August 20, 2019

Game of Thrones Withdrawal Lingers

Nine years ago, I tried to read The Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin. I was overwhelmed with strange names, places and vocabulary. In frustration, I threw the book down, yet continued to watch the HBO tv series with avidity.

In my current throes of Game of Thrones withdrawal, my brother-in-law suggested I try reading book one of the series again. Lo and behold, all of the main characters were now familiar to me so I no longer felt like I was reading Tolstoy’s War and Peace. Book one is actually a page-turner. As in any book versus movie adaptation, the prose allows you to get a deeper sense of character, motivations are clearer and the palette of people and place descriptions is much richer and wider. Book Two, A Clash of Kings awaits on my nightstand.

If you have deep pockets and are a rabid R. R. Martin fan, you may want to consider attending the Carl Sandburg Literary Awards Dinner, an annual benefit for the Chicago Public Library Foundation. For $1250, you will be invited to a dinner honoring Chicago authors with George R. R. Martin as the special guest, along with U of C poet/essayist Dr. Eve L. Ewing. An acclaimed Chicago author will be at every table.

This is one of the yearly highlights of literary Chicago. Plus, you just might get to meet Martin. He has a B. S. and M. S. from Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism so this is a homecoming, of sorts for him.

A member of SongShop used to play Dungeons and Dragons with Martin, back in the day. The next time you see me, you can guess who this might be!

For now, reading the books is prolonging my obsession with this fantasy series. Let me hope that a Game of Thrones intervention won’t be necessary. Any ideas on the perfect novel antidote?

For information on the Literary Awards Dinner:
https://cplfoundation.org/events/carl-sandburg-literary-awards-dinner/

Two birthday Jimmys: singer/sausage king Dean and singer/songwriter Webb

Jimmy Dean would have been 90 on August 10 (he died in 2010.)

I met Mr. Dean and his wife at the Pump Room in the 1990s. In a departure from his country music and sausage image, he was one of the most elegantly suited of men.

Jimmy Webb will be 72 on August 15.

I encountered the talented songwriter at the Sundance ski resort in Utah during a singer-songwriter workshop sponsored by the Johnny Mercer Foundation.Some of the songs he has penned are MacArthur Park, Wichita Lineman, By the Time I Get To Phoenix, Didn’t We and Time Flies.

Along with American and European standards, I will be doing a handful of Webb and Dean songs in honor of their birthdays.

Singer Jane Oliver turns 70 this week

I am celebrating Jane Olivor’s 70th birthday this week. Although she has not performed publicly since 2008, you can still find her superlative initial recordings, First Night, Chasing Rainbows, Stay the Night, The Best Side of Goodbye and Jane Oliver in Concert on music purchase and streaming sites.
I saw her at a concert in Minneapolis and was blown away by her power house voice and emotional intensity. Here’s hoping her recordings find their way onto the playlists of budding young singers.

Better still, let us hope that Jane has yet another act in her storied career.

Blossom Dearie and Bob Dorough

At the passing of singer-songwriter Bob Dorough, known for writing jazz standards and music for Schoolhouse Rock, it is worth noting his connection to Blossom Dearie who would have been 94 this week, the same age of Dorough who died this past week.

Dearie moved to Paris in 1952 and sang in a jazz vocal group called the Blue Flames with Michel Legrand’s sister, Christiane and none other than Bob Dorough. They had a hit with a French version of Lullaby of Birdland arranged by Michel Legrand.

Rocket ahead a couple of decades, and you find Dorough and Dearie working together again on Schoolhouse Rock which was initially broadcast on tv from 1973 to 1985. Blossom sang songs written for the educational show by Dorough: Mother Necessity, Figure Eight and Unpack Your Adjectives.

I recently heard her a handful of Dearie recordings on the Amazon show, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. That ethereal voice of Dearie lives on!

And if you were wondering where she got that distinctive name, someone delivered peach blossoms to their home on the day of her birth 94 years ago. Blossom was her middle name but it became part of her stage name. Dearie passed in 2009 at age 85.

Several years back, I took a songwriting seminar with Bob Dorough at the Old Town School of Folk Music. Dearie came in to see me perform at the Pump Room when she was in Chicago for a gig. Dorough and Dearie were both consummate performers and songwriters. I was blessed to have met and admired both of them.

Julie Wilson, cabaret icon and mother

I had chosen Cabaret artist Julie Wilson as my honoree since she would have been 93 this week. As luck would have it, I had also selected Mind Hunter for a blog post. Imagine my surprise when I realized that her son, Holt McCallany was one of the stars of this Netflix original series. Synchronicity at work.

Whenever I was in New York, I would stop in to see Iowa-born make-up artist Steven Herrald and buy products from him. He was also the make-up man for cabaret icon Julie Wilson who was originally from Nebraska. Our paths crossed at his studio where I first heard about her son, Holt McCallany, the actor. She was rightfully proud of his success.

For those who need a refresher on who Julie Wilson was, her career spanned from her Broadway stage debut in 1946 all the way to her cabaret engagements before her death in 2015.
Career highlights included her Tony nomination for Legs Diamond in 1988, a Broadway musical starring the legendary Peter Allen, her appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show and roles on the soap opera, The Secret Storm. I even saw tv footage where she did a head stand on one of the late night talk shows. She was an avid practitioner of yoga!

Wilson resided in London in the early 1950s while performing in productions of Kiss Me, Kate, South Pacific and Bells Are Ringing. She also did American national tours in Show Boat, Panama Hattie, Silk Stockings, Follies, Company and A Little Night Music.

She was best known to me as a superlative interpreter of Great American Song with collection recordings featuring material by Cole Porter, Kurt Weill, Harold Arlen, Cy Coleman, Stephen Sondheim, and the Gershwins.

Julie, we miss you but we see a bit of your signature eyes in the face of Holt. Your legacy lives on in son and song.

Marilyn Maye, Cabaret Diva at 89

Cabaret aficionados may recognize the name, but Marilyn Maye needs to be more widely honored for her lengthy career and her indomitable ability to defy age as she turns 89 this month.

Born in Wichita, KS, she and her mother moved to Des Moines, IA for her teen years. While there, she met songwriters Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane who helped secure her own 15 minute radio show.
Chicago and Kansas City figure into her early performing career. She met Steve Allen who promptly invited her to be on his TV program, The Steve Allen Show. This led to her appearances on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson where she holds the impressive record of having sung on the show 76 times, more than any other singer.

Marilyn Maye in the 1960s

She had a handful of hit singles in the late 1960s, with the two stand-outs being Cabaret and Step To the Rear.

Her mid-career was not in the national spotlight, but she continued to perform in venues of all sorts. I caught her several times in Okoboji, Iowa where my parents had a summer home. No matter the locale, she brought verve, heart and a consummate professionalism to every performance.

The Mabel Mercer Foundation kicked her career back into overdrive in 2006 with an appearance at Lincoln Center. She has been the toast of New York and cabaret spots all over the country in the past ten plus years.

Her recording of “Too Late Now” by Alan Jay Lerner and Burton Lane is included in the Smithsonian’s Best Compositions of the 20th Century. Chicago Cabaret Professionals bestowed a Lifetime Achievement Award upon her in 2012 (I got to hand her the award.) She was inducted into the American Jazz Museum (Kansas City) as a Jazz Legend in 2015.

Along with her impressive performing schedule, she continues to conduct master classes and teaches privately in New York City and around the country. This octogenarian is proving that age is just a number –  if you have the talent and fortitude of Marilyn Maye. You keep singing, lady! And Happy Birthday.

http://www.marilynmaye.com/index.shtml