November 15, 2019

Songwriter Tom Lehrer: Biting Wit and Deep Thoughts

Over the years, I would hear mention of the name Tom Lehrer as this legendary songwriter of irreverent and topical tunes such as Poisoning Pigeons In the Park, The Vatican Rag, or National Brotherhood Week. Nor can one forget Buddy Charles’ stupendous rendition of Masochism Tango or the droll Hannukah in Santa Monica, a non-Christian holiday standard.

Lehrer’s popularity in the 1950s and 1960s included LP sales and writing music for the television show, That Was the Week That Was. Lehrer shifted his focus to teaching academic mathematics and musical theater in the early 1970s at places like MIT, Harvard, Wellesley and the University of California at Santa Cruz.

He was definitely a man of many interests having worked at Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory, enlisting in the military and doing a work stint for the NSA.

His relatively small catalogue of songs is still relevant today. Lehrer is now 91 years old. Isn’t it high time we start a tidal wave of interest in his material? Shame on me because I don’t currently have any of his songs in my repertoire, but hope to rectify that soon.

My friend Lydia Stux gave me this link of Lehrer performing a special concert in Denmark. He has this nerdy charm, with his horn-rimmed glasses and his surprisingly good singing and playing.

Enjoy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QHPmRJIoc2k

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.

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.

Who is Karen Akers you ask?

She was in the original Broadway production of Nine and had a juicy role in another Maury Yeston musical called Grand Hotel.

Akers has also appeared in films; Woody Allen’s Purple Rose of Cairo and Heartburn, but she has devoted fans for her cabaret career.

Her first two albums were continually on my stereo turn-table, Presenting Karen Akers and In a Very Unusual Way. Adept in French and German as well as English, she has been known for her impeccable repertoire of theater and cabaret songs.

All Music lists ten Karen Akers solo albums: https://www.allmusic.com/artist/karen-akers-mn0000356422/discography

GNOD – The Global Network of Discovery

I happened upon a site with the acronym gnod, quite by accident, while looking for authors similar to crime writers Donna Leon and Henning Mankell. Created by Marek Gibney in Hamburg, Germany, the Global Network of Discovery (gnod) features word maps to discover authors related to what you already like.

Not only can you look up networks of authors, but you can also fill out brief questionnaires that help the site learn more about people’s literary choices. The user is queried about whether you know, like or dislike a particular author.

The site also has sections on music, art, movies, and electronic products. In truth, the electronics portion seems to be the site’s commercial raison d’être, but this shouldn’t dampen your enjoyment of the rest of the site when you are looking for new authors, composers, films, and artists.

http://www.gnod.com/

Nelson Riddle, Arranger to the stars

Nelson Riddle with Frank Sinatra

Nelson Riddle – Composer, music director for tv, film and music recordings, band leader/conductor and orchestrator/arranger would have been 95 this week.

Riddle played piano and trombone but it was as an arranger and composer that he found his greatest success. His arrangements  graced the recordings of Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Dean Martin, Peggy Lee, Johnny Matthis, Rosemary Clooney, Keely Smith and some of Ella Fitzgerald’s famed Songbook albums.

He had a career resurgence in the 1980s, working with Linda Ronstadt on her three albums of jazz standards, What’s New, Lush Life and For Sentimental Reasons.

Iconic Riddle arrangements include Route 66, One For My Baby, Mona Lisa, Unforgetable and Witchcraft. He also composed scores for films and tv shows. Although he didn’t compose the theme song for the 1960s television show, Batman, he did score several episodes along with those of The Untouchables.

Other artists he did arrangements for included Barbra Streisand, Sammy Davis Jr., Kate Smith and Oscar Peterson, among many others.

Born on June 1, 1921, Nelson Riddle died at age 64 in 1985.