Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Thought for the Day

If the Oscars were as bad as the Grammys, you'd have Eric Estrada winning the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

A Harmless Enough Deception

A friend of mine (let's call her Madame X) told me the following story the other night.

When "X" began dating her (now deceased) husband years ago, she had just met him and already was quite smitten. Then one night they went to dinner at the house of some friends of hers. Spying a grand piano in the living room, (let's call him) Jim asked:

"Do you mind if I play?"

"Oh goodness," thought "X," "in addition to everything else he plays piano, too. I'm hooked for sure."

Jim then proceded to sit down and play a quite competent rendition of "The Man I Love."

"More, more!," everyone said.

"No, I think that's it for now. Maybe later."

But he performed no more that evening. Eventually "X" was to learn that was the ONLY song he could play and in fact been coached how to do so by rote by (eventually highly-regarded) jazz pianist Lou Levy when they were both teenagers.

"It impresses girls no end," Lou told him.

Otherwise, Jim could not even navigate "Chopsticks." Nevertheless, he and "X" had many happy years together.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

"The Grand Old Man Of Vaudeville"

What a checkered job career I've had! Topped by a stint as a stage manager for a 1989 L.A. stage revue featuring senior citizen performers. Sort of a forerunner to the Palm Springs Follies and similar presentations. We had tap dancers, film chorines, legit singers, low comics, a whistler, a “bones”player, former strippers, in fact just about the entire spectrum of vaudeville disciplines. All that was missing were magicians. And previously having worked for a year for the dreaded prestidigitator Richard J. Potash, I'd more than had my fill of that.

Several of the participants were even fairly well-known, most notably singer Art Lund, star of the big band era and the Frank Loesser musical, The Most Happy Fella. Also somewhat recognizable---at least by sight---was comic Mousie Garner. A former member of the Spike Jones crew and of the 1920s Ted Healy's Stooges. Later, he was an interim replacement in several permutations of the The Three Stooges. Thus, he was an offical Stooge and, as such, the last surviving member of the group. Offstage, he was a quiet reflective sort and 180 degrees from the out-of-control wild man seen in this in this clip of his performance in the revue. Like two entirely different people. I believe it's called ACT-ING.


And so, where was I seven Super Bowl Sundays ago? Why, where else but at a fish restaurant in Santa Monica interviewing jazz vedette, Ruth Olay. The results of that afternoon can be found on the net here. I had never met Ruth before that occasion, but since then she and I have become pretty good buddies. Long retired from show business (in the spirit of "been there done that"), she now focuses most of her energies on political and social activism.

Circa 1955-1975 Ruth was a regular fixture on network TV, especially Paar and Merv. And though she no longer sings professionally, if you look reallll hard, you still might catch a glimpse of Ruth some afternoon on TV news at one anti-war rally or another. And if you go here you can capture more than a fleeting image of her, on a 1959 TV special with Duke Ellington.

Before becoming a singer, Ruth was secretary to the great writer-director Preston Sturges. And she sang with Duke Ellington. Two inarguably legendary figures of the 20th Century. What a life she's led!

Wednesday, February 21, 2007


ME: According to legend, when actress Virginia Mayo was signed to Goldwyn, she was still known as Virginia Jones. Mulling over a name change for her in the commissary, Sam Goldwyn heard a waitress shout out an order she had just taken:"One Virginia Ham sandwich. Hold the Mayo." Causing a light bulb to go off over Goldwyn's head:"Eureeka! That's it! From now on, you're Virginia Mayo!"

ALAN: Bill, that makes a good "Goldwynism," but actually, according to Virginia's obits, the Mayo goes back to when she joined the Pansy the Horse act, replacing the original girl whose name was "Mayo" and the various promoters of the tour didn't want to change the programs and other printed material and made her use that name.

ME: Oh, Alan, you're no fun.

GREGG: I think you're both wrong. In A. Scott Berg's bio of Goldwyn, Berg says that upon choosing her name "she borrowed her brother-in-law's surname." But Goldwyn was known for his "Goldwynisms" and I like the story you mention better, Bill.

ME: Thanks, Gregg. Me, too. Whatever the genesis, take a look at this clip of Mayo and tell me, Is she hot or wot?

Monday, February 19, 2007

Johnny Hartman rarity

Speaking as I was---only last Saturday hereabouts---of the magnificent singer, Johnny Hartman, I was reminded of a tape that a friend of mine gave to me that was recorded at a Hartman nightclub rehearsal many years ago. Most of the songs on it are regulars in Johnny's repertoire, and the sound quality of the recording leaves more than a little to be desired. But the tape has never been heard by almost anyone else but me. The only other two auditing exceptions being Clint Eastwood (fearlessly predicted by me to win this year's Best Picture Oscar) and his music director, Lennie Neihaus. I was in negotiations with them to release part of it on Eastwood's record label. But the talks kind of just dribbled off into nada-ness as such things tend to do in this town. . .this town. . . this crazy town where the future somes to die (i.e., L.A.) tend to do. But recollections of all that lit a fire under me to share a portion of the recording with my readers, er, listeners, um, viewers. (Windows Media Player required). And so. . .

Jazz vocal vid clip 'o the day

In this clip: On the left, an oldish white guy (not unlike yours truly), on the right, a cute, young black hipster and in the middle, race aside, one of the most beautiful women in the world = Lambert, Hendricks and Ross.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

The final days, I tell you. . .the final days

I was stunned by how little news coverage was given to the recent death of singer Frankie Laine, who at one point was probably the largest record seller in the country, in additon to possessing some degree of artistic respectability. . .unlike designed-by-committee (alleged) sex goddess A. N . Smith:

Even if you disliked Laine, the incongruity was inescapable and shocking. No doubt the coverage of his passing in the foreign press was far greater.

This sad state of of affairs really brings out the Church Lady in me. To wit, what do you expect in a society where one of the most highly-rated daytime TV shows among 7-12 year-olds is Jerry Springer's daily raunchfest? Harumph!

"Bartender, I'll have an Anna Nicole, please."
"How do you make that?"
"It's Slimfast with a dash of methadone."

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Johnny Hartman --- Better Late Than Never?

There are several theories as to why the singer Johnny Hartman, arguably considered our finest purveyor of ballads (and no mean swinger to boot), never quite made it as a mainstream artist, and most of them have to do with racism, i.e., "I’d like to use you, Johnny, but you’ll never make it. Your voice is too classy for a Negro." It was the same thing they told the equally under-appreciated African-American jazz singer, Lurlean Hunter. To give the devil his due, the devil was right, Hartman never really "made it" as a performer. At least not in his homeland. Even his classic 1963 album with John Coltrane failed to jump-start his career, and Hartman continued touring Japan, Australia and Europe for a livelihood.

In a classic case of bad timing, Hartman died in 1983 at age 60. It is a tragedy of near classical proportions, and further proof that there IS no god, that if he’d hung around a while longer, the Chicago native could have capitalized on the personal attention that accompanied the massive success of the soundtrack for The Bridges of Madison County. The 1995 Clint Eastwood film contained four Hartman cuts and ignited a long-overdue fascination with him here in his homeland.

Hartman led a very active TV career outside the U.S.---he even had his own special in Australia. But, with the exception of this one regional TV appearance, I have only heard but never seen Hartman in action. It comes as no real surprise to me that on this clip---seen here---he comes off visually as suave, poised and polished as he sounds on his recordings.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Mr. Keene, Tracer of Lost Crooners, Strikes Again. . .

. . .with this rare clip of singer, Bill Black. In case you haven't followed the various archeological peregrinations that have gone into my "search" for him, this outdated page at CDBaby is a good place to start.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Auteurs' Corner

They laughed when I declared director Seymour Z. Fishko to be a cinematic immortal. They still do.

Bill Reed, president
Seymour Z. Fishko Society

Sunday, February 11, 2007

A Cellarful of (Wonderful) Noise

We simply don't have "locals" in the U.S. like the ones commonplace in Japan. Tokyo has perhaps ten times as many bars per capita as any city in the U.S. But the ones in that city tend to be a tenth the size of those in America, and so it all evens out, I suppose. Except for the fact that the Japanese tend to have a much more active public life and, I've no doubt, drink somewhat more than their U.S. counterparts. And, in fact, Tokyo is the only city I've ever been in where I've become certifiably, arrestably drunk in public. But that's a story best left for some other night around the campfire. We are gathered here today instead to talk about one bar and eating establishement in particular.

Cafe Albert in the Takadanobaba section of Tokyo is typical in it's intime dimensions, and also similar to many other of the city's such establishments in the warmth and friendliness displayed by it husband-and-wife proprietors, the Shiozawas. But "the Albert," as most of its habituees call it, has a highly specific theme that sets it apart. For it operates in memory of Frances ALBERT Sinatra, of whom the Shiozwas are devotees of the first rank. . .and why not? And most of its patrons are either fans of "Mister Sinatra," as many Japanese tend to call him, or at least the art of jazz singing. It's where, for instance, the members of the Tokyo Vocal Jazz Appreciation Society congregate after their monthly meeting, and I wouldn't be at all surprised to learn that the person seated next to me at the Albert bar---with room enough for only five or six---could recite Chris Connor LP catalogue numbers by heart.

One enters the Albert after a climb down a somewhat vertiginous stairway off of an alley, then enters the warm, cozy interior through an entrance with a "It's Sinatra's world, we just live in it" sign on the door. Once inside, there is often a Sinatra track playing on the sound system, or a video clip on the TV monitor, and the shelves and walls are jam packed with memorabilia, books, photos, etc. nearly all devoted to...if you guessed F.A.S., then you win the cigar.

But as has already been noted, the Albert is not ALL about Sinatra in particular but also jazz vocalizing in general. And it was in keeping with both traditions that, when singer Pinky Winters traveled to and performed in Japan last December, the Shiozawas invited her to appear at the Albert. ("In keeping with both traditions" because Winters is a major FS fan, counts him as an early singing inspiration, and even knew the man slightly.) Mind you, the place only holds a maximum of thirty customers and filled up can be a bit remindful of the state room scene in "Night at the Opera."

The other public and private gigs that Winters effected during her eleven-day Tokyo performance blitz were at much larger establishments, but I had been to the Albert for the first time my previous trip to Japan, and I strongly urged her to accept the invitation. . .despite the, um, well, extreme coziness of the spot. Too kewl to turn down. And so she did say "yes", and it turned out to be a great affair in every way imagineable. Including artistically, even though Pinky, due to a schedule mixup, had little time to rehearse, and with a pianist that she only had a chance to do not much more than shake hands with before they went on.

I think the wonderfulness of the occasion comes through loud and clear in a somewhat crude video I took of the performance. I think you can get a sense of just how terrific the evening turned out by taking a look at this brief clip of the event that I've just uploaded to youtube.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

All Hail The Big Mouth

Somewhere out there a “new” Martha Raye CD has just been released. I can’t recall the imprint right off, but I can assure you, it isn't on any major label, but, instead, on one of those myriad small operations dedicated to keeping alive actual music with melody, rhythm, harmony, taste, intelligence, and so on. I rest my case.

No doubt it contains some of the same material that was included in an interesting Raye LP set that was released just before the dawning of the CD era. Nice stuff on that earlier entry, including a version of "Is That All There Is", a song of which Mick Jagger once remarked, "If I could write a song that sick I could die happy." Also a lot of material from TV: "Little Girl Blue," "Taking a Chance on Love, Happiness is Just a Thing Called Joe, Watch What Happens and many more.

Regardless of the conservative image Raye put forth trouping for the boys in 'Nam, she was also quite the party gal. I have a friend who was a gypsy in "Hello, Dolly" when she was in it. He remembers an elaborate marijuana garden growing on her New York terrace, and lots of pot parties after the show. A deeply beloved human being, a great artist. . .and a ”head” of the first water.

It's sort of funny that when people talk about Raye today, it’s as a singer---an essential link in the evolution of jazz singing---and forget how funny she was. It was just the opposite when she was alive. In this clip from her old TV variety series, she displays both aspects of her artistry. Two minutes and 15 seconds worth of great rhythm singing, with a five second pit stop in the middle for a brief bit of silliness.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Sue Raney Alert

A while back un ami de France's Michel Legrand recommended Sue Raney as the perfect vocalist for whom he was searching for an upcoming extensive tour of the U.S. and beyond. The friend---let's call him Mister X---did not know Raney personally. And, frankly, Legrand had never heard of the singer. But an audition was arranged. Legrand played the piano, and Raney began singing, but a few bars into the song he abruptly stopped. "I want you to be my singer," he said. "Now let's start over." True story. No doubt Raney could still "cut it" with Legrand as should be obvious from her upcoming date on Valentine's Day at the Jazz Bakery in L.A., the City Where the Future Comes to Die. You'll also note, if you attend, that she has physically changed but little from the way she looked in this 1962 video clip with Stan Kenton.

The evening, starting at 8 pm, will be in support of her new CD "Heart's Desire." Be there or be square or be both!

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Helen Merrill vid rarity

My video of the day features Helen Merrill and Gordon Beck performing "My Favorite Things" at 1992's Turcoing Jazz Fest.

Today youtube; tomorrow THE WORLD!


Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Warmed-over leftovers

Here's something I posted on the net in the last century during the era of steam-driven personal computers. The only difference was, it didn't have attached to it THESE CLIPS.

Don't me started on the subject of Kay Thompson. I'll go on and on; like about the time when the SO was waiting in line at the Sutton Theatre on New York's East Side and witnessed a chance meeting between Kay and Indian actress and Ornette Coleman songbird, Asha Putli. . ."Asha, darlinggggggg!"

It's not widely known, but KT did some of the early vocal arrangements for the Mills Brothers. Randomly, here's other stuff I know about her; she began her professional life as a diving (no, you read that right: diving not driving) instructor. I have a Milton Berle early 50s episode that's wall to wall Kay. What else?, oh yeah: she was looked after later in life by a certain singer who one local wag recently dubbed "Our Lady of Studio 54." As for candorous interviews, I'm not aware of any. There was a major piece in Vanity Fair that appeared not long before she died with which Thomspson refused to have any truck. The author, Marie Brenner, quotes KT from an unnamed source: "I got so tired of taking care ofher (Garland)." Judy's "The Pirate" was KT's last film at MGM she'd been the chief vocal arranger for the Freed unit for the better part of a decade. Shedid a little thing called "Atcheson, Topeka and the Santa Fe." "Mack the Black" from "The Pirate" is her arrangement. Years later, when the film came up in conversation, Thompson looked at a friend with an arched eyebrow."Drugaroonies," she said (according to Vanity Fair writer Brenner).

Marie, via Rex Reed, attributes KT as putting the "sob in Judy's voice. Judy was always running out of steam on notes and would have to catch her breath. She'd say, 'Oh, I ruined it.' And Kay would say, 'You didn't ruin it---use it!'" There's a rehearsal recording of Judy, Roger Edens, and KT singing "In the Valley" on the Turner/MGM Judy laser box. The character that Angela Lansbury plays in "Anyone Can Whistle" is a composite/homage of/to KT. When they were rehearsing the show, Sondheim and Arthur Laurents went to a great deal of trouble explaining to AL what they wanted her to do: all the numbers featuring AL were Thompson-styled. "Me and My Town," for example, is pluperfect KT and the Williams Brothers. And when Angela, who'd never done a stage musical before, hit the ground running and nailed the initial number first time out, Sondheim and Laurents nearly fainted. They'd forgotten, or perhaps never knew, that AL had been at MGM for a large part of Thompson's tenure there. Kay Thompson was born in 1912 in St Louis, thus giving the lie to the NY Times obit that she was in her 90s when she died. As for the one long blacklash, Auntie Kay was such a style setter I'm surprised it didn't start a trend.

2007 postscript

I watched the 1956 "Playhouse 90" adapatation of Thompson's "Eloise," starring Ethel Barrymore, Hans Conreid, Conrad Hilton, Louis Jordan, Mildred Natwick, Robert Preston, Inger Stevens, Charles Ruggles, Monty Wooley, Slapsie Maxie Rosenbloom, AND Evelyn Rudie as "Eloise." And avec le special participation de Miss Kay Thompson. To this day, I'm convinced that's what made me gay.

Think Pink!

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Frankie Laine R.I.P.

I suppose Laine is not at the top of the list of many devotees of jazz-based vocalizing, but he has always been on my roster of all-time all-times. Especially for the 1940s tracks produced by Norman Granz, the two albums with Michel Legrand, and the Buck Clayton Jazz Spectacular. But the cornball in me just loves beyond measure this all-stops-out production number (from "Ragtime") recorded when Laine was 83!

Page Cavanaugh Birthday Salute

The video that friends and I made for Page Cavanaugh's recent (1/26/07) natal festivities is now up-and-running.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Helen Carr

Graphics and music courtesy of Uptown Records

A reader from Ithaca, NY---let's call him Mister X--- writes in to ask:

Dear Dr. Chilledair:

I appreciate your website. I was wondering if you have written about Helen Carr? Biographical data about her is very hard to find.


Dear Tom, I mean Mister X:

I have not written about the very fine Carr, but I don't find a great lack of info about her. The big problem seems to be contradictory stories as to the cause of her death. The journalist Scott Yanow wrote the following
on the net in 2003:

"She was born in 1922 or 1924 in Salt Lake City. Carr recorded "Say It Isn't So" with Charles Mingus in 1946 in Los Angeles. She married pianist-arranger Donn Trenner and worked with him in a group called The Donn Trio And Helen. She sang for short periods of time
with the big bands of Charlie Barnet (there is a Snader transcription film clip of her singing "My Old Flame"), Georgie Auld, Chuck Foster, Skinnay Ennis, Stan Kenton (for one month in 1952) and Buddy Morrow. She sat in with Charlie Parker a couple times [there is a photo of at least one of the occasions] and made two albums for Bethlehem; one in a quintet with trumpeter Don Fagerquist, altoist Charlie Mariano, Donn Trenner, bassist Max Bennett and drummer Stan Levey, and one with a trio comprised of trumpeter Cappy Lewis, guitarist Howard Roberts and bassist Red Mitchell. These are either from 1953 and 1954 or both from 1955, depending on the discography one looks at. They have been reissued on a single CD (The Complete Bethlehem Collection) and find her displaying a soft voice that at times sounds eerily like Norah Jones (!) although the music is much more jazz-oriented and her phrasing is influenced by Billie Holiday. Her only other recordings were two songs with Max Bennett in 1955 and two cuts on an Atco single in 1958 (Ific/YouMade Me Love You) released under King Curtis' name; I've never heard the latter. Helen Carr died sometime in 1960, either from a car accident or breast cancer. I have three sources apiece for both of those."

The Bethlehem two-fer also contains a lot of info, but nothing there---I seem to recall---about the cause of death. I don't know why Yanow didn't just call Carr's husband, Trenner. He's in the book.

Hope that helps.


Dr. C.

Sunday, February 04, 2007


There's a great deal of excellent music to be found lurking within the grooves of all those budget LPs from the 1950s, i.e Tops, Hit Hits Hooray, Waldorf Music Hall, etc. You know the kind; the ones that offered 12 top hits for a buck-forty-nine by "Great Hollywood Vocalists and Orchestras" that no one, for the most part, has ever heard of. I bought them in high school because we were so poor we had to eat the family dog. Sometimes, though, the performers were not so obscure. And the recordings often weren't half bad at all. Themes From the Movies (Tops L1519) is one I've long kept my eyes open for during my regular thrift shop perambulations. I finally found it last week at the Jewish Women's Council Thrift Shop on Fairfax in L.A. (along with a clean copy of Sammy Davis' LP All the Way and Then Some) both for a buck each, if you must know. I've been looking for the album because it contains two tracks by the nowadays somewhat forgotten, but nonetheless quite fabulous crooner Ronnie Deauville. Kind of a sad story there, and with a bittersweet ending. But he sounds terrific on his two tracks, "Young at Heart" and "Three Coins in the Fountain" from "Themes from. . .." Obviously meant to evoke Sinatra, but Deauville is clearly his own man here.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Page Pics

A few photos taken by David Ehrenstein at Page Cavanaugh's birthday party last Friday.

Page, Nancy Sinatra and Steve Tyrell. Nancy is recording a CD with Page.

Cinema legend Ann (GWTW) Rutherford asks: "This way, or. . ."

". . .this?"

Actually, Ann, it doesn't make any difference. You look perfectly smashing both ways.

all photos © 2007 David Ehrenstein

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Back to low-fi mono

In what was only his second live performance as a singer, the other night Kurt Reichenbach held a full house totally spellbound with an 80-minute presentation that was one of the best such shows I've ever witnessed. It was especially fascinating to me because I happened to be aware that the pianist with whom Kurt HAD BEEN rehearsing secured a last minute high-paying road gig, and Kurt only had a few hours to rehearse with a total stranger of a new pianist, Jim Cox.

Fortunately, I recorded the evening. A fairly crude artifact, but I think you can tell from the track linked here how good Kurt and Jim sounded together. Did he even take a breath in his high speed interpretation of this great song from "The Yearling"?