Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Zanne Hall R.I.P.

















____________________

 
portrait by (and courtesy of) Don Bachardy

It was drums that got Youngstown, Ohio-born Zanne (pronounced "Zany") into the biz in the first place. Always an amateur singer---she received her Girl Scout merit badge in music by singing the entire soundtrack of A Star is Born a cappella!---in 1962 her new guitarist-husband consented to let Zanne go on the road with
him . . .as a singer! But only if she would play drums. She agreed, he bought her a set Friday night, presented them to her, and said: "You start Monday. " Up till then, she'd never so much as even held a pair of drumsticks in her life.

And so the couple hit the road as part of a trio that also included a pianist-synth player. Operating out of an Airstream trailer, as often as not they were on the road fifty weeks a year:

"Sometimes we opened for big acts in places like Elko and Vegas for people like Bobbie Gentry. But mostly," she laughed, "we were our own opening act."

In addition, the pair toured the country regularly doing clinics, classes and demonstrations; he for Gibson guitars, and she for Pearl drums.

Somewhere along the way, betwixt all the drumming and singing and road-running, Zanne even had time to give birth to a son, Trevor, who sometimes would sleep in her bass drum during down time in the day.

Ironically, the very thing that got Zanne into show business--"those damn drums"---was what she hated most about being an entertainer. "Playing cocktail drums, I always felt like I looked like some dumb Betty Crocker up there, whipping up a cake. Plus," she added, "there was a singing style in my head that I wanted to develop, but drums held me back. I felt locked into the beat. Like chewing gum and walking."

Drums or not, it didn't really matter: by the late-1970s it all began to come to an end as solo synth keyboard singer-players aided by the dreaded Wurlitzer synth drum Sideman began to displace multiple member groups ("Will the last lounge combo please turn out the lights...."). It's now nearly a lost world. Maybe not in Dubai, Hong Kong and Tokyo, etc. But certainly in the U.S.

Zanne and her husband divorced around this time, and by 1980 she found herself effectively out of the entertainment business. Between then and until recently, she functioned in a number of "civilian" occupations. Occasionally, though, she still jammed as a singer in the Orange County, CA area.

A few years ago, at a 4th of July party, Zanne gave me a CD recorded "live" on the road, circa '75, by the group in question, Merle Lemon and the Lemon-Aides. Arriving back home, I popped it in the player. The word "eclectic" hardly begins to describe the broad-ranging repertoire of this mostly "covers" band. Opening with the Four Freshmen, within the 16-song set there are stops along the stylistic way for polka ("In Heaven There is No Beer"), jazz, the Carpenters, Broadway ("I Don't Know How to Love Him"), acid rock, country, bluegrass and pop. All performed with an extraordinary degree of polish, especially considering the picaresque conditions under which their presentations were effected. Zanne turned out to be so much more than the "cocktail drummer" that she has always made herself out, to me, to be; instead, she was a full-bore drummer adept at playing, swinging (and singing at the same time) in almost any style imaginable.

To judge by the less-than-whelmed applause at the end of each number, most of the music purveyed by the Lemon-Aides was either too.hip for the house, the crowd was too tired from dancing, or else the Moose Lodge-type audience has heard it all before. For, in the sixties and seventies the woods were chockfull of such journeyman outfits. The Lemon-Aides trio, which was constantly on the road for nearly a decade-and-a-half, was part of the wave of such lounge acts that played the Holiday Inn (and other similar hotel chains) circuit. Like most of the others, they trafficked in everything from Emerson, Lake and Palmer to the Carpenters, to the Beatles, to Jackie and Roy, to the Four Freshmen, and, well, just all over the crowd-pleasing stylistic map. But it's doubtful that few other such musical missionaries were any more adept at putting on such a skillful vest pocket seminar of recent trends in American Popular Music. I once asked her if the group had ever thought about recording and releasing an album. It turns out that this never even once crossed their minds! Now THAT was show biz.

Yesterday my dear friend Zanne died after a long and extremely heroic battle with cancer. I don't think I ever met a hipper person in my life.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Alert the media! Jane in Japan!

It strikes me as auspicious and anomalous, not to mention amazing, that singer Jane Harvey, who has not performed "live" for (to put it mildly) a month of Sundays, has chosen to get back into action in ---hold on to your wigs and keys, boys and girls---Tokyo, Japan!
Jane will be flying there from L.A. in early November, along with her husband Bill King, for one performance only in celebration of SSJ Records' radically retooled reissue of her 1988 album The Other Side of Sondheim, now called simply Jane Harvey Sings Sondheim, which includes four previously unreleased tracks and Jane's new 2009 version of "Send in the Clowns."
This CD Launch Party, presented by SSJ, Inc with the cooperation of Tokyo TUC, will take place on November 11, 2009 at Tokyo TUC, Iwamoto-cho, Tokyo, where singer Pinky Winters recorded her 2007 SSJ release, World on a String. It is to hoped that SSJ just might happen to have recording apparati lying about so that Harvey's gig might similarly be captured for possible CD release. She will be accompanied by Hiromu Aoki (p) and Jambo Ono (b).
The evening will commence with an overview of Jane's career presented by Japanese jazz critic, Keizo Takada
Admission is 5,800 yen, which includes Chinese food and a drink. Doors open at 6:45 pm, show begins at 7:30. For more information, check out TUC's web site (in Japanese).
It would seem to me that the occasion would be well worth hopping on a jet and wending your way across the Pacific just for this occasion alone. Truly the jazz vocal event of the season!
Here is a review of a performance of Jane's that appeared in the New York Times in 1984. Inasmuch as there is a picture of Jane Harvey next to the definition of "ageless" in the dictionary, it would seem most likely that a.) her chops are still in excellent shape despite her somewhat protracted time away from the performing stage and b.) we can expect a similarly fine show as was experienced by critic John S. Wilson when he wrote about the singer in '84 in the Times.
Jane, you are, indeed, AMAZING!

Monday, October 05, 2009

And MORE! from SSJ in October




________________
Abridged liner notes for SSJ Records' October release of Corky Shayne's In the Mood for a Song?:

Getting in touch with the rightful owner of the master of this album, veteran music executive Mort Hillman, was easy enough. And after negotiations were completed for SSJ’s release of the 1956 LP, next came the task of securing some background on the making of the disc. But so far back in time did Hillman oversee the production of the recording---more than fifty years ago ---that he can only remember a few scant details about the artist, Corky Shayne.

Hillman can recall doing a record promo tour with Shayne, including appearances by Shayne on popular radio shows in the Chicago area such as those of popular dee-jays Howard Miller and Marty Faye. But that was just about it,

And were it not for the help of legendary Chicago singer-pianist Audrey Morris who did, in fact, recall Shayne from the golden era of the Fifties music scene in Chicago, I might never have ascertained the few facts about the singer that I finally did. In late 2008, the still professionally active Morris put me in touch with Shayne’s half-sister, Ava Schneider, who was able to supply me with a few facts about Shayne. From Schneider I learned that Corky (real name Corinne) was born in 1932 in Illinois and that she died in Indian Wells, California in 2005.

Schneider recalls that her sister didn’t remain in Chicago too much longer after her performing activities ceased, and that Shayne then moved to the Los Angeles area where she remained active in show business, but behind the scenes with a series of jobs as assistant to music industry executives. I did, however, find an L.A. Times reference to her performing at a 1965 charity event. Shayne’s half-sister also said that somewhere along the line, Corky became an avid golfer and eventually moved to Palm Springs, California area where she could actively pursue her growing interest in the sport. Clearly, if she was half as good a golfer as she was a singer, then Shayne must’ve had more than her share of holes in one.

A longer version of these notes can be found here.

1. IF I ONLY HAD A BRAIN

2. HE'S JUST MY BILL

3. MY LOVE IS A WANDERER

4. BACK IN YOUR OWN BACK YARD

5. NOW MORE THAN EVER

6. EV'RY TIME

7. AUTUMN IN NEW YORK

8. JUST SQUEEZE ME

9. I'M GLAD THERE IS YOU

10. TEARDROPS

11. I HEAR A RHAPSODY

12. TWO SLEEPY PEOPLE

Another new SSJ October release

It doesn’t take an advanced knowledge of the U.S. music scene in the latter half of the 20th Century to realize that an artist committed to performing the best in American Popular Song could not have come along at a more inopportune time. That is, at the very moment when the rules governing the music business were being radically rewritten by the coming of rock and roll, and by the emergence of the singer-songwriter. In its December 9, 1957 review of Smith’s first album, Time Magazine found itself calling attention to three other young singers also set on making their mark in the music business. Needless to say, also like Smith, none of the others, Trish Dwelley, Eileen Rodgers, and Carol Ventura were able to sustain mainstream visibility over the long haul.

But for the meantime, Smith had talent and beauty to spare and was able maintain a highly active career, especially in nightclubs and on TV shows such as the Hollywood Palace, and Ozzie and Harriet. Later on, she also was featured with another fine singer Frankie Randall in much of the national advertising for 1968 Chevrolet Motor Cars, appearing in TV commercials and print ads for the vehicles for several months.

In the early 1960s, Jennie would find safe harbor in the protectorate of U.S. TV star Steve Allen, who had also, earlier on, taken up the cause of such burgeoning young singers as Andy Williams, Steve Lawrence, and Eydie Gorme. Smith made her first guest appearance on Allen’s popular Sunday night primetime TV variety show in 1957 and would eventually join his five-times-a-week series in 1963. After the Allen Show went off the air the following year, Smith continued with her career for a time, appearing at such popular spots as New York’s Michael’s Pub and on TV’s Johnny Carson Show.

Much like Jo Stafford who packed it in around the mid-1960s, Smith also realized that she could not continue to buck popular music trends forever, and so she too, in the latter part of that decade, departed show business in favor of marriage and home life. Not yet thirty, she had had a remarkable run of 15 years as a professional. Quite a feat for one who was still so young and in control of her musical powers. For nearly thirty years she was also part of the business world. Retired now, she is still happily married and living in Southern California.

The new cover of this (originally) 1963 Canadian-American album, Nightly Yours on the Steve Allen Show, features a photo supplied to SSJ Records by Smith herself.

* This issue also contains a bonus track of one of the singer's single for Can-Am, "As I Love You."

Nightly Yours on the Steve Allen Show Canadian-American CALP 1010
1.THIS COULD BE THE START OF SOMETHING BIG 2.FLY ME TO THE MOON 3.I'LL GET BY 4.SPEAK LOW 5.AS LONG AS HE NEEDS ME 6.MY MAN 7.LET'S FACE THE MUSIC AND DANCE 8.THEY'VE GOT A LOT TO LEARN 9.MEAN TO ME 10.GRAVY WALTZ 11.SOMEONE TO WATCH OVER ME 12.NICE AND EASY *13. MORE THAN YOU KNOW
MORT GARSON (ARR)


Kurt at Vitello's



My good buddy Kurt Reichenbach will be making an auspicious debut at the increasingly popular intime boite, Upstairs at Vitello's Friday, October 16, 2009 , 8-11 p.m. 4349 Tujunga Avenue / Studio City, CA 91604.
Jim Cox-piano, Jeff D'Angelo-bass, Ralph Penland-drums, Special Guest Bill Reichenbach, bass trombone
Reservations are a must at this popular new jazz room! Phone - 818.769.0905. Online - www.VitellosRestaurant.com
$15 Cover plus 2 drink or $13 food minimum. Wine tasting from 7 to 8 p.m
Kurt Reichenbach IS:
“... a jazz singer out of the Mel Torme-Billy Stritch school of polished pop-jazz crooning...”
- Stephen Holden, The New York Times

“... a natural swinger who understands lyrics, is blessed with a smooth baritone voice, and has the musical sensitivity to find approaches to each song that make his versions of even the most frequently performed standards sound fresh...”
- Joe Lang, Jersey Jazz

“... a dazzling new singer... I have not been broadsided by a voice this way in many years... words fail to adequately describe the thrill of hearing someone with this much talent and class.”
- Rex Reed

“… one of the most dynamic vocal debuts of the past decade…”
- Christopher Loudon

Sunday, October 04, 2009

New from SSJ Records in October











__________________

Final version of notes for upcoming Jane Harvey October 21, 2009 issue on SSJ Records:

"This album is Atlantic's Record's 1988 The Other Side of Sondheim, by Jane Harvey, as it was originally envisioned. The recording took place in New York City with the Mike Renzi Trio, but was overdubbed by the Ray Ellis Orchestra in Los Angeles by the label. To release this authentic version has long been Jane's dream.

Jane Harvey was born Phyllis Taff in Jersey City, NJ. In the mid-1940s, she auditioned and got a job at Cafe Society, owned by Barney Josephson. Know as "Phyllis" or "Taffy" growing up, she changed her name to Jane Harvey in honor of Barney's favorite scotch, Harvey's.

Hearing Jane in the club in 1944, John Hammond was so impressed that he did not miss the chance to bring Benny Goodman to the spot. Jane immediately became Goodman's band singer and made several recordings with the outfit.

In 1945, she sang at the Blue Angel with the legendary Ellis Larkins at the piano. [Then] Latin bandleader Desi Arnaz heard her there in 1946 and asked her to go to the west coast to appear on the Bob Hope radio show. How could she refuse?

In Los Angeles, Jane appeared on the Hope show four times, sang at Ciro's longer than initially contracted, and signed with both RCA and 20th Century-Fox.

As time went on, her singing career took a back seat to marriage, motherhood and other interests.

Jane fell in love with the music of Stephen Sondheim and held a tribute to him in a jazz vein at Freddy's in NYC in 1986. Her concerts were so sensational that Sondheim himself showed up one night. She had never met him before, but after the show Sondheim was very compimentary and they talked and exchanged ideas. That night was the inspiration for this album."
__________________________

Aside from being available in its original small group format for the first time, two other things differentiate this version from its original release: the addition of four never released tracks AND a new 2009 recording by Jane of "Send In the Clowns" to replace the original one that she feels was sonically inferior. Her voice sounds unchanged on this, her first recording in more than two decades.

Although I had no participation in this particular SSJ Records release, nevertheless its issue resulted in my fortuitously having lunch with Jane Harvey twice over the past few weeks. I came away from both occasions with the sense that she is --- as they say ---one really one sharp cookie. It feels/seems to me as though she has never forgotten anything she ever once learned, experienced or knew.

It turns out that she and I are both major fans of James Gavin's recent bio of Lena Horne, Stormy Weather. So much so that she has been going around to stores requesting they display the book prominently. . .if it is not being done so already. In passing, I said to Jane over coffee, "It is not so much a biography as it is an adventure novel." That is to say, put the book in the hands of just about any halfway literate person and it becomes a real page turner. The trick, of course, is how to direct their maws to it in the first place.

For the record, Jane IS NOT retired. She is still very much interested in performing. Something quite wonderful in that regard might happen very soon. Stay tuned and when and if it comes to pass, you'll "hear" about it right here. 10/11/09 Update here.

Back to the Ballroom - Buddy Tate & Richie Kamuca "Live"





















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My liner notes for the forthcoming (November 2009) SSJ Records (Japan) release Back to the Ballroom : SSJ Records XQAM1611


The tapes for this recording were virtually forgotten for forty years until a chance meeting resulted in their finally being brought to light. And now, with the release of this remarkable CD, what went down musically that night at a North Hollywood, CA jazz club [Donte's] four decades ago can, for the first time, finally be heard.


This historic 1970 coming together of Bop’s Richie Kamuca and Swing Era veteran Buddy Tate (Count Basie) turns out to be an intergenerational jazz summit meeting of the first order. Definitely not laid-back, cerebral sounds typical of West Coast jazz, but, rather, scorching tenor playing more along the lines of Dexter Gordon and Wardell Gray’s 1947 “The Hunt.” Or Ellington‘s ‘56 “Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue.“ It’s the kind of playing that one might have heard in the late ‘40s and 1950s at one of the many U.S. ballrooms that specialized in hot, late night jam sessions. In other words, “cool school” jazz circling back to its raucous pre-bop beginnings. ---Bill Reed


Here's a taste. The other players on the date are: Mundell Lowe, either Monty Budwig (poss.)or Leroy Vinnegar (poss.), and Jake Hanna
For information regarding advance orders, contact Eastwind Import:

1. BROADWAY
2. MACK THE KNIFE
3. YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT LOVE IS
4. JUMPIN' AT THE WOODSIDE
5. MARIANNE
6. MY FUNNY VALENTINE
7. JUMPIN' WITH SYMPHONY SID

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Scribble, scribble, scribble eh, drchilledair?

My new collection Vera Hruba. . .WHO?: is now available for downloading at Scribd.com. Here are the table of contents and the introduction.


INTRODUCTION. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .3
Two Print Premieres
Chapter 1. The Good Girl: Lucille Bremer and the
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Golden Age of MGM. . . . . .5
Chapter 2. Joe Louis . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 28

Funny Folk
Chapter 3. Spike Jones: The Prince of Parody . . . . . . 83
Chapter 4. Lord Buckley: Lord of the Hepcats. . . . . . 97
Chapter 5. Sally Marr. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . .. .. 113

The Music Men
Chapter 6. Walter Shenson and the Beatles. . . . . . . . . 126
Chapter 7 Sam Phillips . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 132
Chapter 8. Tommy and Al . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 140
Chaper 9. Alan Livingston . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 159
Chapter 10. Joel Dorn . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .168
About the author . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .184

INTRODUCTION

Initially, "The Good Girl: Lucille Bremer and the Golden Age of MGM,” was intended to be one chapter in a volume about Hollywood movie moguls and their alleged (in some instances) mistresses that my good friend and constant traveling companion, David Ehrenstein and I were planning to write. Other chapters would have been devoted the likes of Darryl F. Zanuck, who made a veritable cottage industry of starlet-mistresses and, perhaps, William Randolph Hearst and Marion Davies. (Although that one has probably been anthologized, analyzed and, retrospected to death enough already!)

But the linchpin of the book would have been the rather well-known affair between Herbert J. Yates, head of Republic Pictures and Consolidated Film Laboratories, and former Czech figure skater, turned actress (of sorts) Vera Hruba Ralston). It is somewhat amusing and ironic that Orson Welles' Citizen Kane, which was supposed to be a film à clef of Davies and Hearst was much closer to the saga of Yates and Ralston. For while hardly anyone ever questioned the acting abilities of Davies, in Welles' masterpiece, Kane's opera singer, “Susan Alexander” was endlessly derided, much like Ralston, for the questionable talent that they brought, respectively, to the opera stage and the movie screen.

At the beginning of Yates and Ralston's affair, he was already married. Eventually, he divorced his first wife for Ralston, and the two lived happily ever after. . .or at least until his death in 1966. This, despite the fact the twenty-six mostly expensive and mostly flops the actress made for Yates played a major part in the eventual demise of Republic in 1958.

Why this whiplash inducing digression right out of the Introductory starting gate?, you might well ask. Simply because, whenever David and I, in verbal pitches to agents and editors, got to the part about Ralston, invariably the response was, “Vera Hruba. . . WHO?” Ah, well, as the great Lenny Bruce once remarked of something or someone in one or another of his routines, “Ah, how quickly we forget!” For it seems as if it was only yesterday that V.H.R. was burning up the silver screen in her last Republic potboiler, 1958's The Notorious Mr. Monks (“A hapless hitchhiker takes a ride with a drunk driver who takes him to his house. There he meets the driver's wife [Ralston] and murder ensues. “) In other words, for purposes of David's and my book, any reference to the actress, who died in 2003, proved to be, as they say, just a skosh too hip for the house.

As far as potential editors and publishers were concerned, that also seemed to be the case with most of the other biographical personae contained herein. At one time,not so long ago, the three most famous “people” in the world were considered to Mickey Mouse, Albert Einstein, and Joe Louis (also profiled herein). But, alas, when it came to the latter, even his name drew mostly black stares from book pub types. Again. . .“Ah, how quickly we forget.” And, as for 1940s recording superstar, Spike Jones---also contained herein---fuhgedaboutit!
Regarding the other profiles contained herein, the two never-really-famous famous comedy figures, Marr and Buckley, along with the profiled quartet of behind-the-scenes producers, they were never exactly household names in the first place. So, finally, the title of this book might well have been Too Hip for the House? Or some such. But I finally settled on Vera Hruba. . . WHO? It has a nice ring about it, doncha think?

attn: Sinatra fans w/ disposable income



_________________
Slightly before the Punic Wars, I was an editor for the program guide for an early form of subscription/pay television known as ON-TV . One of the productions we broadcast was the initial showing of Frank Sinatra's Concert for the Americas. For the cover of the guide we commissioned a portrait of Sinatra by artist Craig Nelson. But we had overlooked the fact that that particular cover had been contractually promised to, ulp, 80s Canadian soft-rocker Gino Vannelli, who also had a presentation on ON-TV that month. And so we had to scrap a Sinatra cover in favor of one devoted to His Hairyness. And as I recall, our contract with the artist specified that the Sinatra portrait had to be used as a cover or not at all. And so. . ..

Meanwhile I snatched up a whole bunch of offprints of the abandoned cover and, over the years, have given them to my Sinatra-fan friends. I think I am now down to one. Meanwhile, I just surfed the net and--lo and behold---the 18 x 24 oil original appears on Nelson's site. I can't tell whether it is still for sale or not, but for those of you who might be interested, here is the link to the site.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Schadenfreude for supper

Ramblin' opportunistic, neo-schizophasic, be-dreaded film crit Elvis Mitchell is apparently in deep dreck with the IRS and has just been slapped with a lien by them for approximately a half a million dollars.

Here's a comment I posted yesterday on the L.A. Weekly web site where I first came across the story:

Aeons ago, I worked with Evil Slime Letch (a close enough anagram) in a ticket booth at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. (Hey. . .a girl's gotta eat!) Even then, his on-the-make modus operandi made Anne Baxter in "All About Eve" seem positively altruistic by comparison. He wanted IT in the worst possible way. Now, it looks like he might have to give a whole bunch of moolah back; but at least he made a lot of bread in exchange for all his trouble. Even his heroine, Pauline Kael, probably didn't make THAT much!

I once asked him if his birth name was "Elvis." He changed the subject mighty quickly.

Kiss kiss.