Friday, October 27, 2006

Positively Eighth Street has just uploaded an expanded section of my memoir Early Plastic to its site. This is the chapter dealing with the (close to) many years that I worked at the fabled Greenwich Village literary establishment, The Eighth Street Bookshop

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Free Music!

Earlier today I contributed a post (see below) to a Yahoo list serve to American Popular Song and its practitioners. What I couldn't post there was an example of the singing of the subject in question, Dick Noel. Here, however, is the title track from his album with pianist Larry Novak.

"Almost at once -- a few weeks ago -- with my first exposure to Chicago vocalist Dick Noel, he immediately zoomed to the top of the list of my favorite singers. Just on the basis of his one 1978 LP, "A Time For Love," with Chicago pianist Larry Novak. Comparisons with Irene Kral and Alan Broadbent's "Where Is Love" are inescapable. In fact, I would rank it on a par with that Gold Standard duo album. Mel Torme penned the liner notes for the album and pulled out all thes tops in his unstinting praise for Noel. For the most part, Dick earned his living as one of the most successful jingle singers in the country. "You deserve a break today," etc.

Yesterday, I had the privilege and honor of talking on the phone for the first time with Noel. For those hearty few of you out there who might also be as taken with Dick Noel as I am, I'm happy to be able to report that although Noel is long retired from professional singing, he is in great health nearing 80, and still toys around with recording in a home studio. He even has a few albums' worth of material that might see commercial release within the foreseeable future."

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

I Couldn't Have Put It Better Myself

Liner notes from “Back to 2 Track”: The Best of John Wood

One thing I like to talk about is how things in the recording business have changed. For instance, in the old days of the three-hour session, where three hours rendered you four finished songs, they'd hand the studio owner a check for the time and walk out with their next four sides for release. These days, with mega-multitracking, people find it very hard to say they're finished with what they're doing.

I think this multi-track process makes monsters out of people, because there's no totality. There's no beginning, no middle and no end---just this amorphous thing that goes on and on, and no one can really recognize what it is that they're part of. In looking back, there was a simplicity and a way to comprehend things for everyone, both for the people who rented the studio and for the studio owners. They came and they lived or they died for those three or four hours that they booked the studio. And then they walked away. And the guys who played knew that it was a complete entity. Today, they've all lost control.

I believe that from the beginning of the human race, music has played an important part in the quality of life. So if American music began to lose its humanity, as it did starting in the late '60s, then essentially there's been no music in America for 25 years.

Sure, there'll always be a live-music niche, and there's a perception and desire to get back to basics, but I think we have a huge distance to go. In the early days, artists released five or six albums a year. Per year! That is the nature of music and of the days when music drove the music business.

--- John (Drum Machines Have No Soul) Wood

Monday, October 23, 2006

One Shot Wonders - preview

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On December 10 in Japan I will be giving a talk before the Tokyo Vocal Jazz Appreciation Society on the subject of singers who recorded only one album---never to do so again---in the '50s and early '60s. And while most of the artists in question were simply swept out of the business by the tsunami of rock and roll, in the case of Cora Lee Day, the circumstances surrounding her singing demise were a bit anomalous. To wit:

"In 1960 actress Cora Lee Day was at a party in New York City when someone asked her to do her imitation of Billie Holiday. She did, and by chance Roulette Records owner Morris Levy was there, liked what he heard---he believed this to be her natural singing voice---and signed her to a record contract. Cora had no choice, then, but to keep singing in this disingenuous style. Roulette spent a great deal of money on a night club act and an LP for her. The recording, entitled "My Crying Hour," contained some of the best jazz players around, such as Jimmy Jones, Harry Edison, Freddie Green and Illinois Jacquet. Ella Fitzgerald and Johnny Hartman were the only other vocalists to release studio recordings with Jacquet’s backing. The album was not a success. And though her live act premiered at the prestigious Mister Kelley’s club in Chicago, it too was a failure. Cora Lee Day never sang in public again. She did, however, become a highly respected actress, eventually starring in the 1991 award-winning film, "Daughters of the Dust." She died in 2000 at the age of 78."

Then---in Tokyo---I will play this track by Cora. (mp3 files for a limited time only)

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Bill Black update

A year-and-a-half ago I began an association as a producer with a new Japanese label, SSJ Records. Since then I've worked with them in various capacities on more than a dozen releases. But of all of them, none has more meaning to me than my initial effort for SSJ, the release of an unissued recording by singer Bill Black.

From time to time, since then, I've continued to receive bits and pieces of info regarding Bill's beclouded personal history. The latest correspondence---just in---is of a geneological nature from a party who knew Bill while the latter still lived in his hometown of Granite City, Illinois before heading off to the big city and swift acceptance as a big band singer with Gene Krupa. To wit:

"I checked with some of my siblings and a brother went to high school with Neal Black and a sister with Bill-also my sister was working as a volunteer at the hospital when Bill"s mother died in 1949.Someone is checking the high school paper to see if it has anything on him. He is remembered as being a very happy guy and folks are dismayed about his tragic end and burial in Potters Field.

I checked the 1930 census and found Bill's family in Granite City at 904 25th St. His father was Archie Black, age 33, born in Kansas, Chief Engineer at Midland Cement. His mother was Volma, age 28, born in Illinois. They were married 11 years at that time and had 2 children, Maurice Neal,age 5 and William Gerald, age 2 and 8/12s (August 7). My guess is that Bill's father was soon laid off-Granite City was severely affected by the "Great Depression" and he probably opened the small grocery that I remember, to try to "keep his head above water"Volma died in 1949 at age 47 (possibly cancer). Archie was born in 1897 and died, per the Social Security death index, December 1972 at age 75. At this time I have nothing about Neal except that he died at a young age in an auto accident. Folks seem to believe that Neal was married and divorced and may have had a child (those who remember are in their 80's so things may not be too clear)."


Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Joining Jolie in Show Biz Heaven

There's no question but that singer Norman Brooks, who just died and was still something of a star north of the border, sounded EXACTLY like AL Jolson. His obit prompted me just now to drag out my old singles of his on the superfine Zodiac ("The Sign of the Stars") label ("501 Madison Ave. NYC"). Here's a coupla couplets from his "3-D Sweetie" (Stillman - Allen).

"Theda Bara wouldn't see no one but Rudolph Valentino. Please forgive me. . .double neg-a-tive."

"Each time she passes, get the special glasses. You gotta pay attention to each heavenly dimension"

Sure don't write 'em like that anymore.

As for the "double neg-a-tive" line, I was twelve when I first heard that song; at which time I didn't even know what a SINGLE negative was. What Brooks was actually singing struck me---walking down the street minding my own business one day---like a scrambled epiphany out of the blue after I'd not heard the recording for a couple of decades. Strange how potent cheap music can be!

Little known fun fact: Brooks was original choice for the role that Johnnie Ray eventually played in No Biz Like Show Biz.

To hear Brooks sing a French language version of Jolson's Toot Toot Tootsie, go here.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Tower Records est morte

I've long obtained to the theory that in the instance of giant stores like Tower, their (non-kid music) deep catalogue exists mostly as a context via which to validate the contemporary swill that accounts for the overwhelming majority of their sales, i.e stuff like Puke, Tavist-D, Urban Sprawl, the Triffids, the Tampons, Martha Proud and the Birth of God, etc. That's the way this garbage has always been sold to the public, as shilled by noxious so-called "reviewers" in Rolling Stone, etc. in the part they play in (pace Richard Meltzer) the "record industry food chain." In other words, as the alleged continuum of the ages-old stream of real music.

Americans are far too anhedonic just to enjoy music qua music and let it go at that, and so it's got to have heft, meaning, significance etc. despite the fact that most of it upon arrival is already brain dead. If you look at most all of earlier rock crit, you will be hard-pressed to find a single review that doesn't allude to some higher form of artistic accomplishment. To wit, Lennon and McCartney as Rodgers and Hart, Brian Wilson as the logical musical extension of Gershwin, etc. Don't get me wrong. Not that there's anything wrong with the Beatles and the Beach Boys! Those are merely the two most obvious examples of the kind of rock crit that struggles to try and lend validity to most stuff that's not even fit to kiss the cuff of Duke Ellington's Saville Row-tailored slacks.

And it continues to this day. If you pick that current glossy rag Vibe (published by Quincy Jones no less!) devoted to rap/hip hop, you won't have to flip too many pages before you come across the names of the trendy likes of Miles Davis or John Coltrane, et al, who you and I both know wouldn't be caught dead listening to this s**t. (Be sure to wash your hands afterward.)

Without the--again---context of "Jazz," "Classical," "Theatre and Movies," "World," etc. sections in places like Tower to give this stuff class by association, it is to be hoped that most of current music fashion---most notably rap---will eventually be revealed for the selective non-conformity BS that it is. There's very little doubt in my mind that the non-junque--granted, one man's junque is another's Penderecki---in Tower's miles and miles of aisles accounted for an almost infinitessimally small amount of their sales. They just hadda have it there. The so-called "big box" stores like Best Buys, etc. don't even bother with this ploy anymore. Big bucks to the first among you who can find a Lee Wiley CD at Target.

Don't get me wrong, I deeply mourn the passing of Tower. Still, now that Jessica Simpson no longer exists side by side with Ella Fitzgerald two aisles over, how are the Kulture Kriminals gonna be able to continue marketing this stuff as anything other than what it is. . .the musical analogue to bagged spinach.

We have a winner in aisle six!

A reader has correctly identified the singer in our contest as "that torrid Texan Ella Mae Morse." Now, if he will notify me off line of his address so I can send him his prize. . .. I seem to recall from a post of his I once saw on that he lives in one of the Carolinas. (I've a phenominal memory BTW, just can't recall what I had for breakfast.)

I'm curious as to whether he recognized her despite the atypical pose, or else had seen the photo before. Aren't you?

Monday, October 16, 2006

If I were a woman---AND I'M NOT!---that WW II parachute frock is the kind of thing I'd wear every day.

Identify the singer in this somewhat atypical---for her---glamour shot above and win a copy of this, one of my new Japanese CD productions.

Earliest correct answer before midnight Saturday wins. Submit as "comment" below.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Witch IS it?

I'm writing the liner notes for a Pinky Winters - Lou Levy CD, Speak Low, due out in December in Japan. These are but some of the variant spellings I found for one of the titles, from The Wizard of Oz, on the net and in reference books where one might expect a degree of concision and agreement. Curiously, the two most obviously askew permutations were at official Arlen and Harburg (writers of the song) web sites. I'm not interested in grammar but, rather, the way the song was originally published. And ASCAP's site is no help; it only has every word in all caps. Anyone out there ever seen the original sheet music?

Ding Dong, the Witch is Dead
Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead
Ding Dong, The Witch is Dead
Ding Dong!, the Witch is Dead
Ding-Dong, the Witch is Dead
(Ding Dong), the Witch is Dead
Ding Dong, the Witch Is Dead
Ding Dong!, the Witch Is Dead
Ding Dong, The Witch Is Dead
Ding Dong, the Witch Is Dead!
Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead
Ding Dong the Witch is Dead

. . .and so on and so forth. And while I am well aware that a foolish consistency CAN be the hobgoblin of small minds, still my still small researcher's voice urges me on to getting it right. And what is right? I am not even certain that "is", in the usage here IS a proposition.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Who knew!?

In addition to being one of the finest young singers of his generation, ---and you can quote me---Kurt Reichenbach also wields a mightily wicked pen, vide this just-published article about character actor Paul Marco. Scribble scribble scribble, eh Mister Reichenbach?

Thursday, October 12, 2006

One more Baroque worry solved

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Last night, I wrote, in answer to long-running curiosity on a net group I belong to devoted to jazzier practitioners of the Great American Songbook:

"There really IS a Nora Evans. And NO, she is no relation to Joan Evans [as long-rumored on the list]. I should know. I just got off a 2 1/2 hour phone marathon with her. Could hardly get a word in edgewise. And for me -- vaccinated with a record needle at birth --that's really saying something. I finally met my match. Phone call from outta the blue.

She was a discovery of Elmer Bernstein, it turns out. Started her career as a singer, it seems, doing those 18 Top Hit Hits Hooray by (unidentified) Stars of Stage, Screen and TV, i.e. mimicking Patti Page's Cross Over the Bridge, Mary Ford's I'm a Fool to Care, etc. And as recently as a few years ago did turns at [London's prestigious] Pizza on the Park and Salena Jones' erstwhile night club. As for the couple of albums under discussion here on [this list], Don't Explain, and Right Here and Now, there are a few others besides those. All self-produced on the Noreeva label featuring the impressive instrumental likes of Bob Cooper, Pete Christlieb, Carl Saunders, Chuck Berghoufer, Paul Kreibich, et al.

Of un certain age, she's also been a shrink for 40 years. Quite a character in addition to being a commendable singer. I'm worn out now and gotta go to bed. She might be a psychoanalyst (wonder if she knows therapist/former singer Beverly Kelly?), but I'm the one who listened tonight. A kook in the best sense of the word. I like her!

end of yesterday's post


This morning I Googled several of the episodes that Nora Evans told me about last night regarding her long and checkered career in show biz and they all checked out. Yes! She did appear on a 1957 episode of TV's Stars of Jazz. And, Yes! she did peform at singer Salena Jones' now shuttered London nightclub a few years back. She IS a member of Society of Singers.

In addition, I assume that some other credits I found Googling apparently belong to "our" new Nora. Including the movie Tender is the Night as "singer" and as "musician" in an episode of the fifties TV series, "Johnny Stacato," scored by her "discover" Elmer Bernstein. Also, as she informed me, did tracks for the early 50s budget label, Broadway, covering hits of the day, i.e. If I Give My Heart to You & Smile. I found these on Google. These are probably dozens more where those came from.

As for her claim that she was nearly chosen to replace Champagne Lady Alice Lon (or as the great Stan Freberg would have it, "Alice Lean") after Lawrence Welk fired her back in the fifties because of a cheesecake photo---I'm sure you all recall that unfortunate incident---THAT, I was unable to substantiate.

As late as 1999 she was still capable of putting out some pretty nice recordings on her own Noreeva label, including a terrific "One of Those Songs." "One take, improvised by musicians (Jack Nimitz, Carl Saunders, Buddy Childers, et al) without rehearsal," she told me.

Evans just sings the songs and goes home. In general, though, the Jack Quigley arrangements on her several LPs and CDs are---despite their intelligence---a bit over the top, for purposes of singing, for my tastes.

All of the above, mind you, is in additiion to two marriages, a couple of kids, and several business ventures, including Mexican real estate.

To paraphrase the great Bugs Bunny in Water, Water Every Hare (1952): "Singers lead such interestin' lives."

Monday, October 09, 2006

Now, I "aski" you!

Does this look like the face of a madman?

It's Lee Wiley's birthday!!!

"Lee, who?"

Lee Wiley (1910-1975) is clearly the greatest---extra-categorically---unknown American artist. Even amongst seemingly devoted followers of American Popular Song. God knows Wiley had enough extra-musical mythic resonance to have guaranteed remembrance of her. A beautiful tart-tounged, substance-abusing, chain-smoking beauty who sang in and haunted Upper East Side intime boites, breaking hearts along her merry way back in the 30s and 40s.

I picture her as a kind of jazz singing Dorothy Parker. Albeit sexier. I have tracked down the one known Lee Wiley TV appearance. It's supposedly in the Jack Paar archives. According to Paar's archivist, Jack kept everything that he was interested in or that had special meaning, and told NBC to dump the rest. Let's hope that the Wiley meant something to him. I gave the guy the exact date but somehow couldn't get him to check for me. I was working on adapting a Japanese NHK special on Wiley for American TV. That's tantamount to being shown on one of the big three U.S. nets in prime time. Singer Barbara Lea is in it.

The penultimate scene, and the finale of the special finds a Japanese singer going to the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame and, first, informing them that they have overlooked the great Lee Wiley---"Lee, who?"---and then flash forward a few months later and she returns for Wiley's installation in the HOF. Nobuko Miyamoto, is an actress---the widow of Juzo Itami, the director of Tampopo---who upon hearing Wiley sing for the first time, did a complete career turnabout and became a vocalist. Japanese are kuru kuru pa (i.e.krazzzeeee!).

My adaptation never came to pass BTW, i.e., 'Lee, who?'

note: The above is a modification of a post herein from from a months ago.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Porgy redux

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click lower right hand corner, then click again to enlarge

On the occasion of a rare showing last night here in L.A. of the long-suppressed Premingerization of the immortal Gershwin opera, I am reprinting my 1999 article in Variety about the film. At the time I wrote it, I realized that the Gershwin estate had gone far beyond merely suppressing the film. They had in fact been conducting a seemingly legal auto de fe fueled by every copy of the film they could lay their hands on. Common wisdom leans toward the theory that they especially disliked Andre Previn's somewhat jazzier orchestrations than those of the original's stage production's more high-toned operatic (if you will) scoring by Robert Russell Bennett. But who can say for sure?

The reason I had pulled my punches in Variety was that, during the writing of the short piece, and believing the Gershwin estate's claim to me that they might be willing to let the film be seen again, I found myself on the track of actually getting it back into circulation and thus didn't want to risk getting on their bad side. Besides, a film critic buddy of mine had already blown the whistle on them as rank pyromaniacs a few weeks earlier in an article in an L.A. paper.

Plus, representatives of the Gershwin estate actually had the foolish nerve to brag about destruction of copies of the film in conjunction with the first airing of the PBS TV production of "Porgy" in the early '90s. They were so successful in their mission to destroy Porgy and Bess, in fact, that there are seemingly only a few copies of the film remaining. And reports vary as to their quality and format (it was shown originally in both Todd-AO and Cinemascope). The copy I saw last night was woefully dark, but still managed to get the "job" done; I found Otto Preminger's idiosyncratic but logical close-up-free adaptation---which I have not seen since high school---to be every bit as terrific as I recalled its being.

In the process of doing my 1999 story for Variety, through a well-known film restorer of my professional acquaintance, I tracked down the original elements rotting away in an uncontrolled warehouse in the San Fernando Valley. I became so distraught that the film was now in almost an irreparable state that I made arrangements, through a chance meeting at a party with the head of UCLA Film Archives, to have the elements taken in by them. And with one (!) phone call I also personally raised $100,000, through the auspices of a well-known DVD outfit, to begin restoration of the film. It would take approximately seven times that, but at least it was a start. The integers seemed to be falling into place so miraculously and swiftly that the saving of Porgy and Bess seemed almost fated. From auto de fe to fait accomplit in three simple steps!

But apparently the Gershwins wanted no part of any of this, even though their Michael Strunsky hinted to me in my '99 interview with him that the estate might be ready for an about face. "Apparently," because more than seven years later, he has yet to return any of my phone calls, or answer the faxes, smoke signals, emails, telegrams, carrier pigeon missives and letters sent over the next few months after the Variety article appeared.

For the past few years P&B has been shown in a few clandestine venues without the Gershwin's blessing, but the sold-out screening last night in L.A. credited their co-operation. However, it should be obvious, finally, that they have no interest whatsoever in Porgy and Bess being shown again to the general public. Their so-called "co-operation" last night, and quotes to me in 1999 about "restoration and reissue" notwithstanding, they clearly have every intent of remaining Kulture Kriminals of the first water. In '99 Strunsky said something to me about taking his time in getting the film back into circulation, to which I can only reply, "I'll say!"

After viewing it less than 24 hours ago, I feel that the film would receive a much better reception today than it did when first released in the 1959 (it was not a critical or financial success at the time). It was among the first wave of big, big almost Stars Wars-like wide-screen films. The audience and critics perhaps wanted a chamber opera; instead, director Otto Preminger gave them a Catfish Row that was half the size of Rhode Island. But to my way of thinking, the humanity and brilliance of the original somehow managed to remain intact.

Sidney/Brock/Pearl/Sammy/Dorothy/Diahann, and yes, Otto aficionados, ARISE!

Kartoon Korner

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© 2006 Robert Pompa

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Just sharing. . .

I have a couple of Danny ("Uncle Tonoose is coming for a visit next week") Thomas LPs in my collection, including an "inspirational" album on the religious Myrrh (Gakkh) label . Unfortunately, it contains noxious stuff like "Jesus is My Kind of People." (Just shoot me now!)

But I also have a very nice Post Cereals Danny Thomas premium album on Columbia Special Products. With the Spencer-Hagen Orch. Entitled "An Evening With. . ." (more like a half-hour), chops and feeling peremeate his versions of September Song, You Make Me Feel So Young, Violets for Your Furs, But Beautiful, etc.

Employing my operative rule-of-thumb of "How bad can it be for 50 cents?," I picked it up recently at a nearby L.A. thrift shoppe. According to the "Fight Emphysema" address sticker irreversably affixed to the front of the album---don't you just HATE that?--- it once belonged to: "Mr. Foster L. Fox, 7350 W. 85th St, Los Angeles, CA 90045." Googlin' away just now, according to the Social Security Death Index he died on December 22, 1992 at the ripe old age of 80. SS# 555-07-9858.

I wonder what took so long for the LP to find its way to the thrift emporium local where I chanced upon it? Was he survived by a Mrs. Foster L. Fox mayhaps? And then HER survivors dumped it? Or. . .?

In case you are interested, Danny Thomas' SS # was 374-10-1559. Believe it or not, I really DON'T have a lot of spare time on my hands.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Why I Love Japan and the Japanese

In December I am accompanying singer Pinky Winters to Japan for a series of performances in Tokyo. I was going to phone her a little while ago and make arrangements to take her to the Los Angeles Japanese Consulate for a work visa, but first I thought I would ring up the Consulate and find out particulars. Getting Pinky there and back home would take the better part of the day.

In the process of talking to the very nice gentleman (with a slight Japanese accent) at the Consulate, for no particular reason he asked, "What does the person do?" I said, "She is a singer." To which he replied, "Oh, we make exceptions in the case of entertainers. She does not have to come with you."

To say that I was astounded at the thoughtfulness of both his asking his question in the first place, and then their exception to entertainers simply amazes me. There are probably ten people in the United States who would be thoughtful enough to ask me the question, "What does the person do?" I don't think it is an accident that one of them turned out to be Japanese. I don't mind so much for myself, but Pinky really does have better and more important things to do, i.e. sorting music, rehearsing, etc. And the kind of red tape involved in getting a work visa for a foreign country is just the sort of thing that can make performers want to give up show biz forever.

Anyway, very simple. It only takes three or four days to receive work visa. This will all be done by the end of next week. Hooray!

I just might be living in the wrong country.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Dick Noel

I was given a copy today of a 1985 LP by singer Dick Noel. I was aware of him as a highly regarded Chicago studio singer, but never actually heard him till now. After listening to this one recording, I am thoroughly "sold" on him. The LP, "A Time For Love" on Legend Records, has over-the-top liner notes by Mel Torme who cannot say enough good things about Noel. The accompaniment is by Chicago piano fixture Larry Novak. Just piano and voice all the way through the ten-song repretoire that includes "A Time for Love," "The Girl Next Door," "Emily" "Why Did I Choose You?" and others equally tasty. Known mostly as a jingle singer, I am wondering if this is his only album? As such, I would instantly rank it as a worthy companion disc to the vocal album by which I measure all others, Irene Kral's "A Time for Love."

I am led to believe by the party who laid the album on me that there are some other unreleased tracks from the session that have not seen the light of day yet. A total non-entity in the world of commercial jazz vocal recordings, I can't but help but wonder, "Are there any more at home like him?" AND where might HE be found these days if he has not already gone to that place from which no one returns? Anyone know ANYTHING about him?

He has a nice butch-sounding delivery that is just legit enough without evoking the unbearable spectre of singers such as Robert Goulet, et al. Great pitch, conception, enunciation! Just perfect! Mel Torme was right about Dick Noel: "He's something else!"