Thursday, March 27, 2008

Gene Puerling R.I.P.

Juat heard from a friend that Gene Puerling died last night. He was a moving force behind the Hi-Lo's. A giant of vocal jazz. Even though I never knew Puerling, like my friend I find myself similarly "devastated." By request, here's what is also one of my favorite Hi-Lo's tracks, Murray Grand's "April in Fairbanks."

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Roomie cross-plug!

Here's a LINK to the current L.A. Weekly column by my good friend and constant traveling companion of the last 38 years, David Ehrenstein. However, the editors cut David's reference to the now major music star in Japan, the rap-styled but Enka-singing (the following is David's phrase) "one stop multi-cultural shopping center" JERO. CHECK IT OUT!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

A letter to cuzzin Rex

Did you know that?. . .singer Pinky Winters will do a single show (April 8) with pianist Richard Rodney Bennett at NYC's Metropolitan Room? That's after Marilyn Maye's early show. Pinky and RRB just won a Backstage Award as the best vocal duo (Take THAT Sonny and Cher!). Pinky is winging in to accept: "It all began for me back in my hometown of Michigan City, Indiana. . .."

Ms. Winters is also performing a Jerome Kern concert at the L.A. Jazz Institute on Thursday May 22 with Bob Florence. Also on tap for that 4-day fest---hold on to your wigs and keys!---are Annie Ross (singing Gershwin), Mark Murphy with a Porter trib, Helen
Merrill (mit 30-piece ork) and a Berlin program, and Tierney Sutton, and Jack Sheldon and big band recreating Shelly Manne's My Fair Lady album.

Then on Saturday a.m. there is a panel discussion moderated by little meMeME with all of the above individuals (save Sheldon). The general theme will most likely NOT be "Are you glad that Red China was finally admitted to the U.N.?" or "Did you get any
interesting mail today?" But. rather (and inevitably) something along the lines of... whither jazz singing? I think I'll call it "One Person's Jazz Singer. . .." (can be another's Robert Goulet). Or maybe I'll name it "To scat or not to scat." I haven't decided yet whether I'll need to carry a whip in order to maintain control.

Then Pinky Winters goes to Japan (again) the following month for a rather extensive tour. Alas, I don't get to go. Drat!

And speaking of matters Japanese. . .in the Fall, Kurt Reichenbach's "The Night Was Blue" album will be reissued in Japan (where there still exists a somewhat musically UNdumbed down populace unlike some other nations I might mention), followed by the release, also there, of his "Live" album.

What with all these elipses and parens, I'm beginning to feel just like Cindy Adams, so I best close for now.

Yers truly,
Cuzzin Billy

Monday, March 24, 2008

For me to know. . .

You'll never guess who THIS SINGER is in a million, billion years.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

"The Gavin Report"

I've just become aware of a new web site devoted to that superb wordsmith James Gavin, whose writings on show business, the arts and popular culture have appeared in numerous publications over the past couple of decades. Its address is---natch---

The two-decades-length of Gavin's publishing career and, for the most part, his oft-recherche content might lead one to surmise that he could be a tad long-in-the-tooth. But, not so. When he penned Intimate Nights, his 1991 overview of (the book's subtitle) "The Golden Age of New York Cabaret", the Fordham University grad was but mere protoplasm in Buster Brown Shoes, and he was still an almost-mere pup when he published his definitive Chet Baker bio, Deep in a Dream, in 2002. Currently the NYC writer is at work on another (as is his wont) definitive bio, this time of Lena Horne, skedded to hit the book stalls in the not-too-distant future.

James' website appears to contain almost every last delicious scrap he's written that hasn't been collected between the covers of a book proper. As such, this constitutes a double-wide load of writing, including profiles, liner notes, and essays on any manner of subject matter. All of it. . .cherce!

In the final analysis, it's not to my advantage to redirect you to Gavin's web site. 'Cause once you fall the down the rabbit hole of this amazing site, you risk getting lost in that particular corner of cyber space, mayhaps never to return. But----once again that address--- is just way too wonderful not to share. . .as is MY wont.

Saturday, March 15, 2008


Here in a video* are three of the participants in last Monday night's L.A. benefit for singer-pianist Joyce Collins (Joyce Collins was there in spirit). She is seen here with two jazz greats singer, Bill Henderson and singer-pianist Dave McKay. From 1981.

The entire evening came off beautifully. I was really knocked out by Henderson and McKay, the latter who is a much under-rated singer in addition to his piano work. And Bill simply sounds---if at all possible---better than ever. YES. . .better than ever. At least half of the performers who were heard last Monday deserve Kennedy Center Honors. Or at least a postage stamp featuring their likeness. Also participating was Jack Sheldon who, at age 76, is playing trumpet at the peak of his powers and still singing wonderfully. And funneeeee! Just this side of OUT-OF-CONTROL. Singer Sue Raney, there too, sounds and LOOKS as great as ever.

Knowing what I know now, I'd have ponied up the fifty bucks to get in even if all the proceeds hadn't gone to Joyce Collins. Which they did! A night to remember.

* note: As if to prove once more that there's no such thing as a free lunch, due to a Google glitch, you might have to click the link as much as FOUR times before the clip will play. Worth the effort, though.

Friday, March 14, 2008

L.A. Jazz Institute Festival upcoming

While some of the greatest jazz to be heard in the Southern California area in recent memory has occurred at the various festivals of the L.A. Jazz Institute, still one might observe that the events have tended to be somewhat on the vocalist-deficient side. The next four-day affair, however, more than makes up for this. Here is a list of just the singers who will take part in the forthcoming fest which will happen in late May. And no... this is NOT an early April Fools joke.

* Jack Sheldon Big Band with special guest Tierney Sutton performing Shelly Manne's My Fair Lady

* Helen Merrill: The Rodgers and Hammerstein Songbook (featuring a rather neologistically ginormous orch. replete with strings)

* Mark Murphy Sings Cole Porter

* Pinky Winters (Bob Florence, piano): The Jerome Kern Songbook

* Annie Ross sings George Gershwin

* Dave Pell Octet with vocalist standing in for Lucy Ann Polk performing the classic Trend Burke-Van Heusen LP

And on Saturday morning (not TOO early) May 24th, there will be a panel discussion, something along the lines of "Whither Jazz Singing?" with Helen Merrill, Mark Murphy, Pinky Winters, Tierney Sutton and Annie Ross, moderated by Bill Reed.

And that is just for starters. Lots and lots of other amazing concerts and film showings at this event entitled: "The Stage Door Swings." For further details:

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

A Night for Joycie

Here's a rundown of the musicians and singers who performed Monday night at the L.A. Jazz Bakery benefit for pianist-singer Joyce Collins. (The stalwart rhythm section throughout conisisted of Roy McCurdy, drums and Jim Hughart, bass.) Each featured performer did two numbers

Singer-pianist Dave McKay; singer Marilyn Lovell Matz, widow of arranger Peter Matz; comedian Steve Landesberg; comic-singer-pianist Jack Riley; actor-singer Wilford Brimley; singer (and I might add "the legendary") Sue Raney; singer Effie Joy; singer-pianist Mike Melvoin; comedian Steve White; singer Bill Henderson!; singer-pianist-songwriter (and I might add "the great") Dave Frishberg; and. . .singer-trumpet man Jack Sheldon. Here's one Sheldon aside (of several) that brought down the house: "I'm dating a homeless woman now. That's great, 'cause after a date, I can just drop her off anywhere."

The night was produced by comedian-actor-etc. Howard Storm.

The evening lasted for almost three hours sans intermission, but I didn't feel my ass twitch even once (welllll, maybe once). High praise, indeed. More later!

Tuesday, March 04, 2008



Part Two of my interview with record producer Wayne Knight (part one)

“I think that when the golden age of Hollywood musicals began to disappear,” Knight says, “Johnny Mercer started to feel like he was a figure that was lost in time, that people were beginning to forget about him. Not realizing that the legacy that he left of his wonderful lyrics and sometimes music, had left its mark in the American songbook and therefore he would never be forgotten.”

Part of the way that Mercer worked out his frustration with being a self-perceived troglodyte reminded me of something that the great photographer Roy DeCarava once told me; that he would go out with his camera and “take” pictures without film in his camera. Knight explains:

"Johnny was as much a singer in his own heart and mind as he was a composer-lyricist. And one of the things, because he could afford it at this time to indulge in for his own pleasure, was to contract an arranger to conscript a band. For a studio session and go in and record a whole album that wasn‘t ever meant to be released.”

One of these “secret” albums, one of which was recorded in the spring of 1972 when Mercer was 63, was eventually released by Knight in 1998 as The Huckleberry Verser. The arranger was Skip Martin.


Wayne recalls how he came into possession of the recording:

"In the early eighties I received a call from Ray Avery: ‘Hey, I got a call from [Johnny’s widow] Ginger Mercer, she has some recordings she thinks we might be interested in. I went. It looks very interesting. Maybe you can go with me next time.'

So we went out there and came back and the next day I looked to see what it was that I had hauled out of there. And there were all of these 12 inch 78 radio acetates that had been done for Johnny by Harry Smith in New York, a cutting house that a lot of bandleaders used for reference recordings.” And there was the material Knight eventually turned into “Verser.“

“I don’t think he really cared to farm it out to a label. Strictly self-pleasure. I feel reasonably certain that the Mercer studio album that I released was’t the only one he did. You have to remember that he lived in three places during this period. As much as he hated to fly, he did finally get the chance to record commercially once again in England for Pye in ‘74. He died two years later on July 25, 1976.

I acquired this material maybe twenty-five years ago, but it was perhaps ten years before I realized just how great a recording The Huckleberry Verser (Knight’s title) was. I wasn’t even sure how well it would do commercially. I soon found out . It did very well. Johnny does not get full credit as a singer, especially a very good rhythmic singer. Really a jazz singer, for many times he surrounded himself with great jazz music and he started his career during the jazz age. Late 20s, early

“Verser” is not Knight‘s only Mercer record production. For the Collectors Choice label, for which he also produces, there is one, with a small jazz group. entitled Songsmith from Savannah.

Until the mid-1950s, when Mercer sold out his interest in the company, he had the perfect outlet for his activities as a singer. . .Capitol Records, which he’d co-founded in 1942 with two other partners, movie exec Buddy DeSylva, and record store owner Glenn Wallichs.

"He was into Capitol most definitely for his love of music and for the fun of discovering talent, and putting a lot of his friends on record. One of the first artists he signed for Capitol was Paul Whiteman who was one of the first persons to give him a break in the music business back in the early thirties.”

After Mercer sold his interest in Capitol in the mid-1950s, Knight says, “He really started getting the blues with the death knell of the Hollywood musical, but all of a sudden he was hooked up with Henry Mancini and won two Oscars back to back.”

Still that didn’t stave off the career blues forever. A plan to write a Broadway musical, says Knight, failed to come to pass because Mancini became to busy writing for the movies and TV. And a realized attempt at a musical with Andre Previn, Good Companions didn’t “fly” because Previn finally failed, according to Mercer, to devote his full attention to the project.

It’s unlikely that Knight would be working on the somewhat massive Mercer project that now occupies much of his time if the singer-songwriter had truly fallen through the cracks of time.

"The great irony is those artists who develop, like Mercer, a complex about being in the twilight years of their career and then they pass on and a resurgence occurs, which is definitely what’s happened with Johnny Mercer. Stage productions, documentaries, reissues from the Capitol records vault, and so on.

Knight’s newly reawakened enthusiam in Mercer came about as a result of reading two recent bios, Gene Lees’ and Philip Furia: “I thought, isn‘t it funny that I have all this material on Mercer, radio material primarily, that has not been shared with the world. I felt it would be really nice to do an overview of his career from the early thirties with Paul Whiteman right up until the early fifties. Mercer’s centenary is coming up next year. I would like to have it out by then. Now that I have all the material together I have to work out a concept.” Knight explains that this might take the form of one of several possible configurations but that it will consist of at least three or four discs. “If it is successful,” he adds, ‘I have much more material for a follow-up.”

Monday, March 03, 2008


Saturday, March 01, 2008

A Guinness RECORD of sorts?

I remark to my friend, music mini-mogul Wayne Knight,“In all likelihood you just might hold the record for the producer with the highest number of releases coupled with the lowest public profile.” He laughs, says that would look great on a business card, and then acknowledges that my observation just might be true.

Part of the reason for Knight's flying so far below radar is that he has seemingly never lifted so much as a finger to direct the spotlight toward himself. He can only recall one self-publicizing article that ever appeared in print, and that was in a local paper in Glendale, CA where he lives and works. Instead, his actions are mostly directed toward promotitng the music he loves and its purveyors, the majority of whom practice within the realm of---or else not far from---jazz.

Over the past three decades there have been literally hundreds of releases on the various labels Knights owns, including Giants of Jazz, Glendale, Sounds Great, etc. These consist of just about every name you might think of from The Golden Age of Jazz. Not bad for a man who got into the business mid-career after an extended period as an athletic coach in his native Canada. Recently I asked him to tell me a little about himself, and his also his great affection for singer-songwriter, Johnny Mercer.

"I was an athletic coach from the late 50s to the late 70s. I started my first company [in Canada] around 1973,My Way Records, which was a way of producing non-released Frank Sinatra material to help promote a book I was writing on him. This was the first time his V-Discs had been released. Also a very rare set of radio broadcasts. I got three issues out and that came to a halt when the Sinatra office got in touch with me and warned me to cease and desist. [One sometimes wonders, isn't it sufficient to just cease?].

My book consisted of chronologically logging his career from my readings, radio logs, interviews with people, various musicians who had worked with Sinatra. [Arranger] Heinie Beau let me use the diaries of his days with Tommy Dorsey.”

However, for reasons I didn't delve into, Knight's Sinatra book never came out.

"Although the word multi-tasking didn't exist at the time,”he says,“I was always a person who could do two or three things at one time. In the daytime I was coaching, at night I was playing drums in clubs, I wrote articles. and my mind was thinking about starting a record company, I finally fully retired from teaching and coaching in 1983. But there was an overlap between teaching and record production. In 1976 I came to Los Angeles to learn the record business and I eventually bought out Ray Avery’s partner in Legend Records.”

For those unfamiliar with Avery (September 28, 1920-November 17, 2002), in addition to his record label activity, Avery was a jazz photographer and record collector. He owned the popular Ray Avery's Rare Records in Glendale, California which became a mecca for jazz record collectors.

Prior to going into business with Avery, however, Knight had already got his feet wet the record world in 1976 with his Giants of Jazz label. “I had 42 releases out before I ever hooked up with Ray, then I merged those into his outfit when I bought into it. These were all basically reissue labels. Then in 1986 the two men dissolved the outfit and Knight started his current company.

"I think that every individual who is basically a reissue person wants to go into the studio and produce and that's what I eventually did with my own Star Line Productions in the 1980s. My first production was a [jazz pianist] Johnny Guarnieri thing, I did a bluegrass group called Mother Logo. Also projects with Dorothy Kirsten and Dennis Day. I also did hands-on reissue projects of their material with Bobby Troup and Mel Torme. And through producer Bill Wagner I met Page Cavanaugh and that’s how I came to produce him.

Eventually, though, you come to realise that of the two kinds of producing, reissue and studio, you have to have deep pockets for the latter. It takes a small company so much longer to get its money back.”

The subject I wanted to talk about with Knight, however, was not so much the nuts and bolts of the record business but rather his always-increasing fascination with songwriter-singer Johnny Mercer and, especially, the latter's “secret” life in the recording studio in the waning days of the latter's performing career.