Saturday, December 30, 2006
Another of John Hammond’s sixties discoveries was Gene Stridel. Curiously, the producer’s liner notes for the singer’s 1964 Columbia LP do not cite Stridel’s past as a rhythm and blues vocalist. Instead, mention is only made of his long history as a cocktail lounge singer. But in fact, The Striders, the group Gene once sang with, had an extensive history both in the recording studio and in live performances. The Striders, with Stridel, had recorded as early as 1948 for Capitol, and had also backed singer Savannah Churchill on a number or recordings, including her rhythm and blues classic, “Walking by the River.” One thing seems certain, either that Hammond was not aware of this somewhat less than acceptable---from a jazz purist point-of view--- background. Or else, Stridel withheld the information. Whichever was the case, there is no question that Stridel was equally adept as a r ‘n’ b shouter AND jazz-oriented singer as evidenced by this track from his lone lp, release, “This is Gene Stridel.”
PLAY The Sweetest Sounds
Gene Stridel died in 1973, reportedly in a boating accident. And the truth WAS that public and record industry interest in the kind of music that was made by the likes of John Hammond discoveries Nikki Price and Gene Stridel was also “dead” by the time their recordings hit the market in the early sixties. I have long felt that Japanese listeners have done more than their fair share to keep this classic music alive. People of this country are the TRUE CULTURAL CUSTODIANS TO THE BEST OF THE WEST and that is why it has been such a great honor for me to appear before you this afternoon. Thank you!
Friday, December 29, 2006
Thursday, December 28, 2006
In addition to his early thirties work with instrumentalists such as Count Basie and Lester Young, legendary record producer John Hammond also oversaw the nascent careers of such singers as Billie Holiday and Mildred Bailey. As late as the early 60s he was still working with vocalists. In addition to Aretha Franklin, another of his discoveries during this period, was Nikki Price. Privately in his 1977 memoirs he more-or-less disowned his participation in the 1961 album “Nikki: Introducing the Beautiful Nikki Price,” deeming it “pretentious.” However, I feel that she DID follow up on the promise the Hammond first heard when Price walked in cold off the street and successfully requested an audition with the great producer then and there on the spot. Little is known about Price’s activities beyond her debut/swan song except that for a brief time after its release, she was married to the wonderful west coast pianist Dave Mackay. I recently asked Dave if he knew whatever happened to Price. He had not heard from her for many years. He told me that two of the musicians on Price’s recording were Phil Woods and songwriter/pianist/singer Dave Frishberg, and this album marked Frishberg’s first time being recorded AND that this also marked the premiere recording of his classic song, “Peel Me a Grape.”
PLAY TRACK Peel Me a Grape
Tuesday, December 26, 2006
CORA LEE DAY
In 1960 actress Cora Lee Day was at a party in New York City when someone asked her to do her imitation of Billie Holiday. She did and by chance Roulette Records owner Morris Levy was there, liked what he heard---he believed this to be her natural singing voice---and signed her to a record contract. Cora had no choice, then, but to keep singing in this false style. Roulette spent a great deal of money on a night club act and an LP for her. The recording, entitled “My Crying Hour”, contained some of the best jazz players around, such as Jimmy Jones, Harry Edison, Freddie Green and Illinois Jacquet, Ella Fitzgerald and Johnny Hartman were the only other vocalists to release studio recordings with Jacquet’s backing. The album was not a success. And though her live act was premiered at the prestigious Mister Kelley’s club in Chicago, it too was a failure. Cora Lee Day never sang in public again. She did, however, become a highly respected actress, eventually starring in the 1991 award-winning film, “Daughters of the Dust.” She died in 2000 at the age of 78.
PLAY I’m Gonna Laugh You Right Out of My Life
Sunday, December 24, 2006
This opened during the 1944 Christmas season, and while I don't have the actuarials at my fingertips, it's a safe bet that this sub rosa film noir was responsible for at least a few Yule suicides amongst unforewarned filmgoers. ("Momma went to the Bijou and never came back.") Directed by the great Robert Siodmak, who helmed this one between making "Phantom Lady" and "Cobra Woman". . .the same year!
INEZ JONES (11)
In 1993 on U.S. TV there was a documentary about couples who had been together or married for a very long time. One pair was singer-pianist Inez Jones and her husband, Paul Jones, a sax player. They lived in Oakland, California in touching genteel poverty. They sat in their rundown kitchen, he played a wobbly but credible sax, and she sang and played. Alternately they reminisced about their life together and the Kansas City jazz scene where they both began their professional careers. I had never heard of her, but at the peak of her popularity in the 1950s she played the posh Fairmont Hotel in SF. She also cut a record for the Riverside label that was reviewed very favorably in Downbeat and which I subsequently purchased. Here are two cuts from it:
PLAY TRACK Don’t Worry ‘Bout Me, Where or When
Both Joneses are now deceased but the large plot of land where their house once stood in Oakland , California is now the "Paul and Inez Jones Neighborhood Garden," a gorgeous place of flowers, food, butterflies and birds for residents in the area to enjoy.
Saturday, December 23, 2006
KEVIN GAVIN (10)
A couple of years ago I found a mint LP in local thrift (junk) shop by a new-to-me singer, Kevin Gavin. It had arrangements by guitarist Mundell Lowe, an impressive Arlen, Mercer, Kern, etc. repertoire and was on the Charlie Parker record label. The corny cover alone was worth the price---fifty cents---in an of itself. Arriving back home and giving Hey! This is Kevin Gavin a listen I was happy to learn that Gavin was quite good. Leading to the inevitable question, Whatever Happened to Kevin Gavin? Let’s take a listen to two track from his one LP, and then I’ll tell you what I found out about him.
PLAY TRACK Do Nothin’ Till You Hear From Me, Blame It On My Youth
A bit of sleuthing on the net and I learned that, unlike many One Shot Wonders, Kevin Gavin had not fallen off the edge of the earth. Instead, he wrote this very famous in the U.S: jingle for McDonald’s.
TRACK 11 (McDonald’s jingle, “You deserve a break today)
One of the most widely heard U.S. commercials EVER. I do not know exactly where Kevin Gavin is at this very minute, but wherever he is living he is surely living well.
This just in: Kevin Gavin was a member of singer-bandleader Vaughn Monroe's vocal group. From 1950s souvenir booklet . . .
The fourth member of Vaughn's new group is 25-year-old Kevin Gavin from Los Angeles, where he sang with the famous Robert Mitchell Boys Choir, appearing in many movies. Kevin received a music scholarship at Loyola University in LA, and majored in English. Following college he became a member of the "Salute To Gershwin Show," which played leading West Coast theaters and hotels, and in 1950 joined the "Ken Murray Show," with which he came to New York. After two years with Murray, Kevin went into free lance work and appeared on the Kate Smith and Jackie Gleason shows, among others. Keenly interested in short-story writing and song writing, Kevin has taken several summer writing courses at Columbia University.
Friday, December 22, 2006
LYNNE TAYLOR (9)
Lynn Taylor was not only a One Shot Wonder in 1957, but also in 1963---as a member of the folk group the Rooftop Singers, a One HIT Wonder with the Top Ten doughnut, “Walk Right In.” It landed at #1 the week of 1/26/63.
Strictly speaking, Taylor---aside from her recordings with the Rooftop Singers--- made one-and-third LPs, for she appears as a guest jazz vocalist on a recording by US TV comedian Ernie Kovacs. But it’s difficult for me NOT to include a track from her album of Arthur Schwartz songs, “I See Your Face Before Me” this afternoon because of its notoriety as arguably, in its original form, just about the most widely desired recording (right up there along Pinky Winters’ 1955 Vantage 10 inch LP) on the Japanese vocal jazz collectors’ market.
In 1957 Barbara Lea said: "Lynn is the best of the modern jazz singers. She sounds like the best of Peggy Lee -- that is, she sings the way I wish Peggy would sing more often."
Taylor’s Arthur Schwartz LP came about as a result of the songwriter’s son, Jonathan Schwartz. He was friends with Taylor and it was he who introduced her to his father's music and caused the album to be recorded. Taylor was born in 1937 and died 1979, and was with the Rooftop Singers from 1962 to 1967. update: the correct birth and death dates for Taylor are most likely 1928- 1982.
PLAY TRACK (It’s All Yours, Haunted Heart)
Wednesday, December 20, 2006
There are two singers from my hometown of Charleston, West Virginia. The very wonderful Jennie Smith, who I won’t be able to play here this afternoon---thankfully she recorded four albums and lots of singles. AND Janet Brace, who arrived in New York in 1948 and initially sang with the bands of Vincent Lopez and Johnny Long, with whom she recorded and appeared on the radio with in 1949. Her one album, in 1956 for ABC-Paramount came and went pretty much without notice. But a few years earlier she made a small mark in the Great American Songbook when she was the first singer to record “Teach Me Tonight.” It was not successful for her and it was not until a couple of years later that it became a hit for anyone else. Had Brace's recording of the song been popular, most likely we would not be playing a track from her Special Delivery LP as part of “One Shot Wonders” today. Even though she is from my hometown, she is one of the few singers who I have not been able to discover Whatever Happened To…
PLAY TRACK Time After Time, You Forgot Your Gloves
Tuesday, December 19, 2006
Here’s another singer who, like Lynne and Black, started out with big bands. Betty Blake sang with Buddy Morrow from 1955 to 1957. But after leaving Morrow she seemed to drop below radar until 1961 when her Bethlehem LP ("Tender Mood") was released. The album contained a large number of Alec Wilder songs. And one side of a 45 Blake made for the Golden Crest label, “The Lady Sings the Blues,” was also written by Wilder. Blake also appeared as a guest artist on a Golden Crest LP. But after her Bethlehem effort, nothing is known of any other professional activity until her death of cancer at age 63 on September 19, 2001. Something of a mystery, for the Blake’s lone album is a good one and received some nice reviews. The musicians include Teddy Charles, Zoot Sims, Kenny Burrell and Mal Waldron.
(Let There Be Love, Love is Just Around the Corner)
Monday, December 18, 2006
photo: Ryo Mogi
Gathering at Cafe Albert, Tokyo after my 12/10/06 "One Shot Wonders" talk at the Tokyo Vocal Jazz Appreciation Society. That's Pinky Winters middle top, me to her right, Jay san to my right, surronded bt some TVJAS members. The "Albert" serves as a sort of clubhouse for the association
(see below for intro and pts. 1-5)
ALTHEA GIBSON, part 6
At one time, Althea Gibson was world-famous. But NOT for singing. A trailblazing athlete who become the first African American to win championships at Grand Slam tournaments such as Wimbledon, the French Open, the Australian Doubles and the United States Open in the late 1950s. She won 56 singles and doubles titles during her amateur career in the 1950s before gaining international and national acclaim for her athletic prowess on the professional level in tennis. Gibson won 11 major titles in the late 1950s. In 1958 she joined the ranks of the Lost ladies of Dot, like Marlene Cord, when she recorded her lone album, Althea Gibson sings. She died in 2003.
PLAY TRACK (September Song)
Saturday, December 16, 2006
The legendary jazz vocalist Pinky Winters, who is 70 plus, on her first visit to Japan performed at JZ Brat on the llth of this month. No frills, no pretension, very pure. She sings as if she is telling the audience some good old tales orstories. The technique excels so much that it often makes the listeners tearful.
--- Kawa (translated by JK)
Frances Lynne began in show business in the late 1940s, but did not record a full album of her own until more than fifty years later. Frances Lynne (long retired) was with Bill Black in the Krupa band in 1950. Also with Dave Brubeck as a singer, pre-Columbia. When I was doing research on Black, I found a contact for her on the net. I emailed and was talking on the phone with her within a half hour. Interesting lady. She told me that she and hubby, John, a rather well-known Woody Herman alumnus, had made this recording a few years back I was unable to find a single reference to it on the net, but Lynne sent me a copy. Tasty repertoire. Plus great players the likes of John Handy, Mike Renzi, Johnny Coles and Herb Steward!
Friday, December 15, 2006
The entire eleven days here in Tokyo have been amazing, but if I had to chose one event, it would have to be last night. The recorded results of her all-Sinatra program will be released most likely mid-year on SSJ Records.
Her new "Speak Low" CD is everywhere in Tokyo. You can't miss it wherever you go, including HMV Stores, Disk Union, and the still-vital Japanese Tower Records. But the nicest surprise came when Pinky undertook some shopping yesterday afternoon after our visit to the Tokyo Tower, and she went in the largest non-chain record store in the city only to hear her "Speak Low" CD being played on the store's sound system. If you know Pinky at all, it should come as no surprise that she promptly anoounced to a nearby clerk "That's Me!" (on the p.a. system).
I wouldn't go so far as to say that PINKYMANIA has swept Tokyo, but pretty darn close.
One more appearance by Pinky this afternoon at a private party, and then---sigh!!!!---we head home to California tomorrow afternoon.
Another album in the can for 50 years or nearly so, until it was rescued in Japan last year by SSJ Records. (reading from the liner notes) "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. I met Black when the he was working as a desk clerk at the YMCA in New York City in the early 1960's. We became friends and Black gave me the original acetate disc of Down in the Depths, recorded in the mid-fifties. Black cut more than two dozen air checks with Gene Krupa’s band, but this is his only official album. He died in 1989.
(Down in the Depths, So It’s Spring)
Thursday, December 14, 2006
The Mode record label was founded in 1957, within the period of a few months recorded and released a total of 29 albums by the instrumentalist likes of Richie Kamuca, Frank Rosolino, and Warne Marsh. And for our purposes here this afternoon: singers Joy Bryan, Don Nelson, the wonderful---make that GREAT--- Lucy Ann Polk, and Johnny Holiday. But the owner of the label had overextended himself financially, and just as quickly as Mode Records had opened for business, it had to close up shop. For Chicago singer Laurie Allyn, the failure of Mode had especially dire consequences, but with an ultimately happy ending which I’ll get to after we hear Laurie sing.
(All I Need is You)
The twelve tracks on Laurie Allyn’s LP, arranged by Marty Paich and featuring the likes of Al Viola, Red Mitchell and Pete Candoli, were recorded in Hollywood on October 2nd, 4th and 5th, 1957. But no sooner had the record’s producer---also the owner of Mode Records---finished recording the sessions than he had the sad duty of telling Allyn that he would not be able to release her recording because Mode was folding. Allyn went back home to Texas to tend her sick mother never to perform again. And this wonderful recording sat on the shelves until the current owner of the Mode catalogue decided to give it a first time issue. . .nearly fifty years after it was recorded. A perfect example of the U.S. Kotowaza (in English) “Better late than never” (then in Japanese).
(Surrey With the Fringe on Top)
Wednesday, December 13, 2006
After we listen to Flo Handy’s recording with guitarists Carl Kress and George Barnes, who accompany her throughout as a duo on her ‘64 LP “Smoky and Intimate,” I will tell you a bit more about her background including her relationship to a another singer who was as famous as the late Flo Handy was obscure.
(No Moon at All, Fine and Dandy)
Does anyone in the audience know who Flo Handy’s sister was?
Ella Mae Morse of “Cow Cow Boogie” fame. And Flo was married to two very famous jazz musicians, first, arranger / songwriter George Handy and then, sax legend Al Cohn, who died in 1988. Flo passed on not long afterward in 1996.
The liner notes for this ultra-obscure LP were written by songwriter Gene Lees, who said "My God! She's marvelous!" Jazz critic and head of the Rutgers Jazz Institute Dan Morgenstern heard her perform just once “live” in an obscure jazz club in New York City, “some 35 years ago,” he wrote in 2000. If anything, she was even better than on ‘Smoky and Intimate‘.
To the best of my knowledge, this wonderful LP with songs by, among others, the Gershwins, Alec Wilder, and Rodgers and Hart has never been reissued anywhere. . .not even in Japan!
Monday, December 11, 2006
One of eight children who grew up in Springboro, Pa., a small town where her father worked as a farmer and tool and dye maker, Cord, born Mary Fabiano, began taking piano lessons at 12. For many years she toured the country as a jazz singer, singing and playing piano. She recorded her Dot album in Chicago when she was 19 in 1957. She is accompanied by several famous Chicago players, namely Dick Marx on piano and John Frigo on bass)
But while on the road, Cord met her husband, Nick, who owned a jazz club in Wisconsin. Cord took time off from her singing career to help him open a restaurant in Milwaukee. She ended up waiting tables, keeping the books and tending bar for 18 years, trading her singing career for love and family. She never went back on the road again. Today, she is a waitress at the Colannade Restaurant in St. Petersburg, Florida where she has worked for the last twenty years. While waiting on actor Jack Nicholson recently, she sang “I Could Write a Book” for him. Maybe he gave her an extra-large tip? But that is just about the extent of her singing these days.
PLAY "I Could Write a Book," "Mad About the Boy"
Sunday, December 10, 2006
Here is an English translation of the beginning of my talk and the program for the day. For the remainder of my time in Tokyo, herein I will post portions of my program
Tokyo Vocal Jazz Appreciation Society - Sunday December 10, 2006
“One Shot Wonders” presented by Bill Reed
The one thing that every one of these artists that I will be playing for you this afternoon have in common is that they recorded only one album bearing their name, and mostly between 1955 and 1960. This was the time when rock music was coming along and beginning to commercially blow every other kind of recorded music out of the water. Another thing that all these singers have in common is that they were uncommonly talented. But it was all to no avail. Most continued to perform---many on the Holiday Inn and Playboy Club circuits---or teach music, but some gave up music altogether. They were simply born too late. I have done my best to track down the whereabouts or the outcome of these singers, but in a couple of instances they seem to have just fallen off the edge of the earth. The first singer I’ll play this afternoon is Marlene Cord. She is a prime example of what a friend of mine in the U.S. calls the Lost Ladies of Dot Records. That powerful little independent label seemed to specialize in One Shot Wonders of the female variety. They include: Althea Gibson, Easy Williams, Dori Howard, Carol Jarvis (45 rpm only), Sue Evans and the singer Ill open up with today, Marlene Cord
MARLENE CORD (VO) p fl ds b (Dot DLP-3081)
1. [I Could Write a Book] (Richard Rodgers - Lorenz Hart)
2. [Mad About the Boy] (Noel Coward) '
rec. 1957 in Chicago
FLO HANDY (VO) guitars: Carl Kress, George Barnes
“Smoky and Intimate” (Carney LPM 201)
1. [No Moon at All] (Redd Evans - David Mann)
2. [Fine and Dandy] (Kay Swift - Paul James)
rec. 1957 in NYC
LAURIE ALLYN (VO) quintet, 12 piece big band, 10 member string section on some tracks. Red Mitchell b, Mel Lewis ds, Pete Candoli tpt, Al Viola gt, others; arr: by Marty Paich
“Paradise” (V.S.O.P. # 111)
1. [All I Need is You] (Peter DeRose - Benny Davis - Mitchell Parrish)
2. Surrey With the Fringe On Top] (Richard Rodgers - Oscar Hammerstein)
rec. 1957 in Hollywood
BILL BLACK (VO) g b unk
“Down in the Depths” (Cellar Door/SSJ YKCJ-304)
1. [Down in the Depths (on the 90th Floor)] (Cole Porter)
2. [So It’s Spring] (Wayne Arnold - Tommy Wolf)
FRANCES LYNNE (VO) French horn, 2 x tpt 2 x various reeds, (i.e. as, ts, six strings) p b ds Prod arr cond by Mike Abene; John Handy ts; Herb Steward as ts; Johnny Coles tp, others
“Remember” (Lark Records, no. #)
1. [Blue Prelude] (Gordon Jenkins, Joe Bishop)
rec. 1999 in San Francisco
ALTHEA GIBSON (VO) Doles Dickens Quartet
“Sings” (Dot 3105)
1. [September Song] (Kurt Weill , Maxwell Anderson)
rec. 1958 in possibly NYC
BETTY BLAKE (VO) septet arr: by Teddy Charles: ts tpt vb gt p bs ds
“Sings in a Tender Mood” (Bethlehem BCP 6058)
1. [Let There Be Love] (Ian Grant, Lionel Rand)
2. Love is Just Around the Corner] (Leo Robin, Lewis Gensler)
rec. 1961 in NYC
JANET BRACE (VO) quintet arr: by Don Elliott (tpt mello vb) and gt p bs dm
“Special Delivery” (ABC 117)
1. [Time After Time] (Jule Styne, Sammy Cahn)
2. [You Forgot Your Gloves] (Ned Lehak, Edward Eliscu)
rec. 1956 in NYC
LYNNE TAYLOR (VO) orch. arr: by Buddy Weed: feat Billy Butterfield tpt, Barry Galbraith g,Arnold Fishkind bs, Stanley Webb flt, Bob Alexander tb
“I See Your Face Before Me” (Grand Award G.A. 33-367)
1. It’s All Yours (Arthur Schwartz, Dorothy Fields)
2. Haunted Heart (Arthur Schwartz, Howard Dietz)
rec. 1957 in NYC
KEVIN GAVIN (VO) big band arr and cond: by Mundell Lowe: feat Clark Terry, Doc Severnson; Urbie Green tb; George Duvivier ds; Eddie Costa p; Mundell Lowe g; many others
“Hey! This is Kevin Gavin” (Charlie Parker Records PLP-8100)
1. Do Nothin’ Till You Hear From Me (Duke Ellington, Bob Russell)
2. Blame It On My Youth (Oscar Levant, Edward Heyman)
rec. 1962 in NYC
INEZ JONES (VO) Carl Perkins p, Oscar Moore g, Curtis Counce bs, Bill Douglass ds
“Have You Met Inez Jones?” (Omega Reel: OMT 7018 /Riverside RLP 12-819)
1. Don’t Worry ‘Bout Me (Rube Bloom, Ted Koehler)
2. Where or When (Richard Rodgers, Lorenz Hart)
rec. 1957 in Hollywood
CORA LEE DAY (VO) big band arr: by Jerry Valentine; small group arr: by Jimmy Jones p; Barry Galbraith or Freddie Green g; ; Harry Edison tp; Illinois Jacquet ts; Osie Johnson ds
“My Crying Hour” (Roulette R52048)
1. I’m Gonna Laugh You Right Out of My Life (Cy Coleman , Joseph McCarthy)
rec. 1958 in NYC
NIKKI PRICE (VO) big band cond: by Fred Carlin or Joe Say feat Phil Woods ts, Dave Frishberg p
“Nikki” (Epic LN-24005)
1. Peel Me a Grape (Dave Frishberg)
rec. 1961 in NYC
GENE STRIDEL (VO) big band cond: by Marty Manning
“This is Gene Stridel” (Columbia CL 2115)
1. The Sweetest Sounds (Richard Rodgers)
rec. 1964 in NYC
Saturday, December 09, 2006
If I had my way I would probably stay in this wonderful city forever. I have never witnessed a hipper or more receptive audience than the one Pinky performed for this afternoon. After the show was over she spent nearly an equal amount of time as she did performing signing many copies of her three SSJ/Cellar Door recording which the crowd had lined up to buy.
Pinky's first but surely not last visit to Japan.
Monday, December 04, 2006
Saturday, December 02, 2006
Is it obvious from the evidence of "Our Love" that we're listening to the birth of one of the great artists of the century? Not really. But he sure does sound different from every other boy band singer around at the time.
Friday, December 01, 2006
The very hep little old lady who rang me up scrutinized my albums as she totaled away, and remarked upon each:
Haddasah Lady: "Don Francks, don't know him. Ethel Ennis, don't hear of her much anymore. Mmmm Jack Sperling, fine drummer. [Which is the correct answer]. Mario Punchinello, I wonder whatever happened to him?"
Me: "He left the country due to pressure from the mob. Fled to Australia where he became a bigger deal than he ever was in America. [Which is true.] A classic case of lemonade from lemons. Dead now."
Haddasah Lady: "Oh."
She had to ask. Then I went outside and noted a plaque on the front of the building that read:
"On this site, in October of 1927, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy filmed scenes from their comedy classic, Leave 'Em Laughing."
Some days it does pay to get out of the house! A perfect five minutes!
Sunday, November 26, 2006
To partially explain, I will re-post, in part, what I sent to a Yahoo listserve on October 17th regarding the CD that the "forces" in question "produced" for O'Day:
"A friend of mine who is HUGE O'Day fan phoned me night before last. She was not previously aware of the "Indestructible" CD, which she had just picked up at a Tower Records closeout sale. She was in tears. 'How could somebody take advantage of an old lady like that?,' 'What a horrible way to end her recording career,' and so on and so forth."
"Indestructible"---"Unlistenable" is more like it---is one of the worst commercial recordings ever released, not just by O'Day but ANYONE, following on heels of one of the strongest bodies of work in the history of the record biz. This assessment of "Indestructible" is not uniquely mine, but is an opinion held by almost everyone who has listened to this sad sad sad Last Hurrah. The entire unfortunate episode is more than a little remindful of director Max Ophuls' film "Lola Montez." Come see this hip old jazz lady still perform her wondrous vocal wizardry!!!
This post gives me yet another chance to repeat the words of the great perucssionist Max Roach who when asked his opinion of rap replied, "People who voted for defunding of music education programs in public schools are getting what they paid for."
Back to square one, I feel that the Sinatra Vegas set is one of the best packages by him to have appeared in years. Somehow the received critical wisdom re: the later (1980s) 3rd and 4th CDs is that the performances tend to be a bit perfunctory. But to my ears, he sounds spectacular on both, especially the 1987 from the Golden Nugget. Apparently, as an inside joke with himself, he seems to be correcting all of the grammatical errors in the songs, i.e. The Gal Who Got Away, etc. as opposed to "That Got Away," etc. All the way through the set! At 71, here, he's still in great voice and seems to be taking more liberties with the material, whilst still not resorting to all those "Jacks" and added words and syllables that tend to litter the landscape of many of his "live" recordings. And studio sides as well in later years: On one cut from the Duets album I counted 57 added words to the composers' original intent. i.e. "I've got that there world on a big old piece of string sitting smack dab on a rain rain rainbow." Not exactly what he did, but I'm sure you catch my drift. As one fine singer of my acquaintance observed when I told her about this, "I guess he thinks that's hip." My analysis is that after singing the same songs over and over again for fifty years or more he had to do something to sort of slap himself in the face to keep from going on auto-pilot. A small price for us listeners to pay.
Thursday, November 23, 2006
My late friend George Eells helped Anita write her memoirs, and while they might have had a few conflicts in the lengthy process, George just loved her. His last interaction with her was years afterward. He had loaned her some money while they were writing the book. Probably a few hundred dollars. And she rang George up out of the blue one day---unbidden---so she could meet him in a bank and pay the money back. Ultimately, as I recall, George was not all that surprised. And probably had even forgotten the debt altogether. That's the way he was.
I, however, always am surprised when listeners tend to regard O'Day, Chris Connor, and June Christy as soundalikes. To my ears, they could not have sounded more UNalike. O'Day sonically resembled herself and herself alone. The twilight of the gods, I tell you, the twilight of the gods.
So sad that she was taken advantage of in her final years by forces who had anything but her best interests at heart. Best, perhaps, to think of her in happier times.
Wednesday, November 22, 2006
David doesn't drive---a grateful America thanks him---and so I chauffered him to a few of the interviews, with director Ronald Neame, Barbara Steele, and Jacqueline Bisset, and now that the article has appeared, IT can be told: I have never encountered any three more charming and articulate sorts in all my years here in L.A., The City Where the Future Comes to Die. Pity the city isn't completely stocked to the brim with their U.K. emigree lot. In addition, Steele and Bisset could not have been sexier. And as for dear "Ronnie" Neame, it is genuinely inspiring to meet a nonagenarian who shows so few signs of agedness. I eventually felt so comfortable around him that I "did" my Shelley Winters imitation from "The Poseidan Adventure" ---think overarticulated breast stroke----and he laughed quite heartily . When I asked if he had any serious health issues at this advanced stage of life, the director confessed to having walking problems as of late. But then, when Neame saw David and I out, this man who was a cameraman on Hitchcock's first sound film (!) more-or-less bounded across the room. David used to make me wait out in the car when I drove him to interviews (at least he didn't force me to wear a chauffeur's uniform), but as of late he allows me come in, but only if I promise to be quiet as a mouse. That'll be the day! I "killed" with my imitation of Shelley Winters.
Tuesday, November 21, 2006
Squib in Nippon Keizai Newspaper (the Japanese Wall Street Journal) on November 29 which translates as:
A Treasure of the Jazz Vocal World
"Pinky Winters has gained a lot of attention since the release of two albums from the Sinatra Society of Japan: Summer 2005‘s “Rain Sometimes” and the “live” album “The Shadow of Your Smile” from February of this year, Now they are releasing the World Premiere of “Speak Low,” on December 6th in time for her first visit to and performances in Japan.
She has been performing wonderfully with her inimitable voice at notable clubs in Los Angeles and Santa Monica, attracting many listeners. After years of experience. she is now approaching the peak of her artistry. Her natural style of singing conveys the sense that she is truly enjoying herself. That, in turn, accords listeners a moving experience. Come and partake of this profound singer and discover how great jazz singing can be." translated by JK
Five gigs---two public and three private---a "live" recording date, a filmed concert, a major newspaper article in the big Daily Mainichi, and a Swing Journal interview. All between December 6th and the 16th. This is going to be so much fun, and finally the recognition that jazz singer Pinky Winters has deserved for so long. When I initially visited Japan seven years ago is the time I first became aware that Pinky is not all that obscure in Japan. The initial tip-off was a small shrine (of sorts) devoted to her in one of Tokyo's gigantic HMV records stores. THAT, and a nosebleed-inducing vertigious price on the collectors' market for her first LP, a ten-incher.
I wouldn't even be surprised to see press and photogs at Narita airport when Pinky touches down. "Miss Winters-zu! Over here!" Probably not, but it's fun to think so.
Saturday, November 18, 2006
One example of just how far Joe [Louis] would go to get a laugh requires a little background. Since, until fairly recently, there were hardly any hotels below the Mason-Dixon line that catered to other than whites, when black performers toured the South, they were forced to make do with whatever lodgings they could muster up. This was the situation in 1953 when Joe and I were touring our standup comedy act as part of a package called The Big Rhythm and Blues Show. Ninety cities in nearly as many nights! Joe was the headliner, but the others on the bill were fairly big stars in their own right: Ruth Brown; Buddy Johnson and Ella Johnson and a sixteen piece band; comic Dusty Fletcher; singers Wynonie Harris, the Clovers, the Edwards Sisters; and for jazz spice, Lester Young. Naturally, the housing problem proved especially great for a traveling unit as large as "The Big Show" with its two busloads of nearly fifty blacks. Or, I should say it was a problem to everyone in our troupe but me! Since I looked too white to stay in most places that catered to blacks anyhow, I usually stayed in white establishments. Most rooming houses in the South were willing to allow a white manager traveling with an all-black show to stay with his cast, but still things could get messy. Many more times than I care to recall, during the first two decades of my show business career I'd been routed by the local constabulary in the middle of the night and thrown out of my lodgings, bag and baggage. On one occasion I was even arrested. The charge? Being a white man cohabiting with coloreds! And so with "The Big Show," the bus would pull into a town, I'd get off at a white hotel, and the rest of the cast and crew would head off to the black side of town to scuffle.
Not everyone in the company accepted my excuse that I was checking into the white hotels to avoid trouble with the law; and others were annoyed by the fact that many of the places I stayed just happened to be located conveniently near the nice whites-only golf course in town. A few just thought I was being "uppity". But mostly there were no strong, hard feelings and things went smoothly. Except, once in Houston. I got off the bus at the swank Shamrock Hotel, waved goodbye to the others, and after checking in at the desk I went to my room and was just getting comfortable when there was a knock at the door. I got up, opened it, and it was the manager of the hotel.
"I'm sorry, sir, but you can't stay here," he said in this very starchy voice.
"Why, what's the problem? I paid in advance and everything," I said.
"We'll refund your money. I think you'll be happier elsewhere."
I began to catch his "draft"; back then when blacks sensed white prejudice they called it feeling a "draft," and this was a positive hurricane. Knowing that there was no use in bothering to protest, I told him I'd leave, and I packed up to go.
When I reached the lobby, the reason for his attitude was obvious. Actually, three reasons. There stood one of our show's star attractions Ruth Brown, and pulling up the rear were two of the most pathetic little, wide-eyed waifs you ever laid eyes on playing the part of her children. She strode angrily across the lobby, and when she reached me, shook her finger in my face, grabbed me, and as she dragged me toward the hotel entrance, shouted back over her shoulder at the two little "picks": "Come along, children, we've found your daddy."
Needless to say, Joe had put her up to it.
Thursday, November 16, 2006
Wednesday, November 15, 2006
Sunday, November 12, 2006
No surprise that the standouts were singers Pinky Winters, Bill Henderson and Sue Raney, but a new-to-me young singer-pianist, Bill Cantos, is clearly slated for a long and successful career. Think John Pizzarelli at the piano. . .sorta. Not a clone by any means, but surely as good as Bucky's boy. Also performing a moving version of How Do You Keep the Music Playing was its co-lyricist Alan Bergman.
It was an all Johnny Mandel-program performed, in addition to the above, by such singers as Shelby Flint, Lorraine Feather, Morgan Ames, and vocal group Inner Voices, comprised, in part, of Ames and Flint.
The sextet, led by Mandel, was every bit as stellar as the vocal contingent and included Don Shelton, Mike Melvoin and Chuck Berghofer.
A partial list of the repertoire: Cinnamon and Clove, A Time for Love, Shining Sea (Raney); Emily, You Are There (Tierney Sutton); Close Enough For Love (Sutton and Cantos); I've Been Around, El Cajon (Cantos), Vacation from the Blues, Living Without You (Henderson); Solitary Moon, (Mandel and the Bergman's new) A Waltz From Somewhere (Flint), and Don't Look Back, I Never Told You, Take Me Home (Winters).
Both shows clocked in at a total of just about four hours, and if I weren't so wary of adjectival over-the-topness, damned if wouldn't be tempted to deem the day downright historic.
Thursday, November 09, 2006
Wednesday, November 08, 2006
Happy birthday, Chris Connor!
In honor of the occasion, here's a post on this blog from early this year.
Monday, November 06, 2006
With one exception, I saw Betty Carter 'Live" more than any other single performer. At her peak, she could have an audience in the palm of her hand before the first song was concluded. A dynamic, take-no-prisoners, hit-the-ground-running, charismatic artist who could even have won over a crowd of Lennon Sisters fans who might have wondered into one of her club dates by mistake. On the other hand, I once gave a Carter CD to a much-more-conservative, but nonetheless quite fine singer friend of mine. (No names puh-leese.) She had never heard Carter. I called her a couple of days later to ask what she thought of it. My friend said that she'd become so immediately overwrought by the experience of listening to the recording to the point of ejecting the disc and throwing it out of the car window and onto the Jersey freeway on which she was traveling. Oh, well as the liner notes to one of Carter's CDs correctly observe, "One man's jazz singer is another's Robert Goulet."
One time I saw Carter in performance at NY's Town Hall, and when she began singing "Round Midnight," using Bernie Hanighen's set of lyrics to the Monk tune, who should've begun shouting at her from the audience but singer Babs Gonzales. He then proceeded to leap up on the stage to begin singing his own---and much more obscure---lyrics to the bop anthem. Carter just stepped aside with a look on her face that read, "Oh, that Babs!" and let him complete the number. Unlike the heckler at a recent Stresand concert, definitely NOT a plant.
If the gardenia was Billie's signature, Carter's was (at least "live") off-the-shoulder dresses which exposed only one shoulder, always the left. That undulating exposed part of her upper torso was definitely a part of her act.
Avant-garde jazz pianist Cecil Taylor once told me with an absolultely straight face, "I feel so sorry for Betty Carter." "Why?," I bit. "Because her husband's favorite singer is Nancy Wilson." Oh well, as the saying goes, "One man's jazz singer. . .."
Saturday, November 04, 2006
Friday, November 03, 2006
EX-CLU-SIVE: Tom Cruise to Revive Edsel
Cruze Bustamante: "I'm not fat. Vote for me!"
Cruising in Colorado Springs:
"I've never had a gay relationship in Denver." ---Ted Haggard.
As one local wag recently remarked (like, this morning across the breakfast table): "You could drive a truck through that statement."
My own reaction to fundies like Haggard is that they give the ineffable/unknowable a bad name. I wonder if he's entered rehab yet? No changes to his web site so far. If, however, you would like to "arrange an interview" with Haggard, here's the email address: email@example.com .
I used to be an announcer on a religious radio station. ("Dr. Chilledair, is there anything you haven't done in your long and colorful career?") And nearly every fundamentalist minister I met there was a closet case. ("Why Reverand Hissom, just What Kind of a boy do you think I am?")
Have you had a good look yet at the the screamer who's replacing Haggard? If he's not a queen, I'll eat my copy of Judy at Carnegie Hall at high noon in the Castro.
Wednesday, November 01, 2006
"Gladys Bentley was a man!," Frances Williams insisted to me, when the subject of the ostensibly female, cabaret singer-pianist and court jester to the Harlem Renaissance was raised. I interviewed the late actress-activist Williams, perhaps best-known as "Miss Marie" on the TV series Frank's Place for my 1998 book, Hot from Harlem (republished this year by McFarland Press).
I was reminded of Bentley (1907-1960) and my interview with Frances because today is Gladys' birthday.If anyone should have known about Bentley, it was Williams. She was there at the time."Even when Frances was confronted with Sisters of the Renaissance, a publication containing information to the contrary [the passage on Bentley in 'Harlem' continued] she stuck to her guns: She shot a look that signaled case closed.. ..end of discussion.
Certainly, Bentley gave good cause for Williams to suspect she might be all man: Gladys worked entirely in male drag and sang double-entendre songs and parodies that often as not alluded to and/or celebrated the joys and perils of gay romance. But that was later on; here is Langston Hughes' description, in his The Big Sea, of Bentley in action "before she got famous, acquired an accompanist, specially written material, and conscious vulgarity: Miss Bentley sat, and played a big piano all night long, literally all night without stopping-singing songs like 'The St. James Infirmary': from ten in the evening until dawn, with scarcely a break in between the notes, sliding from one song to another, with a powerful and continuous underbeat of jungle rhythm."
He goes on to describe the ample, ebony, and deeply butch performer as "a perfect piece of African sculpture." Novelist Carl Van Vechten was similarly taken with her (or him); in his Parties, he writes of an unnamed character who is clearly Bentley: "There is a girl up there now you oughta hear. She does her hair so her head looks like a wet seal and when she pounds the piano the dawn comes up like thunder." In her Black Pearls: Blues Queens of the 1920s, Daphne Duval Harrison suggests that it wasn't only Frances Williams who felt that this woman imitating a man might have, in fact, been-shades of Victor Victoria-a man (gay, at that) imitating a lesbian pretending to be man. She describes Bentley as a "tough-talking, singing piano player who some believed to be a male transvestite and others a lesbian."
In Gay New York, George Chauncey recalls Bentley as: "[An entertainer] who performed in a tuxedo and married her lover in a much discussed ceremony."If, in fact, Bentley was a lesbian, she recanted her sapphic ways for good in 1952 in a magazine article entitled "I Am a Woman Again. She then married a sailor in San Diego and spent the remainder of her years writing her (yet to be published) memoirs. If ever there was a subject who cried out for further research it is Bentley who may have singlehandedly engineered the gender-bendingest hoax ever perpetrated on Cafe Society."
AND HERE IS THE IMPORTANT ADDITION. JUST NOW, RECALLING THAT SOMEONE ONCE TOLD ME THAT BENTLEY HAD MADE AN APPEARANCE ON GROUCHO'S "YOU BET YOUR LIFE," I ENTERED BENTLEY'S NAME IN THE SEARCH BAR ON YOUTUBE. AND WHADYA KNOW! THERE SHE WAS. THIS MIGHT WELL BE THE ONLY EXTANT FILM FOOTAGE OF THIS CRUCIAL HARLEM RENAISSANCE PERFORMER. HERE ARE GROUCHO MARX AND THE EQUALLY ONE AND ONLY GLADYS BENTLEY.
Friday, October 27, 2006
Thursday, October 26, 2006
"Almost at once -- a few weeks ago -- with my first exposure to Chicago vocalist Dick Noel, he immediately zoomed to the top of the list of my favorite singers. Just on the basis of his one 1978 LP, "A Time For Love," with Chicago pianist Larry Novak. Comparisons with Irene Kral and Alan Broadbent's "Where Is Love" are inescapable. In fact, I would rank it on a par with that Gold Standard duo album. Mel Torme penned the liner notes for the album and pulled out all thes tops in his unstinting praise for Noel. For the most part, Dick earned his living as one of the most successful jingle singers in the country. "You deserve a break today," etc.
Yesterday, I had the privilege and honor of talking on the phone for the first time with Noel. For those hearty few of you out there who might also be as taken with Dick Noel as I am, I'm happy to be able to report that although Noel is long retired from professional singing, he is in great health nearing 80, and still toys around with recording in a home studio. He even has a few albums' worth of material that might see commercial release within the foreseeable future."
Tuesday, October 24, 2006
Liner notes from “Back to 2 Track”: The Best of John Wood
One thing I like to talk about is how things in the recording business have changed. For instance, in the old days of the three-hour session, where three hours rendered you four finished songs, they'd hand the studio owner a check for the time and walk out with their next four sides for release. These days, with mega-multitracking, people find it very hard to say they're finished with what they're doing.
I think this multi-track process makes monsters out of people, because there's no totality. There's no beginning, no middle and no end---just this amorphous thing that goes on and on, and no one can really recognize what it is that they're part of. In looking back, there was a simplicity and a way to comprehend things for everyone, both for the people who rented the studio and for the studio owners. They came and they lived or they died for those three or four hours that they booked the studio. And then they walked away. And the guys who played knew that it was a complete entity. Today, they've all lost control.
I believe that from the beginning of the human race, music has played an important part in the quality of life. So if American music began to lose its humanity, as it did starting in the late '60s, then essentially there's been no music in America for 25 years.
Sure, there'll always be a live-music niche, and there's a perception and desire to get back to basics, but I think we have a huge distance to go. In the early days, artists released five or six albums a year. Per year! That is the nature of music and of the days when music drove the music business.
--- John (Drum Machines Have No Soul) Wood
Monday, October 23, 2006
On December 10 in Japan I will be giving a talk before the Tokyo Vocal Jazz Appreciation Society on the subject of singers who recorded only one album---never to do so again---in the '50s and early '60s. And while most of the artists in question were simply swept out of the business by the tsunami of rock and roll, in the case of Cora Lee Day, the circumstances surrounding her singing demise were a bit anomalous. To wit:
"In 1960 actress Cora Lee Day was at a party in New York City when someone asked her to do her imitation of Billie Holiday. She did, and by chance Roulette Records owner Morris Levy was there, liked what he heard---he believed this to be her natural singing voice---and signed her to a record contract. Cora had no choice, then, but to keep singing in this disingenuous style. Roulette spent a great deal of money on a night club act and an LP for her. The recording, entitled "My Crying Hour," contained some of the best jazz players around, such as Jimmy Jones, Harry Edison, Freddie Green and Illinois Jacquet. Ella Fitzgerald and Johnny Hartman were the only other vocalists to release studio recordings with Jacquet’s backing. The album was not a success. And though her live act premiered at the prestigious Mister Kelley’s club in Chicago, it too was a failure. Cora Lee Day never sang in public again. She did, however, become a highly respected actress, eventually starring in the 1991 award-winning film, "Daughters of the Dust." She died in 2000 at the age of 78."
Then---in Tokyo---I will play this track by Cora. (mp3 files for a limited time only)
Thursday, October 19, 2006
From time to time, since then, I've continued to receive bits and pieces of info regarding Bill's beclouded personal history. The latest correspondence---just in---is of a geneological nature from a party who knew Bill while the latter still lived in his hometown of Granite City, Illinois before heading off to the big city and swift acceptance as a big band singer with Gene Krupa. To wit:
"I checked with some of my siblings and a brother went to high school with Neal Black and a sister with Bill-also my sister was working as a volunteer at the hospital when Bill"s mother died in 1949.Someone is checking the high school paper to see if it has anything on him. He is remembered as being a very happy guy and folks are dismayed about his tragic end and burial in Potters Field.
I checked the 1930 census and found Bill's family in Granite City at 904 25th St. His father was Archie Black, age 33, born in Kansas, Chief Engineer at Midland Cement. His mother was Volma, age 28, born in Illinois. They were married 11 years at that time and had 2 children, Maurice Neal,age 5 and William Gerald, age 2 and 8/12s (August 7). My guess is that Bill's father was soon laid off-Granite City was severely affected by the "Great Depression" and he probably opened the small grocery that I remember, to try to "keep his head above water"Volma died in 1949 at age 47 (possibly cancer). Archie was born in 1897 and died, per the Social Security death index, December 1972 at age 75. At this time I have nothing about Neal except that he died at a young age in an auto accident. Folks seem to believe that Neal was married and divorced and may have had a child (those who remember are in their 80's so things may not be too clear)."
Wednesday, October 18, 2006
There's no question but that singer Norman Brooks, who just died and was still something of a star north of the border, sounded EXACTLY like AL Jolson. His obit prompted me just now to drag out my old singles of his on the superfine Zodiac ("The Sign of the Stars") label ("501 Madison Ave. NYC"). Here's a coupla couplets from his "3-D Sweetie" (Stillman - Allen).
"Theda Bara wouldn't see no one but Rudolph Valentino. Please forgive me. . .double neg-a-tive."
"Each time she passes, get the special glasses. You gotta pay attention to each heavenly dimension"
Sure don't write 'em like that anymore.
As for the "double neg-a-tive" line, I was twelve when I first heard that song; at which time I didn't even know what a SINGLE negative was. What Brooks was actually singing struck me---walking down the street minding my own business one day---like a scrambled epiphany out of the blue after I'd not heard the recording for a couple of decades. Strange how potent cheap music can be!
Little known fun fact: Brooks was original choice for the role that Johnnie Ray eventually played in No Biz Like Show Biz.
To hear Brooks sing a French language version of Jolson's Toot Toot Tootsie, go here.
Tuesday, October 17, 2006
Americans are far too anhedonic just to enjoy music qua music and let it go at that, and so it's got to have heft, meaning, significance etc. despite the fact that most of it upon arrival is already brain dead. If you look at most all of earlier rock crit, you will be hard-pressed to find a single review that doesn't allude to some higher form of artistic accomplishment. To wit, Lennon and McCartney as Rodgers and Hart, Brian Wilson as the logical musical extension of Gershwin, etc. Don't get me wrong. Not that there's anything wrong with the Beatles and the Beach Boys! Those are merely the two most obvious examples of the kind of rock crit that struggles to try and lend validity to most stuff that's not even fit to kiss the cuff of Duke Ellington's Saville Row-tailored slacks.
And it continues to this day. If you pick that current glossy rag Vibe (published by Quincy Jones no less!) devoted to rap/hip hop, you won't have to flip too many pages before you come across the names of the trendy likes of Miles Davis or John Coltrane, et al, who you and I both know wouldn't be caught dead listening to this s**t. (Be sure to wash your hands afterward.)
Without the--again---context of "Jazz," "Classical," "Theatre and Movies," "World," etc. sections in places like Tower to give this stuff class by association, it is to be hoped that most of current music fashion---most notably rap---will eventually be revealed for the selective non-conformity BS that it is. There's very little doubt in my mind that the non-junque--granted, one man's junque is another's Penderecki---in Tower's miles and miles of aisles accounted for an almost infinitessimally small amount of their sales. They just hadda have it there. The so-called "big box" stores like Best Buys, etc. don't even bother with this ploy anymore. Big bucks to the first among you who can find a Lee Wiley CD at Target.
Don't get me wrong, I deeply mourn the passing of Tower. Still, now that Jessica Simpson no longer exists side by side with Ella Fitzgerald two aisles over, how are the Kulture Kriminals gonna be able to continue marketing this stuff as anything other than what it is. . .the musical analogue to bagged spinach.
I'm curious as to whether he recognized her despite the atypical pose, or else had seen the photo before. Aren't you?
Monday, October 16, 2006
If I were a woman---AND I'M NOT!---that WW II parachute frock is the kind of thing I'd wear every day.
Identify the singer in this somewhat atypical---for her---glamour shot above and win a copy of this, one of my new Japanese CD productions.
Earliest correct answer before midnight Saturday wins. Submit as "comment" below.
Saturday, October 14, 2006
Ding Dong, the Witch is Dead
Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead
Ding Dong, The Witch is Dead
Ding Dong!, the Witch is Dead
Ding-Dong, the Witch is Dead
(Ding Dong), the Witch is Dead
Ding Dong, the Witch Is Dead
Ding Dong!, the Witch Is Dead
Ding Dong, The Witch Is Dead
Ding Dong, the Witch Is Dead!
Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead
Ding Dong the Witch is Dead
. . .and so on and so forth. And while I am well aware that a foolish consistency CAN be the hobgoblin of small minds, still my still small researcher's voice urges me on to getting it right. And what is right? I am not even certain that "is", in the usage here IS a proposition.
Friday, October 13, 2006
Thursday, October 12, 2006
Last night, I wrote, in answer to long-running curiosity on a net group I belong to devoted to jazzier practitioners of the Great American Songbook:
"There really IS a Nora Evans. And NO, she is no relation to Joan Evans [as long-rumored on the list]. I should know. I just got off a 2 1/2 hour phone marathon with her. Could hardly get a word in edgewise. And for me -- vaccinated with a record needle at birth --that's really saying something. I finally met my match. Phone call from outta the blue.
She was a discovery of Elmer Bernstein, it turns out. Started her career as a singer, it seems, doing those 18 Top Hit Hits Hooray by (unidentified) Stars of Stage, Screen and TV, i.e. mimicking Patti Page's Cross Over the Bridge, Mary Ford's I'm a Fool to Care, etc. And as recently as a few years ago did turns at [London's prestigious] Pizza on the Park and Salena Jones' erstwhile night club. As for the couple of albums under discussion here on [this list], Don't Explain, and Right Here and Now, there are a few others besides those. All self-produced on the Noreeva label featuring the impressive instrumental likes of Bob Cooper, Pete Christlieb, Carl Saunders, Chuck Berghoufer, Paul Kreibich, et al.
Of un certain age, she's also been a shrink for 40 years. Quite a character in addition to being a commendable singer. I'm worn out now and gotta go to bed. She might be a psychoanalyst (wonder if she knows therapist/former singer Beverly Kelly?), but I'm the one who listened tonight. A kook in the best sense of the word. I like her!
end of yesterday's post
This morning I Googled several of the episodes that Nora Evans told me about last night regarding her long and checkered career in show biz and they all checked out. Yes! She did appear on a 1957 episode of TV's Stars of Jazz. And, Yes! she did peform at singer Salena Jones' now shuttered London nightclub a few years back. She IS a member of Society of Singers.
In addition, I assume that some other credits I found Googling apparently belong to "our" new Nora. Including the movie Tender is the Night as "singer" and as "musician" in an episode of the fifties TV series, "Johnny Stacato," scored by her "discover" Elmer Bernstein. Also, as she informed me, did tracks for the early 50s budget label, Broadway, covering hits of the day, i.e. If I Give My Heart to You & Smile. I found these on Google. These are probably dozens more where those came from.
As for her claim that she was nearly chosen to replace Champagne Lady Alice Lon (or as the great Stan Freberg would have it, "Alice Lean") after Lawrence Welk fired her back in the fifties because of a cheesecake photo---I'm sure you all recall that unfortunate incident---THAT, I was unable to substantiate.
As late as 1999 she was still capable of putting out some pretty nice recordings on her own Noreeva label, including a terrific "One of Those Songs." "One take, improvised by musicians (Jack Nimitz, Carl Saunders, Buddy Childers, et al) without rehearsal," she told me.
Evans just sings the songs and goes home. In general, though, the Jack Quigley arrangements on her several LPs and CDs are---despite their intelligence---a bit over the top, for purposes of singing, for my tastes.
All of the above, mind you, is in additiion to two marriages, a couple of kids, and several business ventures, including Mexican real estate.
To paraphrase the great Bugs Bunny in Water, Water Every Hare (1952): "Singers lead such interestin' lives."
Monday, October 09, 2006
Lee Wiley (1910-1975) is clearly the greatest---extra-categorically---unknown American artist. Even amongst seemingly devoted followers of American Popular Song. God knows Wiley had enough extra-musical mythic resonance to have guaranteed remembrance of her. A beautiful tart-tounged, substance-abusing, chain-smoking beauty who sang in and haunted Upper East Side intime boites, breaking hearts along her merry way back in the 30s and 40s.
I picture her as a kind of jazz singing Dorothy Parker. Albeit sexier. I have tracked down the one known Lee Wiley TV appearance. It's supposedly in the Jack Paar archives. According to Paar's archivist, Jack kept everything that he was interested in or that had special meaning, and told NBC to dump the rest. Let's hope that the Wiley meant something to him. I gave the guy the exact date but somehow couldn't get him to check for me. I was working on adapting a Japanese NHK special on Wiley for American TV. That's tantamount to being shown on one of the big three U.S. nets in prime time. Singer Barbara Lea is in it.
The penultimate scene, and the finale of the special finds a Japanese singer going to the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame and, first, informing them that they have overlooked the great Lee Wiley---"Lee, who?"---and then flash forward a few months later and she returns for Wiley's installation in the HOF. Nobuko Miyamoto, is an actress---the widow of Juzo Itami, the director of Tampopo---who upon hearing Wiley sing for the first time, did a complete career turnabout and became a vocalist. Japanese are kuru kuru pa (i.e.krazzzeeee!).
My adaptation never came to pass BTW, i.e., 'Lee, who?'
note: The above is a modification of a post herein from from a months ago.
Sunday, October 08, 2006
click lower right hand corner, then click again to enlarge
On the occasion of a rare showing last night here in L.A. of the long-suppressed Premingerization of the immortal Gershwin opera, I am reprinting my 1999 article in Variety about the film. At the time I wrote it, I realized that the Gershwin estate had gone far beyond merely suppressing the film. They had in fact been conducting a seemingly legal auto de fe fueled by every copy of the film they could lay their hands on. Common wisdom leans toward the theory that they especially disliked Andre Previn's somewhat jazzier orchestrations than those of the original's stage production's more high-toned operatic (if you will) scoring by Robert Russell Bennett. But who can say for sure?
The reason I had pulled my punches in Variety was that, during the writing of the short piece, and believing the Gershwin estate's claim to me that they might be willing to let the film be seen again, I found myself on the track of actually getting it back into circulation and thus didn't want to risk getting on their bad side. Besides, a film critic buddy of mine had already blown the whistle on them as rank pyromaniacs a few weeks earlier in an article in an L.A. paper.
Plus, representatives of the Gershwin estate actually had the foolish nerve to brag about destruction of copies of the film in conjunction with the first airing of the PBS TV production of "Porgy" in the early '90s. They were so successful in their mission to destroy Porgy and Bess, in fact, that there are seemingly only a few copies of the film remaining. And reports vary as to their quality and format (it was shown originally in both Todd-AO and Cinemascope). The copy I saw last night was woefully dark, but still managed to get the "job" done; I found Otto Preminger's idiosyncratic but logical close-up-free adaptation---which I have not seen since high school---to be every bit as terrific as I recalled its being.
In the process of doing my 1999 story for Variety, through a well-known film restorer of my professional acquaintance, I tracked down the original elements rotting away in an uncontrolled warehouse in the San Fernando Valley. I became so distraught that the film was now in almost an irreparable state that I made arrangements, through a chance meeting at a party with the head of UCLA Film Archives, to have the elements taken in by them. And with one (!) phone call I also personally raised $100,000, through the auspices of a well-known DVD outfit, to begin restoration of the film. It would take approximately seven times that, but at least it was a start. The integers seemed to be falling into place so miraculously and swiftly that the saving of Porgy and Bess seemed almost fated. From auto de fe to fait accomplit in three simple steps!
But apparently the Gershwins wanted no part of any of this, even though their Michael Strunsky hinted to me in my '99 interview with him that the estate might be ready for an about face. "Apparently," because more than seven years later, he has yet to return any of my phone calls, or answer the faxes, smoke signals, emails, telegrams, carrier pigeon missives and letters sent over the next few months after the Variety article appeared.
For the past few years P&B has been shown in a few clandestine venues without the Gershwin's blessing, but the sold-out screening last night in L.A. credited their co-operation. However, it should be obvious, finally, that they have no interest whatsoever in Porgy and Bess being shown again to the general public. Their so-called "co-operation" last night, and quotes to me in 1999 about "restoration and reissue" notwithstanding, they clearly have every intent of remaining Kulture Kriminals of the first water. In '99 Strunsky said something to me about taking his time in getting the film back into circulation, to which I can only reply, "I'll say!"
After viewing it less than 24 hours ago, I feel that the film would receive a much better reception today than it did when first released in the 1959 (it was not a critical or financial success at the time). It was among the first wave of big, big almost Stars Wars-like wide-screen films. The audience and critics perhaps wanted a chamber opera; instead, director Otto Preminger gave them a Catfish Row that was half the size of Rhode Island. But to my way of thinking, the humanity and brilliance of the original somehow managed to remain intact.
Sidney/Brock/Pearl/Sammy/Dorothy/Diahann, and yes, Otto aficionados, ARISE!
Saturday, October 07, 2006
But I also have a very nice Post Cereals Danny Thomas premium album on Columbia Special Products. With the Spencer-Hagen Orch. Entitled "An Evening With. . ." (more like a half-hour), chops and feeling peremeate his versions of September Song, You Make Me Feel So Young, Violets for Your Furs, But Beautiful, etc.
Employing my operative rule-of-thumb of "How bad can it be for 50 cents?," I picked it up recently at a nearby L.A. thrift shoppe. According to the "Fight Emphysema" address sticker irreversably affixed to the front of the album---don't you just HATE that?--- it once belonged to: "Mr. Foster L. Fox, 7350 W. 85th St, Los Angeles, CA 90045." Googlin' away just now, according to the Social Security Death Index he died on December 22, 1992 at the ripe old age of 80. SS# 555-07-9858.
I wonder what took so long for the LP to find its way to the thrift emporium local where I chanced upon it? Was he survived by a Mrs. Foster L. Fox mayhaps? And then HER survivors dumped it? Or. . .?
In case you are interested, Danny Thomas' SS # was 374-10-1559. Believe it or not, I really DON'T have a lot of spare time on my hands.
Friday, October 06, 2006
In the process of talking to the very nice gentleman (with a slight Japanese accent) at the Consulate, for no particular reason he asked, "What does the person do?" I said, "She is a singer." To which he replied, "Oh, we make exceptions in the case of entertainers. She does not have to come with you."
To say that I was astounded at the thoughtfulness of both his asking his question in the first place, and then their exception to entertainers simply amazes me. There are probably ten people in the United States who would be thoughtful enough to ask me the question, "What does the person do?" I don't think it is an accident that one of them turned out to be Japanese. I don't mind so much for myself, but Pinky really does have better and more important things to do, i.e. sorting music, rehearsing, etc. And the kind of red tape involved in getting a work visa for a foreign country is just the sort of thing that can make performers want to give up show biz forever.
Anyway, very simple. It only takes three or four days to receive work visa. This will all be done by the end of next week. Hooray!
I just might be living in the wrong country.
Wednesday, October 04, 2006
I am led to believe by the party who laid the album on me that there are some other unreleased tracks from the session that have not seen the light of day yet. A total non-entity in the world of commercial jazz vocal recordings, I can't but help but wonder, "Are there any more at home like him?" AND where might HE be found these days if he has not already gone to that place from which no one returns? Anyone know ANYTHING about him?
He has a nice butch-sounding delivery that is just legit enough without evoking the unbearable spectre of singers such as Robert Goulet, et al. Great pitch, conception, enunciation! Just perfect! Mel Torme was right about Dick Noel: "He's something else!"
Saturday, September 30, 2006
JAZZMAN Magazine - September, 2006
by Thierry Peremarti
It wasn't what she'd planned, but fate decided otherwise. And it all came about quite naturally without the addition of “luck,” or the subtraction of God knows what. In short there's no simple way to account for the success of Pinky Winters. A legend among LP record collectors. A jazz singer who only the Japanese appear to wildly venerate. She lives in Los Angeles where you can hear her several times a year singing to an attentive crowd of connoisseurs, many of whom are unfamiliar with the blond sitting behind a giant microphone hung from the ceiling in a photograph on the cover of her first album cut fifty years ago. This same woman, who time has left untarnished, cooks, gardens and vocalizes without calculation or guile -- typical of someone who has nothing to prove anymore. She's an artist of great sensitivity -- but does that say it all? She lives in a quiet neighborhood in North Hollywood with Dinah the cat --- less Shore than Washington. She won't offer her age when one ingenuously ventures to ask, preferring instead to play riddles about her birth year. When 1934 is mentioned she mischievously replies; "Pretty close." In the end she admits that she was twenty or twenty-one in 1954 when that album was released.
Then one day Pinky disappears from the jazz world. A divorce, a child, a need to earn a living, then a second marriage, a second child. . ." I 'm happiest at home," she explains. She turns down a recording date in Chicago and leaves the business. "Wives didn't go on the road,” she says without need of further explanation. ”Chance has nothing to do with it" And then a phone call came! It was 1980. Lanny Morgan of Supersax had an engagement at Donte's. "That's how I met my third husband, Lou Levy." A goldsmith. A pianist with an inquiring mind. Taste to burn. "He meticulously examined original scores to understand the composers' intentions.” The man had worked with Sinatra, Vaughan, Fitzgerald, Peggy Lee, and many other jazz vocalists. Pinky and Lou understood each other instantly. They counted among their friends Henry Mancini, Shirley Horn, Johnny Mandel, who came over to sit round the piano and sing family style. Then in 2001, Lou goes to where no one ever returns and Pinky, her eyes wet with tears, says: "I think of him every day."
Today she really sings. Not that she ever was able to do otherwise. But now she sings for the right reasons. This winter, she's performing in Japan. We don't gaze at old photos. Dinah won't let us. Besides we're looking toward the future. After all, today is the start of a new career. But about the past she's quite willing to say: "When I listened to my first recording, I thought who was this woman?" These days, she pays more attention to the melody and sings the lyrics of standards as if she'd written them herself. At twenty you can't do that. It is necessary to have known the commotion of life, its happiness and its rough edges in order to start. Her discography? Like a game of pick-up-sticks thrown down at random. A second disc in 1959, five years after the first one, followed by a gap of twenty-six years and a sudden return in 1985. It will be another nine years for the next recording to see the light of day. An equal part of the picture, two new recordings, one of which was made a few years ago and another just released but made in 1983. Does it matter? Frankly, the future looks bright. As bandleader Bob Florence, remarked “Her voice is like jumping into a tub of butterscotch. It also helps to have a wonderful imagination, a great ear, and be a little nuts.”
translated by David Ehrenstein