I happened to see an unedited version of the show and what I can also reveal is that, in light of the wayward riposte, Kathy Hilton (mom to Paris and Nicky) actually fainted and had to be revived with designer smelling salts before shooting could continue. When you view the first episode of the series (consult your local listings and blahblahblah), if you look carefully you'll note that there are 14 seated at table, and then suddenly, without explanation, only 13 can be seen. Talk about a jump cut!


Tom Cruise will making an appearance on David Letterman this coming Thursday night. Letterman tends to be merciless when confronted with celebrities possessing one-peanut iq's whose time has passed ("I just can't help myself," explains Dave). To invoke Edgar Kennedy in The Sin of Harold Diddlebock, I predict that Chipmunk Boy should really "rouse the artist" in Letterman.


EX-CLU-SIVE! It's true that Katie Couric (along with nearly every other interviewer on TV these days) has an overweening tendency to both ask and answer questions of their subjects in one long unbroken conflated roulade. But there is no truth to the rumor that she will be doing her upcoming "Runaway Bride" interview with the latter played by a sock puppet.


As for the casting of the soon-to-be officially announced film based on the "Runaway Bride's" upcoming (sure to be) bestseller, "Size Isn't Everything," it is now believed that Katie Holmes and NOT Parker Posey, as previously rumored, has the inside track on the lead. And you heard about it here first: There is serious talk that Holmes' intended, Tom Cruise, is on the short list of actors being considered to play the cameo part as the "hispanic rapist" in the extended fantasy sequence. And we do mean SHORT list.


As for the new films opening these weekend, I loved the original Love Bug movies a lot, but does anyone really want to see a movie entitled "Herpes Fully Loaded" ? I think not!


Speaking of the new Disney film, has anyone actually ever seen Hillary Duff and Lindsay Lohan in the same room at the same time? I think not!


THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: Yes, you can step in the same river twice, but only if you move downstream. . . very fast.

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Saturday, June 18, 2005

Mister Trace, Keener of Lost Jazzettes

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Whatever happened to (just for starters)?: Helene de lys, Bea Abbott, Helen Carroll, Betty Blake, Nikki Price, Dori Howard, Ann Gilbert, Honi Gordon, Carole Carr, Charlene Bartley, Flo Handy, Janet Brace, Ann Hathaway, Pat Healy, Betty Rhodes, Donna Brooks, Cathy Hayes, Marlene Cord, Lynn Taylor, Sue Evans, Marilyn Moore, Thelma Gracen, Clea Bradford, Paula Greer, Marjorie Lee, Easy Williams, Joy Bryan, Barbara Russell, Linda Merrill, Thelma Thompson. . . not to be confused with another singer, Claudia Thompson.

Does anyone know; more importantly, does anybody even care whatever became of all of these mostly late 50s - early 60s jazz or jazz-oriented female singers who (nearly) all have several things in common?:

Most, for example, were "one-album wonders"; some were good (several very good); and after their brief moment of vinyl glory, disappeared without a trace, vanquished, for the most part, by the onslaught of the British Invasion (think "Beatles"). In addition, nearly all were to be heard on labels that didn't have a shelf life much longer than the various singers whose vocal wares in which they trafficked, i.e. Bea Monde, Dawn, Trend, AMR, Edison, Gold Coast. . .and Acme (?).

Also, more than a few bore at least passing stylistic resemblance, replete with those long, long vowels, and husky chest tones just this side of pneumonia, to the (arguably) most influential jazz singer to have successfully come of artistic age in the mid-1950s, Chris Connor. One even has visions of those pretenders to Chris' throne running around the block in the rain before every take in order to insure the proper amount of Connorian plangency.

In almost every instance where I've tried to uncover the denouement of the lives and careers of these various singers, I've come up empty handed. And, in fact, a master list I keep of both male and female "missing in action" singers is much larger than the one included above. Note that I haven't even mentioned all those fallen- below-radar "boy" singers.

Fortunately, over the years, I've been able to remove several from the list. I've learned, for example, that:

Roberta Peck, who had exactly one really terrific album on Columbia, is alive and well and living in New Haven, CN.

Bev Kelly is a psychotherapist in Long Beach, CA and now answers to the name of DOCTOR Bev Kelly. She recently released a new CD.

Cora Lee Day, who also released just one album---on Roulette---turned up living just down the block from me here in L.A. I believe that Cora, who I came to know fairly well, died in 1996 after a successful career in acting (Daughters of the Dust), to which she turned after her brief but spectacularly unsuccessful stab at singing. At least, the Internet Movie Database lists her as deceased, and I never see Cora out front of her house anymore when I drive by, so....

Jo Ann Miller, ended up a very big fish in the smallish pond of regional theatre as a producer. She died last year.

Nanci Malcomb (Vik Records, class of '58) became a legal secretary, which is something I learned when I was introduced to her at a San Fernando jazz club recently ("NANCI MALCOMB!!!"). Thus, enabling me to cross her off my MIA list.

Toni Lee Scott, an absolutely terrific singer until recently with---you guessed it---just one album to her credit, on Fred Astaire's Ava label. She is now living in the Northwest, and not long ago---after a near forty-years hiatus---released her sophomore disc effort. I haven't heard it yet, but if it's half as good as the Ava....

Laurie Allyn is, perhaps, the oddest example of all, having had an album recorded 48 years ago just recently see the light of day on the VSOP label. In '57, she had gone home to Texas for visit, while there got wind of the fact that her label had folded in advance of the release of her album, and somehow she just never made it back to L.A. For the record, it is a first-rate Marty Paich-arranged effort. Worth the wait!

Ironically, two of the most elusive singers for me turned out to be from my home town of Charleston, West (by god) Virginia: the aforementioned Janet Brace (without a trace), and Jennie Smith, who, with her four lps and a skosh of singles, was never that obscure. Charleston is not an especially large town, and few jazz singers come from there. In fact, hardly anyone ever leaves there. But Jennie Smith proved really tough to track down!

I even went so far as to write every likely Kristof (Smith's real surname) in the U.S.---not too many of them---trying to find her. I never heard back. But I am like a dog with a bone in such regards, i.e. I don't give up easily. Finally, Bob Lilley, a chap with a West Virginia Radio web site, supplied me with the email address of Smith's brother, and the rest is history. Recently, I even received a nice email from Jennie.

To paraphrase my grandma, "If Jennie Smith'd been a snake she'da bit me," for this former hometown girl made good from Charleston, WV is, as revealed in her email to me, retired, and married AND living right here in L.A.

I should add that my appreciation for Smith's somewhat slight but significant ouevre, especially the two albums she cut with the brilliant arranger Ray ("Lady in Satin") Ellis, for RCA in 1957 and Columbia 1959 (no Acme Records for our Ms. Smith), simply knows no bounds. The lps with Ellis are as different from one another as day from night, but both IMHO are ***** efforts. And I'm not just saying that because Smith and I first saw the light of day in adjoining hollers.

It should come as no surprise that Jennie Smith continues to have an especially strong fan base in Japan---foremost arbiters in such matters---where her first album, simply called Jennie (notice that I didn't use the word "eponymous") has mostly remained in print on CD for a number of years.

Just to insure that NO ONE will ever again come up empty handed when Googling for information about this wonderful singer (the net is surprisingly bereft of same), here is a list of other key words that will almost surely guarantee landing on this page whenever anyone sets out to discover "Whatever Happened to Jennie Smith?":

Jo Ann Kristof (Jennie's real name), Steve Allen (a longtime TV employer), "Love Among the Young" (the title of her RCA album), the "Hollywood Palace" (another important TV credit), West Virginia dee-jay Hugh McPherson (an early mentor), Lionel Hampton (her first employer. . .not too shabby), Look Magazine (they once ran a nice feature on Smith when she first landed on the shores of NYC), Chevrolet (she was Mrs. Chevrolet to singer Frankie Randall's Mister C. in an ad campaign), Mort Garson (the arranger of her third album), Donn Trenner (arr. for her fourth lp).

Now. . .if I could only figure out whatever happened to good ole West Virginia gal Janet Brace, whose one One ONE lp, "Special Delivery" (1956), is still available on CD in---natch---Japan.

Listen to Jennie Smith

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Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Monday, June 13, 2005

Who KNEW?!

If someone had told me as recently as only a few months ago that a several-years-long CD labor of love of mine would ever actually see the light of day as a 2005 release, I'd have been tempted to invoke a paraphrase of that much-quoted line uttered by Estelle Reiner in When Harry Met Sally: "I'll have what you're having."

The album, Down in the Depths by ex-Gene Krupa band singer
Bill Black, is just about the only one of my various writing or music projects to ever come to pass without my doing much in the way of causing it to happen.

Last year I went to Japan, half to try and sell some recording masters that I was representing, and just as much to experience cherry blossoms for the first time. As an afterthought, I placed a Bill Black track on a sampler disc. But leave it to the Japanese, true custodians and keepers of the U.S. cultural flame! Black was by far the least well-known of the lot, but a fine medium-sized record label chose his album for release over nearly all the other artists on the sampler, some of whom are fairly well-known. Down in the Depths is scheduled for release 8/31/05.

In the same spirit one might pay to have a favorite but faded painting to be cleaned up, I had shelled out to have the previously-unreleased 1955 recording restored, mostly because I wanted to be able to hear it without the attendant sonic distress that had built up on the acetate disc over the years. Then, like Topsy, it just grew.

The record outfit also picked up two others of the albums on the sampler for release this year on my own boutique label (Cellar Door Records - Japan) to be distributed by them. But I still can't get over the Bill Black release. In fact, it's already shown up for ordering on the great U.S.
Dusty Groove web site.

I've just received the both concise and thoughtful copy for the text that will appear on the back of the CD. A Japanese associate of the label wrote it; I'd like to share it.

"Bill Black was born in 1927 to a musical family in Granite City, Illinois. He started singing professionally at an early age and, after several years in St. Louis, headed for New York. Gene Krupa hired Black as his band's vocalist in 1948. Black, who was with Krupa for 18 months, was the last fully-employed 'boy' singer with the band before it folded in 1950.

George T. Simon predicted that Black would become the next big singer, in the lineage of Crosby, Sinatra, Haymes and Como. In the 1949 "Down Beat" magazine readers' poll of Band Singers, he came in fourth, just behind Johnny Hartman and one notch ahead of Buddy Greco.

But Black's career did not progress after he left Krupa. He fled to Canada and changed his name to Clay Mundey, according to Black, to avoid a tax problem. However, others have said that in 1951 Black was attacked bythe Mob and left on a Los Angeles freeway, and that his injuries required ayear of recuperation. Around this time he had signed as a solo artist with Mercury Records, but for whatever reason, it was a contract he was never to fullfil.

Bill Reed, the release producer of this obscure but historically and artistically important album, met Black (still posing as Clay Mundey) when the latter was working as a desk clerk at the YMCA in New York City in the early 1960's. They became friends and Black gave Reed the original acetate disc of Down in the Depths, recorded in the mid-fifties. Despite a serious alcohol problem, Black remained popular with his friends,who included many Hollywood stars. Then, one night in 1989, a seriously ailing Black had one final shot of his drink of choice, vodka, went to sleep andwas found dead the next morning by a neighbor who looked in on him. He was buried in "Potter's Field."

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Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Saturday, June 04, 2005

. . .and now a message from Mister Mellow

When my friend Jay and I are (often) on the 405 freeway driving north and south here in L.A., he is always at the wheel and so I pay a lot of attention to who and what is going on in the vehicles around us. For example, coming back from whitebread, upper-middle-class Costa Mesa in Orange County the other day, I took note of not a single African-American---not one!--- driving any kind of vehicle for miles and miles (I'm talking hundreds upon hundreds of conveyances) until we were closing in on Inglewood, a heavily populated black area. The number of blacks didn't rise incrementally as we got closer to that suburb, it just jumped vertiginously. I have no point to make. . .just an observation.

I also have become aware that when people are yammering away on cell phones whilst behind the wheel on the freeway (and approximately 1 out of 5 are), they tend to be staring off into space---almost always to the right---rather than looking at the road in front of them. That is perhaps why the accident rate involving drivers talking on the cursed things is beyond astronomical. Something like half?

And I wonder just what the statistics are on auto accident reports that contain the phrase, "driver's vision blocked by adjacent SUV"?

Usually the SUV drivers I observe on the 405 freeway tend to be alone, overwhelmingly female, blonde, 35.5 years of age, and as often as not ---you guessed it!---blabbering away on a cell phone. Sigmund Freud once observed that sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. But in the case of SUVs. . .I wonder. (You do the symbolic math.)

I hate SUVs even more than I hate rap, Paris Hilton, cell phones, and nose rings combined. And that's a LOT! Not sure exactly why, but the site of various pierced lips, noses, and those round objects in guys' earlobes tends to induce reverse peristalsis in me. I have to look away very quickly, or else I'll hurl. Come to think of it. . .the latter might not be such a bad idea.

Even if the new hybrid SUVs just now coming off the assembly line ARE energy efficient, I don't care: I want my driver's horizon back! I find it so extraordinary that only a few decades ago U.S. citizens prided themselves on the utilitarian, eco-friendly smallness of their vehicles, and today it is just the opposite. And so you can imagine just how much good the following editiorial---not sure of its genesis---did my olde heart when I received it via email this a.m. from a friend.

... and Running Down SUVs

Reports of the death of sport-utility vehicles are premature. But in a nation well-divided between SUV owners and SUV haters, gas prices have been shrinking the ranks of the former, while the rest cheer that maybe they'll be able to see farther down the freeway than the square back of the vehicle immediately in front. Sales are way down for U.S. automakers that have built their lines on SUVs, The Times reported Thursday, and a GM executive said the company will cut its production of the larger ones. America has been so in love with the SUV that it's hard to imagine a time when they were a rarity on the road. It's even harder to imagine a return to such a time. What would we do with all the SUVs if they were unceremoniously turned out of U.S. garages? Our 10 top suggestions:

10. Convert them into condos for Great Danes.

9. Take off the wheels and doors for children's playhouses. Stack and weld for play towers.

8. Fold down the seats and add blankets for guest quarters.

7. Take out the seats and voila: room for all your garden tools.

6. Open the sunroof and fill, for a super-sized frontyard planter.

5. Swap the hoses and pipes for plumbing and finally get that extra bathroom.

4. Caulk them to create the first aquariums with privacy glass for shy fish.

3. Sink them offshore as artificial reefs.

2. Donate them to the Bay Area so Northern Californians will have the metal, if not mettle, to build a new Oakland-San Francisco Bay Bridge.

1. Imagine: hot tubs with comfortable seating.

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Delay link 'o de day

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Thursday, June 02, 2005

Valaida Snow's birthday

The great African-American star Valaida Snow was born on this day in 1903. Here's a brief note about her that I've excerpted (it's Summer rerun time) from my January 23rd blog entry.

Snow was a beautiful, multi-talented entertainer, a first-rate jazz arranger, trumpeter, dancer and singer who was once as well-known a performer as Ethel Waters, but who has since fallen into obscurity. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of her story from a dramatic point of view was her long internment by the Germans in a concentration camp during WW II.

Eventually freed in a prisoner exchange, she returned to the U.S. and was able to somewhat obtain to a modicum of her former celebrity before suffering a fatal stroke backstage at New York's Place Theater. Her story has almost everything, including, to invoke Thelma Ritter in All About Eve, "the hounds yapping at her rear end."

I've written a great deal more about Snow---an entire chapter---in my 1998 book, Hot From Harlem: Profiles in Classic African-American Entertainment.

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