Tuesday, February 26, 2013

This one's for Will

Thanks for the Holiday

Letterman Misses the Boat

Whomever prepped David Letterman for his recent seg w/ actress Helen Hunt deserves to be given his/her walking papers, or at least demoted, slapped on the wrist or. . .? Dave making the film  that the actress was promoting, The Sessions, seem like some kind of sex romp---which it patently ISN'T---with non-stop references to her genital area, was way beyond the pale. Clearly Letterman had not viewed the film in advance.

Every film with nudity in it isn't necessarily a Russ Meyer sexploitation film. One could sense that Hunt was made extremely uncomfortable by Letterman's ceaseless nudge-nudge-wink-winkery, but couldn't Dave detect her discomfort as well?

In Sweden, The Sessions, is rated "G" fercrisakes. And if I had to categorically label the movie, it would be as a "comedy," and NOT a SEX comedy. But a droll, sweet, low key overview of "the way we live now" kind of comedy.

Dave's misrepresentation of this hightly intelligent film must've taken its negative toll at box office.Without at least some sort of make-good from from Letterman, Hunt will clearly never appear on Late Night again. Not that World Wide Pants probably even cares. She ain't exactly Lady Gaga.

It wasn't just the peepee caca of it all, 'twas the fact that Letterman missed out on alerting his viewers to a terrific film. Instead The Sessions came off sounding like something that might have been shown at one of those old NYC 8th Avenue grind houses years ago. I met Hunt at a press junket for the film a couple of months back. I told her I thought the film was basically a comedy. She responded, "Oh, thank god, someone finally gets it!"

(I also posted this recently on a Letterman Yahoo fan site. I luvvvvvvvvv Dave, but this reminded me of the old pre-bypass, pre-Dad Dave.)

Friday, February 22, 2013

Van Heusen Centenary / Babcock's Birthday

2013 marks the centenary of Jimmy Van Heusen (January 26, 1913 – February 6, 1990), whose songwriting genius produced scores of timeless classics for the Great American Popular and Jazz Songbooks. His longtime musical partnership with Frank Sinatra resulted in two Academy Awards and the signature Sinatra hits "Come Fly With Me", "My Kind of Town", and "Call Me Irresponsible." In all, Frank Sinatra recorded more than 70 songs by Jimmy Van Heusen (nĂ© Chester Babcock), more than by any other composer. Along with lyricist Johnny Burke, he also wrote the scores for most of the Bob Hope - Bing Crosby "Road" pictures. Six out of the seven to be exact.

And while singer Anita Gravine has recorded a far smaller number of Van Heusen songs  than Sinatra, still it's obvious she's a great admirer of the composer--- eleven renditions of his tunes over the course of two of her albums.

Anita Gravine. The world's greatest unheralded jazz singer? A merely great jazz vocalist? One hardly knows where to begin when writing about her. Part of the problem might arise from the fact she has recorded only---talk about a slim body of work!--- four (!) albums in the last 28 years. And while she still continues to perform and teach regularly in such foreign locales such as Italy and Germany (in the U.S.?. . .heaven forfend), her quartet of releases was accomplished between 1983 and 1999. If such things still exist, someone should give this woman a long-term record contract.

One of her four discs, Welcome to My Dream, is currently out-of-print. Let's hope it won't stay that way for much longer. It's a salute to the "Road" pics, and features a dazzling assemblage of players including, Gary Burton, George Mraz, and her brother, trombonist Mickey Gravine. It was also arranged, and co-produced (along with Gravine) by veteran jazz musician Mike Abene. Here's a sampling.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

The morning after the morning after....

From just about every angle, the Songbook Singers' Valentine's Day George and Ira Gershwin tribute  (I had a hand in writing, narrating, and producing it) at L.A.'s Kirk Douglas Theatre/Jazz Bakery hit the bullseye. Nice, big enthusiastic crowd, no technical glitches, wonderful musical peformances by vocalists Sue Raney, Michael Dees, Kurt Reichenbach and Pinky Winters (and musical director-pianist Jim Cox's group w/ Putter Smith, Ralph Penland, Bill Reichenbach, Jr), along with a guest shot by singer Jane Harvey. Even I didn't screw up in my first appearance ever on a proscenium stage.
A newspaper review (hopefully positive) of the event might prove helpful in the Sonbook Singers' future plans to move full speed ahead in attempting to get not only this programme restaged elsewhere, but additional ones (Arlen +, Legrand & the Bergmans, Kern and Company, Berlin, et al) in the future. But there is hardly anyone remaining still practicing the art of jazz crit on a high profile basis in L.A. Yes. . .there's Don Heckman, but his forum is a widely read blog (not print media), and and there is only so much reviewing he can do. Spread kind of thin. It's doubful, alas, that a review of our evening will appear anywhere in the local commercial press.

New York, of course, is another matter entirely. Names that leap to mind who are still regularly engaged in this journalistic practice include Rex Reed, James Gavin, Will Friedwald, Gary Giddins, Stephen Holden, Terry Teachout, Marc Meyers and, perhaps, others that I'm unintentionally overlooking. A whole other ballgame back there.

There was one review of sorts, however; one that I wish was more widely circulated. It's a very nice writeup on the Yahoo group, Songbirds. It captures, I feel, what the evening was all about and how the audience responded to it. It was posted by long time contributor to the group, Irving Greines. (Never met him prior to Thursday evening's show.) With his kind permission to reprint, here it is:

"I feel very lucky.

I just attended the Valentine's Gershwin concert at the Kirk Douglas Theater in Culver City.

The show, produced by Bill Reed and Kurt Reichenbach, was perfect. Bill was the narrator, introducing the music by relating the back stories related the various songs that were sung by Sue Raney, Pinky Winters, Kurt Reichenbach and Michael Dees, with a guest appearance by Jane Harvey. As narrator, Bill kept the show flowing. His intros were spare and to the point. The show flowed.

The show was wonderful. The singers are pros. The were in top form and all loved to be a part of the show -- you could feel the vibes coming from each.

Most importantly, the performances were honest, mature, understated, sophisticated -- with enormous respect for the lyrics. In my view, a song is perfectly performed when a singer compels the listener to listen to the lyrics -- when the song is about the song, not about the singer. That happened tonight. There were no vocal pyrotechnics; there was no over-the-top stuff. No tricks. Just honesty from each performer giving devoted performance.

Any one who knows me knows I rarely use the word "perfect." Tonight, I use the word. The show was perfect in every respect. I was lucky to have been there.

In talking with the participants after the show, I encouraged them to do more of what Bill described as the beginning of a songbook series.

I thank all for a great night of music."


I feel lucky to've been there, too. --- Bill Reed

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Carole Simpson R.I.P.

Died Jan. 25, Reno, NV Here's a blog I posted about Carole Simpson in 2008.

It was an honor to work with Carole on the reissue of several of her albums for SSJ Records, Japan