Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Happy Birthday, Clora Bryant

"Hello, Central. . .:A Legendary Thoroughfare is Heading for a Comeback" was the title of a long article I wrote that was commissioned by Los Angeles magazine in 1995 on the occasion of the release of the film "Devil in a Blue Dress." Somehow, though, it fell the through the cracks during a change in ownership of the publication and has never been published. The new staffers couldn't even find the paperwork for the article, but took my word for it and paid me the rather handsome fee---I seem to recall that it was several thousand dollars--- that had been agreed upon. After the opening paragraph below, written by me, are the quotations in the article from today's birthday girl, jazz "trumpetiste," as she prefers to be called, Clora Bryant. I recycled some of this and other material from the magazine article into my 1998 book, "Hot from Harlem: Profiles in Classic African-American Entertainment."

Once upon a time there was a street in Los Angeles that had all the excitement of New York's Broadway. Chicago's South Side. and Rome's Via Veneto with a little of the Las Vegas strip thrown in for good measure. A jumping thoroughfare that ran from downtown all the way out to intersecting streets numbered in the low hundreds in the then sparsely-populated environs of Watts: a paradise lost of high life and low, hipsters and movie stars, black and white happily sharing the same space, freely celebrating the joy and passion of America's signal musical art form-jazz. The time was the 1940s. The place was Central Avenue. And to hear it from jazz trumpeter Clara Bryant:

"It was an ooo-wee situation. I'd been to New York, Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Florida, but I never had the feeling I got the minute I stepped off the Q street car onto Central for the first time. I get goosebumps just thinking about it."

"You could hardly get down Central on a Saturday night for all the big cars. and limos, and the chauffeurs with the hats and jodhpurs and black boots. I mean they were sharp, they were clean. And movie stars like Lana Turner and Rita Hayworth with their beads and diamonds. I could never get over the fact that 'I'm here. Me!' Clora Bryant from little old Denison Texas. Ooo-wee!'"

"I was heavy into be-bop. That was my generation's music. It was a challenge, something new and different, and I was gung-ho to find out what it was about. So when I got off at Central, my brother took me to the musician's union to get my card at the black local. I started walking up to this building and it was like somebody was walking me there. You see from the time I was little, my father indoctrinated me and my brothers about California about coming here. So that first day I knew I was where I wanted to be and where my dad had wanted me to be. All these emotions were just going through my body."

"The movie stars went to Central because it was mysterious, it was adventurous. But Central wasn't dangerous. I could walk up and down the avenue any time day or night. Guys would whistle at you, but they didn't follow it up with stuff like today. You had the pimps standing out on the sidewalk of course, with their fine women to service the white guys. But things wouldn't get nasty the way they do now."

"I was very young, and very aggressive. I had the nerve to get up on stage with AI Killian---a trumpeter who'd played with Basie and Dizzy. I forget now what song we were playing, but he played, then I played, and then the saxophone player laid out and then I started trying to challenge him with high notes. He was courteous enough to let me have the last note, though I know he could have gone three octaves higher."

"Places like the Mocambo, Ciro's, and all those places, they were losing a lot of business with the people coming down in there, coming south to see the shows over there. That hurt. The businesses. . .that's what happened. The businesses were hurting up in Hollywood, so it got to city hall. They couldn't have that, and they closed.. . .That's what helped close Central Avenue down is when they started insulting the whites when they came over."

"It became more than a street, you know. . .It was a spirit.. . .Central Avenue closed down, but I didn't feel any distress or sadness because, by the time it stopped going, we'd moved on over here, and Western Avenue became Central Avenue. Then Crenshaw became Central Avenue, Vine street was Central Avenue. . .Central Avenue was my heaven on earth."

Monday, May 29, 2006

Email to a friend, with reptile and fowl mp3 attachments


I once told you that I had recordings of Japanese vocal groups singing animal (bird, reptiles, etc) noise songs. You expressed interest in hearing such a thing. So in the immortal words of the late, great Art Baker, “You Asked For It.“

Here are the only two I own: "Ducky" * by Time Five, and Frogs * (not sure of exact title) by Duke Aces. Both of these groups have been going in Japan for more than three decades with minimal replacements. The first is more jazz-oriented, while Duke Aces probably began more in emulation of the Four Aces.

Can't you see a barbershop quartet doing "Ducky" and the audience just having to be carried away on stretchers en masse? Not to mention the Japanese, who just love this kind of stuff!

I have actually seen the group, Duke Aces (1 replacement in 35 years), perform the Frog song in person in Tokyo. They KILLED with it. Yes, they did! To reiterate, Japanese are krrrrazzzeee for this kind of stuff.
I’m not passing along so much for your musical enjoyment as for your edification. If you tied someone to a chair and made them listen to these two tracks for an hour, even the youngest and healthiest would perhaps experience a fatal seizure. Still, I think the tracks are fun. . .in limited dosage.

* mp3 links for a limited time only

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Disc o the Day

Regarding the current distressed state of U.S. vernacular music, as pluperfectly exemplified by the aural swill on American Idol, I would reiterate the immortal words of the great jazz drummer Max Roach: "Those who voted for defunding of music education in U.S. public schools are getting what they paid for." (I tend to quote that a lot.)

Inasmuch as some nations still consider music education to be of utmost importance, we bring you herein a typically sophisticated recording by a typical (well, almost) Japanese Top Ten vocal group, Rag Fair. I'm not making monumental claims about the greatness of this sexet, but alas, you're not likely to ever hear anything even remotely as musically advanced (or toe-tapping) on American Idol as this track (mp3 links for a limited time only) by the group. One would hazard that perhaps one in ten participants in that Fox Net dog and pony show can even read music. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Rag Fair, consists of six young vocalists, late teens and early twenties, who began recording together about five years ago. They are quite often joined at the top of the charts these days by another hot Nihonjin vocal group, Gospellers, and, lately, by a new cooperative known as Gosperats, consisting of two members of the Gospellers, and three others from the popular 80s-90s Japanese vocal quintet, Rats & Star. Yes, that really is the name of the group!

Rats & Star was, in turn, the outgrowth of another popular 70s and 80s singing outfit in Japan, The Shanels. The latter, if remembered at all in this country, is recalled because they performed in blackface. Even at a 1981 date at L.A.'s Whiskey a Go Go where, more than a trifle ironically, the vocal quartet was backed instrumentally by a quintet of some of the city's most prominent African-American jazz players: William Green, Jeff Clayton, Oscar Brashear, Raymond L. Brown and. . .the great Buddy Collette. But I guess if the blackface was alright with Buddy (he's not exactly starving for gigs, and is something of a final historical arbiter as to what qualifies as racist), then it should probably pass muster with the latter-day PC Police. Somewhat surprisingly, the new "supergroup" Gosperats, also corks up before going on stage.

Here's part of a recent TV interview with one of the members of Gosperats:

Q: "It's been a while since you guys put on blackface. How does it make you feel?"
A: "Strong. Like a light that's been turned on."
Q: "But back in the old days, you were the only guy who didn't put on make-up."
A: "Yeah. I was supposed to be the white guy."

Japanese are krrrrrazzzeeee!

As fustion as Gosperats music might seem, still it is a damn sight better than similar retro musical recreations on American Idol.

The Gosperats CD from which this video, "Hurricane," is culled has recently been at the very top of the Japanese sales charts. I'm not quite sure how racist, if at all, their blackface routine ultimately is---I'll leave that question to a PC Rabbi. After all, Japanese, too, are "people of color." But I do know for certain that this gesture is far less demeaing than most racial stereotyping rap --with its drugs and byaches and ho's and crack rhetoric. Yes! I am certain of that!

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Chilledair on the Air, pt. 4

Hazel Scott. (mp3 links for a limited time only)
That's all, folks!

Friday, May 26, 2006

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Chilledair on the Air, pt 3

Part 3 Valaida Snow (mp3 links for a limited time only) Part 4 on Saturday

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

American Idol

Fortunately, I have never been tempted or felt a need to actually watch AI. But one doesn't really have to do so in order to get the gist of what it's all about.

Shockingly, disturbingly, revoltingly, AND eschatologically, almost everything that happens on that TV phenom is reported on one, several, or all of the morning news mag shows. I tend to surf around those programs every a.m. just to see what the enemy is up to and the "Idol" info is all there, reported as. . .NEWS.

No surprise, the clips shown tend to emphasize the killer finales of the numbers. Whenever I hear this trademarked over-the-top "Idol" bleating, I can't help but be reminded of a reference made by jazzcrit Gary Giddins in a 2001 NYT article:

". . .an old style of melisma that had been described by the writer Jeannette Robinson Murphy in an 1899 issue of 'Popular Science Monthly.' Trying to instruct white singers in the art of 'genuine Negro melodies,' Murphy insisted it was necessary "that around every prominent note [the singer] place a variety of small notes, called `trimmings.' " She said the singer "must sing tones not found in our scale . . . careful to divide many of his monosyllabic words in two syllables."

Is it possible that the producers of AI have xeroxed the Murphy article and hand it out to all prospective contestants regardless of race, creed, or color?

To my ears, it all just sounds like so much Bert Lahr as the Cowardly Lion, i.e. Na na na na na na na na . . .ad nauseum.

Thousands of people are dying in Iraq, the polar icecaps are practically in our backyards, SUVs are polluting the atmosphere at an unprecedented rate, President LowNormal has broken a total of more than 700 laws with legal impunity, etc. etc. etc., and THIS is what takes precedence on the morning news? Pass me my cyanide float, please !

Dr Chilledair on the Air, pt. 2

Bert Williams (mp3 links for a limited time only). Stay tuned for part 3 tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Dr Chilledair on the Air, part 1

Not by popular demand: me on NPR 4/12/99 flakking for my book "Hot From Harlem." (link removed) Part II tomorrow.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Birthday Brush With Greatness

Today is the birthday of actress Barbara Parkins. Here is an entry from my diary in which she is a central "character."


Last night I had a terrifying experience with something called "ice pack" grass, brought into the house by Hog Farm guru Wavy Gravy (nee Hugh Romney) who warned any and all about the powerfulness of the stuff. It's just grass, I thought as I reached out to take the proffered joint. Famous last words. The next thing I knew, I was flat on my ass sobbing like a baby that I was going to die. The lovely and aforementioned Barbara Parkins happened to be visiting upstairs/downstairs-fashion from the "great house" one flight up. As sensible in real life as the character she'd limned in Valley of the Dolls, cradling my head in her lap, this angel of mercy began smoothing her palm across my forehead, repeating to me over and over again the standard bad trip mantra: "You're going to be alright. . .You're going to be alright." Under normal circumstances I probably wouldn't have made it; however, coming out of a bad acid trip (ice pack was grass soaked in LSD) and gazing up at the stunning Parkins worked wonders. Thanks, Barbara. And Happy Birthday!

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Dear Doctor Chilledair. . .

Q: Can you explain the essential difference between the U.S. and Japan?

A. Yes, Timmy, I think I can. In Japan, if the likes of Katrina had happened on a government official's "watch", he would have committed ritual sepuku. In this country, he runs for re-election.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Pulse 101

Pitch can be learned (more or less), taste acquired. But. . .swing? Can one learn that? My friend Clark Burroughs of the Hi-Lo's has a theory about what constitutes this rather elusive musical commodity. Rather too complicated to go into here. But probably the answer, according to Clark, is. . . No.

However! It apparently can be picked up osmotically if one is young and impressionable enough. Witness this blog's Monday Disc o' the Day. Its purveyor, Kurt Reichenbach, has chops and taste to burn. But where did he LEARN to swing like that?, which he decidedly does in great abundance even at whisper quiet levels of voice production on his first CD, just out, The Night Was Blue. I was also curious about how he had finally opted to become a graphic designer- singer hyphenate at his ever-so-slightly advanced stage of life. The seeming answer to question one came about rather naturally in the course of his response to question two in a phone conversation I had with him earlier today.

Reichenbach's father is one of two drummers on one of the most famous recordings of all time, 1962's Stan Getz and Charlie Byrd's Jazz Samba. Kurt was six at the time the recording was made, immediately prior to which the Reichenbach household in DC began filling up with Brazilian-grown recordings and songs which had otherwise almost never been heard before on the continent of North America. Most especially the compositions of Antonio Carlos Jobim.

"And so," Kurt Reichenbach told me, "I began walking around the house humming these songs. They really got under my skin. I was so young that I automatically even began to learn them in Portuguese in their entirety. Of course," he added, "I can recall almost none of it now. But at the time. . .. Eventually, it even got so that I was even walking around the schoolyard singing and humming Bossa Nova. Again, before practically anyone else in this country except for Getz and Charlie Byrd and his band---my dad was his regular drummer---had heard this music. Finally, one day," he laughs, "one of my teachers phoned my home to alert my parents that I was going around singing all these strange songs at school under my breath in some odd language." Perhaps they even thought Kurt might have had an imaginary friend.

And so, if you want to get really technical about it, the North American debut of "Desafinado" wasn't on the lp of Jazz Samba, but instead on the playground of some public grade school in the nation's capitol.

I think Kurt learned his lessons in swing well. It might have helped that not only is his father a world-class musician, but that his brother, Bill Reichenbach, Jr, who co-produced Kurt's CD, is one of the most famous trombonists in the world today. Couldn't have hurt to have grown up around that either.

The moral of the story which is, I suppose, there's an answer to every question. Even to that hoary, age-old standby, "What is swing?" To which the answer usually is, "If ya gotta ask. . .."

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Disc o' the Day

If I could sing reallll good, this is sorta the way I'd like to sound.

"Something in Your Smile" - Leslie Bricusse (mp3 links for a limited time only) Arrangement and piano, Mike Lang.

Here's KR's notes on the track from the CD The Night Was Blue: "The 'lost' song from 'Dr. Dolittle' (the one with Rex Harrison, NOT Eddie Murphy) and I think the prettiest of them all. Too bad it was cut after the roadshow arrangements. And it's NOT even on the DVD!"

Friday, May 12, 2006

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Excuses! Excuses!

Today is the birthday of former Woody Herman trumpet player, John Coppola. For a while now I've been looking for an excuse to upload a track from a very nice CD that came my way not long ago. And I guess Coppola's birthday is my pretext. Not that I should need any special reason for posting an mp3 as nice as the one that follows below.

The recording is singer Frances Lynne's Remember, with the JOHN COPPOLA (!) Orchestra, and it came my way as a result of doing liner note research for the release of Bill Black's Down in the Depths CD.
Lynne was the last "girl singer" with the Gene Krupa band; Black was her male opposite number.

When I set out to find her, I began by googling "Frances Lynne" + singer , and much to my surprise, I came across a reference to her very quickly. She was alive and well and living in the Bay Area of Northern California. I also made telephone contact with Lynne and her husband, Coppola, in similar record time. Mere minutes! Alas, I quickly realized she didn't have a lot to add to what I already knew about Black. "Nice guy," etc.

But the good news was that more than a half-century later, Lynne is still singing. And quite nicely, too, as is evidenced by the results of a CD she and Coppola had recorded in '99 and of which they eventually sent me a copy.

For a project that is so far beneath radar (unlike Lynne herself, I can find no mention of the recording on the net) this certainly is one classy affair. The piano, arrangements and production are by Mike Abene, and other players include the rather vaunted likes of Johnny Coles, Herbie Steward, and Coppola. The recordist for the first half of the album is the noted Phil Edwards. The twelve-song selection is equally impressive, including: 'I Get Along Without You Very Well," "Last Night When We Were Young," "Can I Forget You?," and a real Harry Warren - Ralph Blane rarity, "Spring Isn't Everything."

Granted Ms. Lynne might be a shade lacking in sheer vocal production---she was probably pushin' un certain age when she recorded this. She also sang with Dave Brubeck (he and wife Iola did the liner notes for the CD) before he was famous, so you do the math. But however much she might be missing in vocal power, she more than makes up for in interpretive skill, pitch, swing, taste. All the really important singing stuff!

I also spoke with John Coppola, and he patiently and courteously answered the question---probably for the ten-thousandth time--- that I posed to him regarding his possible relationship to filmmaker Frances Ford Coppola to the effect that: "I think we're distantly related." The Coppolas turned out to be a lively, intelligent couple.

As noted above, I can find no mention of this recording anywhere on the net. But I have a hunch that if you are interested in acquiring it, you just might be able to do so by writing to the address on the back of the CD: Lark Records, 2079 Fulton Street, San Francisco, CA 94117. Even though they won't know what the hell you're talking about, just tell 'em that Dr. Chilledair sent you.

Here's Frances Lynne's "Let's Face the Music and Dance" from Remember. (mp3 links for a limited time only)

Monday, May 08, 2006

In Memoriam Ten Years On

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Rouilard Strikes a St. Teresa of Avila Pose

On his Fablog today, my good friend and constant travelling companion David Ehrenstein has written a memorial to our friend Richard Rouilard (aka Bunny Mars), who died ten years ago today in 1996. Reading it caused me to mist up a bit, but I've been know to cry at the opening of an envelope. The last words of Rouilard to me, a couple of days before he passed, were: "Look after David. He needs a lot of special handling." He winked at me and smiled. It was intended more-or-less as a joke. But not entirely so.

Richard was without question the most unforgettable larger-than-life character I ever met. Generous, witty, thoughtful, outrageous, campy, brilliant, loving. . .all those good upside things and more, and no downside of which I'm aware. We all had to wear yachting hats on the boat when his ashes were scattered. And when that happened, a flock of sea gulls swooped down from on high and did a flyover of his cremated remains, then disappeared back into the sky as quickly as they had made their appearance. I swear!

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Pinky Winters Sings The Chairman

Last week I was at the home of singer Pinky Winters helping her sequence the Sinatra portion of her upcoming Japanese tour. Completing a tentative song selection, she next sat down at the piano and performed the entire set to time it. It worked out to exactly one hour, which is what it's supposed to be. A lot of fun. Then, a couple of days later, my Japanese friend Jay said:
"I hope she's doing what are probably the three Sinatra songs the Japanese like best."
"What are those?," I bit.
He named three FS songs---at the time just a hunch on his part--- one of which Sinatra himself is on the record for disliking. No, she had not chosen any of those. They were not even in the running. Fortunately, it did turn out that four of the songs she will be singing ARE on a Japanese top ten list of favorite Sinatra faves Jay had uncovered on the net the following day. Along with those three songs in question. My Japanese friend had guessed correctly. And a perfect example of the kind of thing that always finds me saying, "How did we ever live without the net?" Pre-www, that little piece of info woulda taken a trip downtown to the main library and an entire day to suss out. Of course, it does help if one is adept at reading Japanese katakana. Which I can now. . .sorta kinda.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Cat (and dog) blog Friday

I'm a sucker for this stuff.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Mary Ann McCall

Here is repeat from this blog of Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Mary Ann McCall

Today is the birthday of jazz singer Mary Ann McCall. She was born in 1919 and if still alive today (she died in '94) would be. . .oh to hell with it, you do the math. McCall is one of the most underestimated of the big band era singers. I don't think she recorded too much on her own after that: I have a Jubilee lp, Detour to the Moon and a Coral lp, Melancholy Baby, both circa late fiftes - early sixties. Also an album and a few odd singles for the Regent label in the fifties. All of the Regents were arranged by Ernie Wilkins. She also appears on the 1977 LP of the Woody Herman 40th Anniversary Carnegie Hall Concert, produced for records by my deeply-missed friend, the late Nat Shapiro. Herman's band, of course, is the one most closely associated with McCall.

I’m glad I had the good sense to check her out sometime during the early 80s when she was singing at a little bar in the airport Hilton, near LAX. I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw the little squib in a local handout announcing her appearance. "Oh," I thought, "they must be keeping it very low key to keep the crowds away." And so I arrived there extra early. That is how naive I was a mere two decades ago. You've probably already guessed the rest: with the exception of myself, there was practically no one else there. I had McCall and another equally great jazz artist, Nat Pierce, her accompanist, pretty much all to myself. And I went back again and again, weekend after weekend and got to know her pretty well. She would always sit with me between sets and schmooze. Even at this late grandmotherly stage in her career she was one of jazz singing's best kept secrets. I wish I had brought a tape recorder along with me to capture those extraordinary sets. She and Pierce had been musical cohorts for nearly four decades by that time. And it showed: No muss, no fuss, no killer lounge act pyrotechnics, just straight-ahead jazz singing and piano. She just sang the songs and went home!

5/06 addenda

In October 1999 I Interviewed singer Pinky Winters for the web Songbirds magazine. Here's what she had to say about Mary Ann McCall:

Winters: They used to have in Los Angeles, seven, eight, nine years ago, these luncheons in a hotel for, I think, singers. Anyway I went to a couple of them, and she [Mary Ann McCall] was my seat-mate at one of them. And I was just blown away. She didn’t look like a band chick. Fun to talk to.

Songbirds: She was married to saxophonist Al Cohn.

Winters: I had to ask her about that, because Al Cohn’s my hero.

Songbirds: I think she was married to several famous musicians or at least had long term affairs. Sort of like a jazz Alma Mahler.

[Note: Alma Mahler was an early twentieth century "scene-maker" who managed the extraordinary feat of serially marrying three noted and varied artist/intellectuals: author Franz Werfel, architect Walter Gropius, and composer Gustav Mahler.]

Winters: We try to do that if at all possible. [laughs] She was fun. I think I asked her about Al. Al had his eye problems. That was when they first got married.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Jose Can You See. . .

This (finally) just in! The U.S. Department of Education commissioned a Spanish language version of the The Star-Spangled Banner. . .in 1919! Speaking of which:

After going out of his way to ask recent Latino protesters to puh-leese sing the National Anthem in English and only in the mother tongue, it turns out that as a matter of course Boosh belted it out in Spanish on the barrio presidential campaign hustings. THIS---via Atrios' blog:

From Kevin Phillips' American Dynasty:
"When visiting cities like Chicago, Milwaukee or Philadelphia, in pivotal states, he [Boosh] would drop in at Hispanic festivals and parties, sometimes joining in singing "The Star-Spangled Banner" in Spanish, sometimes partying with a "Viva Bush" mariachi band flown in from Texas."

Is there no end to the man's hypocrisy and stoopidity? Of course, he's proved guilty of far worse than that, but I rest my case.

As of this morning, there are more than 23,000 positive comments on www.thankyoustephencolbert.org . But still no coverage in the NYT of Colbert's instantaneously legendary turn at last Saturday's WHCA dinner. The one time a year that, in the words of Jon Stewart, "the President and the press corps consummate their loveless marriage." This year, thanks to Colbert, it ended up in a bout of rough sex. All that was missing were the whips and geese.