Thursday, September 29, 2005

Cat Blog Friday

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Kuro's eyes

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Portraits of Jennie

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In early August I received an email from a Japanese music critic, Seiichi Goto, about jazz singer Jennie Smith:

Dear Mr. Bill Reed, How do you do. I was very much surprised and highly pleased to find Jennie Smith's information in your blog recently. Like you, I also have been searching to find out about how she is getting along. In addition to the access of internet, I have tried every possible means such as making an inquiry to the former far-east manager of Dot records. But, it was in vain. I am a strong fan of Jennie Smith here in Japan. I have four LPs of her own. I have been fascinated by her precise, clear, extended, and even charming voice. I am also a writer and in 2004, I introduced her as a wonderful vocalist to Japanese jazz fans. I feel she has been underrated. Thank you very much for your efforts to find her. By way of showing appreciation, I would like to send you my article about Jennie Smith if you let me know your address. Also, if it is OK, please send one more issue to issue to Jennie Smith. Anyway, I am very happy to know that she is living right in L.A. I am waiting for your reply. Thank you

Mister Goto's allusion to my "efforts to find" Jennie refer to the fact that since retirement sometime in the 1980s, she has maintained an exremely low profile, so much so that no amount of search engineering and Googling will yield an answer to the question "Whatever Happened to Jennie Smith?"

However, eventually I did track down Smith's whereabouts a year or so ago. I started out by writing every person in the United States bearing her real last name---Gakkkkk---and proceeded from there. Eventually I published the results of my search in this blog.

A couple of weeks later, I received the Japanese magazine, Jazz Critique (July 2004), had the article translated by my friend Jay and sent it to Jennie Smith.
I would also like to post the translation here.

note: Although I don’t find Joni James (see below) ALL that terrible---better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick---I still can’t grasp why a major Japanese jazz critic would hold her up as jazz vocal standard bearer.

By Seiichi Goto

For the first in this series I will discuss Jennie Smith. Currently, I am very much taken with her Dot album. In Jazz Critique Magazine, 78th issue (no longer available) Yasukuni Terashima wrote an introductory article about her. But he dealt only with the RCA and Columbia recordings, not the Dot album. Terashima wrote that the RCA lp finds Smith still in a developing phase of her artistry, but that the jacket itself is wonderful. By the time of her Columbia album, however, Terashima views her as remarkably matured as a singer. Therefore, he says, in order to understand her charms, one needs to listen to both albums. I agree with that.

I was motivated and started to look for her records after I read Terashima’s article. And then I encountered the Columbia lp. The first track is “Love Among the Young.” As soon as I heard it, I was hooked. (If the first lp I heard was the RCA, things might been different). I was fascinated with her clear voice, meticulous pitch, and her rapport with the orchestra. All of these combined to make her a first class singer with great ability that makes her if not greater at least equal to Doris Day or Eydie Gorme, the latter who has a similar tone of voice.

I have played the Dot lp for several professional female jazz vocalists and they all agree that it is a good album from which to learn. Yet, Jennie Smith is not even in the Jazz Critique book, "Introduction to Female Jazz Vocalists." One would wish to ask critics why, alas, this is so. Maybe the critics just want to keep her to themselves. I have listened to so many female vocalists over the years and have acquired my favorites. However, please don’t think me promiscuous, but since I became aware of Jennie I have switched my allegiance almost exclusively to her. Terashima uses Joni James as a standard by which to measure other singers. However, mine is now Jennie Smith. Later I bought her Canadian-American lp and became fascinated all over again. Then last year I obtained the Dot lp and realized that she had grown even further as a singer. And the jacket shows her also having matured into a beautiful woman.

It is safe to say that that Jennie Smith has become something of an obsession for me, awake and asleep. However, to keep her all to myself is just not right. And so I need to tell others how good she is.

She was born in West Virginia in 1938, so she is 66 this year. She was recognized by the god of vibes Lionel Hampton when she was singing with a local band at the age of 14. With her parents’ approval and backing she moved to New York. While she was working as a secretary for Look Magazine she passed an audition with arranger Ray Ellis and made her professional record debut. She also received rave reviews from jazz pianist, arranger and composer Steve Allen who described her as “the best interpreter of my songs.” She also appeared on the Allen show as a regular. After Dot, she is said have recorded for GNP. In reality, however, the Dot lp is the last and best album by her.

The well-known photographer Hiromichi Yamamoto, known for artistic pictures in many magazines, has said that Jennie is a [actress] Kyoko Fukada lookalike. The photo of Jennie, with a cute smile, on the Dot lp finds her looking very happy . The photo still appears so fresh. It is unbelievable to think that it was taken 40 years ago. In the 78th Jazz Critique, Mister Terashima remarks that “Not just Jennie, but the cat also appears to be looking at something in particular.” Indeed, this jacket captures the beautiful Jennie and the cat’s brilliant moment. It is a perfect example of a beautiful Sixties woman. It seems to me that Jennie and the cat are staring at eternity. [!]

The contents of the Dot album are all Steve Allen’s songs. All twelve express the emotion of a woman in love. However, this album is difficult to obtain. If you ever see it in a record shop…buy it! For those people who don’t have it, I wish them the best of luck and I hope the CD becomes available. BTW what is Jennie Smith doing now? I hope she is having a happy life.

Mister Goto, I am happy to inform you that she IS "having a happy lfe."

My web site

Sunday, September 25, 2005

The Moonlighting Mayor

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Who knew that one of the high profile Louisana heroes of Hurricane Katrina, Jefferson Parrish President and former mayor of Kenner, Louisiana, Aaron Brousard, is also a fine rhythm and blues singer?

When I saw him on Meet the Press two weeks ago angrily lamenting the failure of the national government to act in a timely manner in the face of Katrina, I knew his name rang a bell.

And sure enough, digging through my LP collection I came up with an ultra rare disc---circa the 1980s---of the then-mayor recording with a who's who contingent of New Orleans instrumentalists and singers, including: John Fred, Earl King, Chuck Carbo, Frankie Dent, Bobby Loveless, Oliver Morgan, Lee Dorsey, Ernie K-Doe, and the the Dixie Cups.

It was released on the fine fine superfine Dese Days Rivertown Records label. Since there's no catalogue number, one presumes that it was a one-off.

As with an inordinate number of the LPs in my semi-vast, and near-psychotically eclectic collection, I still have sense memory of buying this particular disc. . .about five years ago at an L.A. Goodwill store.

Several factors were involved in my picking it up from the Goodwill record gondola in the first place, the main one being the extreme indie "look" of the jacket.

I have never been able to ascertain the exact provenance of the disc, but inasmuch as side two is devoted to the soul stylings of the owner of a Louisiana car dealership, I'm guessing that it was some sort of promotional item. Of course, no record collector with half a brain would turn down a disc sporting such an array of "guest stars", and so I plunked down my handful of sheckels and went on my mary way.

Later that day attempting to research the disc on the net, I could not only not find a single reference to it, but only a handful of "hits" for Broussard. Since then, after Katrina, that figure has multiplied astronomically. As of today, 33, 200 and rising. . .even as the waters in Jefferson Parrish recede.

Then this a.m., watching Broussard on TV again (impressive and moving as ever) it dawned on me that a good way to not only help Gulf Coasters, but also to pay part of my astronomical monthly Kaiser Permanente (when is Michael Moore going to finish that expose on health care providers?) insurance premium might be to sell the LP on Ebay. . . with a starting bid of 9.99.

Broussard's tracks on the disc (side one only) are: Night Owl, Trickbag, Making Love to You, Domino, and Knock on Wood. And while that other Aaron has nothing to fear, let's just say that the Pres is a quite capable performer, enough so to make me wonder if he ever actually had (or ever considered) a professional career as a singer.

My web site

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Katrina! A smoking gun?

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Last night on TV I saw a graph representing the rise in the temperature of the world oceans over the last thirty years. Overlaid on top was another graph depicting the upsurge in the intensity of hurricanes worldwide over the same period. Guess what? There was an exact correlation!

Thus, if these stats are a result of global warming, and recent studies almost inarguably suggest that they are, then one can only come to one conclusion. . .if not solution. And that is that the blood of Louisiana hurricane victims AND 29,990 innocent Iraqi civilians is directly on the hands of gas-guzzling SUV and (especially) Hummer owners, of which the current pig-like governor of California---whose name I cannot even bring myself to utter---owns seven!

Increasingly, as I roam the California highways and byways, I note the drivers of Hummers (invariably on cell phones) staring straight ahead as they plow along their merry way. It is almost as it they are trying to avoid rude stares from drivers of the more fuel efficient vehicles around them? But inasmuch as they are all, most likely, conscienceless, that is doubtful.

I can recall a time, not so long ago, when the citizenry of the U.S. were all competing with one another to see who could drive the most fuel efficient vehicle. Now it is just the opposite! It's a (brave) new world.

I wonder if hurricane Katrina will turn out to be the wakeup call of global warning? Also. . .doubtful.

What will it take?

My web site

Friday, September 23, 2005

Cat Blog Friday

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Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Tommy, Bobbi, Mort, Toshie 'n Me

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A couple of years ago, I rang up retired dj Mort Fega in Florida for some information. A friend had given me his number in Florida. He had the contact I needed. It was for the widow of songwriter Tommy Wolf. I had never spoken with Fega before, but I would have recognized the voice anywhere. It was the radio sound of my 1960s youth in New York City!

It wouldn't be stretching the point to append "legendary" to Tommy Wolf's description, but I try as much as possible to avoid such hoary adjectival overkill. However, among Tommy Wolf's other co-creations with lyricist Fran Landesman are two bonafide somewhat late-blooming additions to the classics section of the Great American Songbook, "Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most," and "All the Sad Young Men." And there dozens of lesser known ones from the duo that are just as memorable: "You Smell So Good," "Listen Little Girl," "Season in the Sun," etc. many of which have been covered by the equally, uh, well, ummm, legendary performing duo of Jackie and Roy. And on the
Bill Black CD that I just produced for Japan, there is a Wolfsong (with lyrics by the elusive Wayne Arnold), "So It's Spring." But I digress . . ..

In addition to his platter spinning activities, in the 1970s Mort was also a record producer of some distinction. Even had his own label, Focus. In that capacity, along with a few straight-ahead jazz instrumental albums, he also produced exactly four classic jazz vocal albums. Two quite well known, Carmen McRae's Bittersweet and Bob Dorough's Just About Everything. And also, two others by a Hartford, CN singer Bobbi Rogers, which even though quite wonderful, give new meaning to the phrase well-kept secret.

When Fega's label went somewhat quickly defunct, he told me, he had no problem finding new homes for the first two LPs. But as for the Rogers discs, they had been out-of-print for more than twenty years when I first spoke with Fega. And almost as an afterthought before we rang off, he asked me:

"Do you think you might know someone who might be interested in licensing my two Bobbi Rogers CDs?"

"I just might. . .in Japan," I said. (Where else but. . .? )

As luck would have it, I was flying there in a few days to meet with some record labels. Just as fortunately, Fega had recently finished mastering both CDs and he express-mailed me copies. Two days later I was in Tokyo, and three days later I had set up the deal for the first of the two Rogers items to be issued by a very fine boutique label, Celeste Records, overseen by record producer, Toshie Miyaki. But that was a year-and-a-half ago, and I was seriously beginning to lose faith. But last night I received an email from Ms. Miyaki telling me that Tommy Wolf Can Really Hang You Up the Most will be issued in Japan on December 7th. This represents my fourth record producer credit in Japan this year (I'm "reissue producer" on the Rogers).

I will write more about this CD later. But, sadly, Mort did not live to see Rogers' truly great Wolf CD back in print. He died last year, but not before paying me my part of the advance, before he had even received his! (Dear Art Baker, we understand that there is an honest record guy somewhere in the wilds of retirement Florida. Del Boca Vista ? Could we please see him on You Asked For It?).

My web site

Monday, September 19, 2005

From the archives

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Still from the original silent version of Brokeback Mountain (1926)

Sunday, September 18, 2005

What a(nother) day!

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I have just returned from a Pacific Ocean-side party where Pinky Winters sang with only solo piano, and I have---no exaggeration---never heard her sound better. Her program included: I'm In Love Again, Old Devil Moon, Secret Love, and Emily.

Also performing was another "singer's singer" Lucy Ann Polk (she sang with Les Brown and Tommy Dorsey, and recorded with Brown, Dorsey, Dave Pell and Marty Paich). Lucy Ann has had to retire because of health problems. . .nothing all that serious. Perhaps this was the first time she has sung in public in a decade or more, and her performance was exiting and moving. She sounded fine and was accompanied by the terrific Dave Mackay, along with Dick Nash and company. Her songs included Imagination, Makin' Whoopee, Them There Eyes and But Beautiful.

Afterwards, I asked Lucy Ann if she understood that she is considered one of the Greats. She laughed, and said, "No. I guess they've been keeping it from me." Not just her singing, but her laughter and smile can light up a room.

Also present was another fine singer, but adamantly retired, Ruth Olay. If you asked her to sing---most know better than to do that--- she would probably snap at you: "I've done that already!" Instead, she was content to just lead the cheering section for her longtime showbiz comrades, Pinky and Lucy Ann. A few years back I had the pleasure of interviewing Ruth for a net jazz magazine that went defunct before Q&A With Ruth Olay could be published. Instead, it was eventually hosted by the site, (This here land is) Ehrensteinland, belonging to my good friend and constant traveling companion of the past three decades-plus-change.
In the circles in which I move, a mini-concert by Pinky Winters and Lucy Ann Polk counts as something of an historic occasion. I feel blessed, honored, not worthy, lucky, out of my depths, etc? Take your pick!

Friday, September 16, 2005

Cat Blog Fur-I-Day

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Tuesday, September 13, 2005

What a day!

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For a lover, such as myself, of the Great American Songbook and its singing jazz-inclined practitioners, yesterday was quite a day. In exactly one shipment of U.S. mail I received:

1.) The new Japanese CD reissue from The Frank Sinatra Society of Japan,
The Jackie Paris Sound

2.) The new Annie Ross CD, Let Me Sing

3.) A copy of a Japanese jazz magazine featuring an article about Wild and Wonderful West Virginia jazz singer (now retired) Jennie Smith

And last but not---if anything was ever not--- least. . .

4.) A rare tap dance 78 rpm tap dance instruction record sung by my all-time favorite, Beverly Kenney. Signed, yet! It was given to me by a close friend of Kenney, who died in 1960. Holding the unopened box containing the 78, my hands were shaking almost uncontrollably, both from the fear that the fragile disc might have cracked in transit from Florida or else that I would inflict similar damage when I opened it. Gakkk! But all is well, and maybe when I get it transferred I might put a portion of it up here as an mp3.

As for the new Annie Ross CD, it was cut in August. This is the way she sounds now, and according to the New York reviews of her current date at Danny's Skylight Room in NYC, she still looks beyond fabulous. When you hear the CD you will understand why trumpet player Warren Vache is working with her. Her voice, as some seem to be somewhat tiresomely pointing out, is "not what it once was" (but they don't care), and that might be true. But if so, Vache goes a long way on the recording--and presumably in person at Danny's---in offsetting this with all his brilliant fills, filigrees and obbligatos around Annie's singing. It is a brilliant combination. So many lovely things about the CD. The acappella version of Nobody's Heart, Lush Life...well, it is just terrific. And she is a great star! I love this CD!

A couple of weeks ago I received an email, prompted by my blog, from a Japanese jazz critic. He wrote:

Dear Mr. Bill Reed,

How do you do. I am a Japanese writer and also a physician. I was very much surprised and highly pleased to find Jennie Smith's information in your blog recently. Like you, I also have been searching to find out about how she is getting along. In addition to the access of internet, I have tried every possible means such as making an inquiry to the former far-east manager of Dot records. But, it was in vain. I am a strong fan of Jennie Smith here in Japan. I have four LPs of her own. I have been fascinated by her precise, clear, extended, and even charming voice. I am also a writer and in 2004, I introduced her as a wonderful vocalist to Japanese jazz fans. I feel she has been underrated. Thank you very much for your efforts to find her. By way of showing appreciation, I would like to send you my article about Jennie Smith if you let me know your address. Also, if it is OK, please send one more issue to issue to Jennie Smith. Anyway, I am very happy to know that she is living right in L.A. I am waiting for your reply. Thank you

Yesterday I received the mags, had the very sweet article translated and sent it off to Ms. Smith.. . .even in the midst of all the other excitement (see above). I trust she will enjoy it.

As for the 1958
Jackie Paris Sound, long out-of-print but now restored to circulation, it is simply one of the ---pardon the adjectival overkill---greatest jazz vocal albums I have ever heard. Yesterday, I was happy to be able to throw my old taped copy away and finally hear it in all its digitally remastered glory from the SSJ of Japan. Kind of pricey I guess, but worth every penny. And what an honor to have two records that I produced, by singers Pinky Winters and Bill Black, issued in the same first wave of five SSJ releases as the Jackie Paris.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Tukufu who?

I watched a segment of the PBS History Detectives tonight. Especially engrossing were the peregrinations gone through by one exotically-monikered HD regular, Tukufu Zuberi (If I---Bill Reed---had a name like that, I could die happy), to unravel the provenance of some signed WW II Japanese internment camp watercolors. I must admit that I was held captive---so to speak---by TZ's back-and-forth flights across the U.S., racking up gazillions of frequent flyer miles in his search to uncover the "mystery" of the delicate renderings. And I'll confess that my jaw dropped to the floor on more than one occasion as this road show Miss Marple peeled away subsequent layers of the picaresque tale.

The segment concludes with our inveterate sleuth, mit camera crew in tow, knocking on the door of a certain George Tamura in Washington state and revealing to him the portfolio of ten or so watercolors that he had painted more than sixty years ago while confined as a fifteen-year-old in the Tule Lake, CA camp and had not seen since then. Kinda brought a tear to the old eye.

Ultimately, though, I feel a tad had, because after HD was over I was able to immediately trot over to my pc and, with a mere two strokes of the keyboard on Google, i.e. "George T. Tamura" + "internment," solve the self-same so-called mystery.

It seems that Tamura-san had taken his reparations from the 1990 internment U.S. government settlement and self-published a book, Reflections, on his experiences as a detainee. Existence of which has been noted on the net for years in advance of the recent HD segment. (I wonder if this is the same GTT who wrote Smoke Control for High Rise Building Fires AND co-wrote Pressure Drop Characteristics of Typical Airshafts in High-Rise Buildings? Tukufu?. . . Anyone?)

To paraphrase the immortal words of the equally immortal Thelma Ritter in All About Eve, "What a story! Everything but the hound dogs yapping at his [Tukufu's] rear end." Maybe they should call the program "History Drama Queens" instead.

Makes me think of that old joke: Q. "What's a WASP's idea of a good time?" A. "Getting over a head cold." I guess I'm just no fun!

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Anatomy of a Bonus Track

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I'm always suspicious when a bonus track pops up on an album a few years after its original release; my first thought is always, “Well, why wasn’t it on there in the first place?” I feel like I’m being “had,“ and that the new track has just been added in an attempt to make me buy the album all over again. But in the case of the terrific cut, “The Lamp is Low,” included on the Japanese Fall 2005 RE-release of Rain Sometimes, by Pinky Winters and Richard Rodney Bennett that I produced in 2001, nothing could be further from the truth. Here’s the “real” story behind the addition, and while we’re at it, some background on the making of the album might also be in order.

My original plan in 2001 was to record the album, hop on a plane to Japan and sell the master to the highest bidder. Winters was and IS quite well known there, far more so than in the States. In between the recording of the CD and my scheduled flight, however, 9/11 happened and by the time I was eventually able to get to Japan, most of my label meetings had been cancelled, never again to be rescheduled. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Through no fault of Bennett, Winters or myself, at least the first day of recording of the CD was fairly much a nightmare. And if it had not been for Bennett, the project might never have been completed. Throughout the first three hours of the initial day, the breathtakingly inept staff of the studio where the CD was recorded kept topping themselves in the inefficiency department.

Finally, I went up front to the office of the owner and told him in no uncertain terms that he had better shape up or WE would ship out. When the two of us reached the studio, Bennett, in high apoplexy, told him off in no uncertain terms. And within one minute---no exaggeration---the problem that had held us up for hours was solved by the clueless, but not entirely technically inept proprietor. Later that day, he asked me:

"What's that guy's name and just who the hell does he think he is talking to me that way?"

"He is SIR Richard Rodney Bennett."

"Sir?!?!? How did he get to be a sir?"

"I suppose," I said, "by doing his job and having a sense of responsibility toward the rights and feelings of others." ("Unlike you" was my implied undertone.)

But the gumby could only respond with a distracted, "Doh."

All of this came as a great shock to me inasmuch as the studio was one of the highest-priced in L.A., with a long, impressive history and a top of the line Boesendorfer piano. I had an expensive, multiple gold disc-winning engineer at the controls, and had booked more than adequate time---18 hours---in which to record the CD. Fortunately, the second and third days proceeded without serious incident. Little did I realize it at the time, but the "fun" was just beginning.

Eventually, I was able to lease the master of the recording to a major Japanese record label, but within a short time they reneged on the deal to release the CD and I had to "eat" my fairly substantial advance in order to hold on to my rights in that country. The label’s failure to honor the contract had nothing to do with the quality of the album. I was later to learn that after the recent death of the label’s president, a radical shift away from releasing American recordings to, instead, strictly Japanese recordings was the new order of the day for those who had taken over in the wake of the death of the label prexy. After that, Winters and Bennett graciously agreed to let me issue the CD myself in the U.S.; thus was born my Cellar Door Records.

I'm still significantly in the hole even after my recent licensing of the CD to Japan. So I'm glad that I held on to my rights there. There were other problems as well attendant to the making of the recording---"What! And give up show biz?"---but they are perhaps saved for some long, cold winter’s night around the campfire.

And NOW to the business at hand: The reason that "The Lamp is Low" didn’t appear on the original U.S. issue is as follows:

"Lamp" on my protection master in the U.S. turned out to be flawed, but the Japanese were taking so long in sending me back the original master, that I just went ahead and issued the CD in the U.S. on Cellar Door under the title Rain Sometimes, sans "Lamp" (The Lamp is Low was to have been the CD’s original title). Eventually, I got my original (perfect) master back, thus enabling me to reissue the CD with "Lamp" as a bonus track on August 24, 2005, somewhat ironically

. . . in Japan.

One of the things I began to suspect after producing "Rain," is that there is, perhaps, a sturm und drang saga of near-epic proportions behind nearly every CD set out in the bins at your local record emporium. Finally, however, despite some passing moments of unpleasantness in its making, Rain Sometimes is, I think, a wonderful album.

Now it is being released in the country, Japan, for which it was intended. . . along with another recording for which I was the Release Producer, Down in the Depths by
Bill Black.

Rain Sometimes and
Down in the Depths are available through Cellar Door Records at Per usual for Japanese imports, the prices are a bit steep, but nowhere near the vertigo-inducing tariff that other sellers are charging at and other cyber commerce sites.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Cat Blog Friday

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The Littlest Hanshin Tiger